Small Pox (circa 1973)
“Here Harry, help me with this.” Lapius was opening bottles taken from his office shelf and unwinding the top of a wooden cylinder. Alcohol sponges were lined up, and his sleeve was rolled. His office looked like an operating suite.
“What are you preparing to do, Simon, an appendectomy?”
“No, I’m vaccinating myself. Roll up your sleeve. After you do me I’ll do you.”
“But the Public Health Service has just recommended that vaccination for small pox be discontinued.”
“Precisely. You know why?”
“Because of the vaccination.”
“Precisely. Now let’s get on with it.” There was no deterring him, so I scrubbed his area, placed a drop of the vaccine on the spot and picked the skin several times with the needle. He pursed his lips while I did it. “You’re very brave,” I said.
“Not it’s your turn, Harry.”
“Of course I refuse. There’s no chance of my getting smallpox. You know that.”
“Of course I do. You can’t get it because the entire population has been vaccinated at one time or another, and until this year all travelers abroad had to be vaccinated before being allowed reentry permits.”
“So if there’s no danger, why are you going to all this trouble?”
“It’s a form of protest. After all, Harry, it’s a serious disease. The mortality per importation outbreak in Europe during the last decade had been about 12 per cent and that in a protected population. In an unprotected population – well take Ethiopia. Before their reporting methods were spruced up they reported 722 cases in 1971. After they improved methods of reporting the disease they discovered 25,000 cases in 1971.”
“But that’s in Ethiopia, not here.”
“True. But in 20 years we will have a largely unvaccinated population, and importation of any case might cause a plague of immense proportions. I think it’s silly for us to drop our guard.”
“But there’s a risk to routine vaccination.”
“Not much,” he said. “Out of 14 million vaccinations in 1968 in the United States, there were only nine deaths. If 14 million people contracted smallpox that year there would be conservatively half a million to a million deaths. If 200 million people who had never been vaccinated had suddenly to be immunized in a crash program, there would be many more than nine deaths. I can assure you. In the present program most of the trouble comes from vaccinating children under one year old, before their immune mechanisms have matured. No, Harry, we should vaccinate every infant over one year of age, and exclude those who have eczema or other allergies. I’ll never understand a nation dropping its successful safeguards against a calamity like a smallpox epidemic while there is still smallpox in the world, and airplanes to fly the cases from place to place in less than a day. There were 200,000 cases in the world last year.”
“But it’s not a law. People can still get vaccinated if they want to.”
“Perhaps. But as soon as the Public Health Service makes a recommendation the schools stop insisting on vaccination. Meanwhile they will vaccinate kids against measles, whooping cough, and polio, diseases much less dangerous than smallpox. And those vaccinations aren’t exactly benign either. They take their toll. The whole thing is senseless. Roll up your sleeve.”
I pulled my pants down instead.
“What are you doing?”
“High on my thigh if you don’t mind, Simon. I don’t like to have scars where everyone can see them.”
“Bah. I have no patience with vanity.”
“A protest is a protest, Simon. What difference where I protest from?” I won the point.