Monty Python’s comedic riff on the Bubonic Plague of 1348, which killed 25 million people, made us laugh with its “bring out your dead” memes picturing Londoners heaping corpses into wheelbarrows. Throughout all civilizations, pandemics have been feared and dreaded: Smallpox, Whooping Cough, Spanish Flu, Bubonic Plague, TB, Influenza. Remember the 11 confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States in 2016?
We freaked out about that.
Only those Americans who are over the age of 80 would have any personal experience of a major pandemic. For decades, until the creation of the Polio vaccine in 1954, the streets and playgrounds of the United States were empty of children during warm months. Polio struck without warning, permanently maiming and killing tens of thousands — primarily children. Some victims whose diaphragms had been paralyzed by the disease spent the rest of their lives in Iron Lungs — massive metal coffins that provided negative-pressure ventilation. The March of Dimes, established in 1938, was focused on “raising dimes” for the eradication of Polio. Over 1.3 million children in the US participated in the Polio vaccine trial. After widespread vaccination programs, Polio was eliminated from the majority of developed nations by 1994.
In 1952, the peak of the Polio pandemic, fewer than 3,200 deaths occurred in the United States. Covid-19 killed nearly 500,000 U.S citizens in one year.
Vaccinations arose out of the primal instinct of survival. With little medical training or knowledge, early physicians placed the puss of an infected person in the abrasion of a healthy subject. The healthy inoculated patient would commonly get minor symptoms of the disease, recover quickly, and then be immune to the disease’s full rath. In the case of Smallpox, the puss from Cowpox was used to provide inoculation in the early 1700s as the disease ravaged the United States.
Vaccination programs have two overarching goals:
- To protect the individual from maiming or death.
- Develop herd immunity within communities.
When a high enough percentage of the population is vaccinated or immune to a specific disease, herd immunity occurs, and the disease is eradicated from the community. Smallpox was eradicated worldwide and Polio now only exists in a few nations in Asia. However, all other diseases that are uncommon in the U.S. are still prevalent throughout the world. Stopping or slowing vaccinations in the U.S. will cause outbreaks in our communities — as seen with measles and whooping cough.
Diseases are resilient and change with time and treatments — hence the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Several different strains of COVID-19 are already common within the U.S., with numerous others tracked throughout the world.
Since the end of Polio, widespread vaccination programs have all but eliminated many deadly diseases. Without the constant fear of virus-fueled destruction — just the occasional Ebola flare-up halfway across the globe — it became possible for many to doubt the necessity of vaccinations.
We, as public safety professionals, have pledged to protect and serve our communities. While we accept the inherent dangers of our jobs, we do what we can to protect ourselves. We equip ourselves with ballistic armor, SCBAs, turnout gear, medical PPE and safety vests. We start every encounter with a safety assessment: a visual 360, a sweep of the house or scene safety/BSI. Due to an increasing number of LODD on roadways, we are now entirely shutting down traffic and using old apparatus as blockers. With increased cancer rates among us, we are now building clean stations and cabs, investing millions in clean air technology for the apparatus bays, and supplying two full gear sets for each member. But, we openly question a vaccination that has the potential to eliminate a virus that is killing and maiming us. Every department spends time and money on prevention programs: fire safety, Prom Promise, providing bike helmets, conducting car seat inspections, teaching hands-only CPR; and yet, we have members sowing doubt about the vaccine and the truth of the disease’s death toll on social media.
Today, a disease will travel across the globe faster than our ability to communicate its spread. While we are currently fighting COVID-19, we are once again seeing an Ebola outbreak in Western Africa.
I became a paramedic and firefighter to serve my community. I swore an oath to serve unselfishly and work towards a better world for all humankind. Our responsibility as Public Safety Professionals is to get vaccinated — to protect ourselves and the communities we swore an oath to protect.