A Masterpiece- A New Book Presents a Magnificent Treatment on Thoughts on Immunizations

A Masterpiece
A New Book Presents a Magnificent Treatment on Thoughts on Immunizations

On Immunity:  An Inoculation
by Eula Biss, Greywolf Press, 2014

Many people, families and doctors both, have struggled with questions relating to immunizations.

It turns out these questions have a rich and compelling history, and also relate to very powerful trends in concerns that inform our current society.

For families and doctors alike, it only helps to better understand the questions and concerns that are raised surrounding immunizations.

Now comes Ms. Eula Biss who is an award winning essayist and observer of our society, with what I think may be the best book ever written on the topic of immunizing, and perhaps on the overall topic of medical care.

This book stands out for several reasons.

First, the author is an outstanding writer, so it is a great read, well crafted, deeply thoughtful.

Second, the author is recounting her own recent experiences of giving birth, experiencing crises, living through weighing scary choices.  This is not a dry listing of various arguments for and against immunization, but a deeply felt exploration of what it is truly lived when you have to decide amongst conflicting choices for the health of your baby and child.

A third distinction, is that Ms. Biss takes a very serious look at all the concerns raised by immunizations.  She discusses each concern in its deep historical and societal context.  It turns out people have been concerned about immunization for many centuries.  Also, many of today's concerns about immunizations are rooted in very deep trends in modern American society.  Ms. Bliss presents each of these concerns, their history and their context in an incredibly thorough and open-eyed manner.

As a result, Ms. Bliss has created a book that should be read by every doctor and by any parent with any questions about immunizations at all.   It's an important book for doctors, because it gives a clear picture of what families are contending with whenever they make any medical decision for their loved ones, in particular immunizing their children.  It's an important book for parents, because it presents one of the best and most thorough discussions of current concerns available.

I have found the debates surrounding immunizations too often sink into stalemate.  On one side are the scientists, armed with powerful facts about what life is like without the protection of immunizations.  On the other side are organizations militant against immunizations, presenting frightening scenarios of possible harm.  The scientists have little patience for worries in the face of facts.  The opposition has little patience for those who do not take their sense of potential harm seriously.  As a result, facts have little impact on those worried; and, worries have little impact on those with facts.  Stalemate.

This is the special power of On Immunity: An Inoculation.  I think it breaks the stalemate with poetry.  This is not a scientific paper, and it is not a cry of terror.  It really is a poem.  It is a set of essays, there is no formal chapter or topic organization.  Each essay is a very poetic reflection on what this Mother's thoughts were on this or that issue that immunization confronted her with.   The special power of a poem leads to everyone being able to relax and consider the issues at hand.  It allows for facts and feelings to come together towards figuring out what makes sense.

Here are a few choice examples from the book, that hopefully will demonstrate that this is a special read.
  • On fear and facts, Biss notes that the noted philosopher, Cass Sunstein has observed:  "Perhaps what matters," Sunstein muses, "is not whether people are right on the facts, but whether they are frightened."
  • On the nature of danger from a substance:  "For toxicologists, 'the dose makes the poison.' . . But most people prefer to think of substances as either safe or dangerous, regardless of the dose."
  • On the appeal of alternative medicine:  "One of the appeals of alternative medicine is that it offers not just an alternative philosophy or an alternative treatment but also an alternative language."  This launches a very interesting exploration of the power of the concepts of being "cleansed," "supplemented," protected from the corrosive effects of oxidation.
  • On the development of two sides to the immunization debates: "These dualisms pit science against nature, public against private, truth against imagination, self against other, thought against emotion."
  • A powerful experience in being denied access to her child during a procedure: "The implication that I was a hysterical woman and a threat to my child was making me so angry that it seemed possible I might actually become hysterical."
  • On the Sears approach to immunization: "The Vaccine Book is not even-handed as much as it is equivocal."
These examples are just a small sample of her eloquence, passion, thoughtfulness, that allow a very full treatment of today's debates on immunization.

The book is also a treasure trove of interesting facts.  For me, one of the most powerful was that smallpox, once truly a great killer, was a killer up until its end.  Smallpox was made extinct from the natural world in the 1970's.  The virus only exists today in the military labs of the US and Russia.
But prior to its elimination, smallpox killed 500 million people, just in the 20th century.  Smallpox killed more people in the 20th century than all the wars of the 20th century, combined!

This fact reminded me of a very central fact about viruses.  Medical science, with rare exceptions, has been unable to find any treatments to rid us or effectively manage or limit the harm of a viral infection.  The only real exception to this is the use of immunizations.  The smallpox example is very relevant.  Without smallpox vaccine, the world's first immunization, it would be killing about 500 million people a century, even today.  Instead, it is now effectively extinct.  Remarkable.

I will not go into any further details, but rather leave you to enjoy this extraordinary book, a most helpful guide, and incredible read.

To your health,
Dr. Lavin

*Disclaimer* The comments contained in this electronic source of information do not constitute and are not designed to imply that they constitute any form of individual medical advice. The information provided is purely for informational purposes only and not relevant to any person's particular medical condition or situation. If you have any medical concerns about yourself or your family please contact your physician immediately. In order to provide our patients the best uninfluenced information that science has to offer,we do not accept samples of drugs, advertising tchotchkes, money, food, or any item from outside vendors.

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