Educated, not classist

Letter by Jenny Wood

ImageI was seriously disappointed in the review by Gabriel Carlyle of the book On Immunity: an inoculation, by Eula Biss in PN2594–2595.

I understand that feelings run high on both sides of the debate about vaccination and I am not taking issue with the fact that the book and the reviewer support mass vaccination. There are many claims on both sides of the argument as to whether vaccinations are effective or safe, and it is true that it is very difficult to find reliable scientific ‘facts’ regarding the dangers of vaccination, but is that surprising considering the vested interests promoting vaccination, ie the multinational drugs companies?

And the fact that the mass media are hand in glove with them?

However I am taking issue with the way the reviewer (and the book) dismiss parental fears about vaccination as nothing more than a ‘labyrinthine network of interlocking anxieties’ almost as if the parents who distrust vaccinations are somehow neurotic and simply expressing ‘the prevailing sense of vulnerability of the human individual in a hostile world’, implying that such fears are groundless and easily dismissed by true science.

I totally agree that science ‘where it is not built on domination… can be liberating’, but as many scientists are in the pay of governments and drugs companies, how is it possible for a lay person to actually get genuine scientific answers on vaccination (and many other issues, such as vivisection, and until recently veganism, homosexuality and transgender issues)?

The book and review also promote the idea that the arguments for and against vaccination are about class. That the white middle class think only the working classes and non-whites need to be vaccinated because they are unhealthier, is disingenuous to say the least.

Most people I have met who are anti-vaccination, it is true, are middle class BUT this is more to do with education and consequently the ability to question and debate issues openly, than because they think that working class people are more diseased.

Well-educated middle-class people are more likely to be able to question issues and draw their own conclusions than less-educated working-class people. They are also more likely to eat a healthy diet, not use physical punishment on their children, and breast feed. So I don’t see how that can justify the claim that middle-class people who don’t vaccinate do so because ‘public health measures are not intended for people like [them]’.

The claim at the end of the article that ‘vaccination activists have… undermined public health by attacking public confidence in vaccination’ is highly contestable and could be paraphrased in so many ways for anti-war activists (weakening the war on terror), for anti-nuclear power activists (damaging confidence in nuclear energy) and animal rights activists (damaging the public confidence in vivisection, hunting-orientated conservation, beef…). It sounds uncommonly like the sort of propaganda one gets from the conventional media.

And there is no mention of other reasons why people may be anti-vaccination, such as its dependence on animal testing, or the plethora of animal ingredients in many vaccines (see which are abhorrent to many vegetarians, vegans and some people of faith (many vaccines contain pork gelatine).

Yours for peace for people, animals and the planet,