An historical look at vaccines for our safety and the safety of communities and the safety of communities
Written by By Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, DNP, RN, NHA, CPH, CCM, CDP Public Health Education Specialist at the Greenwich Department of Health
Vaccines requirements in Connecticut and the U.S. are nothing new. A historical look at public health in action provides insight into how public sentiment veered during our smallpox crisis from colonial times up to our current COVID-19 pandemic. Smallpox was first recorded in the US in the late 1600s. Many contracted it during the 1702 epidemic, and those who survived acquired lasting immunity. Those born later lacked protection. In 1721 smallpox arrived again in Boston Harbor on a British vessel; infection soared among young, never-exposed people. We had no vaccines in those days, but a slave educated his influential master about a technique his African kinsfolk had been using for centuries (variolation).
They took infected exudate from victims’ smallpox pustules and jabbed it through the skin of those not yet infected. The concept met with strong religious objections but the results were indisputable. In 1809 Massachusetts became the first state with a compulsory vaccination requirement; other states followed suit. Just as today, many objected to compulsory orders; some states repealed their laws and their deaths mounted.
In 1905, the US Supreme Court endorsed compulsory vaccination enforcement, noting that the freedoms of individuals must at times be made secondary to the common welfare, and be subjected to the police power of the state. (Highlights of Historical events…Vaccination Coverage, NIH) and (Pathak, 2021)
The U.S. Typhoid epidemic during the Spanish American War had the same outcome. A vaccine was commissioned and made mandatory for military personnel younger than 45. The 1918 Flu pandemic followed the same pathway. We learned about how viruses genetically mutate and why that mattered. Along the way our nation experienced outbreaks of diphtheria, whooping cough, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, and polio, as well as measles, mumps and rubella, and vaccines were created! Vaccines were added for Hepatitis A and B, Haemophilus influenza type b (HIB), varicella (chickenpox), pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV 7 & PCV 13), seasonal influenza vaccines and rotavirus. If you have or had school children you undoubtedly recognize these names because we need to get our children vaccinated against them. More recently the Human papilloma virus (HPV) was recommended for teens/pre-teens). We also learned the importance of surveillance. Who is getting what; and when, where, why and how? In 1994 the U.S. launched its now annual National Immunization Survey (NIS), and our working knowledge of disease transmission expanded.
The U.S. had shown an all-time low in the number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, but not in the area of COVID-19, our latest but not our last pandemic. The US has already lost over 727,081 men, women and children across the age span. We have had 44,905,753 people infected with COVID (Worldometer10-6-21), many with lingering long-haul COVID symptoms about whose systemic and long-term effect we are still learning; yet vaccine resistance remains high for multiple reasons. Some are grounded in historical circumstances, but many are just
based on wide spread misinformation, and on political loyalties. In order to attend school, pre-school or college, or to work in many fields, many if not most vaccinations have been mandatory for decades. Why are so many people now choosing to disregard their own safety? Those dying and being severely impacted by COVID are almost exclusively our unvaccinated friends, neighbors and loved ones. The breakthrough cases of those who were vaccinated are generally only mildly ill, and they often have underlying conditions that could have compromised their bodies’ ability to develop a full and robust antibody response. A COVID death today is beyond
tragic because it is largely avoidable.
Many of us incorrectly fear that the more recent vaccines, our mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) possess bizarre traits; that they can magnetize you, put tracers into you, or create sinister DNA effects, and genetically change us or our future offspring. None of this is true. The mRNA technology has been in use for decades in the treatment of cancer and other diseases. All they do is provide your cells with genetic instructions that “tell” your body how to create a mimicked copy of small portion of the COVID-spike. Your body recognizes that artificial spike-segment and creates a viral protein that triggers a system-wide immune response. No part of the mRNA vaccine ever enters the nucleus of any cell in your body, which is where your DNA is stored. No COVID virus ever enters your body at all with an mRNA vaccine. Your genetic lineage is perfectly protected and safe. The Johnson and Johnson vaccine and the AstraZeneca vaccines are traditional viral vector vaccines like virtually all the other safe vaccines we’ve been taking for decades. They use inactivated viruses, like the common cold virus, to transmit genetic code instructions for combating COVID-19. This type of vaccine also causes your body to make a viral protein that triggers an antibody response to COVID-19.
Along with getting your COVID vaccinations, boosters and third shots when eligible; your public health experts at the CDC, the CT-Department of Public Health, and your Greenwich Department of Health are strongly recommending that just about everyone also get a flu shot.
We are not likely to be so lightly hit with annual flu this year because people are again gathering and mingling, often without masks or social separation, thus giving the flu virus ample opportunity to spread among us along with COVID-19’s Delta virus. Flu vaccines are developed each year based on the most likely strains of influenza virus that are expected to spread during that season. Children as young as 6-months, seniors of every age, and nearly
everyone in between can be vaccinated against the flu. If you have questions about whether you should get vaccinated, contact your primary care provider.
Pathak, N., Content Reviewer, (2021). Adult Vaccines: Protect Yourself Against Tetanus and More.
MedicineNet; Infectious Disease Center.