As we celebrated Veteran’s Day earlier this week, we respectfully remember those who lost their lives on battlefields to protect the freedoms we enjoy today. Not only did many brave soldiers lose their lives in battle, many lost their lives fighting diseases that are eradicated or very rare today thanks to the many advances of vaccines.
Guess what produced 5,500 casualties among 10,000 colonial troops during the Revolutionary War? If you guessed a weapon of mass destruction, you are wrong. It was small pox. The disease was so devastating that George Washington decided to protect his troops against this feared disease by requiring variolation, the earliest form of vaccination.
Measles was a killer of troops in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and pneumonia and encephalitis were complications of measles and led to death. Typhoid Fever took the lives of 1,590 during the Spanish American War in comparison to the 280 battlefield fatalities. Tetanus toxoid became mandatory for US servicemen, in 1941, thereby reducing the number of deaths to tetanus that occurred after a minor or major battlefield injury. Today’s vaccine preventable diseases were formidable forces that military members faced in the pre-vaccine era.
Vaccines are now required by the United States military. The military’s view is that vaccines keep our troops healthy. Today’s military recruit is protected against the following diseases though vaccination: Hepatitis A and B, Influenza, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Meningococcus, Polio, Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis. If a service member is assigned hazardous duty, additional vaccines such as Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies, Small Pox, Typhoid and Yellow Fever vaccines are administered to provide protection.
The best trained force with the latest in technical weaponry cannot perform well unless it is healthy. Vaccines enable US military forces to stay healthy, making them safer while on-duty.