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(Jacquelyn Martin/AP )
There are 20 confirmed cases of measles in the latest outbreak of this preventable disease, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. At least eight of the patients are members of the Eagle Mountain International Church, church officials said, and 15 of the cases are in Tarrant County where the church is located.
Will people never learn? Can the anti-vaccine crowd not stop endangering those they love, not to mention the rest of us, when they choose faith healing, junk science,and conspiracy theories over good medicine? That’s how I, and most other Americans, feel when we read headlines like those coming out of Texas.
It’s how we feel, but it may be missing the most important point in this story. At least it is, if it’s more important to us to keep people healthy, than it is to simply be angry at others who have reached poor conclusions. Neither righteous indignation, no matter how justified, nor fact-based arguments, will change positions that are based more on the content of people’s hearts than of their minds, which is clearly the case with the members of Eagle Mountain.
Despite his claims to the contrary, the church’s founder, Kenneth Copeland, has a significant track record of questioning the safety of vaccinations, going so far, in at least one 2010 broadcast, of calling vaccination “downright criminal.” So while tragic, what’s going on in his community is not at all surprising.
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.
In fact, I want to applaud the leadership of the church for reversing course, and actively encouraging vaccination in the wake of this recent outbreak. And I want to enlist them as public supporters in the cause of getting all kids fully vaccinated, precisely because despite their reservations, they now recognize that the cost of not doing so is so terribly high.