Let me see if I can explain the connection between a couple of ideas that have been nipping at my brain for a few months. They’ve exploded to the surface this week and I get so mad thinking about it that I can barely speak…which means I need to write. Here goes.
Diphtheria–haven’t heard that one in a while, huh? That’s because this horrifying bacterial infection has been all but eradicated in the part of the world that enjoys access to modern healthcare. This disease has a 10% fatality rate–those infected die from heart and nerve damage caused by blood-borne bacterial infection. The symptom of this disease that makes me shudder is the white membrane that forms in the throat, choking its victims. Horrible, horrible stuff.
And it’s back.
In late May, a child in Spain developed diphtheria and he’s hooked to machines in an ICU in heart and lung failure, critical condition. His parents had chosen not to vaccinate him; they are devastated that they “received faulty information” and feel horrible guilt. Spain didn’t even have the medicines required to treat diphtheria because they hadn’t had a case since 1986. Luckily (?), Russia had some on hand.
Now EIGHT other children in his circle have tested postive for the bacteria but have not developed diphtheria, because they were vaccinated. They are covered in the stuff, but it cannot get a foothold in their bodies and take over. Their immune systems were ready for that shit and slammed the door right in diphtheria’s face. “Not today, asshole!”
I think many people who grew up in the post-vaccintation generation believe that these diseases are “gone.” Nope. The bacteria and viruses that cause diseases like smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and other diseases I can’t spell ARE STILL EVERYWHERE AROUND US. They are part of the natural world. Vaccination doesn’t kill the things that cause diseases. Vaccination cuts off the infection agent’s access to a place to set up shop. We are all walking around in a miasma of disease agents. Some, like the common cold, can set up shop anywhere in any body. So can diphtheria if there are people who can carry it around, incubate it, and introduce it to others.
I believe in the power and safety of vaccines. Since the 18th century, when Edward Jenner and the milkmaid Sarah Nelmes figured out that a little dose of cowpox could protect a body from catching smallpox, millions of bodies have been off limits to these organisms that share our world. As Dr. Gennaro Gama, our household scientist, noted “Vaccination is a product of the world’s longest running clinical trial.” For 300 years, we’ve benefitted from this practice. Oh, and Jenner was just the first to study vaccination in our part of the world–the Turks had been doing it for hundreds of years before him.
This comic from Red Pen/Black Pen nails it. Those who choose not to vaccinate can still live with a relatively low chance of catching these diseases because all the vaccinated bodies around them ensure their safety. Everyone else is holding the umbrella so they don’t get wet. Fewer places for disease to set up, fewer carriers, lower chance of infection–for people who don’t protect themselves and people who CAN’T protect themselves, like those with compromised immune systems or infants.
So because most people did the work and took the risk, all people are safer from the threat of disease. But if we aren’t vigilant and too many people choose not to do the work of protecting from these diseases the germy boogers have more places to take hold and easier vectors over which to travel from person to person to person.
Now, to your uterus…(sorry to be exclusive, guys)
We all have to participate in vaccination to keep the boogers at bay. We all have to participate in women’s health issues to keep the boogers out of our business. Let me splain.
Just as I’m a big fan of the science of vaccines, I’m also a big fan of women’s access to healthcare and the power we have earned legally to make our own decisions about what happens to our bodies. Namely, I think birth control is fabulous and abortion should be a safe, legal, and accessible option to women. And this week, with the rulings in Texas that make a woman’s right to abortion very very hard to access, I realize that the rights I have assumed were a done deal are being eroded all around. Didn’t we decide this stuff in the 70s? Didn’t we enact laws that gave women these rights? Now anti-choice factions are fighting less about overturning a woman’s right to abortion and just chipping away at their access to the service. Legal abortion is a moot point if you can’t afford it, can’t get to it, or the doctor you were going to see has been harrassed out of practice.
I am saddened by the current story of Kenlissia Jones, a Georgia woman who couldn’t afford a safe and timely abortion so she turned to the internet for the pills that would end her pregnancy. She was initially charged with malice murder but the charges were dropped. A desperate woman’s attempt that harkens back to back alley coat hanger days. It’s an awful story.
I grew up AFTER most of the landmark decisions like Roe v. Wade. I became a woman in a world where I could get birth control pills if I wanted them. I lived in a society where I could choose an abortion to end a pregnancy. I had the advantages of money and insurance. I didn’t have to be all that vigilant about these rights because a lot of other women had opened up the umbrella and were keeping the rain off the rest of us. I didn’t spend any more time worrying about access to health care than I spent worrying about diphtheria. I was innoculated! I was safe…right?
Just like with vaccination, too many people are choosing not to participate in the work and the risk of protecting women’s rights, so our control over our own bodies is being eroded. I’m not even trying to change the minds of people who disagree. Those who would deny women our rights are part of the natural world–I can’t change that any more than I can change polio floating around.
But I can sure as hell make an effort to protect my position and to do my part to keep us all safe. If I believe in women’s health issues like keeping abortion legal and available and keeping birth control decisions in the hands of women and not in their employers, I have to step up and use my voice, my vote, my money, and my platform to participate in the work and the risk. I cannot take these rights for granted. Too many women fought too many battles to make it seem easy for us to enjoy our freedoms.
So this is one of those pieces where I was afraid to use my voice but I’m going to speak my truth. And money talks. For the first 50 comments on this post, I will donate $5 each up to a total of $250 to Planned Parenthood of Georgia.
I’m opening my umbrella. Step under if you need to. Open yours, too.