Tags: Pox | You | But | Not

A Pox on You – But Not on Me

Wednesday, 06 November 2002 12:00 AM

The current controversy over smallpox vaccination is important in itself, but also because it sheds light on how decisions are made in this country.

Recently, the health ministry of Israel recommended that all Israelis be vaccinated against smallpox, to protect against a terrorist attack. In contrast, a committee of U.S. public health experts recommended that only health-care workers be vaccinated, so they could care for victims in the event of an attack. There are good arguments on both sides.

Smallpox is highly contagious. It is spread by coughing or sneezing, and also by clothing or other personal articles. One patient with smallpox infected people on three floors of a hospital.

It is also highly lethal. Twenty percent to 40 percent of patients die, and survivors are often left with ugly facial scars resembling severe acne. There is no proven treatment.

Vaccination was introduced in 1798, and two centuries of use have shown it to be 95 percent effective in preventing infection, and probably even more effective in preventing death. The protective effect of one dose may last for 10 years, and the repeat doses that were routine protect for many years. A recent study shows persistent immunity more than 35 years after the last dose of vaccine.

Still, vaccination is not risk-free. Of course, neither is anything else, including aspirin or crossing the street. The vaccine contains the live virus of cowpox, which cannot cause smallpox but can cause a severe infection in those with chronic skin conditions. Particularly at risk are those with suppressed immune systems, such as recipients of organ transplants and perhaps AIDS patients. A safer vaccine is being developed, but no one knows when it will be available.

Nevertheless, this isn't the only live-virus vaccine. Measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox vaccines also contain live viruses. They are used commonly.

Routine vaccination in the U.S. was stopped in 1972 because smallpox had been all but eliminated. The vaccine was extremely safe. Excluding infants, the death rate from vaccination was one in 1.67 million, which approaches lotto odds.

Compared to a death rate of 20 percent to 40 percent from smallpox, the risk of vaccination is negligible. But what can't be calculated is the risk of terrorists releasing smallpox virus. Without knowing that, whether to vaccinate is a judgment call.

Opponents of vaccination argue that there are now many more persons at risk. In 1972, organ transplantation was rare and AIDS was unknown. What's more, if you are vaccinated, you may shed the virus for a few days and transmit it to a transplant recipient with whom you have close contact. Then you are protected against smallpox, but he may become very ill from the vaccine virus. So the risks of widespread vaccination are real.

Still, it is illogical to argue that what was so safe it was compulsory is now so dangerous it must be forbidden.

But wait. The last vaccine was used in 1972. Protection lasts for many years. This means that most Americans over the age of 30 or 40 may be protected against smallpox, at least to a degree, but no one under 30 is protected.

And what do you suppose is the age of those experts on the committee? That's right, the ones who recommended that only health-care workers get the vaccine. I'll bet serious money that few if any members are under 30, nor are the government officials who will make the final decision.

In other words, those who are least at risk make decisions adversely affecting those most at risk – without even asking.

Those who are afraid of lawsuits, or afraid of doing anything that might damage their careers, are making decisions that put millions of citizens at risk of death or serious illness. But the citizens aren't asked, because they aren't "experts."

What do you call people who act like that? Arrogant elitists? Self-adsorbed careerists? Presumptuous narcissists? Or maybe just liberals.

For another example, take the income tax. It began as a tax on the rich. But it was extended to everyone who isn't poor. It is, in effect, not a tax on being rich, but a tax on getting rich. It helps those who already are millionaires to retain their hold on wealth by hindering other people from becoming millionaires.

And what is the liberal position? Let's raise taxes, even during a recession, to "help the poor." Millionaire senators tell people trying to support a family of four on $70,000 a year that they are "rich" and should happily pay even more tax to help "those in need."

Again, those least at risk make decisions adversely affecting those most at risk. Then they have the gall to tell less affluent people that they should be ashamed to keep too much of what they earn. Of course, the elite define what constitutes "too much."

Those who advocate high taxes pose as "pro-family," because they want to raise taxes still higher to pay for day care. Of course, many parents wouldn't need day care if high taxes didn't force both of them to work. How's that for circular reasoning?

Or take gun control. Similar factors apply.

Those living in gated communities, high-security condos, or affluent suburbs can't understand why people would feel the need for a gun to defend themselves and their loved ones. Unlike many poor people or minorities, they don't live or work in high-crime areas. They rarely set foot in the inner city.

They feel safe. But they have so little empathy that they can't understand why many people are less fortunate and have good reason not to feel safe.

Even worse, some anti-gun advocates, including senators and journalists, reportedly hold permits to carry guns, while at the same time they stridently oppose your right to do the same. They live in safe areas, but they also take measures to make their families even safer. Then they prevent those who live in more dangerous areas from taking the same measures.

If you look in the dictionary under "A" for arrogance, you will find their pictures. But if you look under "E" for empathy, they won't be there.

Then there is bilingual education, which was intended to create proficiency in two languages but more often produces students who are literate in neither. So why do proponents continue to favor it? Consider the incentives.

Teachers get extra pay for being bilingual. And schools get extra money not for each student who becomes proficient in English, but for each student who remains in bilingual classes. The incentive is to keep students in bilingual classes till they graduate from high school.

The same holds true for school choice. The elite send their children to private schools, or to good public schools in the suburbs, while they insist on keeping less affluent kids in failing public schools in inner cities. And teachers unions continue to be among the largest donors to the Democratic Party. Once again, it's what's good for the elite, but packaged as what's good for everyone.

To liberals, "choice" refers only to abortion, but not to whether you can be vaccinated against a fatal disease. It surely doesn't refer to how you spend your own earnings, whether you can defend yourself, how you educate your children, or almost anything else.

I'm sure you could provide other examples, but the point is clear. There is a significant part of what is called liberalism that is no more than elitism.

It's insulting to tell adults, "We know what's best for you." But it's even more insulting when one realizes that it often means, "We know what's best for us, and we have the power to shove it down your throats."

Are there exceptions? Of course. Do some liberals have low incomes and work in high-crime areas? Certainly. Are many liberals sincerely concerned with the well-being of those less fortunate than themselves? Without a doubt.

But the opposite is shown by the examples of smallpox vaccine, tax rates, gun-control laws, bilingual education, and school choice. The general tendency of liberalism is to cloak self-interest in the mantle of empathy and concern. Sometimes, though, the mantle slips, revealing what lies beneath. It's not a pretty sight.

What's revealed is an arrogant elitism and self-righteousness. This makes a small group of "experts" believe they have the right to make decisions adversely affecting the well-being of millions, without so much as asking the "non-experts" for their opinions.

But in the end it's our fault. If we act like sheep, we deserve to be fleeced.

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The current controversy over smallpox vaccination is important in itself, but also because it sheds light on how decisions are made in this country. Recently, the health ministry of Israel recommended that all Israelis be vaccinated against smallpox, to protect against a...
Wednesday, 06 November 2002 12:00 AM
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