Have you vaccinated your kids against smallpox?
Why on earth not?
I've not given my kids the smallpox vaccine, I doubt anyone reading this has - why?
Because there is no more smallpox. Barring a few samples in two high security labs the disease simply does not exist anymore. Look it up on Wikipedia, it's talked about in the past tense. Measles is an infectious disease. Smallpox was an infectious disease.
Why is it gone? Vaccination.
We don't have to decide if we should vaccinate our children against smallpox because we have absolutely no need to vaccinate them. We don't have to agonise over the possible side effects or if the vaccine may contain "toxins" etc. etc. We don't have to weigh up the personal choice not to vaccinate our own children against the greater good of protecting those who can't be vaccinated. We really don't have to think about it at all because previous generations did that for us.
They got vaccinated, they vaccinated their kids. It wasn't easy and many people had concerns about it. Doctors and health workers had to go out to the remotest parts of the world, through civil wars and famines to stop the last few outbreaks of the disease from spreading but in the end smallpox simply had no where left to go. There was no one left for it to disfigure and kill and so it died itself. In December 1979, just a few months after I was born, the whole world was declared free of smallpox.
We owe those previous generations an enormous debt of gratitude. So do our children and every generation to come.
I starting thinking about this after reading this article on the WHO's reaction to recent measles outbreaks. I wrote recently about the Disneyland outbreak but I've only just heard about a bigger one in Germany which, tragically, has resulted in the death of an 18 month old boy who wasn't vaccinated. Overall the death rate from measles is thought to be around 1/1000. In Germany it only took 583 cases before a child lost their life to a preventable disease.
I also hadn't realised that the WHO had set a goal to eradicate measles from Europe and central Asia by the end of this year. A goal that now looks almost impossible.
There is often a lot of talk about herd immunity in vaccine debates. If everyone who can have the vaccine does then the disease won't be able to spread to those who can't, such as new born babies, or those who have lost their immunity through disease or cancer treatment. But we tend to think of this as a very immediate thing. The current crop of small babies, people undergoing chemo this year.
What the history of smallpox shows us is that we could do far more than that. If our generation pulls together, looks at the science and understands that the vaccines are very safe and clearly not linked to autism. If we ALL vaccinate our kids then it's not just them or their baby siblings and sick classmates who will benefit. It's their own children and everyone else yet to be born.
If we do this now, our kids won't come to us concerned about vaccinating our grandchildren against measles or whooping cough or polio. They won't need to make that choice. Those diseases will exist only in history books.
Vaccination queue, 1962