Vaccine’s story of hope

The recently concluded legislative session was a doozy. Much pragmatic, common-sense legislation was enacted primarily because the can-do party was in power while the party-of-no was relegated to the backbench by voters frustrated with its inaction and ineptitude.

As Senator Julie Gonzalez phrased it, “This is what we ran on. This is the transformative policy we fought for.”

Among the high points: all-day kindergarten, the red-flag law, empowering local governments to protect their people and environment from fracking, and making conversion therapy for minor LGBTQ illegal.

Not accomplished: death penalty repeal and requiring parents to be more accountable about having their children vaccinated against MMR: Measles, Mumps, and Rubella.

As one who spent his life in a classroom working with young people, topics such as public education and the health and safety of children resonate powerfully with me to this day. I see, therefore, the MMR issue from that perspective: The anti-science information presented to buttress anti-vax arguments but more important, the potential it has for endangering the health of certain populations.

It’s frustrating to read and hear the nonsensical, pervasive denialism of science and scientific evidence offered by the anti-vaxxer faithful on both the left and right. They systematically engage in confirmation bias, presenting evidence that confuses rather educates.

It also causes one to wonder at the irony of seeing some staunchly hold that government has no business telling people what to do with their bodies when it comes to vaccination, but then flip-flopping on that cherished principle by enacting laws such as what was recently done by the state of Georgia. There a new law makes it a crime for doctors to provide an abortion once a heartbeat has been detected, around six weeks of pregnancy. 

It’s ironic they point to the development of the MMR vaccine because it’s an uplifting story of hope. Its history and context are in order.

In the 1950s, we school children lined up to get our polio vaccinations, a disease which had permanently debilitated thousands including the late President Franklin Roosevelt. By the 1960s, when an epidemic of rubella was sweeping across America, it had been determined that congenital rubella syndrome (CRS) could cause deafness, heart disease, encephalitis, mental retardation, and pneumonia, among many other conditions. A few women at Philadelphia General Hospital who were infected by CRS chose to end their pregnancies due to its threat to their health and life. 

After one termination, the fetus was sent to Doctor Stanley Plotkin at his Wistar Institute, which was devoted to rubella research. Testing the fetus’s kidney, Plotkin found and isolated the rubella virus. In collaboration with fellow researcher Leonard Hayflick, Plotkin was able to develop a vaccine, which is now part of the regimen capable of preventing MMR.

I’ll leave it to those of faith to debate whether it was a gift from God. I simply feel gratitude for medical researchers and pioneers like Plotkin, Jonas Salk, Louis Pasteur to name a few.

To be an informed citizen, it’s crucial to be a critical reader and thinker by studying evidence presented by scholarly professionals such as those at The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. One of the oldest medical societies in the United States, The CPP traces its history to a “group of prominent Philadelphia physicians, including Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush” who “established the College in 1787 ‘to advance the science of medicine and to thereby lessen human misery.’”

Learn more about the CPP and its work on its website The History of Vaccines: https://www.historyofvaccines.org/.

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