PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — Wanted, Critical Thinkers

I never received the smallpox vaccine. But I thank God for everyone who did.

My parents were not anti-vax. But back when everyone my age lined up to get the vaccine that would leave a unique scar on their upper arm, I couldn’t join them. I had severe eczema as a child and due to a reaction that the vaccine created in children with severe eczema, it could have proven deadly to me. So I couldn’t get it.

But thankfully, back in the day, everyone else did. Everyone who was able to get the vaccine without the threat of a deadly reaction stood in line and got the shot. And as a result, it created herd immunity and the disease was eradicated from the face of the Earth, alive only in labs and not in the general public.

I often wonder how different my life would have been had people refused to get it for nonmedical reasons. Would it have continued to be  a literal pox on the world, wreaking havoc and causing death? Would I have had to live my life torn between the risk of a vaccine that could kill me or getting a disease that could do the same?

Or would it have impeded my ability to travel, if it were relegated to certain parts of the world, like cholera, typhoid or yellow fever? Would my inability to get a vaccine have prohibited me to enter so many of the countries where I have traveled and done mission work?

As I listen to the cacophony of complaints about getting the COVID vaccine today, I am glad that when they were doing mass vaccinations for smallpox people didn’t have access to the kind of misinformation and lies that are spread so rampantly on the Internet.

Quite frankly, the level of ignorance and the lack of critical thinking skills used by people who are refusing the vaccine or complaining about “vaccine passports” is astounding. Both in where people seem to place their trust and in their failure to do a little research.

This past week, I saw a post on Facebook from a young person who was not going to get the COVID vaccine because of fear that it might cause infertility for men. It took me all of two seconds to do a Web search to find out that this was garbage being spewed by unreliable sources that had no scientific bearing. There was no medical data around the concern for fertility for anyone at all. It was just fear-mongering that feeds on distrust of  science. The only issue was related to WHEN to get it if you are pregnant.

The decision to pause the Johnson and Johnson vaccine this past week does more to promote the idea that public health officials and the CDC are concerned about possible side effects and dispel the kind of conspiracy theories around the vaccine. They are using an abundance of caution to take a pause for a one in a million reaction, not hiding it.

The same goes for the brouhaha that has developed over “vaccine passports,” like it is some kind of nefarious plan from the government to intrude on our lives.

Guess what? I’ve had a “vaccine passport” since I got my first typhoid and yellow fever shots in 1987, before spending a year traveling around the world. It’s called an “International Certificate of Vaccination Prophylaxis as Approved by the World Health Organization,” and anyone who has spent time in Africa or many parts of Asia knows exactly where their yellow card is, so that they can travel to places that require vaccinations in order to enter the country.

Why did I get those vaccinations before I entered Zimbabwe or Uganda or Cambodia or India? For my own health and safety. The country I am entering wants me to be safe and not succumb to some pretty awful diseases. And when I go back, I will include my COVID vaccine because I don’t want to be a carrier or make matters worse.

I am so grateful that in the late 1960s and early ’70s our country was filled with team players who were concerned about the common good. Because of that willingness not just to be obsessed about their “own liberty” and instead focus on the greater good as participants in a society, a disease like smallpox could be defeated, ensuring the health of someone like me, who could not safely be vaccinated.

I fear this focus on “individual liberty” at the expense of communal participation in what is best for all people. It is part of an endemic of selfishness that is polluting our world and making it not only a less kind place but also a more dangerous one.

With people making mountains out of molehills, like “vaccine passports,” and their inability to apply basic critical thinking skills to discern the difference between snake oil salespeople and reputable scientific fact, our world has become riskier and our ability to work together to solve problems is in great peril.

Logic, thoughtfulness and being a team player should not be partisan issues. Critical thinking skills are what distinguish humans from animals and make us civilized. If only we would use them.

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