Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Against HPV anti-vaxxers

Published:Sunday | October 8, 2017 | 12:00 AM

I'm watching this manufactured controversy about the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination programme and hoping it doesn't impede an obviously good initiative. I mean, when I heard and read some of the anti-vaccination commentary, I began drafting a letter to advise Chris Tufton to hire a certain mother from St Thomas and to ask her to please bring along her lass to sort out this situation. Sometimes there's no alternative but to beat and teach!

All right, forget about that plan. But Minister Tufton must go ahead and pay the usual obeisances and respects to the lovers of talk and the romancers of consultation. Who knows? Maybe he needs another committee, since we are a people who just loooooove 'committeeees'. And then the committee can recommend that the committee's recommendations be adopted, and so on, and so on. But really, he just needs to continue getting this thing done.

By the way, and typically, you will have noticed that Cruel Reid, minister of misinformation, introduced unnecessary confusion to the whole thing, then "clarified" by introducing even more confusion. Please realise that in keeping with his mandate to always use 1,000 words where 10 would suffice, it was a great performance. And now nobody knows what the hell is going on.

The sad part here is that a criticism that may have some validity is that people needed more communication to understand what's going on. Fair enough.

Another warranted criticism of the programme is that it should include boys as well. Plus, one does have to raise an eyebrow, maybe two, with the age of the target population for vaccination. My understanding is that it is optimally administered before the onset of an active sex life, which would mean that applying the vaccine at 12 and 13 is a tad late for some of the 'brighter' and more advanced kids.

 

IMPROVED LIVING STANDARDS

 

Anyhow, last week, I was talking about the vast, if underrated and too-often unnoticed, improvements in the fates of the world's peoples. The truth is that even the people who acknowledge the steep increases in living standards tend to underestimate just how dramatic it has been. Stay with me here. This is not a frivolous aside. I'm still talking about vaccination.

The shorthand way of making the broader point is that poverty, hunger, disease, violent deaths and otherwise miserable ends are our natural condition. Promethean efforts have relieved mankind of some of the worst of that suffering, and the benefits are spreading and being democratised.

It is important to understand why, and how, the progress is occurring, at least for those of us who want it to continue. The scientific approaches, cultural predispositions, and political structures that make the evident progress possible, seem to me very important, as there's hardly any reason to reinvent the wheel if the wagon is ambling along in generally the right direction.

In the arsenal of tools that have made lives less miserable, vaccination has to rank way up near the top. The elimination, or near-elimination, of mumps, and measles, and rubella, and smallpox, and polio, and diphtheria, and whooping cough, among others, has had such an enormously positive impact that it actually takes a lot of imagination to envision what life was like before these improvements.

Well, here's the quick and dirty version of it: Life sucked! If you had a few siblings, or children, it's very likely you would watch at least one of them get disfigured and/or die in excruciating pain.

So now for the aside: At no time should it be taken for granted that all men want to see the lot of humankind improve. In fact, I've come to the view that there is a rather substantial minority who don't like it at all, who view the elimination of want and suffering with suspicion, and who feel robbed of motive and mission with the realisation that conditions are improving.

 

FLAMES OF IGNORANCE

 

Anyway, part of moving in the right direction will be extinguishing the flames of ignorance as they arise, which brings us directly to some of the opposition to the vaccination programme.

Anti-vaccination sentiment and movements have been around since vaccines came into being. And now it's causing problems because more and more people are opting out of getting vaccinations. Hence measles has made some reappearances in the USA, and if the quacks and nut jobs (did someone scream, Lloyd D'Aguilar) keep frightening people from immunising their children, there will be more of that in the future.

Jamaica's enviable record with preventative medicine doesn't need to become a casualty to our willingness to find controversy and bruk fight. Plus, my own view of the advancements in living standards that I've been talking about generally, and discussing today in the context of vaccines, is that this progress is fragile, vulnerable, likely temporary, and definitely susceptible to reversal.

It would be quite tragic if a serious anti-vaccination sentiment took hold. We're getting enough jook from other problems as it is.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.