Virus and Misinformation are the enemies, not vaccines
This story is dedicated to honouring Doctor Cornelia (Connie) E. Davis
I am moved to share a story with you because we are at war. This hidden enemy within our communities, within our own human bodies, spreads itself as easily as do rumors of a bad reputation, discrimination, and xenophobia. Truth is the first casualty of war, and misinformation drives epidemics. Trust in each other and in real-world data-proven science is how we protect our children.
I share with you here the oral history I received about the origins of our system of vaccination. I don’t know all the details, just what has been passed down through the generations and my memories of the story.
In the days when ships with sails traversed Earth’s oceans and seas, trips to other lands took weeks and sometimes months. All those centuries ago, on one particular voyage to a land I know only as “Arabia”, a merchant brought along his wife. Once there, they were separated, as was the custom, with the merchant dealing with the men and his wife spending time with the women. She marveled at the women’s clear smooth skin, her body being covered in the scars and pock marks left from having survived smallpox. She was shown how a scraping of a pustule on a person with a less virulent form of smallpox was then scratched onto an otherwise healthy person. This second person also got sick, but not from a strain of smallpox that left the scars she found disfiguring and so ugly.
This knowledge was brought back to one of the countries associated with Great Britain, I don’t really know for sure which. Be that as it may, the women noticed that the children of the milkmaids did not die of chickenpox at such a high rate as did the children of the other maids. Over years of observation and talk among the mothers, it was deduced that the children of the milkmaids fared better than the children of the other maids because the milkmaids’ children got sick with the cowpox, somehow giving them a greater chance at survival if these children ever became sick with the deadly chickenpox or smallpox diseases. (They didn’t know about the existence of viruses, “discovered” in 1892.)
I was told this knowledge was then taken up for discussion at the level of academia, when men began studying this anecdotal information, eventually developing it into what has become our modern system of vaccinations. History credits the basis for vaccination to an English doctor, Edward Jenner, who published his treatise “On the Origin of the Vaccine Inoculation” in 1801.
But it all started with a woman unhappy with her appearance, and with women talking with each other about the best means of survival for their children. I have to say that I do not know the absolute true origins of our vaccination system because the travelling woman learned what she did from the people of the land of “Arabia”, whether present-day Saudi Arabia, Iraq, or Iran, or it could be anywhere in that region a merchant ship might have gone.
This telling is meant to share with others this bit of oral history to show that humans have been through similar events in our past and that we have succeeded by trusting in each other’s truthful communications. Hopefully, this telling will also promote the vital and grassroots role of women in the annihilation of threats to humanity’s survival, so often overlooked by the masculine world of international histories, to underline the importance of including women in conversations when engaging with community leaders, and cultural and religious leaders while working to increase vaccination rates in humans as we unite in efforts against COVID-19, as we have in the past against smallpox.
It is the trusted familiar face with plain language communication of past experiences and of present-day real-world data-proven scientific statement that has the ability to encourage increased vaccination rates. To be convinced, to assuage fear, and to help propagate acceptance of what might be a new behaviour in a community, messages of very detailed, accurate and precise information need to be reinforced with repetitions from multiple respected sources (‘social proof’), including health experts and oral communicators for tightly knit traditional societies.
Current analyses show that barriers to increased vaccination coverage still are ease of access and availability to factual vaccination information, as well as ease of access to the vaccine rollout locations. Inoculations could be provided at many places in the community, including houses of worship, schools, barbershops, manufacturing plants, warehouses, and other places of business. Special attention may have to be given to the most marginalized people living in our area to break down any feeling of being disenfranchised and not heard.
Known as the greatest public health triumph in history, vaccination is the tool used in the eradication of smallpox from Earth’s human population (so-declared by the World Health Assembly on May 8, 1980). The legacy of smallpox is as a signpost directing us on our way to global good health and wellness.
We chase microbes in people by working with people and their needs to prevent the spread of microbes. After all, the virus and misinformation are the enemies, not the people these affect.