EDITORIAL:Â Vaccines work against infectious disease
A short news item published in the Hutchinson Herald 120 years ago serves as a reminder of the well-known quote from philosopher George Santayana: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“Many Menno people intend to stay at home on the Fourth on account of smallpox,” the Herald reported in the June 27, 1901 edition. “Scotland will celebrate, but on account of so much smallpox there recently, the people here do not generally intend to go, although there is no smallpox in Scotland at present that we know about. Parkston also will celebrate, but there is as much danger at that place as at Scotland.”
This was well before a vaccine emerged later in the 20th century that led to the successful effort by the World Health Organization to eradicate the deadly virus.
Thanks to the success of vaccination, the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States occurred in 1949. In 1980, the World Health Assembly declared smallpox eradicated, and no cases of naturally occurring smallpox have happened since.
According to the Centers for Disease Control website, these are 14 other diseases that “you almost forgot about (thanks to vaccines).”
1. Polio, 2. Tetanus, 3. The Flu (Influenza), 4. Hepatitis B, 5. Hepatitis A, 6. Rubella, 7. Hib, 8. Measles, 9. Whooping Cough, 10. Pneumococcal Disease, 11. Rotavirus, 12. Mumps, 13. Chickenpox, 14. Diphtheria.
This is relevant, of course, because of the recent coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 virus that have greatly impacted life across the world. From March of 2020 through the first months of 2021, major events were canceled, large gatherings ceased to exist, and businesses and organizations faced unprecedented challenges. And controversy ensued over the right way to respond to the crisis — and just how “critical” it all really was. And people died.
As of June 21, nearly 3.9 million people have lost their lives as a result of complications from COVID-19. Nearly 617,500 of those deaths came in the United States.
Also as of Monday, 2,027 South Dakotans had died; our state ranks No. 10 in per-capita deaths in the United States.
In South Dakota, the worst of the pandemic came in the final four months of the past year, when the rate of new COVID-19 cases, deaths and positive test results were among the highest in the country. The number of hospitalizations also increased significantly.
From Sept. 1 to Oct. 1, the number of confirmed cases jumped from 13,749 to 23,136, and by Nov. 1 that number had climbed to 47,324. In that same time period, active cases went from 2,750 to 3,832 to 13,138 and the positive rate was regularly above 40%.
Hospitalizations jumped from 78 to 421 from Sept. 1 to Nov. 1 while deaths rose from 167 to 437 in that same timeframe.
By the end of the year, South Dakota had reported just under 100,000 total confirmed cases, 5,700 active cases and 1,501 deaths.
But by the new year, the outlook had started to turn. Vaccine distribution to the most vulnerable began the middle of December; by mid-April, availability had opened up to all 16 years of age and older and, one month later, children age 12 and older were eligible.
All of that led to a game-changing decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to, in May, issue a new recommendation that those who were fully-vaccinated no longer needed to wear a face-covering indoors, leading to an even more gradual reopening of the country.”
Today, most businesses have lifted whatever COVID-19 precautions had been put in place. Large and mask-less gatherings are common. Many are more than happy to move on to the summer of 2021 and beyond.
And still more continue to be vaccinated.
While this is all good news, it is perplexing that some still refuse to get vaccinated— many choosing politics over science — when it’s clear that the best response to an infectious disease is vaccination. Think back to 1901, when smallpox was raising havoc everywhere it went, prompting the people of Menno to avoid neighboring Scotland because of the threat of the deadly disease.
Sixty years later, smallpox was gone – thanks to vaccinations.
Vaccinations have become an essential element to bringing COVID-19 under control when they became available six months ago and they remain so today. But we’re not there yet; we have not crossed the finish line.
If you haven’t already done so, take personal responsibility for yourself and those around you: get vaccinated. The best and easiest way to schedule an appointment is to visit https://amcc.force.com/COVID19Vaccine/s/screeningform. A link is available on the homepage at freemansd.com.
Jeremy Waltner | Editor & Publisher