In 1947, The New Yorker published a Comment about Israel Weinstein, New York City’s health commissioner, and his attempts to combat misinformation surrounding the city’s plan to vaccinate millions of residents during a rapidly spreading outbreak of smallpox. That spring, more than 6.3 million New Yorkers were vaccinated; it was among the largest mass-vaccination efforts to fight the disease in the United States. Weinstein, a doctor, remarked that he had been steadily denying inaccurate rumors ever since the campaign began. Some skeptics claimed that the vaccine killed more people than the disease (false), while others insisted that, as long as someone’s blood was “pure,” he could avoid infection. (“One man said he kept his blood pure by eating carrots.”) As we enter a new phase in America’s battle against COVID-19, Weinstein’s observations from nearly seventy-five years ago continue to resonate.
This week, we’re bringing you a selection of pieces about the impact of vaccinations and the consequences of anti-vax propaganda. In “The Plague Year,” Lawrence Wright offers a comprehensive look at the mistakes behind America’s COVID response and the work of virologists to combat the pandemic. In “Countdown to a Coronavirus Vaccine,” Carolyn Kormann reports on the progress of medical treatments and explores the complexities of nationwide vaccine distribution. In “The Deadly Cost of America’s Pandemic Politics,” Dhruv Khullar examines the damage done by the misinformation movement against vaccinations. Finally, in “How to Think About Vaccines,” Amanda Schaffer writes about the roots of vaccine anxiety. In a moment of political instability, these pieces are a reminder that protecting the health of our nation must go on—unimpeded.
The city’s health commissioner, whose office inoculated more than six million New Yorkers over the course of a month, discusses mass vaccination, sore arms, and hysteria.
The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy.
The race is nearly complete, but distributing the doses will be a breathtaking challenge.
Vaccines are on the way, but until they arrive tens of thousands of lives depend on the battle for public opinion.
In her book “On Immunity,” Eula Biss argues that vaccines are not “unnatural.”