Why do anti-vaxxers think “nature intended” for them to survive?


See? Now he has natural immunity, just like nature intended!

The above is a picture of an infant with smallpox. I searched high and low for a picture that would convey the severity of the disease without being too distressing to view. You can imagine the impact of this infection on the baby’s face and the subsequent scarring he endured … if he survived. It’s that image, the image of his hideously scarred face that illustrates one of the central conceits of the anti-vax movement.

The conceit is that “nature intended” for people to survive vaccine preventable illnesses and to survive them unscathed.

Listen to this Australian anti-vaxxer justify her decision to let her son get measles:

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Bacteria and viruses are predators and children are prey.[/pullquote]

The woman, an administrator of the closed Facebook group Anti-Vaccination Australia, said her son was sick for five days with a fever and a rash, but: “it’s not deadly”.

Fellow anti-vaccination activists agreed it was nothing to be worried about.

“And now that he’s had measles he’s getting a stronger immune system. The way nature intended,” one woman wrote.

But measles IS deadly. It is a leading killer of children, though not children in industrialized countries like Australia. Why? Not because “nature intended” that children should survive measles, but because of vaccination.

In reality nature doesn’t “intend” anything. Nature doesn’t “intend” the sun to shine; it shines because nuclear fusion is occurring inside it. Nature doesn’t “intend” the tides to rise and fall; it happens because of the moon’s gravity acting on the oceans. Nature doesn’t intend for people to survive or succumb to infectious diseases; it happens because bacteria and viruses attack people in order to feed and reproduce themselves.

Nature no more “intends” for people to survive infectious diseases than it “intends” for people to survive having a limb bitten off by a tiger. True, your survival might be aided by blood clotting factors that staunch the bleeding and antibodies that combat infection, but it’s equally likely that you’ll die in spite of your body’s defenses against traumatic injury and hemorrhage.

Bacteria and viruses are predators and human beings are prey. It’s just that simple. Refusing vaccination is like petting a tiger. You might survive the experience but you might not. Human beings learned very early on not to pet tigers. The people who petted tigers died at a much higher rate than those who avoided them, placing an evolutionary premium on wariness of prey animals. Human beings who weren’t afraid of tigers died out while those who avoided tigers survived.

Human beings learned very early on to avoid people with communicable diseases although their understanding of both disease and communicability was imperfect. Yes, they had immune systems, but just like people can’t always outrun tigers, their immune systems can’t always outrun bacteria and viruses.

Humans searched desperately for substances in their environment (herbs, foods, bizarre concoctions involving animal parts and urine among other things) that might ameliorate and prevent disease. Ultimately we found antibiotics, substances created by plants and molds to protect themselves against biological attack that we could use to protect ourselves against similar biological attacks.

Nature didn’t “intend” for antibiotics to help us battle disease. We used technology to coax plants and molds to make the antibiotics that protect them and then took their protection for ourselves.

Ultimately, we created vaccination, harnessing the body’s innate immune system to hold off an attack by bacteria and viruses instead of waiting until we had been attacked to start fighting back. It isn’t any more of a subversion of nature than using antibiotics or using the herbs that contain them. It’s technology allowing us to protect ourselves from the fact that nature doesn’t care who wins the battle, the human beings or the microorganisms.

Anti-vaxxers live in a fantasy world made possible by vaccines. They grew up without being infected by vaccine preventable pathogens and imagined that nature “intended” infectious disease to be mild, self-limited, easily vanquished and gifted us with natural immunity after the battle. That’s like growing up in a world without tiger attacks and heading to the zoo to pet the tigers because nature intended tigers to be gentle. It’s foolish … and deadly.

Only the conceited believe that nature pays particular attention to them and their wellbeing. Nature did not “intend” for the baby above to get smallpox and it didn’t care a whit whether the baby lived, died or survived with hideous scarring. The smallpox virus attacked the baby and engaged it in a mortal struggle. Smallpox has now been eradicated, not because nature “intended” that it disappear but because we created a vaccine to prevent it from spreading and reproducing.

Infectious diseases are predators and we are prey. The only question for anti-vaxxers is whether they think it is better to protect themselves from predators or try to save their children and themselves after the pathogens have taken the first bite.