And Our Country Gets Stupider By The Day

Republican Sen. Rand Paul is standing by his statement that most vaccinations should be “voluntary,” telling CNBC that a parent’s choice not to vaccinate a child is “an issue of freedom.”

In an interview with the network Monday, Paul said that vaccines are “a good thing” but that parents “should have some input” into whether or not their children must get them.

And he gave credence to the idea – disputed by the majority of the scientific community – that vaccination can lead to mental disabilities.

“I have heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,” he said. – Carrie Dann, “Rand Paul: Vaccines Can Lead To ‘Mental Disorders'”, nbcnews.com, February 2, 2015

A recent outbreak of measles due to an unvaccinated child visiting Disneyland in California has brought the whole discussion of whether or not to vaccinate children all the way to the United States Senate.  Measles, which had all but disappeared from the United States by the year 2000 has come back with a vengeance.  Whooping Cough (pertussis) is also making a comeback, as is mumps.

Now, I’m old enough that I had measles as a small child.  My brother and, I think, my youngest sister, both had scarlet fever (that’s what caused Mary Ingalls, in the Little House series of books to go blind).  One of my mother’s older brothers died from whooping cough before reaching the age of two.  I can tell you these are horrible illnesses.  They do more than make you feel uncomfortable with a fever for a few days.  They can kill.  Chickenpox can leave boys impotent, stay dormant within a system, then return in adults as shingles, a debilitating sickness that can cause kidney failure and death.  I never had chicken pox.  Last summer, at the doctor’s office for a follow-up visit, there was a child with chicken pox in another room, and the doctor saw the look in my eye and assured me isolation measures had been taken, but I asked her, again, to clean her hands with anti-bacterial wash.  While sterility isn’t here or there for me at this point in my life, a painful, debilitating, potentially fatal illness certainly is.  She smiled and happily complied.

The reason we as a society developed vaccines was to prevent suffering and death to children and adults.  That’s the reason it’s called “public health”.  Like so much we insist is about “our freedom”, we have to do here with something that has nothing at all to do with you and your beliefs about your rights or freedoms.  I suppose it is precisely the success of mass vaccination programs that makes it possible for people to forget just how horrible these diseases are; that they do more than make children “ill”, but can cause life-long debilitation, can arise again when immune systems are weakened by other illnesses, and can even kill.  You might really and truly and honestly believe that vaccinations carry everything from toxins to the potential to bring about anything from autism to their own debilitating illnesses.  And it’s true that some vaccinations can, indeed, have side effects that include low-grade fevers that usually last no more than a day or so.  Some children, with weakened immune systems, conditions unknown either to parents or doctors, might become extremely ill, particularly if live but debilitated virus vaccines are used; a compromised immune system won’t be jump started by a vaccine in such a case.  The vast, vast majority of children, however, have little more than a swollen arm for a day or two, perhaps a bit of tiredness and a temperature rise to no more than 100, then it’s over.

Yet, we continue to be inundated by those known as “anti-vaxxers”, people who insist, despite the evidence from a healthier childhood population and diseases once rampant now eradicated (smallpox is the best example along with measles), that vaccinations are far more dangerous than the illnesses they are supposed to prevent.  A friend linked to an article by Dr. Amy Tuteur entitled “What Everyone Gets Wrong About Anti-Vaccine Parents”.  It beautifully summarizes everything wrong with the whole anti-vax movement in three simple points: privilege, an unreflective defiance of authority, and the need to feel empowered.  After explaining these, she writes:

Where does that leave us?

First, it explains why efforts to educate anti-vax parents about the science of immunology has been such a spectacular failure. It is not, and has never been, about the science.

Second, it suggests how we must change our approach. Simply put, we have to hit anti-vax parents where they live: in their unmerited sense of superiority.

How? By pointing out to them, and critiquing, their own motivations.

Anti-vax parents are anxious to see themselves in a positive light. They would almost certainly be horrified to find that others regard them as so incredibly privileged that they can’t even see their own privilege.

We need to highlight the fact that unreflective defiance is just the flip side of unreflective acceptance. There’s nothing praiseworthy about it. Only teenagers think that refusing to do what authority figures recommend marks them as independent. Adults know that doing the exact opposite of what authority figures recommend is a sign of immaturity, not deliberation, and certainly not education.

Finally, we need to emphasize to parents that parenting is not about them and their feelings. It’s about their children and THEIR health and well being. It’s one thing to decline to follow a medical recommendation. Most of us do that all the time. It’s another thing entirely to join groups defined by defiance, buy their products, and preach to others about your superiority in defying medical recommendations. That’s a sign of the need to bolster their own self-esteem, not their “education.”

Just as I often repeat that being a Christian, declaring one’s faith in the God of Jesus Christ isn’t about me and what happens when I die, but about subsuming and finally eliminating my ego in the desire to answer the call of God to work for the world God loves, so, too, vaccination isn’t about you and your freedom.  In all honesty, what kind of parent deliberately exposes their children to the possibility of contracting a horrific disease that can kill them, and go on and infect others as well?  The first rule of parenthood is to stop thinking of yourself first.  Yet, as Dr. Tuteur makes clear, the anti-vaccination crowd is precisely concerned far more with themselves than their children.

We have to confront anti-vax parents where they live — in their egos. When refusing to vaccinate your children is widely viewed as selfish, irresponsible, and the hallmark of being UNeducated, anti-vax advocacy will lose its appeal.

And yet, here we are, with a United States Senator insisting there is something noble and virtuous in not vaccinating children, insisting it should not be mandatory, despite all the reasons from science, history, and experience that this is precisely the best way to eliminate the threats of these diseases from our world.

It isn’t just our politics that is sliding backwards.  Our whole society is becoming stupider, less educated, allowing socioeconomic privilege to trump the centuries of work that have saved countless lives.  There is no virtue in ignorance, particularly when it comes to the health of our children.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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