Mr. Moffitt raised some interesting and important points in his letter last week regarding vaccination. I would like to extend that discussion to clarify some of the related issues.
A goal of the vaccines is to protect individuals, yes. But it’s more than that. Vaccines also protect other people in the community. If the virus can’t grow in one person, it can’t spread to others.
The speed with which the mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) were produced and distributed was, indeed, unprecedented. But that was preceded by many years of research (Nahm 2021). The basic technology was developed in the 1990s, and that 1990s technology itself built on research dating back to the DNA revolution of the 1950s. The mRNA vaccines were fully tested using the standard FDA protocols for vaccine approval. It was the early ramp-up of production and distribution that was unprecedented; facilitated, to its considerable credit, by the Trump administration.
Yes, it is true that smallpox is the one disease that has been eradicated by vaccination. (And we should all be very grateful.) Enormous efforts have also been made to eradicate other diseases, particularly measles and polio. Which brings me to my final observation:
Measles was nearly eradicated in the U.S. By vaccination. That achievement was erased by an anti-vaccination campaign claiming, falsely, that the measles vaccination causes autism (Infectious Disease Society of America 2021). New pockets of measles continue to pop up in unvaccinated communities around the nation (CDC 2021; Molteni 2019). In Africa, which has nowhere near the resources needed to reach every child with vaccines, measles remains one of the leading causes of childhood mortality.
The WHO polio vaccination campaign has nearly eradicated polio worldwide. There are only a handful of communities remaining, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with endemic polio infection (Polio Eradication Program 2021). Those regions cannot be reached because of anti-vaccination campaigns led by, among others, the Taliban (Roberts, 2021). Continuing surveillance and ongoing vaccination have suppressed re-emergence elsewhere. Polio remains a threat only because of misguided, misinformed and dangerous anti-vax ideology.
There’s a lesson. What’s true of polio and measles is also true of covid. Ongoing misunderstanding about the vaccines, and ongoing anti-vaccination propaganda and misinformation, only prolong the current covid pandemic.
I would invite the reader to study further details in the literature, below.
CDC. 2021. Measles outbreaks in the United States. https://www.cdc.gov/ measles/cases-outbreaks.html
Infectious Disease Society of America. 2021. Measles vaccination: myths and facts. https://www.idsociety.org/public-health/measles/myths-and-facts/
Molteni, Megan. 2019. Measles had been eradicated. Now it’s nearly a daily threat. https://www.wired.com/story/ measles-had-been-eliminated-now-its-nearly-a-daily-threat/
Moon Nahm. 2021. COVID-19 mRNA vaccines: How could anything developed this quickly be safe? https://www.uab. edu/news/youcanuse/item/12059-covid- 19-mrna-vaccines-how-could-anything-developed-this-quickly-be-safe
Polio Eradication Program. 2021. https://polioeradication.org/
Roberts, Leslie. 2021. Taliban’s rise puts polio eradication in danger. h t t p s : / / s c i e n c e . s c i e n c e m a g . o rg / content/373/6555/605
Bob Dorsett, M.D.
Special to the Herald Times