To the editor:
I recently learned about a smallpox scare that occurred in New York City in March 1947.
Immediately after fewer than a handful of people were diagnosed with smallpox, the city’s health department — in a joint effort with the U.S. Public Health Service — obtained enough smallpox vaccine to inoculate every inhabitant of the city. And by the last week in April of that same year, more than 6 million people had turned up at designated sites and received injections of the vaccine.
Can anyone imagine anything remotely like that happening today? Seemingly endless mixed messages coming from federal health officials associated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, among others, emanating from the White House itself.
And growing numbers of reports of political pressure on health officials to satisfy whims of the president — none based on scientific evidence — have led a majority of Americans (as extrapolated from polls) to express skepticism about whatever coronavirus vaccine may be offered — not only one offered seemingly prematurely in November or December, but ever.
This skepticism may lead to the possibility that even when a provenly safe vaccine becomes available, a large portion of the population will refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The possibility of ending the pandemic would then become correspondingly remote.
In this atmosphere of fear and doubt, the voices of anti-vaxxers who warn against vaccinations of any kind become louder. The possibility of the resulting outbreaks of measles and even polio that might ensue if enough people refuse to have their children vaccinated against those scourges is terrifying.
When I read and hear about the “warp speed” that the president demanded for production of the coronavirus vaccine — and the disturbing thought that despite the reassurance of folks at the National Institutes of Health or pharmaceutical executives, the creation and testing has included dangerous shortcuts — I am reminded of a joke I heard many years ago.
A newly hired bank clerk was given a stack of $10 bills and told to count them to make sure there were exactly 100.
In seemingly no time, he returned them to his supervisor and reported that the number was correct.
“Did you really count each one?” his superior asked.
“No,” he responded. “I counted up to 60 and figured that if it was correct up to that point, the total must be correct, too.”
Miriam Levine Helbok