I don’t generally write on this blog about social issues beyond those that have to do with science because the discussions can get very complicated. Like many other things, we all exist on a spectrum of social views. Lately, however, it appears that we are not in a spectrum. We, the people of the United States, seem to be completely polarized on a ton of issues that are important. We go at each other’s throats if we happen to disagree.
Just the other day, a friend of mine put a bumper sticker on his car which claimed that the Second Amendment was the most important amendment in the Bill of Rights because it kept a tyrannical government at bay. He asked for my opinion, and we haven’t talked since. We haven’t talked because I said that the First Amendment was the first for a reason. If the government tells me that I can have all the guns in the world but woe unto me if I speak ill of the government, I’d rather keep my free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. On the other hand, if the government says that I can say whatever I want, that journalists can uncover all the secrets they can and expose all the corruption they can, then, please, take my guns. Of course, that’s the polarized view; the view that you either have one or the other and not both, like we do in real life.
My friend, polarized as he is, decided that I was a “liberal” and not someone he wanted to associate with. I’m sure he’ll come around.
That little discussion is a microcosm of what is going on all over the country right now about any little (or big) issue that the media (mainstream and otherwise) puts in front of us. That became very clear last night when a jury in Florida found a man not guilty of second degree murder. Everyone thought that the jury was either right or wrong, leaving no room for compromise, leaving no room for maybe thinking that there was a reasonable doubt as to what happened. Our legal system will rather put a guilty person out on the street than an innocent one in jail. That’s just how the system works.
If we don’t like it, there are remedies we can take, like electing better lawmakers and petitioning the government in droves.
Last night, a commenter on this blog post told us the story of her child who, according to the commenter, had a preexisting condition that was missed and led to a vaccine injury. I had messages from some pro-vaccine folks quickly asking me to dismiss her claims. Instead, this is what I answered:
“JR, you are correct in some respects. No vaccine is 100% safe nor 100% effective. There have and always will be reactions to them, some minor, some very bad, as it seems to be the case with your child. Nowhere does any respectable scientist dismiss “all claims of vaccine injury.” No one “worth their salt,” anyway. As you have stated, your child had a condition which should have been a contraindication for the vaccine. I’m truly sorry it wasn’t caught, and I can only imagine how nightmarish all that could be.
The flip side to this is that measles itself could have done this to your child. The wild-type virus is even more virulent (severe in its presentation) than the vaccine. If we allow the MMR vaccine to be discontinued or spaced-out, and if we allow exaggerations of its “danger” to be put out to the public, many, many more children with conditions similar to your child’s will have to deal with true measles. Some of them may even die, a fate worse than autism or any other vaccine injury.
I could assure you that no one I know in public health “deems individual suffering acceptable collateral damage.” God, how I wish there wasn’t any collateral damage. Unfortunately, to keep thousands from dying, we need to take the chance of hundreds to get hurt. It’s cold. It’s maybe even callous. But it’s the world we live in.
Then again, if everyone who could get vaccinated did get vaccinated, we could eradicate measles, chickenpox, rubella (German measles), and even mumps in one or two generations, like we did with smallpox.
Thank you for you comment.”
I refuse to write or state the position that all vaccines are 100% safe and/or 100% effective, or even for everyone without regard to anything. This is an absolutist way of thinking that sounds more like the “pro-” or “anti-” extremists that opine about every social issue and less like the evidence-based scientist that I am. It would make me sound like the anti-vaccine activists who claim that they are not anti-vaccine but then fail to be able to tell you which vaccine they do support or would take. It’s not a productive way to have any discussion.
What scares me the most is that we keep supporting and electing people who outright tell us that they are not willing to compromise with “the other side.” We keep allying ourselves with groups who are “pro-” or “anti-” in extremis, and we keep having idiotic arguments based on absolutes. “I’m against gay marriage! No compromise!” or “I’m against abortion, even when the mother will die if one is not done! No compromise!” And we stupidly, sheep-like cheer them on.
I’m not here, writing on this blog, to convince you that all vaccines are good, or that all vaccine refusers are evil. Many vaccine refusers, even some of the activist ones, have good intents and are simply misguided or ignorant about the concepts of vaccination in particular and science in general. Most vaccines are good and necessary, but we don’t need a vaccine against anything and everything infectious. I’m not here to be “bipolar” and “disordered” when it comes to things. Leave those accusations at the door.