(Image: Stuart Carlson)
It's the year 2015 and Southern California still doesn't qualify as the Third World, regardless of what some Republicans lawmakers in the flyovers might think. Yet you'd never know either of these truths by looking at the latest reports on how quickly measles cases are multiplying here.
According to the California Department of Health, the state has confirmed 59 cases of the measles in just the past month-and-a-half, 42 of them linked to an outbreak at Disneyland that made national headlines. (Some outlets claim that number has grown even higher.) Orange County is seeing the worst of it with 20 incidences of the highly contagious, and easily preventable, disease. It's an area that's largely white and mostly upper-middle-class to affluent, so it's not surprising that its also, as The Washington Post notes, basically ground zero for our culture's current epidemic of anti-vaccine hysteria. And if you think this measles outbreak, one of the worst California has seen in at least 15 years, isn't related to obstinate, ignorant people refusing to vaccinate their children and therefore putting other people's kids in danger, you need a vaccine shot yourself -- against stupidity. Unfortunately, none exists and the anti-vaxxers would be terrified to use it anyway.
If you'd like to see the damage the incomprehensible anti-vaccine movement is doing in this country, all in one handy chart, the Post has been good enough to provide one:
The above charts the cumulative number of new measles cases by month from 2001 to 2014. Those numbers as you can see are devastating. The CDC says there were 644 new measles cases in 27 separate states last year, the most this country has seen in almost 25 years. The cause: people who refuse to vaccinate their kids because they're afraid the vaccines themselves are dangerous. As the report says, the vast majority of these infected were unvaccinated. Because as you know, the (absolutely unproven) threat of your kid suddenly becoming autistic because he gets the MMR vaccine -- just likeJenny McCarthy'sdid (sad face) -- is so much more daunting than the possibility of him coming down with a highly contagious disease that was declared eradicated 15 years ago and which has the potential to kill him.
A separate report in the Post sums up the irony of the anti-vaccination movement nicely, declaring it "fueled by an over-privileged group of rich people grouped together who swear they won't put any chemicals in their kids (food or vaccines or whatever else), either because it's trendy to be all-natural or they don't understand or accept the science of vaccinations." But the report also concedes the obvious: that arguing with anti-vaxxers is worthless, that it only makes them retreat further to their faulty positions, their Google Search Science and the comfort of knowing all the equally clueless mothers in their neighborhood feel the same way they do. You can tell these people that their decision isn't simply their decision, that it's one being made for children who aren't theirs -- children whose lives their little walking Petri dishes are putting in jeopardy -- and they'll just shrug it off and tell you about a report they read on the internet somewhere.
It's difficult to get your head around the fact that we live in an age of unprecedented potential knowledge and available information and yet there are pockets of privilege within our culture which stand arrogantly assured that their own instincts and concierge wellness education, ironically, inoculate them from the necessity of having to succumb to reality. As Eula Biss, the author of the essential book On Immunity, says about these people, they're so insulated from real threats that they have to make up their own. They're so up their own asses that they think they're the vulnerable ones, the ones needing protection. When you combine this kind of privileged panic with the equally privileged belief that the rules don't necessarily need to apply to you, you get awfulness like the anti-vaccine movement. People who don't know a goddamn thing about what they're talking about but are 100% positive they do.
You know, we all had a nice, hearty laugh the other night when President Obama subtly mocked the conservative tendency to fall back on the cheap "I'm not a scientist" cop-out when equivocating on a response to global climate change. "I’m not a scientist, either," he said. "But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists." The same applies here. Anti-vaccine ignorance is every bit as offensive and unforgivable as climate change denial. When there's that much evidence telling you you're wrong and you still refuse to concede there might be something to all that evidence, the problem isn't the quality of the evidence -- it's you.
It's absolutely useless, I know, but one more time for the cheap seats (or in this case the box seats): Vaccinate your fucking kids. Vaccinate them exactly as the CDC recommends. You are putting people's health at risk if you don't. Believe it or not, it's not just about you. You may think you're the smart one here but, believe me, you're anything but.