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There’s No Vaccine Against Stupid

, , , , , | Learning | September 26, 2017

(It’s a lab period for one of my biology classes, and my lab group is paired with the lab group next to us. I’m getting the apparatus set up and chatting with one of the women from the other lab group when the topic of health care and vaccinations comes up. Two things worth noting: the first is that the woman, who I’ll call Student 1, is from a culture that encourages large families, and already has six kids. The other is that I’m on the autism spectrum. Mostly, this just means that I have trouble maintaining eye contact with people I don’t know well, I can be awkward in social situations I’m not familiar with, and I have a few hobbies and habits that other people might find odd.)

Student #1: “Yeah, none of my kids are vaccinated. It’s not worth the risk that it might make them autistic. That would be just horrible!”

(I freeze, take a deep breath, and get my thoughts in order.)

Me: “There’s three problems with what you just said. The first is that if your kids aren’t vaccinated, there’s a good chance that they’ll catch something awful and preventable, like measles, and they will die. The second problem is that there is ABSOLUTELY no link between autism and vaccines; it’s fake science and bad statistics. The third problem is that being autistic is not the end of the world. I’m autistic, and I have a loving boyfriend, a close group of friends, and a 4.0 GPA; I just can’t look people in the eyes for long. Autism won’t kill your kids, but measles might.”

Student #1: “You’re autistic?! But… you’re talking, and you’re at college, and you have a job!”

Me: “Yeah. Being autistic isn’t the end of the world. Being dead is, though.”

(By this time, one of my friends, [Student #2], has noticed what we’re talking about, and jumps in to help me persuade her that vaccinating her kids is important. We get so caught up talking that we don’t notice the professor coming over.)

Professor: “Less chat, more lab, you guys.”

Student #2: “But ([Student #1] hasn’t gotten her kids vaccinated because it might make them autistic.”

(The professor pauses, and I remember him mentioning that one of his cousins is autistic and working as a very successful chef.)

Professor: “Okay. Tell you what. All three of you guys helped set up the experiment, right? Get the data from your lab-mates, and make sure you get the write-up turned in on time, and I won’t notice you talking this lab period.”

(For the next hour, [Student #2] and I grab his laptop and talk [Student #1] through the concept of herd immunization, how epidemics spread, how the autism/vaccine rumor got started, how the statistics don’t back that up, what autism actually IS and what it isn’t, and story after story about how dangerous it is, both for the children and the people around them, when kids aren’t inoculated against diseases that shouldn’t exist anymore. We make sure that she has time to ask us any questions as well, and finish in time to get our results and start on the lab write-up. I see her after the semester has ended, about six months later.)

Student #1: “Hey! [My Name]! My husband and I talked it over, and we made appointments to get all of our kids vaccinated!”

(It turns out she still was not totally convinced that there’s no link between autism and vaccines, but she thought it was worth the risk to make sure her kids don’t die of scarlet fever or some other archaic disease. I high-fived her anyway. I’ll take the victories I can get, and at least her kids are vaccinated now. Still a step in the right direction!)

This story is part of our Autism roundup!

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