I've not going to write often about it (this being only the second post in over a year), but, the truth remains that a lot of us are still walking around because of modern science. The single biggest contributor to that is vaccination. There's a very nice video here, from a pediatrician, Joseph Albeitz (h/t Phil Plait) that outlines some of the magnitude of good that vaccination has done:
In looking at vaccination, as he discusses, you're looking at saving hundreds of millions of lives. The list of things that could contend for saving more is awfully short.
One thing he mentions in passing, which I'll spend a little more time on, is herd immunity. There's a feeling out there, a false sense of security, that as long as 'everyone else' is vaccinated, it doesn't matter if your kids are. If your kids were the only unvaccinated kids, that might be true. But, in reality, you're not the only person who might think that way. Your kids interact with many other children. Once the number of unvaccinated children is high enough (depending on the disease it's in the range 10-30%), the disease can establish itself and spread. The 'herd' is immune only if enough people are immune. Once enough fail to vaccinate, you're a breeding ground for the disease. Worse, you're a breeding ground to infect people who did get vaccinated -- vaccines aren't 100% effective in all people. If enough of you are carriers, then the disease can spread to other kids and kill them.
I know that measles is commonly considered a trivial disease. But that 'trivial' disease kills over a million per year (listen to the video). I'm thinking that not killing off a million children each year would be a good thing. Similarly for the numbers of polio victims -- with vaccination, the number who would get it goes to zero. Both of these diseases are like smallpox in an important way -- they only spread between people. If we reached a point where nobody had the disease, as was the case for smallpox, then nobody would ever again need to be vaccinated against it. It would be gone. As the Dr. mentions, they're about 99% of the way there for polio. Measles have farther to go. Both, amazingly, can be eradicated.
Digressing a second, but not really, is my genealogy. One of my direct ancestors died from smallpox. Lived long enough to have kids, obviously. But died 20-30 years early because of the smallpox. As many a person who looks in to genealogy has observed, you see a lot of very short lives when you look back then (1700s - mid 1800s), many of them children who were never even named. Much of the reason for that change is vaccination. That ancestor (Zeboeth Brittain, how's that for a name?) died before the vaccine was discovered -- 1790, vs. 1796 for Edward Jenner's discovery. But I think he'd be amazed at the idea that the disease that killed him could be erased from the face of the planet -- and it now has been. Measles and polio can be as well.