Most of you know where I stand on the vaccination debate. I refuse to discuss vaccinations with people who put their fingers in their ears and who ignore rationality and science. I have no patience with them.
Then I read Eula Bliss’s On Immunity.
Bliss does not buy into the anti-vaccination hysteria, presenting the science clearly and without jargon. She writes elegantly; more importantly, she views the world holistically. She places the anti-vaccination movement in a larger historical, sociological, and philosophical frame, discussing among other things the changes that the ideal of “purity” underwent when people began being afraid of toxins rather than infection.
She also writes of fear: the fear that she had for her child (in her case, fear bordering on obsession), that all of us have for our children. (She had a pediatrician when her son was born who told her not to get the HiB vaccination given to children within hours of their birth because it wasn’t necessary for “people like her.”) In short, even as she dismantles their beliefs, she demonstrates compassion for the parents who oppose vaccinating their children. (The charlatans and professionals who profit off of said parents are another matter. For example, she points out a passage in Bob Sear’s anti-vaccination book which excuses parents who put the welfare of their child above that of society, while in another chapter telling parents not to share their fears with their neighbors lest an outbreak occur.)
She has compassion for those parents; I do not. I cannot. I feel only rage.
Mostly this rage stems from generational perspective and personal history. I was born to a mother who, grateful that the rubella that resulted in my being born six weeks early had struck in the third trimester of her pregnancy rather than the first, was too ill to hold me for days. At the age of one I developed both rubella and chickenpox simultaneously, resulting in high fevers for extended periods, and as a consequence the formation of my tooth enamel was stunted. (I have suffered from dental problems a lot during my adult life.) My eldest sister was twelve when the first polio vaccines were licensed. No one in our family got polio, but she can tell of the fear of getting polio.
Even thinking of rejecting vaccines strikes me as lunacy, although Bliss talks about the history of vaccine denial. (Refusal to get vaccines is a lot older than I ever thought, although in the early twentieth century the concern about the purity of the vaccines was far more justified than now. Forget thimerasol: one vaccine used in an outbreak was contaminated with tetanus. Even so, the death rate among those who were not vaccinated was higher than that for those who were.)
Eula Bliss manages compassion; I need to take a deep breath and do likewise.