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Friday, May 7, 2021

The Paradox of Vaccine Panic

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In 2015, the Atlantic published the cover story of that year, “You’re Not Sick, You’re Alarmist,” part of a series on the overwrought alarm of vaccine-phobia. The story became such a sensation that Reuters followed up with a story the same year titled “Two Views on the Warnings of a Flu Pandemic,” which questioned those who believed that mass epidemics were coming in the near future.

Many years later, it’s those same alarms that seem to have fallen on new ears. Earlier this week, Concerned Women for America sent a letter to Democratic congressional leaders calling on them to stop funding the Centers for Disease Control. A few days later, the chief medical officer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints blogged that it is his “personal position that one does not have to have a fever higher than 104 to have the flu.”

The normally calibrated Julian Jones, the medical anthropologist and best-selling author who has suffered from a rare and extremely painful form of meningitis for nearly three decades, came out in support of two competing views.

The first is that, at least at this point, the government’s alarmism has been overwrought, and that it should ease up on scaremongering. The second is that, if, as epidemiologists have concluded, influenza has become almost entirely treatable with vaccines, we should go back to scaremongering, not much more so. That’s because the virus itself is still capable of affecting many people, and there’s still a huge epidemic going on in the world.

Jones, like many other medical sociologists, believes that the way to respond to those concerns is through facts, science and, above all, humane compassion. He says that “opting out” may have practical dangers. “In the era of infectious diseases,” he writes, “there is a risk, albeit a diminishing one, that we will opt out of caring for each other’s chronic conditions and just not pay for health care services.” That would reduce the health of our society—not to mention, he adds, to our own lives.

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