Your Baby’s Best Shot
By Stacy Mintzer Herlihy & E. Allison Hagood
Hardback in stock at Bookbuster, £9.99

REVIEW BY TIM BARTON

The values of the Enlightenment were hard won, and harder still for the lower classes. Nonetheless, to the casual observer we’d come a long way since, say, Francis Bacon or the Diggers at St Georges Hill. Yet even as the Bavarian Illuminati formed ‘to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power’ (Wikipedia), so too madness and delusion ran rife – the South Sea bubble, the Mississippi bubble, Tulip mania to name but a few, as described in detail in the 1841 bestseller Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In those volumes Charles Mackay invokes ‘National Delusions’, and sought to debunk ‘alchemy, crusades, duels, economic bubbles, fortune-telling, haunted houses, the Drummer of Tedworth, the influence of politics and religion on the shapes of beards and hair, magnetisers (influence of imagination in curing disease), murder through poisoning, prophecies, popular admiration of great thieves, popular follies of great cities, and relics’.

PUNCHING EVERY PANIC BUTTON IN EVERY PARENT

We are clearly in a dangerous age of National delusion once again, with a deluge of ‘popular pamphlets’ on multifarious subjects promoting paranoia and foolhardiness, primarily, today, in the form of web pages. The appetite to extrapolate crazy conspiracies and paranoid fantasies from little shreds of contested so-called knowledge is strong, irresistible, but very high in price. From chemtrails, through Brexit, to anti-vaxxers, some believe that the toxifying and disabling narratives of ‘fake news’ spread their evil shadow throughout our society. Lord knows, there are enough real demons to fight, so it should be clear whose interests are served by spreading these delusions around. But, ultimately, no-one is safe – as Robert Bolt has Sir Thomas More say in A Man For All Seasons, ‘do you really think you could stand […] upright in the wind that would blow then?’ An epidemic of fake news is leading to a tidal wave of plague, in the case of the anti-vaccination movement, literal plagues.

The anti-vaccination movement is a classic case of dangerous false information, punching every panic button in every parent, and for the most part believed by those who promulgate it. As a curative, Herlihy and Hagood set out to explain the history of vaccination and the real, not the panic-button, side-effects of current vaccines (because, of course, there are some). They lay to rest the toxic myths around ‘mercury in vaccines’, and address in detail the one report that suggested a link to autism – a report no-one has been able to replicate as it was built on false premises (again, so far as I can tell, not maliciously).

THE EARLY VACCINATIONS WERE FAR LESS SAFE THAN TODAY’S

But the most pertinent chapters contextualise the state of infant, child, and adult mortality before and after the widespread use of intensively safety-tested vaccination, its deep history, and the current precautionary approaches taken by, for example, the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control). In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a mother wasn’t deemed a ‘real mother’ until she’d lost at least one baby child to disease. Outbreaks of plague would kill as many as one in four children as a matter of course, more (between 75-90%) with some strains. Polio would cripple (even in the fifties and sixties, as with Ian Dury) or worse; measles causes brain-damage, hearing loss, infertility or blindness… we don’t vaccinate for nothing. The early vaccinations were far less safe than today’s – inoculating against smallpox, with its 25-75% death rate, cost up to 3-5% of the lives of those inoculated; most believed it a price worth paying, as they were in an age when smallpox, diphtheria, mumps, cholera and other rampant diseases were culling thousands annually.

Today, we are insulated from the awareness of what that was like and it’s easier to spurn healthful treatments. But as More says in his Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, ‘I never saw a fool yet that thought himself other than wise’ – this book argues strongly that vaccinations are indeed ‘Your Baby’s Best Shot’ at survival, and I urge every parent and parent-to-be to read it. Spurn the internet, and if you’ve the time and the stomach for it, mine their extensive bibliography of ‘real news’ from people who’ve investigated with the right tools. My one criticism is I’d like to have seen more in the difference between ingesting and injecting tiny amounts of poison (Paracelsus is at the heart of modern medicine, so no-one’s claiming substances aren’t potentially harmful in larger quantities).

Non-vaccination is a luxury when there’s herd immunity, but as the current global measles outbreaks show, the immunity is breaking, and fast.


NOTE FROM THE LITERATURE EDITOR
HIP has published articles on the vaccination debate over recent months in its H & E and Politics Sections along with several resultant letters.
One Flu Over The Top
The Politics Of Influenza
HIP Readers Decry Flu Jab
Further articles examining this debate are planned and letters to HIP welcomed.


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