Personal experience or abstract media? | To free


I have a serious problem with skeptical vaccinators who are over 70 years old. When they were children, they saw mothers go door to door, collecting pennies to fund polio research. And they witnessed relief nationwide when Jonas Salk first developed the “killed” vaccine, then Sabin developed the “attenuated” oral vaccine delivered as drops in sugar lumps.

Along with this effort, there was a long vaccination campaign against smallpox. We old people still have this scar on our left shoulder. Thanks to vaccination, the last case in the United States dates back to 1949. Vaccination and quarantine worldwide ended smallpox in the wild in the 1970s in Somalia, Africa. In 1976, I witnessed the deeply pockmarked face of a smallpox survivor on the streets of Macau. Now I could understand the tremendous motivation of a population that suffered from smallpox – so disfiguring and fatal in a third of the victims – usually children.

In 2019, we also eliminated measles in the United States by requiring vaccination of children for school attendance. Measles is one of the most contagious diseases, with a contagion rate of 12 to 18 (meaning one person transmits it to up to 18 others). With such a high transmission rate, almost 95% of school children need to be vaccinated to stop transmission to the few children who cannot be vaccinated due to immune disorders. However, the anti-vaccination campaign on the west coast had caused the number of schoolchildren vaccinated to drop to a point where measles was reintroduced from overseas and took off.

All states have vaccination requirements for schoolchildren, but different states allow a different assortment of exemptions. Obviously, immunocompromised students need and receive medical exemption. But some states have also allowed the exemption for religious or personal philosophy. A handful of states have reduced the exemption to medical care only.

This right of a state and its schools to impose vaccination was firmly established long ago in 1905, when the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that a state can impose vaccines and impose criminal fines on those who do not comply. When Indiana University demanded COVID-19 vaccination and students took the Supreme Court to court, Judge Amy Coney Barrett refused to intervene, dismissing the case on August 12 and citing Jacobson.

In 2019, before this pandemic, I was awarded for a recorded radio commentary on the measles vaccine dilemma. I described how “science was doomed”. By eliminating these first major epidemics that caused widespread pain, suffering and death, a new generation grew up without these experiences and, as a result, no longer appreciated the benefits of vaccination. In other words, the success of science has undermined future motivation for vaccination.

But now, in this current pandemic, my explanation of anti-vaccines as young people who grew up without a major epidemic experience is insufficient. There is now a much larger element of politics and confirmation bias that rejects science, embraces lies, and threatens health around the world.

And this poses a personal problem because I try to follow my speech therapy teacher’s rule to “… remember the inherent dignity of humans at all times as this is more important than any other concern …” Those over 70 have had direct experience in the effectiveness of vaccines in eliminating polio and smallpox. And yet, many choose instead to believe in abstract media messages that are at odds with what they personally experienced as children. But how can I express total contempt for those readers or listeners who put the media before the experience, without undermining their dignity?

My teacher went on to note that a speaker / writer must be sufficiently informed as he or she has no right to spread ignorance, to think correctly as there is no right to promote confusion, and to be socially responsible and keep the well-being of those involved in mind. So I will clarify. My contempt is for the spread of ignorance, the promotion of confusion, and the contempt for the well-being of people.

If we had the media of today in the 1950s, as well as the political polarization of that time, we would still be living today with people with iron lungs, children on crutches and a third of the victims of the smallpox that die off every season.

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