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Are we immunized?

Guest Piece by Kelly, via Red Chair Reflections

Immunize (verb) im-yuh-nahyz, ih-myoo-nahyz

  • to make immune
  • to render harmless or ineffective, to neutralize
  • law: to grant immunity (as to a witness)

There is a powerful scene in the HBO series John Adams where Adams’ wife, Abigail, sees the 1775 smallpox epidemic wreaking havoc in her community. Her husband was away serving in the Continental Congress and founding our nation, and she was raising their children and running their farm and everything else on her own. As she worries for the health of herself and her children while watching neighbors succumb to the disease, she makes the courageous but terrifying decision to inoculate her children.

This scene graphically illustrates the concept of what it means medically to immunize. A bit of the virus-infected bodily fluid is introduced to a healthy host, so that the body can begin to create antibodies necessary to combat the disease. Anyone who has had allergy testing and treatment with allergy shots understands the concept well. Over a period of time, serum containing small amounts of the actual allergens to which a person reacts is introduced in increasing amounts and eventually, serious allergic reactions are reduced or eliminated.

In other words, over a period of time, the virus or pathogen that could once have caused harm or discomfort is rendered harmless or ineffective in its quest. It’s neutralized.

Vaccinations have nearly eradicated miserable diseases like smallpox, polio, mumps, and measles. Imagine the courage it must have taken in those early days, before the modern-day sterile healthcare environments and exacting, highly regulated clinical testing of today ensured safety and efficacy. But also imagine being so terrified of a disease with a devastating outcome and no cure that you would risk infecting your children in a controlled fashion with the hope that a minor infection would immunize them against a more serious one. Every time I watch the scene above, it causes me to gasp. And yet, I don’t hesitate to get a flu shot every year, and I get boosters as needed for other vaccines as recommended by my physician with no fear or worry. You could say that the fear I might feel if I really thought about the idea of putting even an inactive form of the flu virus in my body has been neutralized because for years, I’ve been vaccinated and that vaccination creates a system of antibodies that render the live flu virus mostly harmless and ineffective to me.

In order for an anti-viral vaccine to create resistance to the spread of certain contagious disease over time within a population, a sufficiently high proportion of individuals must similarly be made immune to the disease by vaccination. This is the context of “herd immunity.” If everyone is effectively inoculated in a similar fashion, the disease caused by the virus can actually be eradicated because the virus no longer has readily available welcoming hosts to sustain its viability.

But this post isn’t about healthcare, or the science behind vaccines, or the debate around their effectiveness or necessity. This post is about immunization of a different kind. With all the discussion ranging from genuine and well-founded education and concern to the associated media-fueled hysteria and insanity around the coronavirus pandemic, combined with the nonstop barrage of social media hyperventilating and finger-pointing, I’ve started to wonder if we haven’t been immunized against a lot of traits, strengths, and characteristics that we used to be taught as young children. I am starting to wonder if we have been being slowly immunized against the understanding of what community used to mean. Against the concept of sacrifice of our own self-interests in service of others. Against self-reliance. Against Judeo-Christian values. Against personal responsibility. Against intellectual curiosity. Against capitalism.

Against patriotism.

Might I suggest that all of these cultural and social “chromosomes” are the building blocks of our nation’s DNA – community, sacrifice, self-reliance, personal responsibility, Judeo-Christian values, intellectual curiosity, capitalism and patriotism fused together in our nation’s identity since our nation’s birth formed the foundation of a country that has achieved more in its relatively short life than our founders could have possibly imagined. We have saved the world from plague and scourge both physical and military, we have invented electricity, the cotton gin, the automobile, air travel, the telephone, the personal computer. Our research and funding has eradicated disease, brought water to the desert, fed the starving and cared for the sick, freed slaves and unleashed liberty and freedom at home and around the world. We put a man on the moon. All of this, and so much more, in less than 300 years. When taken in consideration of the age of our country relative to the rest of our global neighbors, we are barely entering our adolescence as a nation. If the United States of America were my child, I’d be telling you she was a prodigy. In need of some course correction and capable of some mood swings and temper tantrums, for sure, but a definite prodigy.


Read the Rest at Red Chair Reflections


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