The worst cold I’ve had in a decade is beginning its third week. I knew we were screwed as soon as I dropped my kid off at preschool and saw one of his classmates visibly very sick. Fortunately, my kid and wife get over viruses quickly, so they were fine in less than a week.
I started thinking, in my miserable feel-like-I-have-a-fever-but-I-don’t state tonight (during which I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but oh well), what a shame it is that people build up immunities to viruses throughout their entire lives, but when they die, all of that progress is lost, and every new person needs to start all that work from scratch. How incredible would it be if we could somehow capture and recreate those immunities so future generations wouldn’t get these viruses?
It only took a few more seconds before my cold-impaired mind realized that it had just invented vaccines, they already exist, and they’re amazing. Because even though we haven’t found a vaccine for colds yet (and probably won’t), the common cold is mostly a minor inconvenience. Vaccines for much more deadly viruses have existed for decades, most work extremely well with effectively zero risk, and they have saved millions of lives.
Vaccines are truly one of humanity’s greatest and most important accomplishments.
It’s tragic, dangerous, and incredibly destructive that society is needlessly regressing on this front. I’m sadly confident that anti-intellectualism and shunning of widely proven scientific data, selfishly and shamelessly encouraged by entertainers and politicians to advance their careers, will prove to be the most damaging and deadly regression of developed society in my lifetime.
We’ve made vaccination a “personal choice” because anything else is too expensive, politically. Parents refusing vaccines are so numerous now that we can’t protect ourselves from them. We can’t know if the next visit to the doctor or the next day at school will expose us to a dangerous disease that was nearly eradicated a few years ago but is now, tragically and stupidly, on the rise.
A harmless “personal choice” doesn’t damage others. The color of your pants is a personal choice. Vaccine denial isn’t — it’s a severe risk to the public’s health and safety. Not just to the deniers — to everyone.
Refusing vaccines isn’t new, but it used to be very rare and unheard of. Deniers used to vaguely cite religion (another “personal choice” that often damages innocent bystanders in practice), and nobody really questioned it because religious justification is the ultimate conversation-ender, immune to almost any common-sense challenges or legal restrictions.
But now, being anti-vaccine is just another societally acceptable difference of opinion, a pants color, a team you’re on, an option to tick on your Facebook page. The most scary and dangerous thing about anti-vaxxers today isn’t that they exist — they always have, and always will — it’s that their “personal choice” brings almost no consequences or restrictions (unless their children contract a preventable disease, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone), so they’ll only keep getting more numerous.
I don’t know how to fix this. Government-required vaccines are impractical, invasive, politically impossible, and probably wouldn’t actually be effective — there would certainly be a “religious” exemption, so anti-vaxxers would just go back to conjuring vague religious justifications like they used to.
We can’t make people vaccinate themselves and their children. But we can make that a more expensive proposition for them, and a less dangerous proposition for the rest of us, by speaking out and making unnecessary anti-vax choices less societally acceptable.
Even if that means an occasional tense conversation, even if that means my kid can’t go over to certain friends’ houses, and even if that means schools and doctor’s offices need to start turning people away who make that “personal choice”, we need to push back.
Because next time, it might not be a cold.