The Bubonic Plague was arguably one of the most historically tragic and monumental times in human history. It managed to change everything we understand about ourselves physically while changing the social and cultural landscape around it. An upheaval of power followed the plague, as did a religious revolt. Ironically, an issue today that is causing many social and cultural changes centers around something meant to keep the plague, and many other deadly diseases, from reemerging: vaccinations. In the wake of falsified research that left the world believing vaccinations caused autism, some parents still believe vaccinations are bad. This belief is causing a social divide among individuals who still believe the falsified research, and those who are moving on with contemporary findings. Medical implications may also become an issue as more and more children each year are not vaccinated by the will of their parents. This could effectively begin another epidemic, much like the Bubonic Plague.
In 1998, a researcher named Andrew Wakefield published several papers detailing studies he had performed concerning autism and its link to the MMR vaccination. He claimed to have found conclusive evidence that the vaccination could potentially cause autism, which created mass panic and chaos in the population. For four years, many parents refused to vaccinate their children for fear of giving them autism. They did not see that this could potentially cause a mass resurgence of diseases such as the mumps, measles, and rubella, which has been controlled for many years. These diseases can be lethal to children. Finally, in 2004, it was found that Wakefield’s research was incorrect. He had also falsified entire documents and research results in order to prove that his theory was correct. Children went without vaccinations without any reason, putting them and others at risk. While one would assume that after the information was debunked, the world would go back to trusting vaccinations this was not the case. According to Heidi J. Larson and associates article, “Addressing the Vaccine Confidence Gap,” published in The Lancet, this distrust still exists (528).
There is only one real change that occurred because of Wakefield’s mistreatment of medical code and conduct. Many children are still not vaccinated because parents refuse to trust the newest information about his studies . This has created a social divide between parents who believe Wakefield and parents who do not. For the benefit of society, children need to be vaccinated. These diseases are kept contained because we have discovered how to protect our bodies against them and yet, many parents assume that because many children do not get measles, mumps, rubella, or even polio anymore, they do not exist. This is not true. According to William McNeill, the diseases still exist; the only difference is that we are armed against them (45). If children are not vaccinated it puts us all at risk of an outbreak, much like that of the Bubonic Plague.
It may be hard to see the similarities between refusing to vaccinate a child, and the death toll and social implications of the Bubonic Plague but they do exist. McNeill notes in his book, “Plagues and Peoples” that contrary to popular belief, the Bubonic Plague was a discriminatory killer, praying first on the weak, sick, and dying (90). In the same fashion, the diseases that remain will feast on the unprotected immune systems of children who have not received a vaccination. Similar to the Black Plague, the weak will be taken first. Eventually, if it can, the diseases will spread to others, creating mass terror and panic, bringing death and pain wherever they go. The aftereffects of the plague will not be as similar to the aftereffects of not vaccinating children, however. For now, there is only tension. Each side believes it is right and the other is wrong. Those who no longer believe that vaccinations can save their children may be compared to those of Bubonic Plague times who saw that god and the church could not save them, thus making them disbelievers. Those who do not vaccinate their children may see doctors in the way that royalty saw Jewish people during the Bubonic Plague. Jewish people were accused of poisoning the water, which in turn made everybody ill . Doctors are being accused of adding more mercury to vaccinations, which is the ingredient thought most responsible for causing autism. It has created a distrust in medical staff that runs so deep in some communities that individuals no longer see doctors. This is paralleled by the views of Bubonic Plague times when it was thought unfit to be around Jews (95).
In sum, while the vaccination controversy is not as devastating as the Bubonic Plague, there are some similarities. Not vaccinating children has the potential to create a second plague. Many diseases that are considered to be gone are not. They are only kept under control because we are ably to vaccinate ourselves and protect ourselves against them. Doctors are seen in the same way as the Jewish people were after the Bubonic Plague. Many have lost faith in doctors as the people of the Bubonic Plague lost faith in god. The vaccination controversy has also created a social divide between those who are moving forward and those who are stuck in the past. While the vaccination controversy is not anything like the Bubonic Plague, its impact is similar, and it is clear that we have not learned from our mistakes.
Larson, Heidi J., et al. "Addressing the Vaccine Confidence Gap." The Lancet (2011): 526-535. Print.
McNeill, William. Plagues and Peoples. New York: Random House, 2010. Print.