When I was a child, I thought vaccines gave me superpowers against disease. At my annual check-ups, my doctor would inject a magical potion, which gave me the ability to fight off any microscopic villains that were out to attack me.
I never feared vaccines because my parents never feared them. They taught me how to welcome the brief pinch of a needle for the insurance of health. As I have grown up, my view of vaccines has not changed. Now, I am only more impressed by the science behind their superpowers.
My education has taught me that vaccines protect our bodies from disease by safely strengthening our immune system with the production of memory cell antibodies, which are prepared to identify and defeat the unwanted disease if it is ever exposed to one’s body. The defeat of these viruses and bacteria — before they can be allowed to manifest, reproduce and mutate within our bodies — is also what makes the eradication of disease possible when a community of people agree to unite against a disease by all getting their vaccination shots.
Recently, many American parents have deserted the human unified front against disease. The first measles outbreak the United States has seen in over twenty years is revealing the danger of this very mistake. The parents were inspired by the idea that vaccines may do our bodies more harm than good. This idea originated from a 1998 study that linked vaccination to autism. However, it seems unlikely that one since discredited study could deter parents from vaccinating their children in the face of thousands of other papers and even thousands of more scientists that urge people that vaccinations are safe.
I believe that the 1998 study merely highlights budding aspects of American culture that have been encouraging people to refuse vaccines. One is America’s growing movement toward individualism, which calls on people to embrace narcissistic behaviors, such as doing whatever they please, regardless of how it affects others and being overconfident in the face of risks because they are somehow more special than the rest. Most importantly, individualists often refuse to believe that others may know better than they do, and therefore, don’t trust anyone except for themselves.
Infinite access to misinformation is also a problem. Parents who refused vaccinations proved this to be true when answering questions about their decision. Many parents referenced that by raising their child in a safe home environment and away from daycare, they are providing the same protections as vaccines. They said that a vaccine could risk the current healthy appearance of their child, which they had worked so hard to ensure.
The most interesting complaint made by anti-vaxx parents was that unlike medication they bought for their children at drug stores, vaccines do not come with an official leaflet detailing their potential risks and benefits. But vaccines indeed do come with the best source of information: a doctor.
They can answer any questions parents might have about vaccinations and are able to provide more informational materials upon parental request. Yet, modem culture has made parents more prepared to trust the label of a faceless medicine than the medical professional standing in front of them with years of education and experience.
Vaccines should not pit people against each other. They should be a collective defense all human beings take to defend our species against foreign invaders. We had nearly won the war against diseases like the measles, but due to our internal qualms, the disease has returned from near eradication.
This new outbreak needs to serve as a wakeup call that vaccines work, and they only work if we all receive them. We should be newly inspired to stop calling the opposing side ignorant, insensitive, and untrustworthy, and start making efforts to work with them. Maybe then, we can all start to learn to trust each other a little bit more once again. If we can achieve unity in vaccination, I would consider it one of our superpowers.
Lauren Gros is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. The Modern Lens appears every other Thursday on thehoya.com.