So I ran into an interesting example of how history can have vastly different meaning depending on how you tell it. Last month on his SciShow Channel, Hank Green talked about human experimentation and used the story of Edward Jenner and the early attempts at a smallpox vaccine as one of his examples. You can watch it here (it should be queued up to the correct moment, if not, skip to 2:49)
Well, recently Ted-Ed released a video on the same topic. It came so quickly after the SciShow one, I almost wonder if it was in response. Anyway, watch below and see if you notice as dramatic a difference as I did.
I use the word “hate” sparingly. I do my best to not hate persons, you know, follow that “love them that despitefully use you” commandment. Still there are ideas and movements out there that I do hate. I try not to extend those negative feelings to the members of such movements, rather I attempt to understand the life circumstances that got them to be a part of such a group and I try to have compassion for the elements in their lives that were beyond their control that led them there. Yet still, there are groups and movements that do great evil in this world, and I hate those movements. Today, I’m going to discuss the one–that while not the most evil or pernicious in modern or historical times–I cross paths with the most, and I grow less tolerant to with each passing year: The anti-vaccine movement.
To put it bluntly, I believe this movement is evil. The movement grants its members the right to feel moral superiority over the rest of society while putting society as a whole at great risk for harm and early death. It’s almost like a form of feudalism where the unvaccinated lords and ladies can look down there noses at the unclean masses while ignoring the atrocities done to the rest of us in there name. I used to just be able to ignore their collective smugness, like ignoring the sneers from the granolas in Whole Foods who noticed I wasn’t wearing organic-cotton jeans, but as diseases like whooping-cough and measles make comebacks to 1950’s pre-vaccine number the time for tolerance has passed. This movement is a ticking time-bomb leading to plagues and epidemics. We ought to treat them with the same level of derision that smokers are treated because I firmly believe that sending my kids to a school where 40% or more of the kids are unvaccinated is more dangerous than sending my kids to a school where all the teachers smoked while lecturing (a norm in the 19th & early 20th centuries).
On top of the health risks to society as a whole, the most frustrating thing about this group is how unsound their arguments are, while somehow being effective to recruit more followers! It baffles my mind. Here are some of the arguments that drive me the most crazy:
- The False Dichotomy: (There’s a few of these, I’ll cover 2) (a) “If people were just healthier and ate better then they wouldn’t need vaccines.” So vaccines are treated as an either/or thing, something to compensate for an unhealthy lifestyle. Nothing is further from the truth, vaccines are simply one tool towards achieving a healthy lifestyle. They offer very specific protections, and those protections are enhanced by exercise and eating healthy. (b) “Everything alternative is great, all mainstream medicine is bad” Look, there’s value to researching alternatives to find new treatments, but once an efficacy study has been done and replicated, let’s trust it! Remember, everything that is “mainstream” now was once “alternative.” Alternatives can lead to innovation, but mainstream or alternative, if the treatment doesn’t bear fruit, let’s abandon it. No alternative to vaccines is bearing fruit right now, and all these alternatives are starting to actually cause problems, not fix them.
- The appeal for tolerance, while offering none: Often I see something like “Respect my choice not to vaccinate my kids, while I share an article that disrespects your choice to vaccinate.” Doing that is not an appeal for tolerance, it is advocacy, it is propaganda. It is a manifestation of the false moral superiority that the anti-vaccine movement fosters in its members
- Not respecting the historical devastation of these diseases: Too often there is some comment about how “back in the day” once one kid in the neighborhood would get sick everyone would send their kids over to get sick too, and all the kids would wind up fine. Okay, clarify something for me, why is inoculating someone through disease preferable to getting inoculated without getting sick? Also, our great-grandparents didn’t do that to our grandparents with all diseases, yes, maybe measles and mumps, but not polio, small pox, or whooping cough, those cases were quarantined. Also, they were strategic about it; they wouldn’t send their kids over if the child with the disease was having an extreme case, they would wait until someone in the neighborhood had a mild case indicating that it was a more mild strain.
- The misappropriation of vaccine research: I don’t know how intentional this is, or if it comes from a place of ignorance, but often anti-vaccine people take published studies on vaccine research and write an article on it that comes to the complete opposite conclusion of the researchers themselves. This is often done by misinterpreting the data; they grab one number in the study, and then ignore the statistical meaning of that number, and further ignore the rest of the analysis in the process.
- They are stubbornly rigid when proven wrong: this autism/vaccine lie has been proven to be a myth, started by a greedy trial lawyer and an unscrupulous medical professional to try and make a quick buck. This lie has diverted funds for legitimate research into autism and vaccines for over 15 years now, and time and time again has shown no correlation or cause between the two. Yet still the myth is perpetuated and regurgitated in different forms: the last straw, the trigger, the whatever else that still can’t be proven. And the lie lives on.
- Playing the “greed” card: So often anti-vaccine people argue that greed is driving the vaccine companies and the medical establishment. I know no doctor that wants to see patients regularly because they are ill and can’t get better. One thing I’ve learned as a counselor is that often the negative qualities we label others with are the ones we ourselves have personal vulnerabilities about. So for these people to constantly claim that pro-vaccine people are greedy, how much must greed be a personal demon in their lives?
- Not understanding the nature of inoculation I once read a anti-vaccine piece where the author talked about vaccines being 90% effective, he then asked why the medical establishment isn’t doing anything for the 10% that aren’t inoculated after getting vaccinated, and that they were no different than his kids that weren’t vaccinated in the first place. That is such a horrible misread of the 90% efficacy rate. Vaccines provide a level of coverage that varies depending on the strength of the vaccine and the strength of the immune system of the vaccinated person. If the vaccinated person has a weakened immune system do to an immune system or genetic disorder, an unhealthy lifestyle, or a different disease (like a cold or influenza) then the overall efficacy of the vaccine is lower, and exposure to another person who hasn’t been vaccinated can trigger the disease in the vaccinated person. If you’re in your 30’s or older, think back to your own childhood when chicken-pox wasn’t included in the vaccine schedule. You might remember some unlucky kid who had already had chicken-pox when it went around one year, but then caught it again the next time it went around because he or she was unlucky enough to catch the flu right before the chicken-pox started spreading again. It’s the same thing with inoculation via vaccine.
These are just my top 7 annoyances with the anti-vaccine movement. A movement that collectively has set the clock back 50 years in disease health of the American public. As I said, I used to be able to ignore those few I knew who were part of this group, but now that we are paying the price for their lies and misinformation I can’t be silent any more. If you haven’t vaccinated your children, please talk to your doctors and get some real facts. The internet is full of a lot of stuff, but it is often hard to distinguish real facts from lies and misinformation in this environment.
If trying to encourage all of you to get educated doesn’t work, the only next step I can think of is shame. It’s been our predominant social engineering tool for the past 30 years to get people to quit smoking, perhaps it might start working on some of you anti-vaccine folks. I hope we don’t have to get there, I’m not a fan of shame, but I’ll use whatever tools are at my disposal to keep my family safe.