The New Red Scare ~ by Roman Bystrianyk

The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors.

– John Stuart Mill, 1859

Majorities are never a proof of the truth.

– Dr. Walter R. Hadwen, 1896

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

– Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

Fear. It’s a natural and primal human emotion. While human instinct is exceptional in evaluating and reacting to a natural personal risk, as in facing a predator, humans are terrible at assessing modern risks. According to Psychology Today [1] this is because our ancestors were programmed to quickly react and respond to a situation before it is even consciously perceived. Our reactions aren’t based in logic and statistics, but in lightning fast primitive responses. Threats such as venomous spiders and snakes [2] cause an out of proportion fear compared with the more likely threat of being killed in a car crash [3]. The low risk of a being killed in a shark attack [4] evokes more terror than the much greater chance of dying from a prescription drug [5]. (Spider and snake bites kill approximately 13 people a year and shark attacks kill 1 person every 2 years in the United States; there were 32,719 deaths in motor vehicle crashes in 2013 and 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in 2010 the United States.)

Infectious diseases fall into this emotional fear-based primal mental algorithm. This reaction is completely understandable with mankind’s horrifying historical experience with deadly microbes. The black plague decimated 30-60% of Europe’s total population in the mid-1300s [6], a number of cholera pandemics during the 1800s killed millions [7], typhus killed 3 million in Russia during the early 1900s [8], and the list goes on. Historically, infectious diseases killed massive numbers of people. Typhus, typhoid, cholera, dysentery, smallpox, scarlet fever, whooping cough, diphtheria, tuberculosis, measles, and others were responsible for multimillions of deaths in the Western world over many centuries.

So with the recent spate of measles cases in the United States, the enormous amount of fear and anger comes as no surprise. People who have chosen not to vaccinate for a variety of reasons, have been viciously disparaged [9], there have been calls to jail people that don’t vaccinate [10], many pediatricians are banning parents who don’t vaccinate their kids [11], and laws are quickly being considered to strip people of all rights to refuse any vaccine. [12,13] There has been nothing short of a panic over the relatively small number of cases. It has also incited a raging fear that has been fanned by numerous incendiary media reports. Even comedian Jimmy Kimmel has jumped in, ridiculing anyone that questions vaccines. [14]

But let’s take a deep breath and a moment to step back from the hysteria and look at some information that is never part of the discussion involving infectious diseases.

It’s true during the 1800s and even into the early 1900s measles was a big killer. In fact, all infectious diseases were the leading cause of death – whooping cough, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and others already mentioned, killed millions. How deadly these diseases were is often emphasized. The implication is that without vaccines we would return to those dark and deadly times. Massive deadly plagues would all return and the advances we made because of vaccines would all be wiped out.

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