Rudnik > Vaccines and the “Survival of the Wisest”

| January 28, 2015


Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor:

The Anti-Vaccine Movement is a Result of Erroneous Concerns, Misplaced Fear

In 1973, pioneering vaccine researcher Jonas Salk penned The Survival of the Wisest. Salk’s work was a zeitgeist. It embodied the very essence of why he has become among the most consequential scientists of the twentieth century. Salk reminds us that in modern times humanity has undergone a metamorphosis from typifying the Darwinian notion of competition (survival of the fittest) to a species firmly planted in cooperation and learning (survival of the “wisest”). This is what sets man apart from the beast, from vicious, carnal nature: the ability to learn and grow from the past.

Vaccines are a testament to this. Since man has lived in complex societies, illness and epidemic have plagued civilization. In the twentieth century, we finally began the mass eradication of common, communicable diseases. No longer would humanity suffer the infirmity of measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (chickenpox), influenza, and of course, polio.

Jonas Salk produced the polio vaccine in 1952. Rather than patenting and selling his pioneering serum to the world’s largest drug companies for unfathomable riches, Salk gave it away for free. Salk felt that such a vaccine would do far more for humanity if it was accessible to each and every person. And in 2014, with only 356 new confirmed cases of wild poliovirus, the disease’s near-eradication is a testament to Salk’s vision for a world free of the scourge of polio.

Salk’s story is a rather important one, now more than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, “From January 1 to January 16, 2015, more than 50 people from six states were reported to have measles.” Measles, similar to polio, is a highly contagious communicable disease. In fact, it is far more contagious than influenza. Today’s epidemic, centered predominantly in California, is unlike its predecessors.

For millennia, man would have deeply relished the opportunity to be immune from the scourge of measles. Measles and chickenpox are often seen as similar diseases; epidemiologically, they’re not. The Atlantic reports that, “People expected to get measles [before the advent of modern vaccines], but they didn’t expect to survive.” Measles is a potentially fatal disease which can cause brain swelling, deafness, permanent scaring, pneumonia, and other complications. In short, it’s an illness few would want to contract. Mike Swain, a former public health employee and current graduate student in public health at George Washington University in Washington, DC concurs, “It’s unlikely that such a dangerous debate about vaccines would be ongoing in the mid-twentieth century when many vaccines weren’t available and your neighbors, family and colleagues were dying from polio, measles, mumps and the like.”

This new measles outbreak is a direct consequence of the “anti-vaccine movement.” Following junk science and new age snake oil salesmen, “anti-vaxxers,” as they’re often referred to, believe in scientifically unproven claims that getting routine vaccinations can cause a range of adverse side effects and impairments. While their numbers are few and their impact on society minimal, the anti-vaccine mindset represents a worldview punctuated by a lack of illness and infirmity. And this is where public officials need to step up, according to Swain. “Despite the denial of history, science and incontrovertible public health achievements by parents trying to follow fashionable trends in places such as Beverly Hills, the blame still falls on those charged with protecting the public’s health—particularly elected officials,” he wrote recently.

We no longer live in a world where catching scarlet fever or the measles is a routine occurrence. With vaccines gaining hold en masse, the motivations for their adoption in the first place have been long forgotten. And so when shoddy, unfounded vaccine statistics are on the forefront of parents’ minds when choosing to (or not to) vaccinate their children, rather than the terrible disease itself, wrong decisions are made for the wrong reasons, possibly endangering the child as well as the community.”

The anti-vaccine movement is a uniquely postmodern social hiccup. For we live in a cornucopian world. In the Global North, we have relatively high incomes, life expectancies, standards of living, as well as low food costs, with, seemingly, everything in abundance. We’ve become numb to the detestable scourge of, among other things, preventable illness. Our society requires enormous amounts of cooperation and solidarity to just “get by.” Choosing against vaccinating our children flies in the face of over a century of scientific and social progress; it truly is an antiquated, and dangerous, sentiment.

Perhaps there’s an unspoken, dark irony to all of this. The anti-vaccine crowd will be forced to front the reality that they, and perhaps their children, may become gravely ill from an easily preventable illness. Through this lens, the anti-vaccine movement is an affirmation of Salk’s adage: humanity is wedded not to Darwinian struggle, but wisdom.

“There is a reason life expectancy has increased by 30 years since 1900,” Swain reminds us. If we’re to pit time-tested science against the shoddy data of the anti-vaccine crowd: we’ll see who the wisest truly are—for wisest will be the ones that are to survive and prosper.

Fear the disease, not the cure.

rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop.  Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector.  He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science.  Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at  Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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Filed in: Editorials, Opinion

8 Comments on "Rudnik > Vaccines and the “Survival of the Wisest”"

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  1. Jan says:

    Jeez this antivaccine people…just vaccinate your kids already! Its 2015 not 1815…….

  2. Ty says:

    Brah, its the crazy i mean crazy religious/the liberal Californians/jewish bankers who are pushing this. odd bed buddies but they are. trust me truth is stranger than Fiction. check out if you don’t believe me.

  3. Is There Anything You Won't Post? says:

    jewish bankers? unreal

  4. Lynne Warren says:

    And what qualifications does Mr. Rudnick have to allow him to come to such conclusions? Bacteria and viruses mutate. If they didn’t, the same flu vaccine would be 100% effective, year after year.

    I’m sure he’s pro Gardasil as well.

    Go politic, leave the doctoring to the pros.

    • Ty says:

      oh lynne I don’t think I can say petty fast enough.
      he brought in Expert opinion and used Facts. what more are you after?
      I don’t usually agree with alot of what Nick Rudik writes but if you disagree with his reporting then say so but dont go around attacking him and his Character and his Background for no reason.
      he = right
      you = wrong
      so your upset.

      • Momma says:

        He is not a parent. Period.

        • Ty says:

          so a RESPONSIBLE parent shouldn’t Vaccinate there kids?
          and Im sorry I didn’t know you knew the author and his Background momma. must be nice to be so wise. ill trust the scientists b4 I trust jenny McCarthy. But then I think she holds a PHD in playboy modeling. so we should definetly trust her on vaccine science.

  5. MommaToo says:

    Well I am a parent. And I think it’s dangerous that people who claim to love their children would choose to put their kids in danger by not vaccinating them. It’s cruel to purposefully expose your child to a potentially fatal disease. The author has the right to his opinion, whether he has a child or not. And this mother happens to think he’s spot on.