“Not until the beginning of the 20th century did Europe’s urban populations finally become self-sustaining: before then, constant immigration of healthy peasants from the countryside was necessary to make up for the constant deaths of city dwellers from crowd diseases.”
― Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Diseases brought to the New World in the 15th century eliminated millions upon millions of people – depending on which historical view and statistics you believe of it, the disease wing of the Columbian Exchange killed at least 75% and up to 95% of the indigenous inhabitants. The main diseases that caused this? Smallpox, measles, diphtheria, and typhus. All of which we now have vaccines against.
The iteration of the Bubonic plague that ravaged Asia and Europe on multiple occasions but was still horrifying enough to be called the Black Death killed between 30-60% of the population. It killed an estimated 200 million people worldwide in 100 years. We can treat it in the first 24 hours, but to this day we have no cure for it. If it reappeared in our population again in the same numbers as the 14th century, the consequences could be beyond imagining.
My point? Some diseases we have fought against, and won. We have overcome the tens if not hundreds of millions who have died over millennia because of them, survived as a species, and struck back. Diseases that have wiped whole civilizations from the face of the earth have been vanquished through medical science. Some diseases we are admittedly still fighting.
Personally, I don’t understand why people choose not to vaccinate their children or themselves. People who forgo the vaccinations that made the health victories possible outright baffle and frighten me. [Edited for clarity] My personal experience with anti-vaxxers has been almost entirely with individuals who are part of anti-science, hyper-individualist wings of (mostly) American discourse that sincerely scare me. [Editing ends.] It is a dangerous mindset and it effects us all. The “science” that informed the latest and most vocal wave of them has been utterly debunked and officially recanted. The threats of the diseases they refuse to vaccinate against are still real – and they are still horrifically deadly. The nature of every major disease threat in human history is that it is communicable, we either live or die as whole communities.
There is no reason at all why I or anyone else should sicken and die with diseases that a decade ago were declared eliminated in my native country.
Agree? Disagree? Want to change my mind? Discuss.
Rant inspired by this post from the Daily Beast, shared by a friend of mine.
A running count of preventable diseases and deaths since 2007.