For five cold, miserable days last February, I was pinned — quite literally — to the sheets of my bed. It was nothing more than a case of Influenza, but it was a particularly nasty form at that. Sweating in between my bedsheets, I paid the price dearly for not receiving my flu shot that winter season.
During that same month, the mistrust of vaccines was not considered a debate so much as a wild dispersion of misinformed pseudoscience. But in the depths of American politics, the push-back against modern science was finding a new front. An article in The Nation that month highlighted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s sound bite that “not every vaccine is created equal.”
The culmination of vaccines entering the political discussion occurred later that year in September, when Donald Trump issued a now infamous story of a small child who received a vaccine and then became autistic. The story remains unverified and the scientific community exasperatedly insists that there exists no link between vaccines and autism.
Fortunately, the movement is still yet in the minority. The CDC reports that the number of vaccinated children in kindergarten hovers around 94 percent. For the foreseeable future, one may feel safe resting upon the notion that anti-vaxxers will not effect too much real harm. Yet, those who should know better appear to be damaging that same notion, by means of sheer neglect.
For instance, despite the inevitable nature of the flu season’s arrival, the simple shot invented to prevent the Influenza virus has gone largely ignored. Only 33.5 percent of adults aged 18 to 49 received flu shots during the 2014-15 season, according to the CDC. Do 66.5 percent of adults believe that vaccinations are dangerous? Clearly not, as the anti-vaxxer movement has yet to gain a small fraction of that attention.
WebMD reports that between 5 and 20 percent of the population contract the flu virus each year. That number should be more than enough to compel everyone to receive an immunization, but many still remain ignorant — however willfully — of the wonders science has in store for us. We insist that anti-vaxxers cannot expose society to their dangerous ideals but we shrug aside our duty to lead by example.
Surely, one-third of adults also have the ability to receive the vaccine. The cost of a standard flu shot is $31.99 at CVS pharmacies. That may seem hefty to some, but most healthcare plans — including Medicare and those covered under the Affordable Care Act — pick up the bill for those who receive the shot.
As one begins to run out of reasons, a cynical answer becomes all the more possible — simple hypocrisy. Most may claim to support science and all that has resulted from its reasoning, but when it comes time to lead by example, they no longer find it all that important. For all the ridicule we throw at skeptics of science, we are shrugging off the advantages that science consistently presents us.
It is this passive shirking of flu vaccines that allows the voice of a loud minority to grow stronger. If simple vaccinations, such as the flu shot, go ignored by adults, the small children who desperately need to be immunized become more vulnerable to the false protection of anti-vaxxers. Neglect turns to ignorance, which begets fear. And fear, however small, will always be prey for those looking to push an agenda.
To understand this phenomenon, one needs only to look at man-made climate change. The majority of the U.N. and the IPCC can acknowledge its existence and danger, but the fact that so few have accommodated in solidarity with it allows for the idea that climate change is not really an issue.
Similarly, for every flu shot that is not taken, so grows the room for doubt. When someone then comes along to wave the fear of autism in the faces of unassuming parents, supporters of science heap words like “consensus” and phrases like “herd immunity” into the discussion. But words can go only so far. Society truly learns when a belief is echoed behaviorally.
The lack of trust in science may be a product of superstition, but it is perpetuated by our disregard. For a few seconds under a needle, we can all avoid a week of cold chills — both from the fever and the fear that ignorance might have us as a friend.