Radical conservatives and their pundits are claiming the U.S. could become like an East-German communist police state if we must carry proof that we have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Snarky police in black leather jackets will come to our doors in the middle of the night, commanding, “Show me your papers!” That’s the fear being spread.
Of course, few radical conservatives ever look at history to see that the country went through all of this 100-plus years ago with the campaigns to eradicate smallpox and other diseases. In 1885, travelers to the U.S. had to show a vaccination certificate as well as a scar from where they were vaccinated — or a pitted face showing they already had and, I guess, survived smallpox, although 30% didn’t.
What’s smallpox? According to the Oxford Dictionary, smallpox “is an acute contagious disease with fever and pustules leaving permanent scars. It was effectively eradicated through vaccination in 1979.”
In 1883, one opponent of vaccination wrote that childhood vaccines would lead young people to develop bovine tendencies. Some referred to a vaccination scar as the mark of the beast, a reference to the Bible‘s book of Revelations. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene recently referred to a proposed vaccine passport as “Biden’s mark of the beast.”
The scar was a sort of vaccine passport.
In 1903, Maine’s government decreed that “no person be allowed to enter the employ of work in a lumber camp and not show a good vaccination scar.”
As Jordan Taylor wrote in Time magazine in April, ”The United States practiced aggressive, even compulsory, vaccination campaigns at the turn of the century that may surprise Americans today. … This set the precedent that schoolchildren still benefit from as every American state requires that students be vaccinated against measles, polio, and pertussis.”
There is no free lunch when it comes to getting rid of pandemics. You will have to sacrifice some degree of freedom or simply go live with pygmy tribes in a Congo rainforest, probably the only place where you don’t have to show your papers.
Then and now there were detractors. In 1923, one Illinois writer proclaimed, “A scar from vaccination is a brand, a mark of medical despotism.” And in the early years, the authorities had to be very forceful to get people vaccinated.
But my main complaint against the anti-vaxxers is their claim that someone is somehow not American if made to show some sort of papers to prove their vaccination.
Well, what about states that require a picture ID to vote? Isn’t that the same as “Show me your papers!”?
If you check into a hospital, you are asked for your Medicare or insurance card. Isn’t that the same as “Show me your papers!”?
And if you go to a pharmacy to fill a prescription and you are asked for a picture ID, isn’t that the same as “Show me your papers”?
It is not un-American to show your papers in this situation, not if you want to live in a civilized society.
If you want to leave Fido at a kennel before you go off to your Caribbean vacation, you will be asked for proof that Fido has been vaccinated against rabies, Bordetella, and Lyme disease. To wit, they’ll say, “Show me Fido’s papers!”
John Freivalds of Wayzata, Minnesota, is the author of six books and is the honorary consul of Latvia in Minnesota. His website is jfapress.com. He wrote this for the News Tribune.