Letter to an Anti-Vaxxer

I FELT SAD as I stood by the German Cemetery in Bamenda, high on a hill in West Africa. Row upon row of gravestones commemorating young soldiers, eighteen and nineteen years old – boys really- who had not died in battle but who had succumbed to yellow fever or one of the other tropical diseases rife in these parts around 1900. At twenty one I was little older than these German lads. They did not have the benefit of the vaccinations which in 1960 would ensure my safe return home.

I FELT SAD when a few months ago I learned of the measles epidemic in Vanuatu, in which hundreds of children suffered and sixty died because, through their parents’ ignorance or through unavailability, they had not been vaccinated. Such an avoidable tragedy.

I FELT SAD for my mother who lost four of her sisters in infancy through various childhood illnesses which are now preventable by vaccinations.

I FELT SAD for the health workers murdered recently by the Pakistan Taliban because they were administering polio vaccines in the villages.

I FEEL GLAD that I and my family are fortunate to live in an era when we have been able, through vaccination, to avoid the disaster of all manner of diseases including typhoid fever, polio, TB, measles, rubella, diptheria, smallpox, yellow fever and many others.

I FEEL GLAD that BILLIONS of children and adults over the past century or so have avoided these horrific diseases through participating in government- and n.g.o.- sponsored vaccination programs.

I FEEL SAD at the lack of judgement displayed by opponents of vaccination, at their rejection of science, at their ignorance and misuse of statistics, at their misleading claims, at their naive willingness to be duped by unscrupulous purveyors of mistruths.

I FEEL SAD that the opponents of vaccination do not seem to understand that, accepting there may be slight risks in vaccination, these are outweighed hugely by its benefits to the great majority of people.

I FEEL SAD that those who actively promote anti-vaccination (for instance by sharing social media posts) do not seem to understand they are not just expressing an opinion, but, to the extent that they are able to convince others, are contributing to human misery, sickness and death.

I HOPE that the vaccination-sceptics will fail miserably in their cruel and deceptive scaremongering.

I HOPE the irony eventually hits home to at least some anti-vaxxers that they themselves might never have come into existence had they not had the good fortune to have been born into communities where most people, including perhaps their forbears, had been vaccinated.

I FEEL HOPEFUL that, due to the knowledge, hard work and dedication of thousands of scientists and health workers, Covid will end up like so many other evils – kept at bay with a friendly little jab.

ROBIN SEN

Sydney, October 2020

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