On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss
The Chancellor and I have been wanting to discuss books more in-depth, and our friend A, who is also part of our book club, has been wanting more of the same. So we’ve been challenging ourselves to read extra books in between Book Club meetings. Last month, we had a rousing discussion over Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, and this month, A has chosen Eula Biss’s On Immunity: An Inoculation.
Biss is an academic, and she merges scholarly interest with a personable narrative tone. She explains how she got to this stage in her life where she had been thinking about immunization and immunity, which all got challenged when she became pregnant with her son. Suddenly, her body was no longer her own. Her decisions affected more than her and her husband. And the ideas behind vaccination and inoculation became personal and real. She asks hard-hitting questions and develops the history of immunity and vaccination to provide a complex, dynamic examination of the anxieties we hold over our bodies and our children’s.
I’m going to be honest here: I’m definitely pro-vaccination. As an educator, I intersect with a LOT of people, and I am all about us not getting each other sick. When a student is ill with a potentially contagious sickness, I send him or her home. Immediately. I had a student show up to my office WITH STREP THROAT and I promptly sent her to the doctor. And then wiped down all the surfaces she had touched. So I think about immunity and contagion a lot. That said, I do understand the anxieties around overmedicating your kids, because I’ve dealt with MRSA. Twice. It’s been a huge pain (especially the first time, when I had to get an enormous abscess drained from my armpit), and the super-strong antibiotics are frightening, because of the side-effects they have on your body. I am also deathly allergic to the Droperidol anti-emetic drug and the Pertussis vaccine (now part of the adult TDAP shot, so I get to have a specialty vaccine made—whee!), so I get using caution and only wanting “the best” for your kids. But is that “best” bringing back measles and mumps and whooping cough? Personally, I think not.
I appreciated Biss’s perspectives, because she discusses both pro- and anti-vaccination positions with clarity and neutrality. She pieces apart the anxieties that cause people to fear vaccines and also to desire them. She challenges us to consider our bodies as one body of the human race. And she brings up the idea of vaccination as social justice. I had never considered that possibility, but now it makes total sense. I highly recommend this book, because it is a fairly fast and interesting read on a controversial and touchy subject.