Before beginning my rant, I’d like to say that I don’t want to give this issue the credibility that comes with use of the word “debate”, but it’s hard to think of a better way to describe it. Given the way the (completely true) validity of vaccinations has been playing out in the media, it’s been treated as a debate. I don’t think it should be. I do not walk the grey line on this issue because vaccines have cold hard facts backing them up, while the case against them can only be defended by a fraudulent study linking MMR to autism, and vague fears that, while understandable, are completely illogical.
I’ve always been pro-vaccine, which is very impressive considering the herbal fanaticism rampant in my community. In fact, the county where I live was mentioned (okay, singled out and vilified, but rightly so) on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. At the elementary school I went to, 40% of students aren’t vaccinated, and if you point out that this is a problem, the yoga pants moms will come in hordes with pitchforks and torches.
Last year, it turned out to be a huge problem, because, surprise surprise, we had a whooping cough outbreak in California. It was kind of a big fucking deal but you wouldn’t know it where I live because of all the, as Jon Stewart so eloquently puts it, “affluent science-denying liberals” and their “mindful stupidity”. No one was particularly concerned when I went to work for six weeks with a cough I assumed was early onset lung cancer from growing up in a house with asbestos in the walls. When the lab results came back from my throat swab and I informed my boss that I had just exposed the entire town’s babies to a potentially fatal disease, she just shrugged and figured everything would be okay. So did the mothers that I told, even the ones against vaccines.
A friend of mine said to me, “Well, it’s too bad you have whooping cough but I guess it’s just a risk you have to take when you’re not vaccinated.” I AM vaccinated. When it’s no longer a surprise that someone isn’t vaccinated, or it’s assumed that someone isn’t, we have a problem on our hands. I was vaccinated against whooping cough and I caught it anyway. Vaccines aren’t 100% effective in the first place and when you add the 7.8% of unvaccinated children in my county into the picture, the risk of contracting an entirely preventable disease rises astronomically for those at risk of actually dying from it (ie. small children).
I’d like to point out that whooping cough is a horrible illness even when you’re a healthy adult. My voice was permanently lowered after my cough lingered for three months. The peak of the illness was one of the worst weeks of my life, accompanied by chills and breathing difficulties. I can hardly imagine the hell a small child would go through if they came down with pertussis.
Not to mention that the health system didn’t treat the outbreak with the emergency it deserved. I first went to the doctor when I got sick because I knew pertussis was going around my school and I didn’t want to contribute. Despite this fact, I was told by the nurse that it was entirely unlikely that I had the illness and it wasn’t necessary to do a throat swab. After the brunt of what I had been assured was an average cold disappeared, I returned to work with a lingering cough. When it didn’t go away after two weeks, I thought something might be wrong and got the throat swab.
When the lab results came back positive for pertussis, I was terrified that one of the many children I’d had contact with while my cough lingered would get the illness. A lot of the toddlers and babies in my town aren’t vaccinated, as I’ve stated before, and the risk was fairly high. It would have been horrible if a local kid I really cared, or any kid, ended up dying from a disease I brought into town.
And that makes me mad. Because if my community had adequate herd immunity, I wouldn’t have contracted whooping cough in the first place. I wouldn’t have spent weeks dreading the moment when a mother came in and told me her kid was sick.
This shouldn’t be a problem anymore.