Jonas Salk was an American medical researcher and virologist. He discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines, released in 1955. Salk then announced he would not patent the vaccine. When asked about it, Salk said, "Could you patent the sun?" He believed that public health should be considered a "moral commitment". At the time, apart from nuclear war, America's greatest fear was polio.
A global effort to eradicate polio between 1988 and 2001 has successfully reduced diagnosed cases of polio by 99 percent. Polio is very close to becoming the second infectious disease, after smallpox, to be eradicated intentionally by a public health campaign.
Our privilege means that a lot of us have forgotten how terrible polio is. Stop vaccinating and we will be reliving some of these scourges of the past. If you are not convinced, look up pictures of people with polio, measles, whooping cough, and mumps and think about whether we should allow children to contract these diseases. They are not benign childhood illnesses. They are painful, sometimes disfiguring, and life-threatening horrors, which can be kept at bay only by making sure we and the people we love are vaccinated.
Contrast Salk to Andrew Wakefield, a British former surgeon and medical researcher, who published a fraudulent research paper in 1998 supporting the now-discredited claim that there was a link between the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR), and the appearance of autism and bowel disease. He fabricated evidence and was later convicted of 36 charges of malpractice, including four counts of dishonesty and 12 counts of the abuse of developmentally challenged children.
Wakefield was subsequently barred from practising medicine in the UK. But his legacy has lived on in the massive anti-vaccination movement, which has caused a decline in vaccination and a rise in mumps, whooping cough, and measles. Measles was declared eliminated from the USA in 2000. Now, it is making a comeback. It is highly contagious, infecting 99 percent of the people it comes into contact with. At best, its victim will have an extremely unpleasant couple of weeks. At worst, it can lead to blindness, or even death.
We are lucky to live in a time and place where it is easy to forget how monstrous contagious diseases can be. Our nonchalant, take it or leave it attitude to vaccination is evidence that they have worked.