I just changed my profile picture on Facebook to include a badge against disinformation.I am doing this because I recently found out a dear friend, whom I respect and cherish, is an anti-vaxxer, and is clearly influenced by misinformation she has been seeing on the Internet.
You may think: well everybody is entitled to their own opinions, and indeed they are! They are not only entitled to their own opinions, but they are the owners of their own bodies.People are the ultimate judges of what they should do with their own bodies, and this includes vaccines.
I think this line of reasoning is flawless, except for one small detail: we are social beings and our freedoms are limited by the freedoms of everyone else living on this planet. Besides, we have a duty of care towards those who are more vulnerable than we are. This is valid not only for children, for whom our duty of care is acute. It is also valid for the elderly, the vulnerable, the infirm, and our planet.
Sadly, misinformation and “bad science” interfere with our capacity to make sound judgment and to take the right decisions to uphold not only our own freedoms, but to guarantee that we are respecting the freedoms of all those around us. The libertarian motto that only the individual matters, and that “there is no such thing as society” (a quote by Margaret Thatcher, 1987), is clearly defective. Simply because collaboration is what allows us to exist. There are very few individuals who are successful not living in society, and for those people who are vulnerable (whom I’ve just enumerated above), living in society is a condition for life itself.
Polio has been almost eradicated thanks to massive vaccination campaigns. Smallpox has been completely eradicated. Vaccines are our line of defence against ever more frequent epidemics, but we can’t conquer epidemics “individually”: this is a societal effort.
I understand some people are vigilant and suspicious of vaccines that have been developed in record time. But the scientific consensus is that (1) the existing vaccines are harmless to the immense majority of people and (2) the existing vaccines are incredibly efficient preventing severe illness and death and also that (3) it is possible to get infected by COVID and spread the virus even if you had the vaccine, but the numbers are very very low, and generally the existing vaccines offer great protection.
When confronted with my arguments, this friend sadly claimed that I was not worried about society, but that I was “just scared”. I suppose she thought saying that I am scared meant some form of dishonour or humiliation. Being scared is not a very manly thing, is it?
But I AM scared. Of course I am scared of COVID, of climate change, of far-right ideology, of racism, of war… and I’m scared of disinformation campaigns. I don’t have the slightest problem with being scared. But most of all, I am scared not only for myself, but for my mother who is 75, my sister who has Parkinson’s and has her immunological system weakened, my nephew who’s fresh from university and has his entire life in front of him (all of them fortunately vaccinated). I am scared for the children and for the elderly. And I am also scared for myself.
This (former) friend send me a YouTube Video to prove her point that not everyone should be vaccinated. This reminds me of the meme I saw the other day depicting scientific research versus “research” people do on their iPhones while they are on the loo. I don’t think you know what “research” is.