My Turn: Our history with public health mandates – Concord Monitor

Published: 10/29/2021 6:00:04 AM

For as long as we have been plagued by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also been beset by the ongoing battle between personal choice and mandates. For most of us, it has been an exhausting experience, and I speculate that the result has been that many are unsure about where they stand on this issue.

This situation harkens back to a similar controversy more than 50 years ago surrounding the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Both sides cited scientific studies that supported their position. The tobacco industry resisted government regulation of its products by conducting public relations campaigns and buying scientific and other expertise to create controversy about established facts.

While I am a virologist by training, I realize that providing scientific explanations publicly about the biology and spread of disease is not necessarily compelling for many. In the end, the overwhelming and unbiased scientific studies clearly showed the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, and so the anti-smoking campaign prevailed.

It is seen as a major success with few parallels in the history of public health. Many arguments used by the naysayers then are identical to what we are now hearing and reading — “I have the freedom to smoke whenever and wherever I want… just because you don’t smoke should not be a reason why I cannot smoke in your presence” and so forth. This notion is simply scientifically false, and one cannot use this argument to justify endangering the broader public. Too many people require ironclad results before they will accept something as true.

While nothing is 100% effective, not vaccines, not seatbelts, not recovery programs, the harm reduction these things will provide is, and has been, easily provable.

Perhaps a more compelling approach for those still unsure about public health mandates is to look back at our public health history which cannot be refuted. In addition to the history of smoking and lung cancer, there are plenty of precedents in regard to public protection from infectious diseases.

The most relevant example is our State School Immunization Requirements per New Hampshire law He-P 301.13-15 that “requires that all children enrolled in any school, pre-school, or child care have certain immunizations to protect them and those around them from vaccine preventable diseases.”

So, all of us, including our parents and grandparents, did follow mandates that were based on sound science. The adherence to those mandates resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of cases of most vaccine-preventable diseases, which is at an all-time …….


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