Vaccines and Society: The Science Problem.

There’s this annual ritual that I go through in my undergraduate studies, it’s been a staple of my educational experience ever single quarter that I’ve studied here in Chicago. It goes something like this;

I walk into a classroom full of passionate environmental students who are eager to save the planet. Starry-eyed? Yes! Cynical? Yes and no; how can you not be quasi-depressive after hearing ninety straight minutes of lectures about the inevitable collapse of human civilization due to global climate change?

The class listens to the endless statistics quantifying the epic scope of global warming; rising sea levels, the loss of ancient glaciers, droughts, the lonely polar bear floating about on a wayward ice cap into never-ending eternity. It’s the same old story, and as much as I hate it, it’s necessary. it’s that dose of reality that knocks down even the most ambitious of activists.

Yet even through all of this, one student returns to that sticky issue in the environmental world; genetically modified organisms (cue gasps of horror from the class). ‘Zombie crops are invading our organic wheat fields’, ‘There isn’t enough verifiable science to disprove adverse health effects born by GMO’s’, etc. etc. The list goes on and on, and the general argument stays the same.

How anyone in the environmental community can be faced with the humongous threat of climate change and the destruction of our way of life, yet devote their full time and energy to an issue about whether or not humans should be able to continue a 10,000+ year process of genetically modifying crops, is beyond me (and I’ve tried, to no avail, to understand it). Yet moving past the specifics of this GMO debate, we can see this issue as a symbolic reckoning of a problem that I feel as strayed both environmentalists and liberals away from the foundations of their political beliefs.

This problem is what I’ve often called the ‘un-reasoning’ of liberal politics, or to put more bluntly, the movement of progressive politics away from science.

There’s a lot of dangerous variables that can shift the Democratic party, and Progressives as a whole, away from being the faction of common sense; radical ideology, religious fundamentalism, etc. Yet none of these things pose a more serious threat to the stability of our political identity than the pivot away from science and reason.

After years of looking at my political party with a sort of awe-inspiring bewilderment at some political stances (I’ll get to these in a minute), I’ve come to the conclusion that our willingness to waver in the face of reason comes from the very fact that we’ve become a party that’s incredibly inclusive to a fault. When I write this, I don’t mean inclusive in regards to different people or groups of people, but rather ideological beliefs.

In the face of verifiable science proven by over 97% of peer-reviewed scientists, we accept the unconditional presence of global climate change and the threat that it poses to humanity and the planet as a whole. Yet in this same realm of scientific consensus, some reject the basic idea that scientifically-modified organisms provide no verifiable health risks (and, spoiler alert, we have been modifying the genetic makeup of our domesticated crops since the foundations of civilization were laid). Not only do some reject it, but the very base of the environmental movement pours millions of dollars and labor hours into electoral campaigns aimed to address the belief that GMO’s might harm humans. This is at the same time that the forests are depleting, the glaciers melting, and the summers are growing hotter.

Yet I move to the issue that is really ‘grinding my gears’; vaccines.

Nothing screams ‘AMERICANA’ quite like a family trip to Disneyland. My family and I took various trips to the happiest place on earth when I was child, and I am pretty confident that I’m a better person because of it. Yet imagine this horrific scenario; a loving family pours their life savings into a three-day trip to Disneyland; they get the matching neon shirts and everything. Sure, it cost a pretty penny, but the memories that they’ll make will be worth it. They’ve got their five old girl named Ann, and a 6-month old named Jimmy. Poor Jimmy comes down with a rash on the second day, and within a week he’s covered head-to-toe with measles. The vacation’s ruined, and worse of all Jimmy is teetering on the verge of death because one of the 5,000 screaming kids in Southern California on one of those three days had a parent who stared into the face of science and proudly said ‘Fuck you, my kid ain’t getting a vaccine’.

I might of just pulled the names of these characters out of my ass, but the overarching theme from this story is true; selfish parents, listening to the cries of washed-up celebrities and conspiracy theorists, are putting the lives of innocent children at risk in exchange for affirming their falsely-contrived fears of a needle and a life-saving vaccine. I don’t even attempt to pink-wash this issue; selfish parents are getting innocent children sick.

Someone out there will probably read this, and I’m sure one of these people will disagree. They’ll range from the tinfoil-hat looney’s to the well-meaning soccer mom who just can’t justify inoculating her poor baby with a range of exotic ‘chemicals’, yet loves drowning herself in ounces upon ounces of alcoholic beverages late at night at book-club. Yeah I know, that was a little harsh, not as harsh as subjecting innocent children to life-threatening diseases.

To those of you who fit the above category, my words will have no effect; they will enter your brain, be compartmentalized through your own paradigm view of human life, and then be spewed out into a rambling argument about how scary the names of the things in vaccines are. I get it, and I’m sorry I can’t convince you.

To borrow a often-used phrase from the Republican party, “I’m not a scientist, but…” I can discern between reason and superstition. Spirituality is great, morality is wonderful, but holding superstitious values that effectively harm the well-being of people not inside your family is unacceptable. I don’t want your kid to get the measles, he or she doesn’t deserve it, but when you choose to avoid vaccination you’re not only endangering the lives of your kids; you’re putting the lives of other innocent kids in society at risk.

Short message for those who don’t like reading; VACCINATE, LIVING WITH 19TH CENTURY DISEASES SHOULD NOT BE AN AIM OF MODERN DAY SOCIETY. We have way too many problems inherent in our culture, such as institutionalized racism and the objectification of women, to be worried about stopping the spread of diseases that were cured generations ago.

Phew, rant over. Now, to return to my first point…

When you have political leaders in our party saying things such as this, you should listen;

“The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and vaccines work. Let’s protect all our kids. -Hillary Clinton

“We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.” -President Barack Obama

It’s very easy for us as political and moral beings to direct a suspicious eye towards institutions of power, whether they be political or moral. Yet we can’t misdirect this suspicion towards forces of reason and fact, such as the scientific method and the overall scientific community. Talk show hosts can tell us that they know everything about the correlation between autism and vaccinations (spoiler alert; the report that first generated this correlation is untrustworthy and has been dis-proven), yet scientists can tell us objectively that there is no link between these two things. Ingrain this in your mind; one of the central tenets of science is often not knowing, and attempting to discover the thus far undiscovered; so when millions of scientists around the world conduct peer-reviewed studies and determine that vaccinations are an undeniable social good, you best believe them. After all, I’m not a scientist…

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One thought on “Vaccines and Society: The Science Problem.

  1. YES to this. Of course I’m neither a tin foil hat loony (I hope) or a well-meaning soccer mom (wasn’t even when my kids were kids. Hopefully well-meaning, certainly not a soccer mom) but you’re right, trying to convince certain people is like beating your head against a brick wall. Might as well not bother as I’m the one with the headache. I’m reading an awesome book called Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies written by a scientist(!) about how pretty much everything happened in human history and why and he lays out very plainly A) how certain plants were more conducive to agriculture than others and how early humans manipulated (modified) those plants into what we eat today. They can tell by genetics which wild plants our crops came from, but modern crops are very different than their wild counterparts and B) how disease played a huge part in how very small armies and or groups of invaders were able to wipe out huge indigenous populations and it has less to do with guns and more to do with diseases such as measles and small pox that indigenous populations had zero immunity against. Why? Because they also did not have domesticated animals they worked and lived in close proximity to that the diseases came from in the first place. Not because they weren’t capable of domesticating animals but because there were no domesticable animals in their ecosystem. Humans have tried to domesticate every animal on the planet, but the ones we have are all there are, the others just can’t be domesticated. It’s a fascinating read, not at all boring, I’m about 2/3 of the way through, but I would highly recommend to anyone and everyone.

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