The Washington Post hit us with a good news/bad news punch on Sunday. The good news? The swine flu vaccination is about to be released to the public . The bad news? Huge percentages of the country are wary of the vaccine and will refuse to take it-only 40 percent of Americans are sure they're going to take it, and only 50 percent will make sure their children do.
I'm sure people have many understandable reasons for this lack of enthusiasm. Vaccines take not just money, but also a chunk out of your day, and that may not seem worth it. Plus, American selfishness, as evidenced by the explosion of gated communities and the hostility to health care reform, probably plays a factor. Sadly, way too many people are willing to hurt themselves to make sure they don't do too much for their neighbor, and that kind of thinking could incline people to resist helping establish herd immunity. But Rob Stein of the Post lays the blame on the growing anti-vaccination movement, which floods the rumor mill with conspiracy theories about pharmaceutical companies that want to harm you for profit. Never mind that safe vaccines would result in the same amount of profit.
If this is true, and the anti-vaccination movement has gained this much of a foothold, then that's a worrisome trend. Right now, the hardcore anti-vaxxers appear to live mainly in wealthy liberal enclaves, which means that the measles outbreaks caused by their foolishness thrive in the aisles of Whole Foods, but luckily can't spread too far. But unfortunately, paranoia has a way of spreading across the country, and the crunchy anti-vaccination arguments that lean on a lot of loaded but meaningless terms such as "natural" and, sadly, "green" (which used to have a specific meaning-sustainable, nonpolluting-but now is morphing into a meaningless term like "natural") have a tendency to work their magic even on people who don't shop at Whole Foods and attend daily yoga classes.
I never cease to be surprised at how "natural" works so well as a bullying term to end rational discussion. Even the usually irreverent Bust magazine had an article in their most recent issue extolling the virtues of natural family planning , because it's so natural , and implying that the only reason that women might prefer the pill is that they're not in touch with their bodies and they're in the thrall of pharmaceutical companies. That some women might not be happy with having six to 12 days a month marked off as no-intercourse days (six around ovulation, four to six for your period) didn't even register.
"Natural" is a harmless enough fetish if you're the only one who has to keep getting pregnant on accident, or you're the one foolish enough to think that bag of potato chips is healthier because they slapped the word "natural" on it. But if it really is getting to the point where half the country is wary of a basic vaccination that could save thousands of lives, then loving "natural" stops being a risky personal hobby, and starts becoming a public menace. Personally, I'll take an unnatural vaccination over the natural swine flu any day.
Photograph of a syringe on homepage by George Doyle and Claran Giffin/Getty.
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