“Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” ~ Arthur M. Schlesinger.
I remember one year, I must have been younger than eight, that I was scheduled for one of those school wide physicals – some routine measurements of health and well-being which took place at school rather than at a doctor’s office. My mother was not able to be there with me, so I was incentivized to be brave by the promise of a gift. It was an Indian doll (Native American), complete with a baby on her back. And so of course I was brave! My older sister, some years before, when she was taken to the doctor for a vaccination, had also promised to be brave, but burst into tears when she received the shot. ‘You said it was a vaccination,’ she sputtered, ‘you didn’t tell me there’d be a needle!’
This week, we have been watching people bravely taking ‘needles’ in front of a global audience. From a ninety-year-old in the UK, to a Jamaican nurse in New York, sleeves have been rolled up, and vaccinations have been administered. I have to confess I watch the injectors with a critical eye. Some of them look as if they have not wielded a syringe in some time, as if they chose the management team for the photo ops, rather than the experienced nurses who deliver with speed, efficiency, and one hand tied behind their backs!
Although the vaccination promises to (eventually) confer immunity to this strange disease, this COVID that is so unpredictable in its course, many are worried and appear to be more skeptical about the vaccination than the disease. This despite the mounting deaths, and climbing infections around the USA. It is more than unfortunate that a knowledge of the history of this country has provided many reasons for skepticism. We learn with horror about the atrocities of scientific experiments performed unethically and immorally (even criminally) upon people of color (the Tuskegee experiment is taught in every class on research and ethics). We know the healthcare system in the US has clearly not lived up to the vision of ‘Healthy People’ over the decades, to eliminate disparities in health outcomes and healthcare delivery. There are ample studies which clearly justify the distrust that people of color have towards healthcare providers and the system in general.
But at the same time, we have to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Most of us are here today because of the development of vaccines. The scientific community provided us with an artificial way to live beyond childhood and has resulted in the elimination or vast reduction of formerly deadly diseases such as polio and smallpox. Even tuberculosis was almost on its way out, before AIDS provided an opportunity for TB to bloom and thrive.
Yes, there are plenty of horror stories on the web regarding vaccinations and bad outcomes, but how many of them are true? And if true, how many cases of bad outcomes versus good outcomes? We need to do our ‘due diligence’ – research the facts not the anecdotes. Unfortunately, one unethical physician wrote a paper linking vaccinations to autism (based on manipulated data which have since been debunked), and now we have a community of ‘anti-vaxers’.
There is a certain logic which follows the rejection and mistrust of science and the scientific community. What else will you reject? All of the technology in our modern world was developed by scientists, people who experimented and researched and worked long hours. I always think of airplanes as the most illogical of machines, despite an acceptance of the physics which explains how the movement of air above and below the wings etc., etc., and yet I get into airplanes with no expectation of doing anything but reaching my destination safely. If we are going to reject the science and research that goes into the development of medicine, are we also going to stop taking our prescription medications that keep our blood pressure down? That saved us from that cancer scare? That keeps our child’s blood sugar under control?
One of the biggest losses over the past four years, has been the loss of the ability to trust the word of people in public life. Misinformation, manipulation of data, politicization of public health policy, has caused this loss of trust to spread as fast as the virus. So it is not surprising that many of us are hesitant to trust a vaccination which appears to have been developed so quickly. However the scientists are telling us they have been working on the vaccination against Corona Viruses for 20 years, and it was just a matter of ‘tweaking’ to be ready for this version.
When a marriage is disrupted by the infidelity of one partner, it often takes time for trust to be reestablished. And it is the guilty partner who has to try to do everything in their power to rebuild that trust. Although the scientific community has been manipulated by profit seeking corporations and selfish politicians, we are going to have to try to rebuild our trust in the science itself. I had a professor who used to encourage us to ‘trust the process’, especially when progress seemed especially slow. For the most part scientists are dedicated to their work, and in providing solutions to life’s challenges. It is time for us to ‘trust the process’.
To those in my family (both by blood and by profession) who are setting the example and taking the vaccine, I thank you. Healthcare workers have been exposed to so much this year, we are grateful for their commitment to their profession and wish only for their continued good health and wellbeing. May we all give thanks this Christmas season for all of those who work behind the scenes to keep us healthy and safe.
It has been a long year, baby, but let us hope that we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!