The effectiveness and necessity of vaccines has been a long-standing societal controversy, challenging scientific institutions and practices for centuries. A significant wave of opposition towards vaccines was observed amongst celebrities in America, when the government had proposed a bill to make vaccines for babies compulsory.
This occurrence happened approximately a year ago, in June 2015, however a refusal to invest in vaccines was first observed in the 1870s. The general public was skeptical about the legitimacy of vaccines and the possible infringement on civil liberties. Two centuries later, and criticisms of vaccines remain as valid amongst the general public.
British physician, Dr. Edward Jenner, was the first to develop vaccines in their modern form, in 1796. However, observations suggesting the effectiveness of vaccines stem back to Ancient Greek historians. In 429 BC, Thucydides noticed that people who survived the smallpox outbreak in Athens were not at risk of becoming re-infected.
Chinese scientists around 900AD observed similar discoveries, as they invented a primitive version of a vaccination, called variolation. The aim was to primarily prevent smallpox, by exposing healthy people to the scabs caused by the disease.
‘the purpose of a vaccine is to expose the immune system to certain viral microbes, in order to encourage it to build up antibodies for future protection against possible infections’
The purpose of a vaccine is to expose the immune system to certain viral microbes, in order to encourage it to build up antibodies for future protection against possible infections. However, the issue with vaccines is that the immune system creates antibodies for a specific kind of virus, which will not be effective on a similar virus that has slightly altered components. For example, if you’ve received immunization against the flu outbreak of 2015, it won’t be effective for a similar flu outbreak in 2016.
Therefore, claims regarding the profitability of vaccines are grounded in the observation that the medical industry is exploiting our instinctive need for survival through the commodification of our health. There are undeniably beneficial outcomes of most vaccines that help the majority, especially when travelling across continents that are known to have a high possibility of transmitted viral infections. Having said this, our ever growing consumerist surrounding may be affecting our health choices more than we know.
In contrast to technology, fashion, and beauty products that are being highly advertised everywhere, when resources aimed towards our health are being manipulated, then capitalism falls under the scrutiny of morality. Ranging from over the counter pills, to prescribed medication, it needs to be acknowledged that the pharmaceutical industry continues to consist of profit driven businesses. Undoubtedly, research funding is required in order to improve and excel in medical development. Nevertheless, when the general public becomes aware of the frequency of their consumption, understandable doubts are raised regarding the necessity of medicine.
“VACCINES can only improve health and prevent deaths if they are used… hesitancy is an increasingly important issue for country immunization programmes”
The World Health Organization seems to take a vital standpoint on the requirement of vaccines: “Vaccines can only improve health and prevent deaths if they are used… hesitancy is an increasingly important issue for country immunization programmes.” This standpoint seems to have utilitarian inclinations, as vaccines have reduced the amount of deaths overall, however throughout the years there are continuous fears of serious, long lasting, vaccine side effects. For example, the MMR vaccine was reportedly associated with autism, though this was later discovered to be unfounded.
During the Senate Bill 277 in California, mandating that children needed to be fully vaccinated before enrolling in schools, a new wave of vocal anti vaccination activists emerged. Amongst these activists were many celebrities who voiced their concerns towards the bill, such as Jim Carrey, Alicia Silverstone, and Charlie Sheen.
‘the most common reasoning for this opposition was due to the bills infringement of civil liberties’
The most common reasoning for this opposition was due to the bill’s infringement of civil liberties. However, society is institutionally built within a system of rules and regulations, which would require one to completely oppose all legal infringements of liberty in order to prove a point. Besides, the argument could go as far as to suggest that our conception of freedom is within itself constructed by the institutions and culture that we’re brought up in.
High profile celebrity Charlie Sheen has specifically emphasized that certain medical practices aren’t necessarily natural for the human body. Despite the chemically produced components of a vaccination, the implications of avoiding anything that isn’t perceived as ‘natural’ would require an isolation from most products in society. Ranging from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and even our sources of entertainment, can any of it be called ‘natural?’ The discourse behind what is perceived as natural has itself been distorted throughout the years, as we live in an era that has been infiltrated by a massive inflow of consumerism.
Products that would conventionally be naturally-grown, such as fruit, vegetables and grains, have been subjected to pesticides, artificial chemicals and GMOs. Therefore, when living in an increasingly ‘unnatural’ world, which consists of artificially-built cities that produce extensive levels of pollution and are surrounded by hundreds of viruses, wouldn’t living a ‘natural’ life free of vaccinations simply reflect a contradiction of values, if one were to conform to everyday societal practice?
The problem that arises when certain celebrities or extremely rich individuals choose to live a life which is free of vaccines is possibly one of privilege. Social media has been flooding with the concept of privilege lately, and it has become a topic that cannot be ignored, as it is highly relevant in certain situations. For example, if a celebrity’s child suddenly became severely ill due to a lack of vaccinations, then the economic leverage of that celebrity would enable them to seek for an effective, emergency cure. In contrast, an underprivileged family that is financially struggling might be faced with fatal consequences.