Maine Medicine Weekly Update - 02/19/2020 (Plain Text Version)
In this issue:
The Maine Millennial: Donít Forget that Vaccines Save Lives
When Mainers go to the polls March 3, public health will be on the ballot.
[From Portland Press Herald, The Maine Millennial 02/16/20]
When I used to visit my dad in the cancer ward of Maine Medical Center, some of the doors of the hospital rooms had signs on them restricting entry. The patients inside had compromised immune systems because of their cancer treatments, so only a small number of (presumably vetted and decontaminated) people were allowed inside.
I always held my breath when I walked past those doors. When I entered the cancer ward I was always terrified that somehow I would bring in germs from the outside world, germs I wouldn’t notice and that my healthy immune system could fight off without a problem, but germs that could kill an already-sick person. I felt a sense of responsibility for their well-being.
I like vaccines. I mean, I don’t enjoy getting them – nobody likes shots – but I hate being sick. I get my flu shot every year. I don’t take the medical miracle of mass vaccination for granted; growing up, my grandmother told us stories of the polio epidemics every summer, and when sitting next to my mom on the couch, I would rest my head on her shoulder. She has a tiny circular scar from a smallpox vaccination. My mom, who is not old, lived in a world where smallpox was still a threat. That’s how recent our triumphs are.
The “Yes on 1” signs say “Reject Big Pharma.” This is sly and misleading marketing, and it also picks an easy villain. Nobody likes Big Pharma. They price-gouge on insulin and EpiPens, and they gave us an opioid epidemic. But vaccines aren’t a big profit driver for them. What vaccines are is an investment in public health.
When we use public resources, we agree to certain rules and restrictions. If you drive dangerously on public roads, you can have your license taken away. You can’t litter in a public park. And if you are sending your child to a public school, they need to be vaccinated.
Maybe your kid could survive a round of measles or mumps or the flu, but others will not. Nobody should be forced to get vaccinated against their will, of course. I’m an American, and I’m all for bodily freedom and autonomy. But if you aren’t willing to do your part for public health, you shouldn’t be allowed to use public resources.
If you don’t want to vaccinate yourself or your children, fine. You can home-school them. I am glad that our Legislature eliminated religious and philosophical exemptions to mandatory school vaccinations. When vaccination rates dip below 95 percent, disease starts to spread, and people who can’t be vaccinated due to medical conditions, or infants too young to be vaccinated, are put in danger. I admit I am not a philosophy professor or a religious studies expert, but generally speaking, most religions are against deliberately putting your fellow human beings in danger.
Children used to die all the time. In our society we are lucky enough to have reached a point where the death of a child is an uncommon tragedy, but all you have to do is go to an old graveyard and look at some of the dates on the gravestones. Measles, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio, influenza. The invention of vaccines changed that, and if our vaccination rates start slipping, deaths will start rising. Already in Maine there have been 17 deaths from the flu this season. That’s 17 lives lost and 17 families left grieving because of a contagious illness that should be preventable.
A basic law of physics states that every action provokes an equal and opposite reaction. We often see this with ballot questions in Maine. Our representatives in the Legislature pass a law, and a small but noisy group of reactionaries moves to strike it down.
In 2009, it was the legalization of gay marriage. I still have “No on 1” signs in my barn from the referendum, where a “No” vote was for keeping the law. But enough ignorant voters decided they didn’t want women to marry women or men to marry men in Maine, and so they struck down the law. Fortunately, we reversed course three years later. But that experience taught me to always remain vigilant. Progress can be yanked away. Minorities armed with fear and shoddy arguments can win horrible, surprising victories.
Vaccinations are safe, effective and all-American – George Washington had his soldiers vaccinated against smallpox in 1777, and yes, it was controversial even back then. But guess who won the Revolutionary War?
On March 3, I ask you, as someone who has seen illness and death up close, to vote No on 1. The life you save may be your own.
Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at: