For centuries, humankind has been vulnerable to all sorts of diseases, many of them wretched and often lethal. In the 14th century, the bubonic plague swept through Europe, killing more than 25 million people. In the 19th and 20th centuries, smallpox killed between 300 and 500 million people worldwide and was still causing millions of deaths every year until the 1960s, according to the World Health Organization. Over the last 30 years, more than 39 million people globally have died from AIDS-related causes, according amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, causing 8.2 million deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.
With all of this pain and suffering, wouldn’t it be great if we found a way to eradicate such suffering and pain? Oh, wait. We do have a way. Even 20 years ago, we were making substantial progress in ending disease. According to a 1996 report by UNICEF, we have eradicated at least one disease, while managing control over six others:
“Two hundred years after the discovery of vaccine by the English physician Edward Jenner, immunization can be credited with saving approximately 9 million lives a year worldwide. A further 16 million deaths a year could be prevented if effective vaccines were deployed against all potentially vaccine-preventable diseases.
“So far only one disease, smallpox, has been eradicated by vaccines, saving approximately 5 million lives annually.
“Polio could be next. Over 80 percent of the world’s children are now being immunized against the polio virus, and the annual number of cases has been cut from 400,000 in 1980 to 90,000 in the mid-1990s. If the goal … of eradicating polio is achieved, the United States will be able to save the $270 million a year that is currently spent on polio vaccination. The savings for Western European countries will amount to about $200 million a year.
“Measles, currently killing 1.1 million children [worldwide each] year, is another possible candidate for eradication. Once high levels of routine immunization have been achieved, national immunization days, followed by close monitoring and ‘blitzing’ of any outbreaks, can eliminate the disease.
“In all, vaccines have brought seven major human diseases under some degree of control — smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, yellow fever, whooping cough, polio and measles.”
Other vaccines to immunize against AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, malaria and others are under development as we write this. Imagine a world without all that sickness and death. Further, when it comes to cancer, although many cases are often the result of genetic mutations and environmental factors, the human papillomavirus will have caused approximately 12,360 new cases of invasive cervical cancer nationwide in 2014, and about 4,020 women will have died from the disease last year, according to the American Cancer Society in a report last November. But the vaccine immunizes against the virus that causes the cancer. So why wouldn’t we vaccinate?
The anti-vaxxer movement is completely ridiculous. (The 1998 report that linked autism to vaccinations has been completely disproven and debunked, but the damage this false report caused sent the effort back decades to eradicate diseases.) Sure, people can pontificate about all sorts of ailments that they assume are the results of vaccines and, sure, vaccine manufacturers may screw up a batch but the science behind vaccinations is completely sound and there is no way to avoid the proof that it works. So, really, is there anything to debate when it comes to rational ways to prevent so much suffering? We certainly don’t think so.
Stand firm on vaccinations. The science works. The arguments against it are unfounded and dangerous.
For more on the current measles outbreak, read our feature story “Contagious” on page 8.