As all computer geeks know, it’s very difficult to wipe out a virus, and I mean eradicating it completely from the world. The fight against real-world viruses, the kind that attack humans and animals, is much, much more difficult. Viruses have evolved into the most abundant type of biological entity on the planet.
The idea of eradicating one sounds like an impossible dream, yet scientists managed to do just that with the smallpox virus, and have repeated the feat a second time now with the rinderpest virus. Rinderpest, a virus that killed almost all of the cattle on the African continent, was eliminated through a combination of creating an easy to use detection kit and making the vaccine widely available.
OK, so it’s not the same kind of story as the elimination of smallpox, but it’s big news just the same. Smallpox killed almost half a billion people in the 20th century alone before the smallpox vaccine managed to wipe the virus from the planet by 1979. The rinderpest virus killed most of the cattle in Africa, so wiping it out has had a significant impact on the food source for many of the world’s poorest people.
The point is that this seemingly impossible feat has been accomplished for a second time in human history thanks to vaccines and science-based medicine. There are a lot of quacks out there who are misleading the public about vaccines for nothing but personal gain, and they are managing to convince far too many people who should know better that vaccines are dangerous and ineffective.
While vaccines do have known side effects for a tiny percentage of people, the scare mongering about them has cause a reduction in vaccine usage around the world (only in the “educated” wealthy parts, ironically) and the increase of human viruses that were once on the verge of being wiped out themselves. It’s amazing that modern, educated people would allow Jenny McCarthy to guide them on medical decisions based upon scary stories spread by snake-oil salesmen looking to make a quick buck from worried people.
Modern vaccines are extraordinarily safe and effective. If you haven’t already done so, get your flu vaccines for this year. If you have an infant, keep their vaccine schedule up-to-date. Vaccines are never 100% effective, yet by making sure that nearly everyone is vaccinated scientists are able to do the impossible and wipe viruses (we can use the plural form of that word now!) from the planet.