If you’re old enough to have a scar on your arm from receiving a smallpox vaccination as a child, congratulations — you’re part of a global, multi-generational effort that, for the first time in human history, eradicated a deadly disease.
Smallpox, which had been around for at least three thousand years, probably killed more human beings than any other disease. The mortality rate, according to the World Health Organization, was appallingly high — about 1 in 3 died. If it didn’t kill you, it was likely to leave scarring on your face, or might render you blind.
I got my vaccination as a student at Washington Elementary School at Baxter Springs. On the appointed day, the students assembled in the auditorium in the center of the school, and the vaccine was shot into our arms by a nurse wielding a shiny pneumatic gun. At least that’s the way I remember it. The United States ended mandatory vaccinations for smallpox in 1972, because the disease had been largely beaten.