Science is the rationale used by those willing to wear a mask, to stay physically distanced from others, to accept public health restrictions, and most important, to be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. For those not willing, history lessons might be more effective.

In 1980, the smallpox virus was declared extinct on earth. No one 50 or younger carries the circular scar produced by the smallpox vaccinations once routine in the United States. The wild polio virus is nearly gone. Fewer than 100 cases were reported in 2020. India is polio free, despite that country’s enormous population.

History verifies that such was not always the case. North America might still be British had Gen. George Washington not used radical measures to make sure the Continental Army was not defeated by smallpox.

In his book, “The British Are Coming”, Rick Atkinson relates that a young Washington contracted and eventually recovered from smallpox during a stint on Barbados. By the time of the Revolutionary War, the British were routinely building smallpox resistance among their troops.

Washington recognized that his enemies would try to spread the disease to vulnerable Continental soldiers. He used the cold winter in Valley Forge to inoculate his own troops against the disease. It was an arduous process that involved purposely infecting soldiers with cowpox and then waiting while most recovered.

That same weaponization was used with far more dire outcomes against Native Americans. Smallpox, spread on purpose and through lax sanitation, decimated entire tribes as United States settlers spread across the continent.

Americans alive today have never experienced smallpox outbreaks. Few remember the death and disruption of the 1918-19 Spanish Flu epidemic. Many Baby Boomers, however, can still conjure up the terrifying consequences of the poliovirus.

Most who are old enough remember summer days trapped inside closed houses and empty public swimming pools. More vivid, however, were the black and white pictures of polio victims who had recovered just enough to spend the rest of their lives trapped inside an iron lung. It was a long tube that required patients to lie on their back with only their head exposed. A mirror suspended above the face was their only contact with the world. The thought of that result from catching polio was enough to guarantee that no one questioned the miracle of an effective vaccine. Everyone lined up for the Salk vaccine, and again for the Sabin sugar cube. Better safe than sorry.

If science isn’t enough, simply look back through history. Viruses are conquered when people get vaccinated.


“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to editorialboard@mtexpress.com.

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