Individualism is the cornerstone upon which American society is built. Here, it is appropriate, perhaps even encouraged, for us to look inward before we look outward, to take immense value in the unique curvatures of our personhood at the expense of the jigsaw puzzle we are all a part of. We have made individualism permeate every facet of how we live, clinging onto this ideal as if our lives depend on it. But, as irony would have it, it is this very individualism that we hold on so dear that, along with ignorance, has reared its ugly side and put lives in danger, plaguing the US in the form of a measles outbreak. It is especially uncanny how the “Happiest Place on Earth” became the source of a deadly disease.
The New York Times noted that the US has had more measles cases within the first month of this year than what is usually diagnosed in one year thanks to the increasing number of those who have opted for their children not to be vaccinated or have chosen for themselves not to be vaccinated. Recent years have been no stranger to the prevalence of anti-vax movement, preaching the false gospel of the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine causing autism. Its chief evangelist, Jenny McCarthy, is most notable for advocating this erroneous doctrine, citing British Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s paper as proof. It is this paper that made her nervous about giving her son the MMR vaccine. During an interview with Oprah a few years ago, she described the vaccine as the means by which “the light went from his eyes” and since then, she has made it her mission to promote the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism.
There are a few things to consider regarding her statements:
- Dr. Wakefield’s claims of MMR’s link with autism have been thoroughly reviewed and the British Medical Journal found the data to be falsified and his paper to be highly erroneous.
- In the world of good, reliable science, correlation never equals causation.
- Anne who writes at The Belle Jar brilliantly discusses how, regardless of our stance, the conversation surrounding vaccines and autism is ableist: “Autistic people aren’t gone. Their brains function differently than neurotypical brains, which often leads to them becoming overwhelmed by outside stimuli in a way that other people might not. So, in a sense, they’re more present than many of us are – they’re bombarded by sights, sounds and smells that neurotypical people can ignore or dismiss. They are very much ‘here,’ trying way harder than most to process what ‘here’ is. So get out of here with your misinformed ideas about autistic people having no light in their eyes or no soul. Get out of here and maybe go meet an actual autistic person.”
- Sarah Kurchak wrote a thought-provoking article aptly titled I’m Autistic, And Believe Me, It’s A Lot Better Than Measles. In it, she raises this poignant question, “Vaccines don’t cause autism. But even if they did, is being like me really a fate worse than death?”
Along with all of those points, we must also remember that doctors are especially careful with vaccines when it comes immunocompromised individuals and, based on the severity and the specific instances surrounding their immunocompromised condition, will decide not to administer certain vaccines. It was reported that there are about 10 million immunocompromised individuals in America. These individuals are easily susceptible to diseases so their weak immune systems make things like having the chicken pox to be potentially deadly experiences. At the end of the day, while they undergo treatments to aid with the unique health struggles they face, they also depend on the vaccinations of the general population so that they do not have to worry about things like measles. This concept is called herd immunity.
In other words, our vaccination can be perceived to be a collective decision, not just an individual one.
Those who are staunch anti-vaxxers often reiterate the mantra, “my body my choice” without realizing that their decision not to vaccinate cannot be contained within the confines of the bodies they inhabit. Sure, put yourself at risk but you are also putting others who are not vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons at risk. It is time that we travel backward in the trail of our worldview until we find ourselves at the fork in the road; we must ask ourselves if individualism is truly way to go here or if we ought to take the road less travelled, that road called collectivism.
I would choose the latter.
Of course, this isn’t to say that I think individualism is bad all the time. It is a paradigm that has the capacity to bring about a healthy awareness of self. It is a worldview that also advocates for our autonomy. But as I consider that an increasing number of people are having a disease that was considered non-existent, as I think on the fact that herd immunity was once very strong in the realm of measles, as I come across articles that should not exist (like this one called To the Parent of the Unvaccinated Child Who Exposed My Family to Measles), I feel compelled to go on the rooftops and yell the following:
Dear America, Your Speech and Actions Surrounding Vaccines Have No Room For Your Individualism.
Our bodies are more than just individual threads. We are interwoven to make up the fabric of our communities and our society at large. Our bodies, especially those of the immunocompromised and those too young to receive the vaccine, are well aware of that. The lives of those who are immunocompromised are already facing their daily battle with surviving a world built for the immunocompetent. Those who are less than one year and thus, not yet vaccinated, also depend on us to be vaccinated so that they too can live a more healthy life. And as we speak on these issues, it has been made known that the conversations we have surrounding vaccination have damaging ableist undertones that need to be muted. Here, our words have an impact in society’s perception of a group of people who are autistic, who are just as human, if not more, than those of us who are neurotypical. Individualism does not seem to fit inside the decisions and conversations we have about vaccination. Forcing it to fit seems to cause it to burst into a much larger issue, resulting in a splattered mess on the skin and the health of those prone to the disease. It also soils the way in which we refer to people with autism when we do not consider their humanity. These observations make me stop and think, wondering what other self-centered aspects of our individualistic American lives are hurting others more than we realize.
What are your thoughts on the measles outbreak and vaccination fiasco?