Al Cohen contracted Polio in 1939, at the age of 15. Only 1 out of 200 people who get the disease show severe symptoms, and Al was one. He spent time in the hospital, and in an iron lung. He lost muscle strength, and was unable to move.
Even after recovering, he never fully regained strength in his arms and shoulders. From 1939, until his death in 2006, he couldn’t raise his hands over his head. When World War II broke out, he was unable to enlist in the military, and was instead confined to a department store window, where he read the war news to passersby.
Jonas Salk developed the first truly viable vaccine for Polio in 1952. Too late for Al to have lived a normal life.
It wasn’t all bad for Al. One could certainly make the argument that were it not for these events, he’d have never met Marilyn Melnikoff, and would have never become the man I knew as “Grandpa”. He was a warm, funny guy. Brilliant, and ahead of his time, in many ways. I loved him a great deal, and one of the most memorable things about him was that he never let his physical impairment define him, or really even limit him much of the time. He did what he wanted, and he did it on his terms. Except for having green towels. Marilyn wouldn’t allow that.
Still… I can’t help but wonder what his life would have been like had that vaccine been available to him. Maybe he doesn’t marry Marilyn. Maybe he joins the Army and dies in Northern Africa. Either scenario would have made it very difficult for you to read this blog right now, since I would never have been born, but even as much as I love my life, a part of me is sorry he never had those options.
Whenever I read about people opposing vaccines, I think about my grandfather, and what he’d say today if he heard someone willingly rejecting the very treatments that could have completely changed his life.
I have to believe he’d feel as I do… That the anti-vaccination movement is ridiculous and baffling and really damned scary.
Some claim that vaccines cause autism, and those people are wrong, but even assuming for a second it was true, the idea that tetanus (deadly), or polio (potentially crippling), or smallpox (deadly) are preferable to autism is patently absurd. I know that Autism can be very challenging to manage in some cases. Some kids have a true difficulty communicating. Some have impairment when it comes to relating to the world. Autism is not something to be taken lightly, but even if it were caused by vaccinations, Autism isn’t deadly. Is the completely mythological chance of your child maaaybe developing autism with potentially exposing them to measles or diphtheria or polio?
Some folks are philosophically against vaccines for a variety of reasons… because they don’t think it’s right that “big pharma” gets rich off of them, or because they don’t want the government or pesky doctors telling them what to do, or because they read somewhere that homeopathic remedies were better… You know what I say to that? Express your convenient, hipster libertarianism on your own time, and stop risking the lives of others. No matter what you can think of, someone is getting rich from it. Your toilet seat? Someone patented that design. If you don’t like taking the advice of doctors on a public health matter, about what else is it okay to ignore them? If your kid had cancer, would you give them chemo? It’s real easy to roll the dice with the measles, because who fucking gets measles anymore, right? Well… as it turns out, more people all the time, because of dumbasses like you.
Read that link. Read those statistics. It’s NOT FUNNY, and yet we have websites like THIS pretending that it’s no big deal because hardly anybody dies from it. Seriously. That’s what it says. Only read it if you plan on getting furious. By the same logic, let’s just throw 3 million kids in a tank with sharks, because only 500 of them will die, so what’s the big fucking deal?
When I was a kid, I remember that we weren’t allowed to show up to school without proving that we were vaccinated. Nowadays, every state has their own list of exemptions, ranging from religious to philosophical, allowing parents to bring their unvaccinated children to school. My aunt posted a meme on Facebook that essentially said “If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school because your kid is allergic, why can you bring your unvaccinated child to school?” It’s not often that I see a meme and think “Damned right!” but that’s what I thought. How in the world are schools allowing potentially infected kids to come to school. Freaking Disneyland was the epicenter of a fucking measles outbreak. DISNEYLAND.
“Well, it’s not even 100% effective in all people, so why risk the side effects?”
Good question… There’s something called “Herd Immunity” and it works for everyone, vaccination resistant or not, as long as a large enough portion of the population has been inoculated.
“Oh, well then… I’m good, right? Because even if I don’t get vaccines, enough other people have!”
Well, no. That’s not how society works. There are enough uneducated rubes like you running around to ruin it for everyone. All a virus needs is one hospitable host to keep perpetuating its life. When the community is 99% vaccinated, even with varying degrees of efficacy, the chances of that virus finding that 1% are very low. As it is now, we’re at 84%. That means that out of every 100 people a virus comes in contact with, it can infect 16. Now say those 16 people go to 16 other groups of 100… Now we’ve got an EXPONENTIAL exposure, and FUCK YOU.
“Well… my kid got some unexplained illness, and she was vaccinated shortly before she got sick, and even though doctors insist they’re unrelated, I know in my gut they are connected. They have to be, because there’s no other explanation.”
Let’s talk about coincidence for a minute… well, not really coincidence as much as the obsession with “Why”, and our inability as a society to accept that some things have no explanation. The inability to accept coincidence. This belief is not based on evidence, but rather the lack of evidence of anything else. That’s not the way science works. That’s the way religion works. Do not endanger everyone else, because you can’t accept that coincidences happen.
The more I think about it all, and the people actively deciding to go without vaccinations for themselves or their children, the angrier I get. Well… Angry isn’t the right word. Embarrassed.
There’s that joke since 9/11 where whenever we Americans do something particularly decadent someone says “this is why the terrorists hate us”. Well… This actually IS why the terrorists hate us. Have you ever heard of a more American thing than actively rejecting preventative treatments that millions of people in the world, not only have no access to, but would do anything to get?
That is embarrassing.
It makes me ashamed to live in a place so privileged that people would even think to reject all scientific advancement in exchange for a quick spin around WebMD message boards, and the arrogance to believe we’re somehow immune just by virtue of our wealth and national comfort. We’ve lived in a world free from these illnesses for so long that we’ve become complacent in our privilege, and if you’re not going to vaccinate your kids, you’re rolling the dice for all of us.
One of my dearest friends, Melissa, send me this link. I encourage you to read it, but there’s one passage I want to share, because this (understandably terrified) father says it perfectly.
"You have stood on the shoulders of our collective protection for too long. From that high height, we have given you the privilege of our protection, for free."