Fewer than half of parents are "very likely" to have their children vaccinated for the H1N1 flu, according to a just-released survey. This anti-vaccination response is unprecedented in America. There are three sources for this unjustified vaccination fear.
Anyone who is 60 or older will remember fear: fear of polio. Up to the early 1950s, this justified fear was of the paralyzing disease, not vaccination. Our parents worried over our going outside. Cities closed swimming pools. Images of children in iron lungs touched everyone. There were polio cases in most communities. Mothers marched. And their "March of Dimes" supported Jonas Salk and his breakthrough vaccine. I flinched as I got my injection and a later booster, but it was a relief to see the polio cases disappear. We feared the disease, not the vaccine. Even when Cutter Labs processed one batch of vaccine wrong and it caused polio rather than gave immunity, we all weighed the dangers. Working together, we all helped eradicate polio from the continent. Vaccination even eradicated smallpox worldwide.
But today, we have no group memory of serious chronic epidemic infectious diseases to counterbalance the trivial needle-stick. It is an irony of science that in the act of conquering a problem, we remove the experience-base that allows us to value the science. Videos of long-gone history do not have the impact of casualties in our neighborhood. And we cannot let serious diseases return just to provide an experience base for us to get our fears straight.
The second source of vaccination fear is inadequate schooling about our anatomy and physiology, and what "significance" means in science. The anti-vaccination movement, with its unjustified fears of the H1N1 vaccine being untested, or containing dangerous adjuvants, or the preservative thimerosal causing autism or mercury poisoning, are all counter to research. The internet and a diffuse media have spread unjustified fear across an ignorant population.
The third and most sinister fear factor is radio and television commentators who spread doubt, not because of any scientific insight, but because of their admitted “We just don’t trust the Obama administration” attitude. Sniping at H1N1 vaccination merely because it is run by an opposing administration combines with the two previous factors to push the anti-vaccination movement to new heights, perhaps a majority of parents by today’s surveys!
As more H1N1 vaccine arrives, for adults who choose not to get vaccinated, there is no one else to blame. But for minors, that decision is made by their guardians. Parents who lose a healthy child because they chose not to vaccinate the child—those parents will have to live with their decision the rest of their life.
But what about the political pied pipers who railed against the vaccine? The First Amendment ensures their free speech (although that does not include yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater). Their inciting-to-inaction is too distant; they are not the “proximate cause” of the child’s death. They will walk away without any remorse in their cold souls.
What is most sobering is that under today's anti-vaccination cloud, America could no longer eradicate polio or smallpox as we did many decades ago. This high number of anti-vaccination parents shows that some of the American health care problem rests on science ignorance.
Science teachers and school boards do not have cold souls. They need to restore anatomy and microbiology and immunity lessons to the curriculum—now! We cannot wait for needless pandemic suffering to realign our fears.
As for the venomous broadcasters pushing doubt, change the channel and tune them out!