Anti-vaxxers go viral in America

Credit: Danny Cho/ Credit: Danny Cho/
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Once again, the flu strikes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund warns the U.S. that this flu season won't stop at the hundreds of deaths. "We have not hit our peak yet, unfortunately," she states. "There is still likely many more weeks to go." This marks the current flu strain as one of the deadliest in recent times.

What should be seen as a giant red flag, encouraging us to reconsider how health is handled in the U.S., is being almost de-legitimized by people who should be helping lead our nation. Gloria Copeland, televangelist and spiritual advisor for President Donald Trump, gave us the health advice of the century in a viral Facebook video:

"Jesus Himself is our flu shot. He redeemed us from the curse of the flu."

This is not the first time Copeland has spoken out about reaching out for medical help. In 2004, Copeland's message reached Bonnie Parker, who passed at the age of 59 from cancer. Parker's daughter, Kristy Beach, later found journals which recorded what her mother had heard Copeland and her husband say on television. She came to the conclusion that "if she went to a doctor, it was a sin [because] you didn't believe enough if you did [seek medical help]."

At first glance, this statement can be dismissed as naive and affecting very few people. While I have faith that a sizeable fraction of America knows better than to take heed of this statement, devastation can occur if even one person does. People with great influence and a platform that can reach thousands of people, such as Copeland, have the capacity to take lives. In a time in which the disease is far more contagious than cancer, this mentality does not affect just those who enact her ill-formed medical advice. Even if someone decides to value the words of a primary care provider over a televangelist on television, illnesses may still come charging. However, unlike cancer, the flu is contagious. One person's diagnosis does not stop at that one person; it can multiply to a far greater population.

Yes, we should maintain a healthy level of skepticism when it comes to what we hear, and words from "Big Pharma" are no exception. However, skepticism should not be confused with the ruthless dismissal of anything that contradicts our paradigm. Skepticism is questioning the potential benefits of taking a new drug that allegedly helps with psoriasis. Ruthless denial is the epitome of arrogance, believing one's quick Google search supersedes any doctor's expertise crafted after years of education and experience.

Furthermore, claiming "Jesus Himself is our flu shot" is hubris at its finest. Much like in Parker's case, Copeland's message discourages people from seeking medical help, even if the illness is treatable. Nobody wants to believe that they are doing something inadequately, and by stating that lack of faith ended a life, people like Copeland are preying on the vulnerable. These vulnerable people want to have autonomy, and Copeland is giving the false pretense by assuring one's faith or prayer alone is the cure. Whether Copeland believes in this message or not is irrelevant; her message is potentially disastrous for modern society.

Furthermore, herd immunization protects not only the vaccinated but also those who cannot be vaccinated. Vaccines don't eliminate the chance of being stricken with the respective illness, but the likelihood of an outbreak does greatly reduce if the majority of the population has done their part in — you guessed it — getting their vaccines. Infants under the age of six months are too young to be vaccinated and are already more susceptible to falling ill. Lethal egg allergies or those who have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome are both highly discouraged from getting the flu shot. If the decision to vaccinate only involved those making the choice, it wouldn't be as big of a problem. However, one's decisions can affect those all around.

The statistics for vaccines don't look promising. The effectiveness rate is as low as 17 percent, contrasting to the usual 40 to 60 percent. The traditional manufacturing of vaccines with eggs has, instead of cultivating a weakened version of the flu virus, altered the strain altogether. However, approximately 80 percent of children who died from the flu were not vaccinated. Even if the vaccine isn't nearly as effective as it usually is, it still has been suggested that it can lessen the impact of the flu.

The number of influenza-related pediatric deaths is on the rise, and officials don't see an end to the flu epidemic coming anytime soon. Even if you, like Copeland, haven't gotten vaccinated for the flu and are safe, keep in mind that this case does not deny the damage the flu has brought this season. Your overconfidence may come at a price.