I was honored to be invited by the Glenview Public Library in Glenview, Illinois, to give a talk on the history of vaccines. I talked for about an hour on the development of vaccines, with some interesting questions at the end. It was a timely topic to cover, given all the questions about the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out.
Just a few days before he was to be sworn-in as the federal representative from Louisiana’s 5th Congressional Distric, Luke Letlow has passed away from complications of COVID-19 infection. According to National Public Radio, Mr. Letlow, 41, had been fighting the infection since mid-December. His condition deteriorated, and he died on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
Public health campaigns in general and vaccination drives in particular are subject to all sorts of influences from the populations being vaccinated. From personal beliefs to institutional opinions, who gets vaccinated and when depends on many factors. As the world moves forward with COVID-19 vaccination, it will be interesting to note all the different sources of influence on how the public sees the vaccine and either rejects or accepts being vaccinated.
Many of the debates we are having today on scientific matters are not really “scientific” in the true sense of the word. They are more “philosophical” or “social” debates. The Earth is flat. The climate is changing. Germ theory explains the transmission patterns of infectious disease. It is our point of view and our social values that lead us to have debates about concepts whose foundations are set. Unfortunately, those debates sometimes end up being contentious, uncivilized or downright violent. Scientific discussions for the advancement of science and discovery should be better than that. We should be better than that.
This questioning of vaccine components and how they fit within religious instructions shows how complicated public health responses to epidemics can get. On the one hand, public health needs to measure the ethics of the interventions they recommend. On the other, they also need to keep in mind the complexity of the population being served. Even within a subpopulation — a town or a neighborhood — there are special considerations to make in planning how to respond.