News & Events

Vaccinate Against War Not Smallpox

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
January/February 2003 Edition

As health care professionals, some of us are being called upon to receive the smallpox vaccine. We are being asked to become vaccinated against a viral disease that we had been told was eradicated. The obliteration of this disease marks one of the highest points of international cooperation.

Governments with opposing ideologies, governments that were on a daily alert against each other, governments that were funding armed conflicts against each other all cooperated in eradicating smallpox. Western scientists cooperated with tribal healers, communists cooperated with capitalists, dictators cooperated with democratic leaders, people of all religions cooperated with each other. Yes, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, pantheists and atheists all cooperated to erase the threat of smallpox from the world.

Now the American people are being told that the scourge of smallpox is near upon us. We are being told that the international era of cooperation in combating worldwide diseases is over. We are being told that our health care system will protect us, that our armed might will protect us.

As health care providers who are likely to be called upon to accept the smallpox vaccine, we say NO.

We say NO not out of fear for our own health. Every day we face the risk of infectious diseases at work. We have never shied away. We say NO not out of fear of side effects to the vaccine. We do not believe ourselves to have any risk factors for a bad reaction since we were vaccinated as children and had no problems. We say NO because vaccinating in the face of no known threat is wrong. It represents the use of health care as an extension of an aggressive military posture. A posture which our government has put forward prior to national debate. The posture that we as a nation have not only the right but also the responsibility to launch preemptive war.

There is no true evidence of anyone preparing a smallpox attack. Those who are knowledgeable enough to launch a mass smallpox attack via aerosol distribution are also knowledgeable enough to know that it would not only backfire politically but that smallpox would spread world wide, affecting their people as well. Those who are fool enough to use suicidal methods to spread smallpox would ultimately be defeated, since we were able to defeat the original smallpox epidemics when the virus was spread by individuals unwittingly infected

The government is using the fear of smallpox as a political tool to rally support for a wrong and possibly criminal policy. It reminds one of the 1950s. Those of us who were children then remember the fear of the communist nuclear attack. In gym classes, in civics classes and in health classes we were shown films of what would occur if the Russians sent atomic bombs and missiles at us. We had regular air raid drills to prepare us for this event. We sat under our desks and in hallways with our heads between our legs. We were told not to look at the flash of the explosion lest it blind us. Ads for backyard fallout shelters were in all the media. Fear abounded and bred hatred and a pro-war politic. A politic which led our democratically elected government to fund dictators throughout the world. A politic that led our democratically elected government to support military overthrow of democratically elected governments. A politic which led government officials, charged with protecting our own freedoms, to brand the civil rights movement, the voting rights movement and even some of our unions and environmental movements as conspiracies run from Moscow. Let us not go there again.

We must use our healthcare abilities to build an international commitment to peace and human rights. Let the example of smallpox eradication be used to build further cooperation. There is new work being done on drugs to conquer malaria, to diminish the effects of HIV. Let us use this and other work to enhance international unity instead of hate and fear. Let us use our wealth and knowledge to aid people in developing clean water and safe sewage systems. Let us use our democracy as an example for others. We can do that by not supporting dictators, royal families and governments that hoard their countries’ wealth for a few while oppressing the human rights of the majority. Let us wage a peaceful campaign against all Weapons of Mass Destruction in all countries and by all governments.

As healthcare professionals we have pledged first to do no harm. We have pledged to use our skills to help all those in need regardless of their beliefs or their position in society. We will accept the smallpox vaccination when it is part of a worldwide effort to eradicate the disease. In that event the healthcare workers of Iraq would be inoculated as well.

Barry Adams, RN, Boston, Massachusetts Iris Biblowitz, RN, San Francisco, California
Amelia M. Cabral, RN, Taunton, Massachusetts
Catherine DeLorey, RN, Boston, Massachusetts
Mike D’Intinosanto, RN, Winchendon, Massachusetts
Sandy Eaton, RN, Quincy, Massachusetts
Robert Fine, RN, Arlington, Massachusetts
Susan Flowers, RN, Indiana, Pennsylvania
Teana Gilinson, RN, Stoughton, Massachusetts
Patty Healey, RN, Northampton, Massachusetts
Peggy Lynch, RN, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Michael Lyon, MS, San Francisco, California
Deborah Blaisdell Martin, RN, Waltham, Massachusetts
Jim Moura, RN, Dorchester, Massachusetts
Marc Sapir, MD, MPH, Berkeley, California