I used to have a boss who was well into his 70s when he decided to retire. He had worked at the health department where I was just a young number-cruncher longer than I had been alive. He joked about starting to work as a public health inspector in the Johnson Administration. Slowly and steadily, he moved up the ranks to becoming the director of a very busy infectious diseases unit at a very busy health department.
He was there in 1976 when Legionnaires’ Disease appeared. He told me about being on a call with people in the White House and how they wanted something, anything done, and done immediately. That same year, the swine flu fiasco happened, throwing the flu vaccine program into disarray. And he was at his highest position when all the crazy was unleashed over “Vaccine Roulette” and the resulting anti-vaccine nonsense.
He survived all that, and more. From one administration at the federal and state levels to another. His bosses came and went. The things they stood for changed and changed, and tragedies happened. And he was still there in his old age, fighting the good fight.
As you might have guessed, anti-vaccine zealots from The Kid to the anti-Semitic jerks at Age of Autism are celebrating the Trump victory since Trump has questioned vaccines and has embraced certain anti-science people. Apparently, Andrew Jeremy Wakefield once posed for a picture a few feet away from Trump, so Trump is now likely to ban all vaccines everywhere for all time. Makes sense, right?
Much like their knowledge of vaccines, anti-vaccine activists show an ignorance of how public health works in America. The vaccine advisory committee is not made up of political appointees or partisans. It’s made up of experts on the subject matter. They recommend what vaccines to give to what age groups, and the recommendations are followed (or not) at the state and local level. In order to shut down all vaccines everywhere forever, anti-vaccine-obsessed people would need to convince all states and territories that the Earth is flat, or something just as ludicrous.
Could a Trump Administration pull the plug on funding? Yeah, maybe, but we’ve done a lot more with a lot less. (That’s what my old boss used to tell us stories about. One year, they had their budget cut by 70%, and they still managed to expand their services year after year, even if just a little bit.) See, unlike anti-vaccine activists, we in public health are not in it for the money. We don’t travel to far-away and very dangerous places for money. We are okay with being held at gunpoint when something gets lost in translation at a checkpoint in a banana republic because we know we’re there to serve, and, frankly, dying for what we do is a badge of honor. We’d become immortal if we ever die in the service of public health.
So, yeah, laugh it up, jerks. Write all your little blog posts about how beautiful it will be to live in a Trump-led world. (Spoiler Alert: He’s not leading anyone. He’s not a leader. It’s not some title you are given.) We will continue to vaccinate tomorrow, next year, and next century. We might stumble and fall here and there, yes. But, just when you celebrate at the thought of burying us, you will weep when you realize we’re seeds… When you realize what we’ve survived and, thus, what has made us stronger.