shapona-large-150x150housougami-150x150To those unfamiliar with the history of world religions and disease, the formidable duo shown here are Hosogami (left) and Shapona (right). In two different societies of yore, in the 600s and 700s A.D. in Japan and in the 18th and even into the 19th century in Nigeria, the fervent built religious rites around these smallpox deities.

Worshippers hoped various behaviors would appease their lords of infection, with later experts coming to believe that the priests of Shapona (aka Sopona) also helped to spread the highly contagious and disfiguring illness by scratching villagers as part of extortion schemes. Science and vaccinations eventually eradicated smallpox globally, with infectious disease and public health experts historically mindful how fear, ignorance, and societal pressures can lead numbers of people to embrace counterfactual and cultish responses to scary illnesses.

Now, can President Biden and his administration — with a new and tougher program to get millions of unvaccinated Americans to finally get coronavirus shots — back down what increasingly has become a politically partisan and almost theological opposition to proven methods to quell a disease that has killed 660,000 Americans already and is taking 1,500 lives each day?