You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump … it looks just like it’s meant for a horse,” Donald Trump said of vaccines last night. “We’ve had so many instances … a child went to have the vaccine, got very, very sick, and now is autistic.” With two doctors on the stage at the second Republican debate, one might have hoped for a clear response to Trump’s third-favorite hobbyhorse (behind his fear of immigrants and his increasingly undisguised loathing of women). But no. Both punted, afraid of contradicting any hysterical belief embraced by one of their voters—no matter how irrational and destructive.
To be fair, one would never expect anything particularly “medical” from Rand Paul, whose campaign could not even properly spell his medical title. He has been on the same bandwagon as Trump for years, and last night he sounded comparatively moderate (only because he really, really hates Trump)—but still managed to suggest that it should be a “freedom” for patients to decide in what combinations and frequency to receive their vaccines. Because apparently “freedom” means the right to ignore both science and society’s welfare and make medical decisions based on gut feelings and internet-fueled hysteria.
Ben Carson, however, was the more shocking of the two celebrified Doctors on stage last night. After at first doing what doctors are supposed to do (citing scientific studies and actual evidence), he promptly changed course and started yammering on about how maybe we were giving too many and vaccinating against diseases that are not fatal. While we do indeed vaccinate against some diseases that are no longer fatal, their glorious lack of fatality is because of vaccines. Here I bite my lip and try not to conclude the sentence with “you complete morons!”—because I am nothing if not decorous and restrained.
But in truth, Carson is not a moron, which makes his continued yammering on the topic deeply cynical and manipulative. “It has not been adequately revealed to the public what’s actually going on,” Carson said. By vaguely and dangerously suggesting a conspiracy—which he knows about but apparently cannot share with the public or the medical mafia will kill his family—Carson effectively signed on to Trump’s crusade against modern medicine and scientific research.
As I have said before, the vast majority of us who are chronically ill are so because of modern medicine—not because of a conspiracy or a failure on medicine’s part but because of its phenomenal successes. We have survived all that carried off our immune-compromised and badly-wired ancestors so that we can become, for better and worse, the vast and growing army of the chronically ill. And surely that is a whole lot better than it is worse.
Which is why I reserve for anti-vaxers levels of disgust I normally reserve for racists and misogynists. Herd immunity, people. It works if you work it. If you choose not to, then please leave the herd immediately. No one wants to be anywhere near you or your children. (Oh, and the reason they are struggling at school probably has more to do with genetics than anything else: after all, their parents don’t believe in vaccines.)
Jared Gardner is a professor and patient at the Ohio State University.