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My doctor the politician

by Jim Elliott
| July 29, 2021 12:00 AM

Why do so many Americans get their medical advice from politicians? They don’t take their cars to politicians to fix, they don’t take a sick cat to a politician, and I will guarantee you that politicians know as much about sick cats or broken-down cars as they do about medicine.

I will also tell you for nothing that the last person I would trust for medical advice is a politician, but they now seem to be the biggest players in the vaccination follies, many of them directly implying that they know more about vaccinations than a scientist. Now, for the record, I have been both a scientist (although not for long) and a politician and having been around members of each vocation have absolutely no problem in figuring out which one knows what they are talking about when it comes to medicine, and it’s not politicians.

At the beginning of the pandemic in America President Trump created “Operation Warp Speed” and charged it with creating a vaccine against Covid as soon as possible. Trump committed $18 billion toward the development and distribution of vaccine and an agreement to buy 455 million doses. It normally takes over 10 years to bring a vaccine to market, but within nine months Covid vaccines became available and ready to use.

That is a phenomenal success, and Trump doesn’t get as much credit for that as he deserves, the reason is partly political, but Trump hurt himself, too. After the stunning success of the project, when it came to the vaccination program itself, his attitude seemed to shift to “whatever.” That attitude has been picked up by politicians and media mouths as “don’t bother” and they advise people to not get the shot.

Many rationales have been advanced to justify not getting vaccinated. For instance, some believe that there is an electronic chip in the serum so that government can track you down. So, no chip, thanks, but we still carry cellphones which can serve the same purpose. Some claim that vaccination goes against nature. Well, OK, but people used to think that flying went against nature. People have conquered “nature” time and time again.

The fact is that the United States of America might not have ever been created without vaccination, in this case against smallpox. George Washington had had smallpox as a young man. It laid him up for almost four weeks, but, of course, he survived. As general of the Continental Army one of his greatest fears was that he would lose more soldiers to smallpox, which was carried and transmitted by British soldiers, than would be lost in battle. Washington ordered the “variolation”—an early form of vaccination — of all American soldiers for smallpox. In variolation an incision was made in the individual’s arm and a string that had been dipped in puss created by smallpox was run through the wound. It produced a milder form of smallpox which lasted about 24 days. One to two percent of those who had been variolated died, but without variolation smallpox killed on average 30% of an infected population. In 1796 a British doctor, Edward Jenner, perfected a vaccine against smallpox which created a very mild illness, and then lifetime immunity. Because of the vaccine, Smallpox was eliminated throughout the world by 1980.

There have been people who oppose vaccination since the beginning of vaccinations. Those we will always have with us, but as far as I can ascertain it has never been as major a political issue as it is today. The reasons for vaccination are now, and have always been, to save individual lives by vaccination and to save other lives by lowering the transmission rate through mass vaccination which decreases the number of potential carriers.

Why have so many Republicans, who were responsible for helping create vaccines in record time, discouraged the actual use of their magnificent effort? It’s like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

We have the right, I suppose, to put ourselves at risk by choosing what medical advice to follow. But we do not have the right to endanger anyone else’s life by being possible transmitters of terrible diseases. That’s what it’s all about, helping Americans by helping yourself.

There you have it, a scientific opinion from a politician and a political opinion by a scientist, all in the same (vaccinated) body.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature. He lives in Trout Creek.