I’m a public health wonk.
For over a decade, I’ve fought the good fight against Big Tobacco, Big Junk Food, and more recently, Big Guns. I love being able to work for social justice and health equality, while sticking it to big corporations.
So many industries profit by putting our health at risk. This is most clearly seen in environmental pollution, but it’s really the same thing with many everyday products. Tobacco and obesity are the two leading causes of death in our nation, underlying most heart disease, cancers, and diabetes.
No Shame, No Blame
Another thing I love about my work is that it’s not focused on urging individuals to make a big health change. It’s focused on changing the world around us and making it a healthier place.
And yes, while change can only be successful if it is motivated from within, it can only be maintained if it is supported from without. That’s why policies like smoke-free worksites and healthy vending make such a huge difference in supporting people’s ability to quit smoking or eat better. If left to the profiteers, we wouldn’t have many healthy options to choose from.
It has also been really exciting, challenging, and fun to work through media, community partners, and advocates to get legislators to stand up for the people and pass laws that support health. You can create huge, long-lasting changes with a small budget if you join with community members to create news and visit legislators.
All that being said, I used to think the field of Immunizations was unbelievably boring.
Getting people to get their shots? Boring. Sending out letters to families if they don’t meet the deadline for their school-kids to get their shots? Boring. Creating brochures and posters about vaccines? Boring.Boring.Boring.
Then I became a mom.
And then I became a mom involved in Facebook conversations about parenting. And oh boy, I do NOT think vaccines are a boring subject anymore!
Who knew they were so controversial? Who knew they were a litmus test for your parenting style? Who knew people were hosting chicken pox parties? Who knew vaccines were the stuff of extended, heated, hateful debates; memes; books; blogs; and major news stories?
Turns out, I live in the state that has the highest rate of exemptions from vaccinations.
And guess what? We are having disease outbreaks. And guess what? Disease outbreaks for things like whooping cough tend to be clustered in areas with the highest exemption rates. Suddenly, it’s not so boring anymore. It’s not like choosing whether to cloth or paper diaper. It’s about life and death.
The 100 Day Cough
A recent article in the New Republic gives a personal account of a journalist’s experience with the Pertussis/ Whooping Cough. It’s worth a read. So many of us are completely unfamiliar with what vaccine-preventable diseases are like.
Unfortunately, it does something I see all too frequently in this debate: blaming and polarizing people who’ve chosen not to vaccinate.
This approach will never compel people to change their minds. Stories are good. Videos and images of babies and children suffering from measles and mumps are good. Spreading stories of real families’ experiences with the flu and meningitis and chicken pox, which can lead to all sorts of other infections, is good. Pointing fingers is not. Pointing fingers never gets us anywhere. Blame does not motivate.
Calls for social responsibility might motivate some people, as “crunchy mom” Sydney Steiner shares on her excellent blog. But I’m afraid that it’s going to take a great number of people experiencing these old-fashioned diseases first-hand before we will see the pendulum swing back. We need to inject our social media with stories about infectious diseases. We need to inoculate people with real, human, emotional stories, buffered with facts. <Insert joke about going viral here>
This new area in public health is a bit different for me.
Unlike Big Tobacco, it’s the pharmaceutical companies that are the good guys here. But that doesn’t mean somebody isn’t making money off this debate. There are plenty of people who are perfectly happy to make a profit off selling books, essential oils, and supplements. This gives the appearance of a community-driven, grassroots, counter-culture movement led by doctors sticking up for the little guy. But it’s not. It’s a fear-based, profit-driven game.
These profiteers are not health heroes. They are not martyrs who will someday be shown to have been correct all along. They are the snake oil salesmen of our time. But instead of traveling from town to town to sell their wares, they spread their message through social media. And they are just as savvy as manipulating social media as Big Tobacco is brilliant at advertising.
I see more and more parents and citizens getting vocal about this issue. It’s an issue that affects all of us, that puts all of us at risk, but especially babies, the elderly, and people whose immunity is already compromised by cancer or other conditions. I, for one, do not want to see infectious diseases grow larger on that bar chart in the image above.
We need more voices.
I’d like to see bloggers writing about why they vaccinate. If you need inspiration, this post from Alice Callahan, PhD in Nutrition, mom, blogger at Science of Mom is a great example of where to start: On Parenting, Science, and Trust–and Choosing to Vaccinate.
I Want to Help Change This. How about You?
I’d like to hear your thoughts about vaccinations, what you’ve heard, whether it’s a controversial issue to you, your concerns, and your suggestions for encouraging people to vaccinate.
- Ohio urges vaccinations against whooping cough (toledoblade.com)
- Whooping Cough outbreak grows at La Cueva High (KOB.com)
- Doctors Battling North Texas Whooping Cough Outbreak (dfw.cbslocal.com)
- Straight Out Of Dickens (dish.andrewsullivan.com)
- Whooping cough on rise in region (arkansasonline.com)
- ‘Flu Jab ………….. ( Day 14 of NaBloPoMo ) (rosiewrites2.wordpress.com)
- Whooping cough boosters recommended after Albuquerque outbreak (abqjournal.com)
- Alarming Trend: Diseases Like Measles And Mumps Make Frightening Comeback (baltimore.cbslocal.com)
- Colorado health authorities urge whooping-cough vaccinations (denverpost.com)
- Exhibit on vaccines and epidemics to open at Museum of Health Care (globalnews.ca)