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Guest view: When your selfish 'rights' cost someone else their life, 'I'm sorry' doesn't mean much

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Mick Ringsak


The practice of immunization dates back thousands of years. Buddhist monks drank snake venom to confer immunity to snake bite and variolation (smearing of a skin tear with cowpox to confer immunity to smallpox) was practiced in 17th century China. Edward Jenner is considered the founder of vaccinology in the West in 1796, after he inoculated a 13-year-old-boy with vaccinia virus (cowpox), and demonstrated immunity to smallpox. In 1798, the first smallpox vaccine was developed. Over the 18th and 19th centuries, systematic implementation of mass smallpox immunizations culminated in the disease's global eradication in 1979.

Louis Pasteur’s 1885 rabies vaccine was the next to make an impact on human disease. And then, at the dawn of bacteriology, developments rapidly followed. Antitoxins and vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, tuberculosis, and more were developed through the 1930s. The past two decades have seen the application of molecular genetics and its increased insights into immunology, microbiology and genomics applied to vaccinology. Current successes include the development of recombinant hepatitis B vaccines, acellular pertussis vaccine, and new techniques for seasonal influenza vaccine manufacture.

In Homer's Odyssey, written in 700 BC, the goddess Calypso tells Odysseus: "I'll be as careful for you as I'd be for myself in like need. I know what is fair and right." The Biblical source found in Luke 6:31, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” In 551-479 BC Confucius sums up his teaching as: "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you." (Analects 15:23) Throughout the history of the human race there are many references for the need for us to look out for one another.

The United States has a long history of protecting the nation’s health through vaccines. Although 18th-century Americans didn’t fully understand the science behind smallpox, they knew that one-third of all who contracted the disease DIED!

Mandated vaccines began with George Washington in 1777. His order for smallpox vaccination during the Revolutionary War saved the Continental Army from defeat. It’s one example of how mandates have protected the health of Americans for more than two centuries, and since then, American soldiers received the vaccine from the War of 1812 to World War II. Starting in World War I, the Army added vaccines against typhoid. During World War II, vaccines for influenza, tetanus, cholera, diphtheria, plague and yellow fever were also required. By 2006, soldiers in the armed forces received 13 different vaccines, with additional doses depending on location and regional conditions.

Today, the younger generation wants to talk about their rights and privileges. Fifty years ago, when we still taught government and the constitution in high school, people talked about their obligations and responsibilities.

A person has an obligation to others, to those around us. Co-workers, relatives, friend neighbors, retail salespersons, caretakers. waiters and others who make this economy and country work all deserve the right to be free from fear and free from harm as we ourselves expect for us.

We shouldn't need mandates In order to be good citizens. As members of a community, we must understand our rights and responsibilities that help make our communities better. Rights are freedoms we have that are protected by our laws, while responsibilities are duties or things that we should do. As individuals we have the right to care, love and protect our families but with it comes the responsibility to show love, respect and caring to others, especially the elderly. As human beings we are constantly in a state of tension between our appetites and our dreams, and the social realities around us and our obligations to our fellow man.

Any person living in a free society has a right to be oblivious, misinformed, and even selfish. That freedom is limited by the point where it endangers the lives of others and risks their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Vaccines aren’t about the individual, they are the obligations of “We the People”... of ”Promot[ing] the general welfare” to ensure all our rights. Without obligations, there are no meaningful rights.

When the decision to exercise selfish rights costs someone their life, whether it's a high school friend. your brother, sister, wife, son, daughter, father, grandfather or grandmother, saying "I’m sorry" is a little too late and doesn’t have a lot of meaning.

Elton W. "Mick" Ringsak of Butte was a presidential appointee, serving as Region 8 SBA Administrator, and has been a small business owner. He is a Vietnam veteran and a retired major in the U.S. Army. 


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