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George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Those of us lucky enough to have never seen someone suffer or die from polio, influenza, measles, tetanus, smallpox, chickenpox, diphtheria, or whooping cough, may understandably not fear these diseases enough to accept the risks of preventive vaccinations. But, contrary to popular press, these risks are no greater than what we already accept when we take antibiotics. The risks do not include autism.

As early as 1,000 years ago there is evidence that people devised artificial ways to achieve immunity to disease. They used pulverized smallpox scabs taken from the sick and applied them to skin and nostrils. This was done in Africa, India, and China long before the 18th century, when the practice began in Europe.

In the 1500s as many as 30 percent of all children in England died before the age of 15 from diseases, many of which are now preventable by vaccines.

In the 1600s and 1700s an estimated 80 to 90 percent of the Native American population perished because it lacked immunity to diseases imported by Europeans.

In the last two centuries vaccines have been developed to immunize against 27 major infectious diseases. Smallpox, polio, yellow fever, and several others have been virtually eliminated from the developed world.

Thankfully we allow government to mandate sanitation standards. We must likewise allow government to mandate immunization standards. We must restrain the fist of personal freedom from flattening the nostrils of the public good.

Michael C. Huntington M.D.

Corvallis (Feb. 11)

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