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Ear to the Ground

The Religious Right Is Resuscitating Dead Diseases

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Posted on Sep 17, 2013
Luciana Christante (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks to certain communities’ fear of vaccines, illnesses such as the measles, which had been wiped out for decades in America, have come back into existence. This resurgence of diseases is dangerous for a number of reasons, the first being that a lot of doctors and nurses are no longer trained to treat or look out for them.

The religious right’s apprehension when it comes to vaccines isn’t founded on any hard science, despite claims that the shots could cause disabilities (lest we forget Rep. Michele Bachmann’s declaration that the HPV vaccine causes “mental retardation”). Vice magazine’s Benjamin Shapiro angrily explains how the religious right’s actions (and inactions) are putting everyone’s lives in danger:

Remember measles? That old-timey disease we officially eliminated in the United States 13 years ago? Thanks to the wonder of inoculation, measles should be entirely nonexistent in this country, but yesterday the Center for Disease Control reported 159 cases from January through August of this year. This puts our country on track for the worst measles year since 1996, when there were 500 reported cases—which is disturbing, especially because doctors and nurses aren’t really trained to look out for measles anymore, because of the whole “elimination” thing.

...What’s unique about this year’s outbreak is that the CDC has finally admitted the spread of this “eliminated” disease is based on religious communities’ philosophical aversion to vaccines and reliance on divine healing through the Word of God. According to the report, 91 percent of the reported cases were in people who were unvaccinated, or didn’t know their vaccination status, and “of those who were unvaccinated, 79 percent had philosophical objections to vaccination.”

These cases began in religious communities, but eventually spread out of them and infected infants who couldn’t legally be vaccinated yet. This August, epidemiologists in Texas began investigating the Eagle Mountain International Church in Newark, Texas. The megachurch, which believes in faith healing, had become an open breeding ground for measles after a member of the congregation returned from Indonesia and infected 21 people in and around Newark. It was widely reported that Terri Pearsons, the church’s senior pastor, had encouraged her followers to avoid vaccinations at all costs. The church has defensively denied this claim, which contradicts Pearsons’s continued reservations about vaccines.

Once babies started getting all rashy, Pearsons reversed her position in an August 15 statement encouraging her flock to get immunized. Here, she limited her concerns to “very young children with a family history of autism,” again suggesting a belief that vaccines can turn your kids retarded. Eagle Mountain’s basic point is contradictory: you should vaccinate your kids, but they might end up like Rain Man.

Things are even worse in Northern Europe. Since May, there’s been a “large, ongoing measles outbreak” in an orthodox Protestant community in the Netherlands. As of September 5, the Center for Infectious Disease Control in Netherlands had reported some 1,226 cases. Ninety-one percent of those cases were unvaccinated members of orthodox Protestant communities in the country’s Bible belt.

Shapiro goes on to call these acts “endangerment” and demonstrate his disgust at the fact that the religious right feeds its followers misinformation. All of which is its problem, that is, until the rest of the world gets caught in the crossfire of its ignorance. It’s all a bit reminiscent of colonial times when Europeans wiped out indigenous populations with guns, germs and steel. But what’s worse in the case of the religious right is that, as Shapiro concludes, “their diseases are smarter than they are, and do much quicker missionary work.”

—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

 

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