George Washington’s childhood bout with smallpox, and that experience’s affect on his leadership later on, can give a glimpse into why today’s debate over COVID-19 vaccines has roots in America’s founding.

That’s according to a new Deseret News video. And the fascinating, disturbing way that Washington balanced waging the Revolutionary War and managing a smallpox epidemic may have been the “biggest intelligence coup” in the fight against the British, says historian Joseph Stoltz.

To save his troops from smallpox, Washington turned to an experimental procedure called “variolation” despite disapproval in parts of the colonies. The first president even faced some of his biggest opposition in his home colony of Virginia.

Stoltz lays out the risk Washington took in America’s fight for freedom.

“If the British get word that the bulk of the American Army has just been inoculated and is probably sick at the moment with smallpox symptoms, it sounds like a great chance to just walk in there and round everybody up,” he said.

Recovery from “variolation” took up to two weeks — but the operation was a success. American troops could then focus solely on securing independence for the nation.

So it could be argued that Americans today owe their freedom — and country — to Washington’s risk. The story of cooperation for country’s sake isn’t something to gloss over now either.