Strength in numbers

We often forget how vulnerable we are to diseases that were part of our history. Canadian statistics show that 1 in four children died of some cause by the time they were five in the first decade of the twentieth century. We have come far in preventing death through disease. The great plague killed hundreds of millions. The Spanish flu of 1918-20 killed an estimated 23 million in the world. Plagues, diseases, and death were all part of living in the early to mid 20th century.

In 1796 Edward Jenner introduced the idea of vaccination to ward off smallpox. His simple experiment of using the puss from a person with smallpox and scratching the skin of someone without smallpox proved that smallpox could be prevented.

It was not until 1916 that smallpox vaccine began production in Canada and vaccinating Canadians began in full. The last major outbreak of small pox occurred in 1946. In a smallpox outbreak as many as 35 per cent of those who come down with the illness die. Today, smallpox has almost been eradicated around the world.

I remember as a six-year-old lining up in the hallway of the old Robert Moore School and receiving two shots, weeks apart, for polio. The first major outbreak of polio occurred in the US in 1894 and it wasn’t until 1908 that the virus was discovered and only a decade earlier was polio considered contagious. It was the Salk vaccine that began the massive vaccination of youth and the beginning of the eradication of the disease.

In elementary school there was almost a cycle of infectious diseases. One year it would be mumps. The following year it was measles and the third year it was chicken pox. We all were part of herd immunity. If you caught the disease, your younger siblings would also catch the disease.

The first measles virus was isolated in 1954 and it was a decade later that the first measles vaccine was approved for vaccinating youth. Today, babies receive this vaccine before they are two eliminating the potential for catching the disease. We have seen outbreaks in the past few years of youth whose parents have rejected having their children vaccinated believing the disease has been eliminated in North America.

Typhoid Fever has killed millions around the world. It was not until 1918 that the vaccine became available in the United States. Today, Typhoid has been eliminated in much of the world.

The first successful yellow fever vaccine was created in 1937 and has become the world standard in eliminating this virus around the world. Outbreaks continue to occur in many parts of the world.

Today, babies are inoculated against diphtheria, pertussis, measles, tetanus, mumps, rubella, polio, Hib, Hepatitis, Varicella, Pneumococcal, and influenza. Adults over the age of 50 are recommended to receive the shingles vaccine.

All these diseases have been mostly eliminated in North America. The Covid 19 virus and its various strains have shown us how vulnerable we all are. It is only with full herd immunity and having 95 per cent of Canadians fully vaccinated against the disease will we be safe.

Together we must make it happen.

Jim Cumming
Former Publisher
Fort Frances Times