An anniversary worth celebrating

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Oct. 26 2009 7:53 AM

An anniversary worth celebrating

According to Wikipedia, the last naturally occurring incident of smallpox (Variola minor) happened on this date in 1977:

By the end of 1975, smallpox persisted only in the Horn of Africa. Conditions were very difficult in Ethiopia and Somalia, where there were few roads. Civil war, famine, and refugees made the task even more difficult. An intensive surveillance and containment and vaccination program was undertaken in early and mid-1977. The last naturally occurring case of indigenous smallpox (Variola minor) was diagnosed in Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Merca, Somalia, on 26 October 1977.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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smallpox_goneIn the 20th century, smallpox is estimated to have killed hundreds of millions of people. Hundreds of millions. Imagine the United States -- the entire country, from the Pacific to the Atlantic -- empty, devoid of people, dead. Smallpox wiped out that many people with room to spare.

And yet, today, it's gone.

Why do you think that is? Homeopathy? Detoxification? Thinking good thoughts?

Nope. Vaccinations. A global campaign was undertaken in 1950, and within 30 years smallpox was struck from the face of the Earth.

Hey Jenny McCarthy, Meryl Dorey, and all you antivaxxers and your ilk: got a response to this? Still want to claim vaccines don't work? Still want to stop people from getting them? Do you want to see this happen to children all over the planet again (WARNING - SERIOUSLY! -VERY DISTURBING IMAGE). Because if you are successful in your campaign to stop vaccinations, that's what we'll be facing again.

Vaccines are perhaps the single greatest triumph of modern medicine. Yet a vocal minority willing to trash facts, spin the truth, and generally spout misinformation is putting not only themselves but you, me, and everyone at risk.

Happy anniversary, smallpox, gone these past 32 years. And may I add, good damn riddance. May reason, rationality, and science-based medicine do the same for every other threat to the health and well being of the human race as well.

Tip o' the syringe to Reddit.

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