The Epidemic of ‘21

BOSTON, MA – April 22.  A sailor from a British ship arrived in Boston ill.  He was quarantined, but too late.  Other crew members fell ill, causing the epidemic to surge in Boston for a second time.

Inoculation against the epidemic had been available for some time, but a large segment of the Boston population opposed it.  Some opposed inoculation based on divine law – either because the inoculation could inflict harm (which was true), or that inoculation would circumvent God’s will.  Some opposed inoculation on the ground that inoculation was untested (also true).

As ’21 progressed, 54% percent of the population of Boston were afflicted by the epidemic, with a 15% mortality rate.

But this was 1721, not 2021, and the epidemic was smallpox, not COVID. Faced with the severity of the smallpox epidemic, Reverend Cotton Mather actively promoted smallpox inoculation.  He was met with open hostility by the colonists; a bomb was thrown into his house but failed to detonate.  In time, however, the data among those inoculated showed that the mortality rate had been reduced to 2% among those who contracted smallpox, and the opposition against inoculation faded.  Never again would Boston suffer the fatalities from smallpox that it did in 1721.  Inoculation against smallpox in Boston continued until 1800, when it was replaced by Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine.

Philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  

But let’s not.  If you are not yet vaccinated against COVID, it’s time. 

May you find joy in what you do and who you are with.