There are some moments in global history that are remembered, whether they are world wars, scientific discoveries, the moon landing, or the collapse of the Berlin wall. If you were alive during these events, you will never forget them. When vaccines for illnesses like typhoid, polio, and others came about, the world began to change for the better. We celebrated the doctors who were part of the development, while the people who seemed to spread the disease—even unknowingly—have been castigated.

This is something that Martin Kulldorf, a professor in Harvard Medical College, seems to be completely oblivious to in an ill-considered tweet that mirrors so much of conservative thought:


First of all, on several levels I agree with this. Blaming people for spreading disease has often resulted in direct harm to communities and does not work out well. However, the statement above is an absolute falsehood: “Never before have carriers been blamed for infecting the next sick person.”

Can I introduce you to Typhoid Mary?

The perception of people being responsible for spreading illness has always been built into our culture. Gay men in the 1980s saw it firsthand with harmful responses toward treating HIV, which Gallup documents:

AIDS predominantly affected men who had sex with men and, as a result, severely hindered the U.S. gay rights movement, which was still in its infancy. Among Americans who reported knowing a gay person, more than one in five (21%) said they had become less comfortable around that person since learning about AIDS.

In 1985, the vast majority of Americans (80%) said it was “probably true” that most people with AIDS were homosexual men. More than a quarter of Americans (28%) reported that they or someone they knew had avoided places where homosexuals might be present as a precaution to avoid contracting AIDS — and this number grew to 44% by 1986.

In 2015—long before COVID-19—I wrote a diary here at Daily Kos on why you should get vaccinated.  In cases where people had no ability to get a vaccine or to quarantine, an illness can face the blame. However, when you’re provided the opportunity to prevent the spread of an illness and knowingly refuse to do so, then I’m sorry Dr. Kulldorf, but your continued bashing of containment strategies, vaccine distribution policies, and your terrible understanding of even recent history are a grave disservice to the institution you serve.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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