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Letter: You should be grateful so many masked up and got the COVID vaccine

McMahon is replying to a letter critical of vaccines.

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Karen Gemar’s recent letter does not explain what is “venomous” about COVID vaccines or why she didn’t want to wear masks (currently Sanford patients are not required to do so). As someone who wraps a scarf around her face from December to March every year when I go outside, I find it hard to grasp what could be a problem with wearing a mask (other than sweating inside it in the summer, but Sanford has pretty good air conditioning).

As for the vaccine, a lot of Europeans objected to smallpox inoculations (originally done using scrapings from someone else’s healing smallpox blisters, until Edward Jenner figured out the cowpox/smallpox immunity link). They believed it thwarted God’s will. But when some royal families lost members to smallpox in the early 1700s, things began to change. Back then, lacking an heir was a serious political problem which could lead to wars.

Inoculation was traditional prevention in Asia and Africa and was brought back to England by Ambassadress to Turkey Mary Wortley Montagu. Fear of royal vacancies began to lead the nobility to adopt the practice. But in France resistance remained high. The method using smallpox virus had its risks, and after a smallpox epidemic in Paris inoculation was banned. Then Louis XV died from the disease, along with a dozen courtiers. Louis XVI wasn’t going to chance it and was inoculated, along with his brothers, securing the royal line. Other nobility followed and being inoculated became a fashion statement. George Washington ordered his troops inoculated, and the rest is history indeed.

Infectious disease is a strange thing. On the one hand, some diseases over millennia have showed up, killed a lot of people, then disappeared altogether. Some show up in surges. Some are tamed by sanitation and antibiotics (typhoid and salmonella are the same disease, we deal with salmonella by using antibiotics and looking for the source contamination). Some co-evolve with humans to become mild illnesses for most people. Some, like polio, we prevent so well with vaccines that unvaccinated people in the U.S. have no exposure in infancy (for infant, polio is almost always a mild illness) and when a Rockland County young adult is exposed to virus shed by someone who received the oral vaccine in another country (because in some countries it works better to give the oral vaccine so recipients shed a mild virus that helps build immunity in others) he experiences some of the most devastating effects.

We could, of course, opt for diseases to take their natural course (insofar as that course is natural on a planet with 8 billion people and constant global travel), sacrifice a lot of humans but evolve resistance. Or, if you reject evolution, we could just try to please God so he does not send plagues to strike us down. Personally, I think science figures out what is going on, and what we do with the information really is a political decision. Of course politics is hard considering all the people, all the ideologies, all the cultures (and religions), and science itself is a process of learning and then correcting what scientists thought they had learned. But very, very few religious leaders have rejected scientific knowledge regarding COVID, or how to respond to it, and those who have are either fringe adherents to larger faiths or have their own fringe faith period.

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Just to be clear, I am not saying you have to pick science or faith. You are allowed to have both; Galileo certainly did. But he said (or tried to) that the Bible is not an astronomy textbook (no chapter mentioning the moons of Jupiter, even though God surely knew they were there).

The combination of the virus evolving, political and provider policy decisions, scientists doing their thing, and many people agreeing to mask and get vaccinated have helped keep you safe. I’m not going to call you an extremist (although I think some extremists have led you wrong). You are welcome to make your own choices, but a few thanks to the rest of us might be in order. I think God would encourage you to do that.

Sheri McMahon lives in Fargo.

This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

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