If Shakespeare wrote a play to sum up the underlying angst of Mullumbimby for his tragi-drama ‘I can’t believe it’s not’ HAMlet, his first line would be ‘To Vax or not to Vax. That is the question.’ I vax.
For some people in this community that’s pretty well on par with coming out as a paedophile. I know there will be people who suggest that I am brainwashed by Big Pharma (shit! I have used Pantene!); that I’m some sort of chemical-loving chump (I still adore Acid); that I’ve swallowed the sales pitch (increase in public vaccination programs = drop in communicable illness = seems to work.)
Recently some conspiracy enthusiast called me a ‘chem trail denier’. Like it’s a thing. I know some of you will think I am crazy, but I trust science. Science has long served humanity. Science is the reason there’s this invention called the car, or that I can fly in an aeroplane, or that DNA can be mapped. Science tells me smoking gives you cancer. (Weirdly we know that smoking kills us but we have no problem doing that. Corporations have been killing us with smoking-related cancers yet we continue to light up? Are people who sell ciggies lung-cancer denialists?)
In Mullumbimby the VAX conversation is terrifying. I was thinking about writing this years ago but I was too scared. Scared of being trolled, abused and bullied. I decided that wasn’t a good enough reason not to write my take on the vexing vax issue. (Is there a vaccination for stopping fear?) I know there’ll be a bulge in my inbox (also existing thanks to science) with links to YouTube videos that prove I’m wrong. (Interestingly this internet thing has its roots in science too…).
The internet is many things: it’s entertainment, it’s gossip, it’s porn, it’s intrigue, it’s titillation… but one thing it’s not is a source of is definitive, regulated and rigorously tested information on public health. And many posts cited as information were possibly put there by a drunk person. Or a fellow conspiracist.
I listened to an ABC documentary years ago on infant mortality in Rwanda and how it went from the highest in Africa to one of the lowest after introducing an incentivised immunisation program. To me that makes it clear that vaccination saves lives. It doesn’t mean that it’s not without side effects in some individuals, but across the general population vaccination promotes improvements in health by reducing the harmful effects of serious illness and disease on the general population.
I guess that’s where the argument gets fractious. Indviduals are asked to act taking the ‘common’ good into account rather than their ‘personal’ good. I understand the conundrum.
I think people who vaccinate and those who don’t have more in common than they realise. Both groups are attempting to do what they believe is in the interests of their child’s health. I made a decision on the subject years ago based on what I saw as evidence on one side and what seemed like conspiratorial ravings of the paranoid on the other. I don’t mean to be rude but some of the anti-vax stuff seems a bit nuts. It often sits on the table with a whole raft of wild assertions – like 9/11 was a hoax as was the moon landing, that Sandy Hook shooting was staged… I just can’t go there. I don’t believe the world is such a sinister place. While I accept Big Pharma is definitely about profit, it’s also in the business of keeping people alive. There’s no profit in dead people. You can’t grow up to buy and drive cars, drink beer and smoke ciggies if you’re dead. I’m not that cynical that I think the government or Big Pharma are conspiring to kill us, one Whooping Cough shot at a time. If the government wants to kill us they’ll just let us keep smoking and living lonely lives without meaning in asbestos houses eating processed food and sobbing into our beers.
People clearly believe what they choose to believe. Whether it’s factual or not. Just look at Donald Trump: he’s made a presidency out of it. Belief these days isn’t about credible research. It’s about trends. It’s about what our ‘influencers’ believe. In fact a recent study on vaccination trends shows that whether or not you vaccinate has more to do with whether or not your friends vaccinate than any other factor. That seems like a co-dependent way to do complex thinking.
One of the pervasive beliefs is ‘vaccination causes autism’. This allegation was thrown around years ago, and even though it was shown to be utter bullshit, the stigma has pretty well NEVER worn off. Many people choose to continue to believe it even thought it’s been absolutely proven untrue.
I vaccinate myself, my kids, my dog and even my cat and everyone seems to be doing okay. In fact when it comes to general health, we’re pretty robust. So far neither the kids nor the animals have developed vaccination-related autism, although I have to admit the cat is a bit standoffish. She’s downright antisocial. And she can’t read yet. But apparently that’s normal for a cat. I guess it’s what you choose to believe.