Patrick Taylor Highlands Mayor
The first mass vaccination effort in this country was undertaken at the direction of General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. By the time the Continental Army encamped at Valley Forge in 1778, smallpox was and had been decimating their ranks.
Washington knew he had to take action or there would be no army to fight the British in the upcoming summer campaign. The British soldiers had developed a herd immunity from the spread of smallpox throughout Europe, but that was not so for the American soldiers.
Washington decided to vaccinate all troops who had never had smallpox with a new and controversial technique. An incision was made on the soldier’s forearm. A thread soaked with the smallpox pus was then dragged through the incision, thus infecting the soldier with hopefully a mild case of smallpox. The theory was that this planned exposure gave a person immunity, and it was a better choice than having full blown smallpox that significantly increased the possibility of death. This vaccination technique still caused death in an estimated 5 to 10% of those treated. Nevertheless, it stopped the spread of smallpox at that terrible winter encampment. The Continental Army was able to reform from a disjointed militia force into a cohesive, disciplined army.
The tradition of vaccinating American troops began with Washington and continues today. The spread of disease within an army can be just as devastating as enemy fire.
Now I’m not making the case for mandatory vaccinations against COVID, but I do think it is interesting that these founding heroes of this nation were willing to risk everything, even taking an untested vaccination in order to fight for their country. I do see taking the current vaccines as a similar act of support for our friends and neighbors, for our fellow countrymen. While I hear folks raising concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, I think about how far we have come. What would General Washington think?
I am concerned about vaccine reluctancy now that it is becoming clear that we are facing a resurgence of COVID through the spread of the Delta Variant. I am concerned that many of our town workers have not been vaccinated. While I foresee no plan to force workers to take the vaccine, I would hope the spirit of public service would make those not vaccinated reconsider.
I attended last Friday a celebration for the volunteers who worked in the Highlands Cashiers Plateau Vaccination Clinic. It was a bittersweet moment. Those in attendance had returned to wearing masks again along with the discussion about resuming the clinics.
I presented to the volunteers a plaque that commemorated the resolution the Highlands Town Board of Commissioners passed thanking the volunteers for all the work and effort they contributed to operating the clinics. I also had the honor of issuing a mayor’s proclamation honoring the leadership and hard work that Tom Neal put forward in organizing and operation of those many clinics.
I hope all the efforts of the volunteers will not be in vain. This coming fall might be a “Valley Forge moment” to where our hearts and souls are again tested.