The Good War

Tommy Pochedly

September 10, 2014

Over the past few years, the alarming trend of anti-vaccination has gained popularity across the United States. More than ever, families are straying from the recommended schedule of childhood vaccinations. Some are even choosing to forego all vaccines not mandated by state law. Not only is this a perilous health risk but the movement against vaccinations on the whole is completely senseless.

Upon examination of the affliction, I see a movement fueled by misinformation, superstition, and the testimony of opportunistic celebrities. The central spokeswoman, Jenny McCarthy, from her pulpit atop a daytime talk show lambasts vaccines for causing her son’s autism. While McCarthy does boast an impressive portfolio of scientific achievements, most notable among them was her centerfold in Playboy where it is rumored she requested to model a lab coat, her arguments have been proven specious, bordering on fraudulent, by the scientific community.

In the name of science though, let’s keep an open mind towards McCarthy’s claims. To dismiss her claims simply because she does not have a PhD in chemistry would be academic hubris. Instead, we should not only welcome her criticism but all rational criticism. Let them be scrutinized through the precise scope of science and let no bias cloud our judgment on the matter. We cannot cling to the fallacy that science is perfect. In science, as in any human endeavor, mistakes are made. For that reason, we must always be open to a reexamination of things thought to be true.

McCarthy charges that modern vaccines can cause brain damage to young children. Vaccines contain a chemical called thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative. The purpose of adding thimerosal is to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in the vaccine vials, ensuring that you get the safest possible product. In effect, thimerosal actually makes vaccines safer by ensuring that you are injected with the vaccine and not harmful bacteria.

The initial theory reasoned that a high number of mercury-containing vaccinations in a short period of time could cause mercury poisoning. However, this theory has been discredited by the scientific community. Thimerosal is derived from ethylmercury, which can be processed by the body and removed; as a result it is harmless. On the other hand, methylmercury, the wellknown, dangerous type of mercury, which has never been used in vaccines, builds up in the body resulting in mercury poisoning. These are two completely different chemicals. Nevertheless, McCarthy acts as if they are the same. Mistaking methyl for ethyl is like mistaking a rattlesnake for a rattle. When viewed through the lens of science, it is clear that McCarthy’s theory was incorrect and there was no real evidence to support it. Still, thimerosal was removed from early childhood vaccines in 2001, yet Autism rates continue to increase in the United States. Herein lies the real problem: the undeniably bipolar, superstitious attitude we have towards science in this country.

When science achieves a tangible benefit for us, such as the invention of the personal computer or cellphone, we applaud and brag of our scientific prowess. When science experiments with things which do not readily benefit us or we do not understand, we interpret that as the nefarious work of a mad scientist with a God complex.

Our work in particle physics became the basis of a terror plot in Dan Brown’s bestselling novel, Angels and Demons. Achievements in genetic engineering allowed apes to conquer the planet. Robotic advancements led to the rise of machines and the extinction of humans. Engineered viruses have led to zombie outbreaks countless times over. Dinosaurs ran rampant across a tropical island when cloning became possible, yet we have not even been able to bring back the slightly less ferocious wooly mammoth.

The fact of the matter is that this rebellion against a tested scientific practice, purely on the basis of superstition and fear, is ludicrous and dangerous. It is simply irrational and should be abandoned immediately. It is beneficial for new advances to be rigorously tested and vetted before we accept them. Even after their acceptance we need to allow for critical reexaminations, but only on the basis of science, not superstition. For that reason, the tested practice of vaccination should be left alone.

The world has been using vaccines since 1796 when Edward Jenner invented the first vaccine for small pox. Our vaccines have only improved since then, allowing us to control the diseases which only a short time ago raged across the globe uncontested. In the 20th century alone it is estimated that smallpox killed between 300 and 500 million people; the equivalent of fifty Holocausts.

In 1979, the World Health Organization declared Smallpox eradicated. The only strains left are confined to laboratories. We owe this accomplishment not to luck or chance, but to the persistent work of countless men and women who, over the centuries, have improved and built upon Jenner’s work. We must discard the old idea that humans will forever be at the mercy of these natural ills. The fact that we are now beginning to eradicate diseases, not only from countries or regions but from the world, is proof that we can dominate the scourges once thought eternal to man.

Disease is not the enemy of people solely in our country but of the entire human race. When we assert our control over these diseases they can be useful to us, but there is nothing positive about smallpox, polio, or malaria when they are allowed to behave in their natural way, infecting and killing as many humans as possible.

When you refuse to vaccinate your children, not only are you putting those around you in danger, but you are committing an act of high treason against the human race. You are offering your children up as sacrificial lambs for the malignant diseases which desperately cling to our old ways. Diseases are under siege around the world. Non-vaccinated peoples are the last bastions in which these diseases take shelter. As a race, we have the opportunity to remove these havens and bring diseases to justice. We are shedding our old skin and with it those diseases. We are marching towards a healthier, stronger human race.

Generation after generation has worked towards this goal. United together as a race, we have the opportunity to finally make that dream a reality. We have the opportunity to save countless lives from the hungry maw of disease, to finally consign this criminal to the fate it deserves. Do not let that dream become obscured by irrational superstitions. The gates are breached, the banner is being hoisted above the walls, and the horns are sounding our final advance. You are a soldier on the frontline of this just crusade. You owe but one duty to your brothers in arms: vaccinate your children.

Tommy Pochedly is a sophomore from Hiram, Ohio majoring in Political Science.