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December 23 2014

First World Problems and the Danger of the Anti-Vax Movement

Julie Gunlock

In America, we’re blessed to suffer from “first world problems.” You know, “the maid just doesn’t know the proper way to make a bed” or “the dang Nanny’s late again” or “for heaven’s sake, the grocery store’s organic and gluten-free selections are so limited.”

Thankfully, Beyonce’s and Emma Watson’s brand of first world feminism have been criticized (although IWF’s Hadley Heath convincingly defends Watson here) and first world child rearing has lead to an entire generation of whiney pajama boy-looking young adults who seem incapable of taking on the rigors and responsibilities of daily life (see this for proof).

Of course, first world problems are something at which we can all giggle. And it’s a mark of our human progress and health as a nation that we find such horror in comparatively no-so-serious issues. But there’s a dark side to this inability to put things into any sort of perspective. For instance, many people have no earthy idea what a real problem looks like.

This was all put into sharp relief last week while I was watching a tribute to a Fox News producer Annie Goodman who sadly died last week after a long, brave battle with an aggressive cancer. Interviewed by Neil Cavuto months before her death, she said something about not being able to remember what her pre-cancer life was like. She said she wondered what she worried about before the cancer and then laughed saying that she used to complain about finding cabs in New York City. No doubt, it’s common when faced with a real, life threatening disease, one resets one’s notions of “problems” but should it take something this serious to make us all do just that? More importantly, is our focus on first world problems distracting us from those very real dangers that still exist?

Obviously, I write from a non-alarmist standpoint so I’m not about to freak you out with a bunch of “we’re all gonna die” rhetoric. But the Culture of Alarmism project here at IWF is about more than just debunking charlatans like The Food Babe and Robyn “everything’s an allergen” O’Bryan and reminding people that essential oils and raw milk aren’t going to cure autism and Ebola. We also want to remind people of the real dangers or at least point out the actual risks as compared to the non-risks on which many focus.

Reading this piece in an online Michigan newspaper this morning while snuggling in a warm bed with my four year old was one such reminder. What must it have been like to love a child before there were vaccines?

… both Rosemary and I have family stories about life before vaccination.

In Rosemary's case, it involves her mother's brother and sister who died in 1922 after they caught mumps, measles and whooping cough simultaneously from their older twin siblings, one of whom was Rosemary's mother.

Anna Ivene and Stanley Lee Miller died the same day. Anna was 2 and 1/2. Stanley had just turned 1.

"Can you imagine losing two babies that age," Rosemary's aunt, Marcia Miller Wissbaum, wrote years later about her parents. "I don't see how either of their kept their sanity.

The author goes on to explain her own brush with these deadly diseases—again, before a vaccination was available. This story occurred in 1965! That’s not so long ago.

My father caught rubella during a global epidemic of the disease. In 1964 and 1965, the United States recorded 12.5 million cases of rubella and 20,000 cases of Congenital Rubella Syndrome, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Among the cases of CRS: 11,000 babies were born deaf, 3,500 were born blind and 1,800 were developmentally disabled, the CDC reports.

In addition, there were 11,000 pregnancies that ended in miscarriage or abortion because of rubella exposure.

Years later when I was a young reporter in New York City, a state health official mentioned New York had to dramatically expanded its special-education facilities in the 1970s to accommodate all the children born disabled during the 1964-65 rubella epidemic.

Today, we are blessed to have vaccinations that have nearly eradicated many of these diseases yet with that comes the loss of memory of the deaths caused by these diseases. And with that come the anti-vaccination movement and the hundreds of conspiracy theories that blame vaccinations for a whole host childhood diseases when there’s not a shred of evidence to link them. Those conspiracy theories, and the anti-vax movement can largely be traced back to Andrew Wakefield, a disgraced British medical researcher, who in 1998 wrote and promoted a fraudulent research paper suggesting a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. Despite wide criticism, the loss of his medical license, total and complete agreement within the medial community that Wakefield’s study was junk, the fear remains. And disgustingly, Wakefield has never backed off his claims and now preys on the autism community for support.

Wakefields’s deeply flawed study created a movement based on lies and supported by a society so well off that we forget how bad it once was. Sadly, the anti-vaccination movement won’t go away until we see more outbreaks of preventable diseases, more deaths, more children suffering. Let’s hope 2015 brings greater awareness of the safety of vaccines and one less first world problem to think about. 

Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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