It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the mindset of an anti-vaccine believer. The only reason that seems logical to me is that the person who believes such has received bad information and is incapable of making an informed choice. But bad information should never be an acceptable excuse for cases like this; we live in an era where access to information is literally overflowing. The information is out there.
I’ve written a lot about diplomacy and the importance of maintaining a good political reputation when it comes to dealing with religious concerns as a nonreligious person. I want to mention this topic because I do not believe this desire confers a blanket pardon on all things a person might do in the name of religious tradition. There is a line and once that line has been crossed, I have no compunction against saying that certain beliefs, no matter its theological origin, are horrifying and intolerable.
Anti-vaccination is such a belief.
There was an essay I came across a while ago that made me both profoundly glad that I was born in a time where vaccines exist and profoundly sad for those who suffered these fates. From an essay by Elizabeth Moon:
Then came the vaccines—first the Salk, then then Sabin. Three shots for the Salk, one or two weeks apart: they lined us up in the halls of a school, and bang-bang-bang it was done. Then a year or two later, we had another series of three shots. By then, the outbreaks were noticeably smaller. In five years, hardly a new case—a new case was news.
That didn’t cure those who’d already had it. When I went off to college, I did some volunteer work in a children’s hospital. There was only one polio patient: one of the last cases, then a teenager, in an iron lung. By then there were no more specialty polio centers, no more polio wards, in which at least the inhabitants could talk to someone who understood. In a ward for children, where the other patients were kids who’d had some other treatable illness or injuries, there was his iron lung. He wanted no part of the cheerfulness we tried to bring to the ward.
And no wonder. Unless he could adapt to one of the smaller respiratory assists that came later, he was stuck for life in a huge, unwieldy, scary case…immobile, having to be tended by people who reached in through portholes on the side to clean him up, change his diaper…and who, increasingly, would not have a clue what his life was like because people like him were so few now. He could not see his body, engulfed in the machine that kept him alive. He could see only what was directly above him or reflected in the mirror over his head. None of the electronic aids for the disabled existed then…or for another decade or two.
There were, and are, more lethal diseases than polio: those with a higher mortality, and greater infectivity as well. But polio had a special horror to it.
If you want to know why vaccines exist . . . there’s your answer.