Sick seems to be the theme lately. Santorum read a speech on keeping the church and state separated which, “made him want to throw up” – which might make some of the rest of us feel queasy. Well, I am truly getting sick of pointing out why Rick Santorum keeps getting it wrong about keeping the church and the state separate – so I’m writing about health, specifically vaccines.
Bill Moyers has a piece today on the Huffingtonpost about vaccines. Someone one (or two) people went to the Superbowl with measles, which is super contagious. So there is a possibility that thousands of people were contaminated, but so far nothing has been reported. Bill takes the opportunity to point out how sometimes Americans opt to not have their children vaccinated. He seems mostly concerned with the religious exemption, pointing out that the “herd immunity” begins to break down if just five out of twenty five students are not vaccinated. No doubt we are all susceptible to disease and would not want our loved ones to battle one unnecessarily, so what gives? Why are some of us choosing not to vaccinate?
I can think of many good reasons.Religious exemption is one of the most common reasons why someone might choose not to vaccinate. I don’t know exactly what is the religious motivation, I’m guessing it varies wildly from those who believe in faith healing to those that just don’t want to but don’t really have a religious reason. In 20 states you can opt out based on personal preferences. Some folks opting out may not believe in science or medicine – at least not more than their clergy – that is who Bill is concerned about, but there is another resistant faction that isn’t as clear.
A while back, there was a huge hubub about vaccines and autism. I’ve heard many medical doctors “assure me” that the findings have been debunked, but when you try to pin them down on the details, they don’t really know them. In western medical professional circles, somebody has said that the findings are hogwash, it was accepted and that was the end of that. The memo didn’t get out to the general population. Matter of fact, the general population has circulated their own stories of vaccines and autism, and they are very frightening. Normal kid gets a shot, abnormal kid results. One bad reaction to a vaccine could mean your child is irreversibly changed – the risk may be small, but it seems more likely than your kid actually getting the disease (especially if most of their classmates are immunized).
So religion, autism scare and…
Here we are back at authenticity. It is extremely hard to find a doctor you can trust for the whole family. Our medical system – true to its profit making nature – tends to take the humanity out of health. Face time with a physician might be as little as a few minutes within an appointment that lasts an hour. Questions to the doctor may be taken seriously, dismissed, or answered with a hand off of photocopied info sheets (that we are supposed to read when to discuss with them?). Pediatricians seem to be the worst about taking a patronizing tone with parents, dismissing parental concerns, and sweeping your child into a pre-diagnosed category of affliction without considering their unique health issues. Our medical system – and educational system for medicine (can we throw in a unit on bedside manners please!) – is failing us by treating us and our children like parts on an assembly line. Well, we aren’t and we resent the implication. Our parts may be similar but the way they all fit together are quite different. This profit drive approach to human health weakens the trust the patience has for the doctor and limits the genuine connections the doctor can make.
And for the fourth reason some of us don’t vaccinate? Capitalism.
Ok, the link isn’t as direct as that, but drug makers are allowed to market direct-to-consumers, and all of them market to physicians. We are one of only two countries that allows this direct marketing of drugs to patients. So that means that the same sort of snake oil peddlers writing ads for Big Macs might also get you to take some pills, or vaccinations. Then we get to hear about sleezy goings ons in the back office (while we’re waiting in the lobby) between pharmaceutical reps and doctors – sex, drugs, rock and roll style – and we are left wondering who the hell is in charge of our kids health. Healthcare in this country is about money, money, money. More money is made the sicker we get (or think we are). Bundle that up with all of the side effects of our pollution rich landscape, chemicals altering our bodies (more about that here), and the fact that nuanced, cumulative health issues don’t always fall into neat categories, and you have a health system that is not only unavailable to about 50 million Americans, but it fails a good chunk of those it does serve.
It is clear that for actual health, Americans are on their own. Politicians and businesses are busy fighting about payment and insurance, meanwhile we are left to our own devices to manage and assess our families care. Like in all framing, when you don’t connect the messenger with their audience, there is no trust. Our country has made it clear that connecting health to money is more important than connecting it to our broader American community.
Profiteering doesn’t belong in health care. The cost to the health of the community is already huge in terms of lost productivity, lost participation in democracy, and lost vitality. When it comes to vaccines, the cost could be epidemic.