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Dennis: Trusting jets, bridges and vaccines

Electricity. Cars. Air travel. Computers. Not to mention smart phones, refrigerators, air conditioning, even Keurig coffee machines …

These and other innovations have transformed civilization, making life in the 21st century better than at any time in the history of the world.

And they all stem from science.

Chances are, the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children fully enjoy those amenities. Indeed, one of the key methods of communicating anti-vaccination claims has been the Internet — itself, of course, an electronic network built 100 percent on the principles of science.

Recently, a Herald story profiled a number of such parents and detailed their claims. We’re convinced those parents are doing what they think is right and trying to act in their children’s best interests.

But denying the benefits of vaccinations also strikes us as defying logic. Because vaccinations are based on the exact same science that underlies the other astounding successes of modern life, including the Internet and the others listed above.

Think about it. Some anti-vaccination activists argue that the 20th century’s great drop in communicable diseases was due not to vaccinations but to improvements in sanitation. But those improvements in sanitation themselves were products of science.

During the Middle Ages, “refuse from the table was thrown on the floor to be eaten by the dog and cat or to rot among the rushes and draw swarms of flies from the stable,” the medical historian Howard Haggard has written.

“The smell of the open cesspool in the rear of the house would have spoiled your appetite, even if the sight of the dining room had not.”

And if it weren’t for germ-theory proponents such as Joseph Lister and Louis Pasteur, our appetites as well as our physical health would be spoiled still.

Or consider another claim: that a person’s “natural immunity” is superior to the immunity delivered by vaccines.

But of course, our knowledge of “immunity” also is a product of science — of the centuries-long quest by physicians that began at the time of Hesy-Ra, “chief of dentists and doctors” in Egypt in 2700 B.C., and continues to this day.

Today, the science of medicine has reached conclusions that have withstood multiple tests of population and time.

One of them concerns the crucial role that vaccines have played in taming polio and other scourges of human life.

Among medical authorities today, none commands more respect than the Mayo Clinic. The clinic sits on medicine’s pinnacle, benefiting from humanity’s thousands of years of medical discoveries and assimilating that knowledge as well as any organization on Earth.

Here is the Mayo Clinic on vaccinations:

“Immunization benefits far outweigh the risks of infectious disease or vaccine-related adverse events,” the clinic declares.

“Immunization is one of the best ways you can protect yourself and your children against infectious disease. By stimulating your body’s natural resistance to disease — thereby creating immunity — vaccines are your first line of defense against the likes of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, influenza, tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

“Were it not for the widespread use of vaccines in the U.S., a far greater number of deaths would occur during childhood and many more people would be living with chronic and often crippling aftereffects of disease.”

Vaccine skeptics should trust that science, exactly as they trust the science that keeps airplanes aloft, food safe from contamination and the Internet a global tool.

Dennis is the opinion editor of the Grand Forks Herald, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at