In 1910, as smallpox outbreaks continued and anti-vaccine folks made it harder to get folks vaccinated, he wrote:
“I would like to issue a Mount-Carmel-like challenge to any ten unvaccinated priests of Baal. I will go into the next severe epidemic with ten selected, vaccinated persons and ten selected unvaccinated persons – I should prefer to choose the latter – three members of Parliament, three anti-vaccination doctors (if they can be found), and four anti-vaccination propagandists.
And I will make this promise – neither to jeer nor jibe when they catch the disease, but to look after them as brothers, and for the four or five who are certain to die, I will try to arrange the funerals with all the pomp and ceremony of an anti-vaccination demonstration.”
Analogies and metaphors are a good way to explain things, including that vaccines are safe and necessary.
Here are some of my favorite vaccine analogies and metaphors.
Getting vaccinated is like:
applying sunscreen before going to the beach
applying insect repellent before going camping in the woods
making sure that your kids are wearing a seat belt or sitting in an age-appropriate car seat or booster seat when you get in the car
installing anti-virus software on your new computer
When do you put on your seat belt? When you get in the car, before you get in an accident. Just like a vaccine. You get it before you get sick. Yes, some vaccines do work after you have been exposed to an illness, but they don’t work after you are already sick.
There is a problem with these metaphors though; they don’t include the risks to other people.
taking driver’s ed and getting your license before driving
taking swimming lessons before going in the water without a life jacket
putting your gun in a locked safe
putting a fence around your backyard so that no one in your neighborhood can drown in your pool
making sure folks don’t text and drive
Vaccination equals protection.
And not just protection for the person getting vaccinated. Being unvaccinated puts others at risk too, as you might start an outbreak.
Getting your kids vaccinated is like taking them to swimming lessons instead of just throwing them in the lake. Either way they can learn to swim and have protection/immunity from drowning. But one method (throwing them in the lake) is much more dangerous than the other.
“Vaccines are a like a wanted poster, they just show your body what the bad guys look like, so when faced with them for real you are ready, prepared, and able to stop them before they cause harm.”
Can vaccines overwhelm the immune system?
Are there analogies that explain the idea of free-riders – folks who intentionally don’t vaccinate their kids and attempt to hide in the herd?
“If all my child’s friends are vaccinated, won’t he be protected by herd immunity? Why should I put my child at risk for vaccine reactions if all the other children around him are already immune?
This is like riding in a carpool where everyone contributes each month to pay for gas, repairs and parking. One morning, a new neighbor shows up and says, “I think I’ll ride along with you. But I’m not going to pay, since you’re going downtown anyway and you have an empty seat.” If enough people choose to take a free ride on other children’s immunity, herd immunity will soon disappear.”
“I have found that it sometimes helps to give parents an analogy. I ask them the following: If they were to put gas in their car and then later got a flat tire, would that mean putting gas in the car had caused the flat tire? No. The two events were just a coincidence.”
There are plenty of other good analogies that help to explain the importance of vaccines.
“Clusters of unvaccinated people are like patches of dry grass that, with a single match, can start a wildfire that will burn not only dry material, but sometimes wet as well. The match could be a student who returns from a trip abroad with measles or a train commuter with whooping cough.”
It’s also important to remember that anyone, even those who are well prepared, can get burned in a wildfire. That’s why the analogy works so well.
“Vaccinating one’s children is like paying taxes. We all have a moral and a legal duty to pay taxes because we have a moral and a legal duty to contribute to the upkeep of our society and to its public goods (e.g., a good public health system, national defence, etc.).”
Vaccine Refusal Is Like Tax Evasion
Why are we concerned about those who are unvaccinated if our own children are fully vaccinated?
“Think of camping as an analogy. If everyone at a campground properly stores their food, bears won’t be enticed to come around. If even one person leaves their food unprotected, it invites bears in to investigate all the campsites for opportunities to eat.”
How does choosing not to immunize affect the community?
“Being intentionally unvaccinated against highly contagious diseases is, to carry Holmes’ analogy a bit further, like walking down a street randomly swinging your fists without warning. You may not hit an innocent bystander, but you’ve substantially increased the chances that you will.
One might usefully analogize the risk of disease to a crapshoot. A person’s chance of being infected is, as Dr. Singer acknowledges, a matter of luck. But is it really OK for the unvaccinated to load the dice to increase the odds against other people? If so, by how much?”
Ronald Bailey on Vaccines and the Responsibility To Not Put Others at Risk
Of course, there are plenty of bad vaccine analogies and metaphors that anti-vaccine folks push:
“genes load the gun but the vaccines pull the trigger”
vaccine manufacturers are like tobacco manufacturers
I won’t set my child on fire to keep yours warm (this doesn’t work as a vaccine analogy, mostly because there is no benefit to setting your child on fire. Would an anti-vaxxer let their child start a campfire to keep their friends from dying in the cold?)
getting a vaccine is like eating a handful of M&Ms out of a big bowl when you know that a few have been poisoned
getting a child vaccinated is like giving 1,000 kids 1,000 cupcakes, telling them to pick one and eat it, knowing that one of the cupcakes is poisoned (it’s maybe like letting a child with a severe peanut allergy choose a cupcake, knowing that there is a one in a million chance that the cupcake he chooses has been made with peanuts…)
I want safer cars, but that doesn’t make me anti-car
You understand why the anti-car one is a bad analogy, right? Folks who want safer cars generally still drive and ride in cars!
Have you heard any good or bad analogies or mataphors about vaccines?