One surprising thing that has come out of the Covid pandemic is a deep distrust of vaccines by a large swath of the public. Anti-vaccine sentiment is characteristic of extreme right-wing politics but it is also present on the extreme left. My prediction early on in the pandemic was that the rapidly developed miracle vaccine would inspire confidence in people and vaccination rates would only increase. Of course I was dead wrong.
As someone who is often highly skeptical of modern medicine I actually see vaccines as a modern miracle. When I was a child in the 1980s everywhere I went there were people crippled by polio. At the grocery store there was always someone whose legs were either partially or fully paralyzed. I also think of some of the other severe disease outbreaks that have erupted in the past. For example, consider the yellow fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793. Thousands of Philadelphians perished. The yellow fever vaccine is more than 99% effective, confers lifelong immunity and isn’t even necessary in the modern United States because the disease has been controlled and limited to Africa and South America. Also consider how it was a vaccine that eliminated small pox. Small pox is still the only disease that has been eradicated world-wide through vaccination programs. We came close with polio, but polio is on the rebound everywhere now due to anti-vax sentiment. Polio was kept alive this long by war and suspicion in the Middle East and Africa. Given the currently low vaccination rates of young children in the U.S. we could easily see another polio outbreak that could paralyze thousands of children.
Conspiracy theories based on the now-debunked claim that vaccines cause autism continue to flourish. More recently, conspiracy theorists have posited that professional athletes are dying in large numbers from the vaccine, nanobots in the vaccine are being used to control people, the vaccine will eventually cause death, etc.
There are several major problems with anti-vax sentiment:
It severely limits what people can do. You can’t put your child in a public school or visit Africa if you are unwilling to be vaccinated. As we saw during the Covid outbreak when many lost their jobs due to vaccine hesitancy, not getting the jab can have huge consequences.
You can get sick. Many vaccine-preventable diseases are lethal or cause severe sickness. Just think about it.
Lack of vaccination in a community allows diseases to flourish and prevents their extermination. Scientists typically shoot for 80% vaccination rates before herd immunity kicks in to protect the population as a whole.
I don’t know if this will make anyone change their position but I hope people will at least consider what they are doing and take measures to avoid the consequences on themselves, their children, and others if they don’t get vaccinated.
Image credit: Ariel Javellana