Washington, Jefferson and my school ignored anti-vaxxers and saved lives | Opinion

Published: Aug. 20, 2021

By Brian Regal

Kean University Associate Professor Brian Regal says anti-public health terrorism has been around for a long time.


A lot of people are up in arms over vaccines, masks, and ‘passports’ and outraged parents have even threatened and assaulted teachers and medical personnel. It’s as if your child was drowning and you attacked the person throwing them a life preserver.

It’s getting worse as we near that time when school resumes for the year. Most schools are requiring students and faculty to be vaccinated against COVID. New Jersey has done relatively well in the pandemic mostly thanks to widespread vaccinations and people wearing masks. If the numbers go back up it will be in part thanks to the anti-maskers and anti-vaccinators. They refuse to believe public health is individual health.

Anti-public health terrorism has been around for a long time. In 1721, as Smallpox ravaged Boston, the cleric Cotton Mather argued to have mandatory lockdowns and variolation (an early form of vaccination) to protect children. In thanks for suggesting these wise precautions ‘anti-innoculators’ threw a firebomb through his window.

Medical people were assaulted in Virginia and New York in the 1760s. During the Revolution, Smallpox struck again and people resisted protections. In 1777, in order to save the Revolution George Washington forced the Continental Army to be mass inoculated, even though many objected. It worked, and the spread of the disease was halted.

As president, Thomas Jefferson declared vaccination one of the nation’s top health priorities and defended medical personnel who had been attacked. In 1918, during the Great Influenza, mandatory mask and vaccination rules were opposed. Resisters used all the same buzz words as today about freedom and evil government and horrible side effects, and 675,000 people died.

When I was a kid, one day every year at St. Cecelia’s grammar school in Kearny we had ‘Public Health Day.’ We dutifully stepped from one station to the next. Check your heart here, your hearing there. Tap your knee with the little hammer. Look at the colored dots to see if you were colorblind. It was all great fun. Then came the part that wasn’t as fun. They stuck you in the arm with that thing with the four tiny spikes for the Tuberculous test. Then, they shot you in the arm with a pneumatic air gun to give you the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) shot. Finally, you were handed the sugar cube with the Polio vaccine in it. This all helped remove virtually all these disease from our society (Measles didn’t start to show up widely again until nudniks began refusing to have their kids vaccinated for it).

When the school ran health day, my parents didn’t complain. In fact, they were thrilled this was being done because it was a simple and easy way to ensure their kid would not die from these diseases. My parents would have seen the precautions for COVID as simple common sense.

They understood that medical health professionals knew what they were talking about, and if they said we needed a vaccine against polio or diphtheria or influenza or the measles it was because we did. They knew to believe doctors who had studied these diseases for years not some anonymous online blatherer who didn’t know pertussis from a tongue depressor but was dead sure a COVID vaccine will make metal spoons stick to your face or cause women to give birth to babies with more arms than Shiva.

My parents did not have much of a formal education. My father was a construction worker, and my mother a waitress. They didn’t know much about the origins of or the molecular structure of disease but they knew the results of it. They had seen friends and relatives waste away from terrible, communicable diseases we now can prevent easily with a vaccine. They understood that public health is individual health.

Brian Regal is an associate professor for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at Kean University. He has had his COVID shots and has attached his vaccination card to his old international, military shot records.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-21 02:14:42 -0700