There are times when I can be strident, possibly too strident. For example, in a recent post (“The Scarlet Letter”) I suggested (okay, I outright recommended) that parents who chose not to protect their children, through immunization, against disease should be forced to wear a “Scarlet Letter”. Actually, “suggested” and “recommended” don’t exactly convey the proper tone of the piece; its tone was more along the lines of a call to arms.
This is how I get — my family describes it as “worked up”, I would characterize it as “passionate” — when I smack up against the nonsensical. When I come face-to-face (or, more often than not these days, Facebook-to-Facebook) with arguments that are based on fear or, worse, ignorance my answer is to make attempts to quell the fear and to dispel the ignorance with as many facts (from reliable sources) as I can get my hands on.
I always think this approach will work. It almost never does.
Sadly, though, softer approaches, like the 1986 letter penned by Roald Dahl, whose own daughter succumbed to measles in 1962, in which he practically begged parents to have their children immunized do not seem to have an effect on the anti-vaxxers, either.
For a couple of weeks I watched as this letter made the social media rounds. Some of the responses left me shaking my head in despair. Once or twice I got drawn in by some insane comment and even responded myself — with facts (from reliable sources). When I began to wonder if banging my head against the nearest hard object might be a better use of my time, I stopped reading these wacky responses. I ceased responding myself. I made a conscious decision not to get any more worked up about the issue than I already was.
And then I saw the Nationwide Super Bowl commercial — not because I had watched The Super Bowl, but because it was all over social media the following day. People were mighty worked up about having their Super Bowl interrupted by the message that preventable accidents are the number one cause of death for children under the age of 5. Based on the amount of social media kvetching associated with this commercial, I sought it out and watched it.
I wondered if this very powerful advertisement didn’t have parents lined up on Super Bowl Monday, waiting for the doors to open at their local Target stores so that they could purchase the equipment necessary to insure that their children were safer in their homes, their automobiles, or while engaging in sporting activities. How many people, I wondered, went home, dug out their screwdrivers, and set about child-proofing their cabinetry?
I began to think that perhaps an ad campaign such as this one, but aimed at educating people about the danger that not immunizing children presents, might go a long way to convincing parents to line up at the doctor’s office or the local clinic — or any place else where they could get their children vaccinated. As the legions of people who have done this very thing can attest, such a thing does not even require a screwdriver, just a modicum of common sense.
Ultimately, the combination of seeing this advertisement and reading some of the responses to the Roald Dahl letter served to ratchet my mood up a few notches. I went from merely worked up to over the edge.
It was in this frame of mind that I furiously hammered out “The Scarlet Letter” post.
Surely if my child was still young enough for things like locked cabinets and covered outlets to be a concern, the Nationwide commercial would have had its desired effect upon me. Having had my awareness raised, I would like to think that I, too, would have been shopping on Super Bowl Monday for items that would make my home safer for its youngest inhabitant.
Very shortly after I had written and published my post, several people posted a cartoon, which appeared in The New Yorker, in which a doctor, treating a measles-afflicted child says, as the parents look on, “If you connect the measles it spells out ‘My parents are idiots’”. (As I am not licensed to share it here, click here to view the original cartoon.)
Some people got pretty worked up about it. I had a light bulb moment.
Both the ad and the cartoon send the same message: Do these things (or this thing) or your children might die.
The Nationwide advertisement, entitled “Make Safe Happen” pulled at our heartstrings. It made us think about whether or not we, as parents, were doing all that we could to insure the safety of our children. Unlike the cartoon, it didn’t call people “idiots”. It may have suggested idiocy and stupidity, but it fell short of outright saying it.
The “things” or “thing” in question are different, but the result of not doing them may be the same.
I did not get the sense that people were angry about The Nationwide ad so much as they were uncomfortable with it. Being force-fed a dose of reality on a day when bumping up against the worst case scenario is often limited to running short of wings and beer or, for some, watching helplessly as the coach orders a passing play instead of a running play which adversely affects the outcome of the game; learning that preventable accidents are the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 in America is not what people have come to expect from their Super Bowl Sunday commercials.
The Nationwide ad was not the only downer of the day. In what can best be described as a bold and unselfish move, the NFL, rather than selling the most expensive commercial time known to man chose, instead, to set it aside for its own use; they aired their own public service announcement about another harsh reality — domestic violence.
I got the definite sense that people were annoyed. Why aren’t we watching burping frogs hawking beer? Why must we have our fun interrupted by these messages? Where is the beautiful supermodel selling us soft drinks? Why must we be subjected to the truth? Why must we be made to feel?
The reaction to the cartoon, which, unlike the Nationwide ad and the NFL PSA, contained absolutely no nuance, was altogether a different story. It ticked more than a few people off — some of them got mighty worked up about it.
It made me wonder if the vehemence with which many of those who identify themselves as “anti-vaxxers” reacted to this cartoon isn’t really what is at the heart of this issue. I, too, would react vehemently to being characterized as stupid.
The Christian Science Monitor in a February, 2015 article entitled “What You Need To Know About Measles Outbreak and Vaccine”, authored by Amanda Paulson, reported that the immunization rate for measles in this country is, in fact, 95 % nationwide. This figure*, according to The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which sets a target vaccination rate at 90%, should be more than enough to protect most Americans from a measles outbreak. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are pockets of the country where this number is significantly reduced.
According to Paulson, while much has been made of the “vaccine skepticism” which abounds in some of the more liberal, affluent, and highly educated communities of Marin and Orange Counties in Southern California, she argues that “vaccine skepticism” “cuts across ideological, religious, and class lines” — citing that, for example, Colorado has only an 82% compliance rate.
In an attempt to further define who, exactly, these people are — those who “opt out” of vaccinating their children — this same article defines them as “parents who are committed to a more natural lifestyle, arm themselves with their own research, and tend to be skeptical of pharmaceutical companies”. Hmmm. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe this is who these people are. Further, the idea that they choose to “arm themselves with their own research” does not exactly inspire confidence. Frankly, I am not even sure what that means.
What, then, do I think this whole debate is about? I think that it could be as simple as some people thinking that they are smarter than other people. Whether they believe this because they consider themselves educated, because they have more money, because they are committed to a more “natural” lifestyle, because they mistrust either the government or the pharmaceutical companies — or some combination of all of these things — does not really matter at the end of the day, does it? What does matter is that they are making decisions that may adversely affect the public health of this country because they are laboring under this delusion. I think this is precisely why there was such an uproar over that cartoon.
I have reached the conclusion that I will not be the person to convince them otherwise, to force them to wear scarlet letters, to disabuse them of the pretense that they are smarter than the rest of us. I don’t know if any single person can accomplish that. Still, I have to wonder if the folks who created that Nationwide ad couldn’t come up with an equally powerful campaign aimed at challenging the notion that choosing not to vaccinate your children is no indication that you are, in fact, smarter than the rest of us; that, for example, opting out of vaccinating your children is akin to not using a car seat or to not securing a bottle of aspirin — actions that many people would attribute to those who lack basic intelligence.
While I am fairly certain that such an ad campaign could be designed, what I am less certain of is whether or not it would influence — or even reach — the very people who need it most. It couldn’t hurt, though, could it? It may be worth a shot.
** The federal government targets 90% childhood vaccination rates. Nationwide, Americans are hitting or exceeding that goal for measles, mumps and rubella; for polio; for hepatitis B; and for varicella (the virus that causes chicken pox). Americans missed targets for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, and for Hib and PCV vaccines. (The L.A. Times, 9/12/13, “CDC reports on U.S. vaccination rates, recent measles outbreaks.”) http://articles.latimes.com/2013/sep/12/science/la-sci-sn-cdc-measles-vaccines-20130912