Back in 1759, Benjamin Franklin wrote an introduction to a pamphlet aimed at encouraging people to get inoculated with smallpox in a controlled way in order to gain immunity and prevent epidemics. Before and after Benjamin Franklin’s time, social influencers have had great influence on whether or not people take action. Like Benjamin Franklin, Catherine The Great of Russia — then the ruler of the Russian Empire — also influenced her people to adopt variolation. Today, we have many more social influencers because of mass media, and public health agencies around the world who are looking to promote the COVID-19 vaccine have taken notice.
With news today that President Trump has tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, I’ve received a number of messages and phone calls asking for a historical perspective on what is going on. President Trump is not the first Chief Executive who has had to deal with a disease. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson contracted the disease in March and was hospitalized in intensive care because his symptoms were serious. President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil also contracted COVID-19, but his condition was not reported as serious at any time, and — like Mr. Johnson — continued in power throughout the course of his illness.