According to the NBC News report, the last polio outbreak was in 1979. But because of the growing number of unvaccinated people in places like the Middle East it is raising concerns that polio could come back resulting in the panic that came along with it. With this being said, the panic that resulted from the polio epidemic deserves to be remembered. The PBS documentary The Polio Crusade gives stark examples of what life was like before the polio vaccine was created. The ease of people becoming infected with polio and the measures taken to prevent the disease from spreading were astounding. For example, one woman said she contracted it after swimming in a small lake not far from a relatives home. One boy who was infected and taken to the hospital had all of his personal belongings and books burned resulting from the fear of risk of infection due to casual contact. Some parents faced being ostracized if their kids became infected and once someone contracts polio paralysis it is for life.
I am also reminded of the influenza epidemic of 1918. While libertarians would probably cheer at the fact that the flu epidemic may have been the primary factor that contributed to the end of the First World War, the strain of flu that spread among the populace at the time was a virus that mutated into a deadlier form of influenza. The situation at the time became so bad one doctor stationed at Fort Devens outside of Boston was quoted as saying:
This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed....These men start with what appears to be an ordinary attack of LaGrippe or Influenza, and when brought to the Hosp. they very rapidly develop the most vicious type of Pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the Mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the Cyanosis extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day, and still keeping it up. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a new mixed infection here, but what I don't know.
The Influenza outbreak of 1918 raises another important point in the vaccine debate. If there are little to no vaccines to stop the spread of viruses and people rely on their natural faculties instead, then it gives the virus the ability to mutate into something far more powerful and potentially deadlier than when it first started out. According to the History of Vaccines website:
Just as natural selection has shaped the evolution of humans, plants, and all living things on the planet, natural selection shapes viruses, too. Though viruses aren’t technically living – they need a host organism in order to reproduce – they are subject to evolutionary pressures.
The website goes on to say:
One way hosts protect themselves from a virus is to develop antibodies to it. Antibodies lock onto the outer surface proteins of a virus and prevent it from entering host cells. A virus that appears different from other viruses that have infected the host has an advantage: the host has no pre-existing immunity, in the form of antibodies, to that virus. Many viral adaptations involve changes to the virus’s outer surface.
The influenza virus that infested populations during 1918 is a prime example of this and that also includes noting the doctor's quote a few paragraphs up. If left unchecked, viruses can mutate into deadlier forms that can be even more lethal when they first started out. If enough people intentionally not vaccinate themselves they are potential hosts for a virus to mutate itself. The unvaccinated (knowingly or not) pose a risk not only to people who are unvaccinated but also those who are vaccinated as well.
Without vaccines people will live in constant fear of infection of not just polio but also diseases like hepatitis, different strains of influenza and pertussis. Martha Ann Lillard is one of a handful of people whose circumstances have resulted in her being condemned to life in an iron lung. Yet if vaccine skeptic groups are successful, the amount of polio victims who must live in iron lungs will grow. This will be the result of undermining public confidence in vaccines and traditional medicine in favor of snake oil remedies and pseudoscience. That also includes the mutations viruses can go through growing into stronger, deadlier strains and resulting in hundreds if not thousands of serious injuries or deaths of innocent lives. Consequently, people are quarantined in rooms maybe even whole buildings full of people suffering from sicknesses like influenza or polio. This while having to live their lives limited to iron lung respirators or being forcibly quarantined for having symptoms matching a list of diseases deemed harmful to the public.
With conspiracy theories flourishing in libertarian, environmentalist, and even Muslim culture it begs the question people who make up these collectives need to ask themselves. If they truly want the hell on Earth that will result should they succeed in stopping the confidence in and dissemination of vaccines among the populace which results in hindering scientific investigation. If so, are people active in these groups prepared to accept responsibility for the results of their actions when (not if) deaths and permanent injuries to people they claim to be helping occur?
With all of the above points in mind, consider that the polio outbreak in the Middle East is limited to three countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan), respectfully. If refugees from any of these countries end up in Europe it could lead to an outbreak since the continent's vaccination rates are very low. Back in 2010 a Swiss citizen who had measles made her way to Arizona and initially infected up to fourteen people resulting in an outbreak. Imagine a similar situation where a deadlier strain of polio or some other virus comes about in Europe or the Middle East, infecting a host and then finding its way to the United States.
The bottom line is that people who refuse to vaccinate themselves, their children and urge their loved ones and friends to do so put the individual rights of themselves and others at risk. Short of health reasons, for someone to knowingly refuse to vaccinate themselves is the equivalent to not only a declaration of war against the life and liberty of another but to act as a leach on the health and welfare of those who do. This not only applies to the spread of vaccines but also the results of what has happened in the past before vaccines came about as an indication of our future without them.