Victims Of Their Own Success

These days, many people adamantly refuse to take a vaccine, claiming that the vaccine can do more harm than the illness it is meant to combat.  It is true that there is a risk of adverse reactions to vaccines, as with any other medication.  Many people consider this justification for refusing the vaccine.  They’d rather take the risk of the illness, since that risk appears to be quite small.

A similar attitude surrounds the use of preservatives in our food.  The reasoning is that these preservatives are unnatural substances that are intended to suppress the growth of bacteria, molds, fungi, and other nasty stuff.  Understandably, some people want to avoid putting such potentially harmful chemicals into their bodies.

As a result, many people are now not immunized for once-common diseases, and are consuming foods that are kept natural.  This seems to be a good idea.  Why take chances, when these illnesses are so rare?

Back a few decades ago, there were far fewer people who objected to vaccination or food preservation.  For example, when the first polio vaccine became available, people flocked to get vaccinated.  There were few who objected.  Similarly, when preservatives were first added to foods, many people considered this a good thing that protected them from harm.

What has happened, I believe, is that people no longer remember the horrors of the diseases we now can vaccinate against; and they don’t see or experience many people getting sick with food poisoning.  These health measures are victims of their own success.

In living memory, it was possible to become infected with a virus that could leave you paralyzed, unable to move or even to breathe on your own.  This was polio.  Some victims spent the rest of their lives in an “iron lung” that breathed for them.  You could catch this virus from visiting a swimming pool or just being around the wrong person.

There was also smallpox, a painful and destructive disease that could cover you with painful eruptions that could cause permanent scarring and even blindness if it reached the eyes.  Smallpox was often fatal.

When vaccines for these and other similarly nasty diseases became available, there was very little objection to being vaccinated.  People had seen others suffer, knew how awful the diseases were.  They knew they could be infected, so they gratefully took the vaccines.

Preservatives in food worked much the same way.  Food without preservatives would often spoil.  In many cases, the spoilage wasn’t apparent.  There was no change in the taste of smell of the food, but it was  still dangerous to consume.  Food-borne infections were common and sometimes fatal.  Adding a little bit of preservative didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

And yet, we still occasionally encounter cases of fatal or devastating food poisoning, including botulism.  Botulism can be fatal, and can leave a person paralyzed for months in some cases.

Ultimately, a return of these preventable diseases will likely remind people why there are vaccines and preservatives in the first place.  There are good reasons for both.

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