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On Immunity

An Inoculation

By Eula Biss
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On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
Synopsis

Being afraid that vaccinating our children creates more harm than good isn’t a new phenomenon. It’s a fear informed by numerous cultural narratives. On Immunity looks at the different historical myths and metaphors in the vaccination debate, and presents statistics on vaccination’s effects.

Key idea 1 of 10

Ancient stories are full of parents trying and failing to keep their children safe – or mistakenly harming them.

Among the overwhelming number of factors to sift through, how can you know what’s best for your child? In fact, although vaccination is one polarising topic among parents today, the debate on what’s best for our children is ancient.

Even thousands of years ago, there are stories about parents trying and failing to keep their children safe.

Take the well-known myth about the goddess Thetis. After hearing a prophecy that her son Achilles will die young, she does everything she can to help him avoid his fate. She dips infant Achilles into the underworld river Styx to make him invulnerable. As she takes him by the ankles to do this, Achilles’ heels are the only part that the water does not touch. To further protect her child, she also asks the god of fire to create a magical shield for him. However, Achilles dies when an arrow pierces his heel –  the only part of him that remains vulnerable.

Another myth is the story of the King of Argos and his daughter Danae. He imprisons her in a bronze tower to ensure she stays a virgin. But this doesn’t stop the powerful Zeus, who disguises himself as gold rain and impregnates Danae.

In fairy tales, too, parents unwittingly endanger their children. Most of these parents want to shield their children, but they are fooled into actions that instead hurt them.

For example, in The Girl Without Hands, to bring his family out of poverty, a miller makes a deal with the devil and exchanges everything that lies behind his mill for riches. Later he discovers, to his horror, that his daughter was standing just behind the mill.

When it comes to vaccinations, modern parents can relate to these narratives: they hope vaccination will keep their children safe, but fear their choice might prove to be harmful.

 

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