Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jennifer Margulis, public health officials' nightmare

I watched the Frontline vaccine piece. It's worth watching, although I didn't pick up much I didn't already know. I'm formulating a full review in my tired little brain. Meanwhile, I am distracted by the willful selfishness of Jennifer Margulis, the mother of four who always seems to get the summons when a news media outlet needs an anti-vaccine parent who's not Jenny McCarthy (What's in a name? Or initials? Just wondering).

How can it help the cause of a group ostensibly arguing for change on behalf of children if people speaking for them don't give a rap what happens to other people's children? What she says seems to be a carefully articulated but pretzeled logic barely masking selfish and irrational fear. It's a Me! Mine! Mommy mindset that cannot be helpful in any way to society, to children, or to public health. More than anything, it demonstrates the impossibility of arguing that not vaccinating will somehow make children healthier. There's no defensible, logical way to pull that one off. The fallback rationale, invariably, is the "I have a right to be selfish" argument.

I've actually blogged about Margulis before. Her lack of insight and compassion baffles me. Previously, she proudly described herself as a public health official's nightmare, apparently missing the point that public health officials are concerned about...public health. You know, like, other people?

But what she had to say on the Frontline episode was almost unspeakable in its offhandedness about human life. About children's lives, as long as they're not her children.

"It's a mistake that we have a vaccine against rotovirus (sic)...the vaccine that Paul Offit helped to develop. In the third world, maybe people are dying of rotovirus (sic) but in this country, you have to do backflips to show a death toll of people from rotovirus (sic)." Maybe? Those "third-world" people? That death toll runs over half a million children annually around the globe. No backflips necessary.

On polio:
"Why are we giving children so many vaccines? There’s no more polio in the United States and there’s no more diphtheria in the United States and no one, no child has contracted wild polio since 1979 in the United States. So when do we take polio off the vaccine schedule? When do we say ‘fantastic, the vaccine worked? We figured it out, we don’t have a polio epidemic any more.’ Let’s stop vaccinating against polio."

I'd say the benchmark for when to stop vaccinating for a deadly or permanently debilitating illness was set by smallpox. We stopped vaccinations for that when...it was globally eradicated. Guess what? That ain't happened yet with polio, and an outbreak in an unvaccinated population is a mere plane trip away. It still is imported from endemic countries to other areas. I guess these arguments to stop because it isn't in the U.S. any more would be sound if we could build a big ol' giant snow globe over the United States and stop all travel and imports and exports and basically shut down the entire global economy and...well, you get the idea. And it hasn't happened yet with diphtheria, either. By the way, Margulis is, among other things, a travel writer.

Finally, she says near the end, without apparent irony, "“I don’t mean to sound selfish.” Then she argues that her sole responsibility is to protect her child (or children; I think she has four). Children, it seems, who must live in the vacuum of space far from social interaction, social need, or social responsibility.

Further words fail me almost as catastrophically as logic and compassion seem to have failed J. Margulis, Ph.D., English Literature.