Vaccinate now!

By Ellen Ratner

I oppose the idea of a preemptive strike against Iraq. Working through the U.N. to first attempt a peaceful disarmament is the adult way to go.

But that doesn’t mean I have to be stupid about it. If we do move preemptively against Saddam, it’s quite likely that he or some other terrorist will respond. “Respond” is actually too sanitary a word for what they’re likely to do – kill as many innocent American civilians as they can in the shortest, cheapest and most dramatic way possible. In today’s world, that likely means bio-terror. And in the judgment of a lot of experts, that could mean the use of smallpox virus.

It’s an ugly disease, literally and figuratively. It spreads rapidly through the air and requires only proximity to a carrier, not actual contact. One carrier can result in tens of thousands of exposures before symptoms appear in the first victim. One-third of those exposed will die … many of the remaining two-thirds who survive will bear disfiguring scars.

In the 18th century, before the advent of a vaccine, “scrofula,” which refers to the horrible facial scarring left in the disease’s wake, was a common word. As a child, the renowned English essayist Dr. Samuel Johnson contracted smallpox. Thankfully for the history of letters, he survived, but one side of his face was so badly scarred that for the rest of his life, he would always try to present his unscarred profile in public. But as any American born before 1972 knows, there’s an easy answer: Get vaccinated against smallpox.

We and many other countries around the world were grateful to have it. As a result of making its use universal, the disease was finally eliminated worldwide in the 1970s – except for the United States, the old Soviet Union and a few retrograde tyrannies like Iraq, which insisted on keeping stocks for “self-defense.”

Self-defense? It looks like we may have to wind up defending ourselves against strains of diseases that we ourselves bred! The deadly anthrax germs that killed last year were apparently raised from American-bred strains. There have also been reports that Saddam’s own stockpiles – if he has them – were obtained from commercial sources in the U.S.

But why worry? Didn’t head of Homeland Security Tom Ridge order a couple of hundred million doses of vaccine last year? Yes he did. Now try getting one.

The assorted “wizards” who administer the national health bureaucracy have decided that vaccines will be made available to “first responders” (i.e., other doctors and health bureaucrats like themselves) only. Then, should there be an outbreak, these inoculated first-responder types will go to the affected areas and vaccinate everybody else. The reason given for limited vaccinations is to protect the tiny percentage of the population who might have a bad reaction to the vaccine, such as people with compromised immune systems.

Apparently, universal vaccination, which was good enough in the 1970s, is not good enough today.

What a bunch of morons! It would actually be funny if the probable results from this stupidity weren’t likely to be so deadly – perhaps for millions. For starters, can you imagine the instant panic that will spread when news of the first case hits the wire? And what makes these fools think that it will be just a few cases in only a few locations? Given the likely reported pattern of dissemination, it would probably be thousands of cases presenting in thousands of places.

The resulting panic, especially among the so-called “worried well,” would instantly overwhelm health-care facilities everywhere. All their coolly worked out plans announced this week for the smooth dispatch of previously inoculated health-care workers to handle orderly lines of people calmly awaiting their “shots” would be reduced to tatters.

In fact, this plan smells the same way as when anthrax invaded Congress – our pols were inoculating themselves, their staff – even, reportedly, their pets – while poor postal workers were left sorting mail and told not to worry. The score? A bunch of dead post office employees while no one from Congress so much as sneezed.

To the Bush administration, I say: Quit treating us like children, idiots or both. Anyone who wants the vaccine should get it, period. You want to push this country into a war with Iraq? Well, you’re the president, I guess you can do it. But don’t leave the American people exposed.

Vaccinate now!

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