He has thought about it. It's his job. He's a writer/journalist/columnist for the New Yorker, and he's a published author. I'm pretty sure you have to have some sort of ability to think to do all of those things, even if what he says you don't agree with. And what he says is true, vaccines have been the most effective health measure in the history of the world so far. Perhaps you would like to travel back in time to, oh, say about 100 years ago. An estimated 300-500 million people died during the 20th century due to smallpox. I wonder if you would have been standing in line to get your smallpox vaccination or if you would have stood outside spouting out your anti-vaccination rhetoric to the crowds. I wonder how those standing in line to get their smallpox vaccination would have responded to you... I wonder if anyone reading this would tell their 85 year old grandmother not to get a seasonal flu vaccine. Sure, flu vaccines can't protect against every strain of influenza, but some is better than none when there are still around 36,000 deaths in the US alone from seasonal flu, most of which are senior citizens.
Is there a better way to tackle disease? I'm sure there is. In fact I wish it was like on Star Trek. If you ever notice, they have a cure for everything on Star Trek. Heck, even if you are blind you can just wear some funky color contacts and voila, you can see again. But that is science fiction. One day we may get to that point where we can eliminate all diseases without potential side effects through things like nano technology and biogenetics, and I welcome that day. But for now vaccines and pharmaceuticals are the best we have, and while not all pharmaceutical companies are saints, I'd say neither are all companies that market and sell nutritional supplements. Nutritional supplements are a multi billion dollar industry. Do you think they don't have the same goal as the pharmaceutical industry? If you do you're mistaken. They want to make money off the consumer just as much as the pharmaceutical industry does. And the sad thing is is that the nutritional supplement industry is not regulated. They could pretty much sell you dirt in a nice shiny box and say it was a "miraculous product that will cure all your diseases" and get away with it. With that being said, I still buy nutritional supplements, but I do my research before I buy them, just as I do on any vaccine I get, or any prescription drug I take. It's up to the patient to educate themselves and weigh any potential risk to the possible benefits of treatment.
Anyway, have a look at the top 10 deadliest diseases below. Now imagine there were absolutely no vaccines, antibiotics, or prescription medications in the world. How many people do you think would have died globally from these diseases? How would these diseases have shaped the world we live in? Would there even be a human race to save?
The Top 10: Epidemic Hall of Infamy
Historically speaking, these infectious diseases have been the deadliest, followed closely by other childhood diseases like diphtheria, as well as typhus and hepatitis B and C.
1. Influenza or “flu”
Viral respiratory illness Spread: by tiny droplets from sneeze or cough Symptoms: fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle aches and sometimes intestinal upset Best prevention: annual vaccination for seasonal flu Impact: Seasonal flu annually sickens about 5–20 percent of the U.S. population, sending 200,000 people to the hospital and killing 36,000 people. Note: Scientists fear a more serious influenza, currently found primarily in poultry and wild birds, might change into a more serious form, called pandemic influenza, that could easily pass from person to person as did the Spanish Influenza of 1918.
Ancient disease caused by the variola virus Spread: person-to-person or via contaminated bedding/clothing Symptoms: high fever and extensive rash; can cause permanent scarring or death Best prevention: was eliminated worldwide by an aggressive global vaccination program; last naturally occurring case reported in 1977 Impact: brought to the New World by explorers and settlers, devastating native peoples; killed about 300 million people in just the 20th century Note: Except for laboratory stockpiles, the variola virus has been eliminated, but the U.S. still prepares for a bioterrorist-caused outbreak.
3. Plague (bubonic and pneumonic)
Caused by Yersinia pestis bacterium Spread: bites from infected fleas/rodents (bubonic) or by inhaling the bacteria through close contact with an infected person (pneumonic) Symptoms: (bubonic) swollen glands; (pneumonic) fever, chills, headache, extreme exhaustion, lung infection, breathing difficulty Best prevention: avoid contact with infected animals/fleas; antibiotics if exposure certain Impact: killed one-third of Europe’s population in 1348–50; today, World Health Organization reports 1,000–3,000 cases annually Note: Ten to 20 people in the U.S. develop plague annually from fleas or rodents, but the country’s last person-to-person infection was in 1924.
A toxin-producing bacterial infection of the intestines Spread: contaminated food or water Symptoms: diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, kidney failure Best prevention: sanitary water supplies and sewage treatment; early treatment with fluid replacement and, in severe cases, antibiotics Impact: In summer 1832, cholera killed more than 3,000 people in New York, then 4,000 more in New Orleans a few months later. With more than 120 countries reporting indigenous cases since 1991, cholera seems to be on the rise globally. In 2004, the World Health Organization said that 56 countries officially reported 101,383 cholera cases, including 2,345 deaths. Note: kills half of untreated people with severe cases but less than 1 percent of those who get prompt fluid replacement
5. Tuberculosis (TB)
Caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacterium; TB usually attacks lungs; can affect kidney, spine and brain Spread: person-to-person through air Symptoms: bad cough, chest pain, coughing blood if bacterium settles in lungs Best prevention: good ventilation; skin tests to identify people carrying TB without obvious symptoms; treatment of those identified with active TB disease. Antibiotics can cure most cases. Impact: Two billion people—one-third of world’s population—are thought to be infected with TB bacteria. Annually, 8 million people worldwide develop active TB and nearly 2 million die. Note: TB was once the leading cause of death in the U.S.
Four kinds of malaria parasites can infect people Spread: bites from infected mosquitoes Symptoms: high fever, shaking chills and flu-like illness Best prevention: avoid mosquito bites; take regionally specific anti-malaria drugs Impact: Annually 300 million–500 million cases of malaria occur worldwide, killing more than 1 million people. Most of the 1,300 U.S. malaria cases each year are in travelers and immigrants returning from high malaria-risk areas. Note: Development of a malaria vaccine, not yet available, is a top international public health research priority.
7. AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome)
Caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Spread: sexual contact, sharing needles/syringes with infected person, transfusions or mother-to-infant transmission Symptoms: damages immune system, progressively destroying ability to fight infections and certain cancers Best prevention: avoid unprotected sex or needle-sharing; combinations of antiviral drugs can slow spread of HIV in body and delay opportunistic infections Impact: Worldwide, AIDS is leading cause of death of 15-to-49-year-olds with cases totaling 45 million in 2005. Note: National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases estimates 950,000 Americans are infected with HIV, one-quarter of whom don’t know it.
8. Yellow Fever
Viral disease Spread: by mosquitoes Symptoms: headache, fever, jaundice, kidney failure Best prevention: vaccination, avoiding mosquito bites Impact: common in rural sub-Saharan Africa and South America; Africa also experiences urban yellow fever outbreaks. In 2001, the World Health Organization reported there were 200,000 estimated cases of yellow fever, with 30,000 deaths, per year. Note: The last great U.S. epidemic occurred in 1878 in New Orleans, killing 13,000 people.
Highly infectious viral disease Spread: person-to-person contact Symptoms: fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, neck stiffness, pain in limbs; one in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis, killing 5–10 percent of those paralyzed when breathing muscles are affected; mainly strikes children under age 5 Best prevention: vaccination Impact: Until effective vaccines were developed in 1950s, polio annually crippled thousands of children in industrialized countries. Today only four countries worldwide remain polio-endemic: India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Note: The worst U.S. polio epidemic caused more than 27,000 cases and 7,000 deaths in 1916.
Highly communicable viral respiratory disease Spread: coughing and sneezing Symptoms: rash, high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes; complications include ear infections, pneumonia, encephalitis, seizures and death. Best prevention: measles vaccine Impact: About 454,000 people, mostly children, died from measles worldwide in 2004. Note: Before a vaccine became available in 1963, almost everyone got the measles. After the vaccine, U.S. cases dropped by 98 percent.
Information for the Top 10 was drawn primarily from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.