My attempt to avoid a blog about vaccines…

Since I am not a physician, an immunologist, a survivor (or fatality) of measles or polio, a researcher, or a mother who feels vaccines have adversely affected her child, I have neither psychological nor academic platform to speak on this topic.

In fact, to avoid dipping into the widening pool of emotional or political copy-and-paste “internet science”, I hope to express no original thoughts whatsoever.

Having just said that, I will agree to tell you about a book I read this week.  Because of the prevailing hysteria, I ordered On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss, a book recommended for its balance and clarity.  Even before I found the well-documented list of sources (100 paragraphs in the back of the book), I found it refreshing that the author is a teacher, a professional writer and a mom.

Ms. Biss recounts her panic when her son gets a croupy cough.  She remembers declining the Hep B vaccine because she wasn’t from the “inner city”, and trying to figure out if she did something to cause her son’s allergies.

She tells about asking her mom-friends to send her the documents that made them wary of vaccines, and her discovery that one of the primary sources had been passed uncorrected around the internet long after the original article had been withdrawn because of errors.

She recalls childhood discussions with her physician father. She remembers that he joked about a two-sentence textbook he would write for other doctors: “Most problems will get better if left alone.  Those problems that do not get better if left alone are likely to kill the patient no matter what you do.” (p.103)

She laughs at herself, and her culture…

We do not tend to be afraid of the things most likely to harm us. We drive around in cars, a lot. And we harbor anxiety about things that, statistically speaking, pose us little danger. We fear sharks, while mosquitoes are, in terms of sheer numbers of lives lost, probably the most dangerous creature on earth. (p.36)

Bicycles, the New York Times reports, “are involved in more accidents than any other consumer product, but beds rank a close second.” This does not alarm me, though I am a frequent user of both beds and bicycles.  I carry my son on the back of my bicycle and allow him to sleep in my bed. (p. 37)

She muses…

In the years since I became pregnant with my son, I have read about studies suggesting a link between autism and a family’s proximity to a freeway, the mother’s use of antidepressants, the fathers’ age at conception, and the mother’s infection with influenza during pregnancy.  But none of these have enjoyed the kind of press devoted to one small inconclusive study that suggested a link between vaccination and autism.   (p.140-141)

She cries…

Our cynicism may be justified, but it is also sad. That so many of us find it entirely plausible that a vast network of researchers and health officials and doctors worldwide would willfully harm children for money is evidence of what capitalism is really taking from us…when we begin to see the pressures of capitalism as innate laws of human motivation, when we begin to believe that everyone is owned, then we are truly impoverished. (p.97)

One thing I will remember from her book is the similar desperation of mothers to protect their children across the centuries.  The moms refusing vaccines today probably have similar fears as the moms who performed dangerous do-it-yourself vaccines in the 1700s, cutting their babies arms to put a smallpox pustule against their flesh to inoculate them (page 67).

If you don’t mind the removable dust jacket painting of a nude childhood Achilles being dipped in the river in his mother’s attempt to immunize him against death (a classic art piece by Rubens), a small amount of political commentary, or the vampire metaphor she employs throughout the book, you will benefit (whether you fully agree or not) from her calm treatment of DDT, malaria, childbirth, living in Chicago, and of course, the subject of vaccines.


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