On Immunity | Eula Biss

Summary of: On Immunity: An Inoculation
By: Eula Biss

Introduction

Embark on a captivating journey through the history, myths, and science surrounding vaccinations in Eula Biss’ insightful book ‘On Immunity: An Inoculation’. Biss examines parental fears around vaccination, addressing concerns such as contamination, adverse effects on the nervous system, and allergic reactions. She further delves into the cultural and societal aspects of the vaccine debate, exploring how metaphors, symbolism, and social identity can sway opinions. Finally, she highlights the importance of herd immunity and compares the risks of vaccinations to the dangers of infectious diseases.

Myths and Modern Parenting

Ancient myths and fairy tales show that parents have always sought to protect their children but sometimes make decisions that end up harming them. Similarly, modern parents feel the pressure to make the best choices for their children, including regarding vaccinations. Despite the overwhelming amount of information available, it can be difficult to know what is truly best for your child.

The history of parenting is filled with stories of parents going to great lengths to protect their children. Some of these tales include the goddess Thetis dipping Achilles into the underworld river Styx to make him invulnerable, only to later learn that she missed his heels; the King of Argos’s attempt to keep his daughter pure, only to have her impregnated by Zeus disguised as gold rain; and the miller in The Girl Without Hands who unwittingly exchanges everything behind his mill, including his daughter, to the devil for riches.

These ancient myths and fairy tales illustrate that parents have always tried their best to protect their children but sometimes make mistakes that result in harm. Modern parents can relate to this sentiment, especially when it comes to the polarizing topic of vaccinations. With so much information available, it can be tough to know which decision is best for your child. But just as parents throughout history have persevered, modern parents have the ability to make the best choices for their children based on the information available.

Understanding Vaccination Skepticism

Misconceptions, Controversies, and Fears Surrounding Vaccinations

Despite advancements in medical knowledge, vaccines continue to draw skepticism, especially from parents. Historical vaccination risks, allergic reactions, neurological damage, immune system suppression, and other health-related concerns are some of the reasons parents are hesitant to vaccinate their children.

Vaccines have long been considered lifesavers, yet vaccines in the past were associated with many risks and diseases like syphilis and tetanus. Currently, the Institute of Medicine closely monitors vaccine production to avoid such incidents. However, despite the numerous benefits vaccines offer, some parents are still hesitant about them.

One fear is that vaccines cause autism or neurological damage. This fear can be traced back to a case study of 12 children published in 1998 by a British physician. The study connected the MMR vaccine with a severe behavioral syndrome, including symptoms of autism. Though the study was later retracted, concerns over vaccines and neurological damage remain.

Other fears include the possibility that vaccines may overwhelm the immune system, causing immune system suppression, or that vaccines might cause asthma, other allergies, or multiple sclerosis. Despite the rarity of these occurrences, they contribute to skepticism about vaccines.

Overall, this summary explains why some parents continue to hesitate when it comes to vaccinating their children, highlighting key issues and controversies tied to vaccination skepticism.

Metaphors and Misgivings of Vaccination

Vaccinations are not only about proven facts, but also the metaphors people use to perceive them. Even though modern vaccinations no longer leave significant wounds, they are still an intrusion and often perceived as a violent invasion of the body. People use different terms to describe the act of vaccinating, which reflects their degree of violence. Vaccinations have also been associated with impurity, pollution, and sexual intrusion, as a foreign substance is injected into the body. These perceptions have a historical basis going back to primitive vaccinations, which left a scar that many viewed as the “mark of the beast”. Similarly, in 1882, an archbishop likened vaccinations to an injection of sin. In modern times, people have expressed unease about vaccinating young girls against STDs like hepatitis B or the human papilloma virus (HPV), fearing it might promote promiscuity. Thus, the metaphors and misgivings of vaccination largely determine people’s willingness to vaccinate.

The Social and Cultural Factors Affecting Preventive Healthcare

Many people reject medical treatments due to social and cultural influences. Certain illnesses are associated with poverty, promiscuity, addiction, and minority groups, which create a sense of otherness. The term “high risk groups” further stigmatizes these communities as tainted. Social identity also plays a role in avoiding preventive health measures. People associate certain vaccines with minority groups or believe that preventive measures only apply to those groups. This belief is not only false but can also lead to ineffective disease prevention methods. For example, the hepatitis B vaccine was initially only recommended for high-risk groups such as prisoners, gay men, and intravenous drug users. However, the infection rate only dropped significantly when mass vaccination was introduced. By understanding the social and cultural factors affecting preventive healthcare, we can address misconceptions and stigmatization to ensure that effective healthcare is accessible to everyone.

The Paradox of Vaccinations

Vaccinations, despite being natural, are shunned due to pre-industrial nostalgia and fears of chemicals in highly industrialized countries. Some view vaccinations as unnatural, while preferring natural products, such as organic foods and cosmetics. However, immunity resulting from vaccinations relies on the body’s natural immune system, and vaccines themselves are a group of biological drugs derived from living organisms. Instead, vaccines are often seen as a degradation of the innate purity of the body, especially in infants. Some parents have even resorted to purchasing infected lollipops online in their search for a more “natural” way to build immunity. Ultimately, this creates a paradox where a “natural” option is avoided in favor of an unnatural one.

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