These past few weeks there’s been a lot of media attention regarding the measles outbreak in Northern Texas. Roughly 20 people — mostly un-vaccinated or under-vaccinated individuals — have come down with the measles, ranging in age from 4 months to 44 years. And all of them have been traced back to a single church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Once word got out that the Eagle Mountain Church’s founder Kenneth Copeland had discouraged congregants from being vaccinated in the past, articles started popping up on MSN, Associated Press, and USA Today, telling the sensational story of an anti-vaccine mega-church coming face-to-face with the consequences of collapsed herd immunity.
All of this is true, but is it really the story we should be focusing on?
In the wake of the outbreak, the church has done an about-face. Its leadership is now encouraging its members to get vaccinated against the measles and has even hosted vaccination clinics at the church. While some news organizations and bloggers have chosen to berate the church leadership for misleading its congregants, this article by Brad Hirschfield in the Washington Post, however, highlighted what pro-vaccine advocates should really be focusing on:
Now here’s the important question we need to ask: Is now time to gloat, to mock the backtracking that the church is doing, or to accuse their pastor (Copeland’s daughter) of hypocrisy because she is now advocating for more vaccinations? Absolutely not!
It’s time to appreciate that both the vast majority of us who support vaccination, and the small minority that oppose it, want the same thing – safe kids. It’s time instead to help those who are reversing course to appreciate that their previously held abstract fears all fall away in the face of the very real human costs of indulging them. It’s time to point out that even if the concerns vaccine opponents have may have any legitimacy, as they think they do, those concerns pale in comparison with the enormous costs of not vaccinating.
This story is an important reminder that when we allow real human experience, in this case, real people with real disease, to triumph over theoretical concerns and ideological dogma, we are the better, and the healthier, for it. Some of us may be slower than others to learn that lesson, but it’s more important to learn it and to help others do the same, than it is to argue about why it wasn’t learned more quickly.
And we agree. Instead of gloating or wagging our fingers, we vaccine supporters should be applauding the Eagle Mountain’s leadership for now recognizing the importance of vaccination and encouraging congregants to be immunized.
This outbreak has been a demonstration of what can happen when herd immunity drops below the threshold needed for keeping these serious diseases at bay. We were fortunate that the outbreak didn’t spread further and that more people weren’t hurt by it. That reality should not be understated.
But hearts and minds will not be won by saying “I told you so.”
We can dwell on the mistakes made and consequences suffered . Or we can take them as a lesson learned, and praise a community for coming together to do what’s right to protect the future health and safety of their families. In the end, what’s the more important story to tell?