Flat White

Don’t put a pox on vaccination opponents

13 December 2020

12:29 PM

13 December 2020

12:29 PM

Letitia Wright is a talented, award-winning Guyanese actress who has broken the glass ceiling in superhero cinema and Hollywood. There’s absolutely no reason not to recognize her as a more than capable recipient of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Breakthrough Performance for her work on Black Panther and the positive impact of the film.

Despite the recent controversy, Wright is expected to have a flourishing role in upcoming films like Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile and her role in one of Steven Rodney McQueen’s films released through Amazon Prime’s new cinematic miniseries, Small Axe.

Not only is she a talented actress, but she’s also an activist for women’s rights and is a philanthropist who has donated money in support of communities of colour and LGBTQ people.

Despite all of her accomplishments, Wright succumbed to the toxic cancel culture of social media after sharing a video published by a minister who is sceptical of COVID-19 vaccines and who are transphobic, citing their Christian faith.

I was raised Catholic. I am no longer a practising adherent of that faith. Still, there’s a lot of common ground with the actors and actresses who openly express the practice of their preferred belief — regardless of it’s Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, or other spiritual denominations.

As a part of my defence of Letitia Wright, we also need to discuss the importance of vaccines and where the lines are drawn for public health and individual autonomy for people.

I believe in the importance of vaccines — especially in fighting the rising onslaught of COVID-19 cases.

I view vaccines as tools that can lead the wider population to grow and survive. The basic science behind vaccines is the intentional acquisition of immunity to a particular infectious disease. A vaccine usually contains an agent that emulates the disease-causing microorganism and is often viewed as a form of microbe, toxins, or one of the microorganism’s surface proteins in question.

By stimulating the immune system of a human, the human body can recognize such an agent as a threat, destroying it, and further recognizing the destruction of the microorganisms associated with the future destruction of foreign viruses. In that category, vaccines can be therapeutic vaccines ONCOS-102 — a specialized vaccine that commits to treating malignant cancers like mesothelioma. 

Vaccines and immunizations can track their history back several centuries. English physician Edward Jenner is credited with becoming the first individual to inoculate someone with a make-shift vaccination against the smallpox virus using the case of cowpox as a basis. According to historical documents reviewed by myself, the earliest hints of inoculation practice against the smallpox virus occurred in China during the mid-10th Century. 

Because of this history, the practice of variolation — deliberately infecting someone with smallpox through the ingestion of dried smallpox scabs through the nose — slowly spread from imperial China to Africa, India, the Ottoman Empire, and Europe by the 1700s.

With this ingestion, the individual then contracted a mild variation of smallpox and, upon general recovery, the individual is immune to the actual smallpox virus, or variola.

Amazingly, 1 to 2 percent of those variolated only died, whereas 30 percent have been killed from naturally contracting the disease. In this note, Jenner built an inoculation for the cowpox, commonly found in animals like cows, other bovine, and rodents.

The cowpox inoculation he developed inspired the modern smallpox vaccine and was even termed vaccination in the 1790s. 

Cowpox infection informed Jenner’s development of the inoculation because he discovered anecdotes of dairy workers from rural areas would rarely get sick and die from smallpox.

Don’t gag. Jenner evolved his inoculation from taking the pus from the hand of a dairymaid infected with cowpox and scratched it into James Phipps, an 8-year-old boy, who six weeks later became immune to smallpox despite not catching the actual variola virus.  Including Jenner’s work and legacy, humans have benefited from certain types of vaccines

for many centuries. The peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs reported in 2005 that the pathway toward effective vaccination development, including modern research, into the mechanisms of other infections and diseases. Jenner is considered the jumping-off point for vaccination development, but they evolve into current, streamlined manufacturing and safety measures.

Public perception has often dominated the impact and development of vaccination policies and inoculations.

Under this framework, the deep-seated public fears of inoculation agents are dominated by misunderstandings and the worries of individual freedom through a systemic bioethical dilemma.

Since reactions to vaccines are quite strong, it’s essential to materialize vaccinations’ justifications further to quell scepticism and potential outright hostility against individuals and groups with diverging opinions on the matter. This all corresponds to the case of Letitia Wright and her sharing of the anti-vaxxer video in question. I wish to reiterate that vaccines are incredibly critical tools that public health and medical practitioners have in the infectious disease response toolbox. Firmly, I also believe that the anti-vaccination movement is an utterly misguided movement that worries the world of public health is a fascist enterprise led by governments and large pharmaceutical companies.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the totalitarian tendencies of Big Public Health, including the ongoing demands to keep people relegated to their homes during a pandemic or the concerns that people should be forced to follow restrictive personal regulations.

Ethically, public health practice is not intended to violate the personal objections and decision making of individuals. At a minimum, personal autonomy serves as self-rule that individuals have the controlling interference by which others can control limitations and benefits of health decisions in their own right.

That said, an autonomous individual can act freely per their self-chosen health plan, which includes personal beliefs such as religion and societal perception. In contrast, when that person has diminished autonomy, they have lost certain aspects of their healthcare freedom and the self-chose paths they may voluntarily choose. While socially terrible to admit, the role of diminished autonomy applies to individuals who cannot care for themselves — like individuals who suffer from severe mental deficiency — or those who are institutionally stripped of certain freedom like prisoners or individuals placed in the care of the state.

To run through this again, Letitia Wright posted a video on her personal Twitter account.

The shared video content featured a long monologue of anti-vaxxer distrust against the development of a COVID-19 vaccine by the world’s governments and it’s largest corporations.

The video’s monologue was offered by Tomi Arayomi, a minister who follows a new religious movement known as the Apostolic-Prophetic Movement. Arayomi refers to himself as a self-proclaimed prophet, has preached anti-LGBTQ messages, and has been sceptical of vaccinations and other public health interventions.

Much of the outrage against Wright sharing this video results from the misinformation and conspiracy theories have boomed amid the pandemic. 

Some religious groups, especially, have circulated these stigmatizing conspiracy theories about the virus. Some groups say that the COVID-19 vaccinations will implant microchips into the human body that will track biological information and populate it to billionaires like Bill Gates. The actual virus is a hoax perpetrated by Chinese communists as a means to take down the western world. Yeah, stupid and unfounded airy-fairy like that. But that’s beside the point.

How Wright was treated amid her sharing of the anti-vaxxer video is certainly unacceptable.

Wright shut down all of her social media accounts shortly after tweeting about how “cancel culture” is coming after her for sharing a video featuring points of view on vaccinations and LGBTQ people that I feel are horrid.

Wright even tried to apologize for sharing the video but was again shut out. I don’t know all of the details about what happened in Letitia Wright’s camp.

I do know, though, that outrage over seemingly trivial things has indicted another famous person who is down-to-earth and relatable for girls and women, even men, of all walks of life from around the world, including members of the LGBTQ community. 

The intolerance of the cancel culture mob has placed a genuinely talented woman who deserves the utmost respect of people like us into the realm of shame for having diverging opinions or recognizing diverging views on vaccination and preventive health topics.

I believe, however, that people need to recognize the importance of getting vaccinated.

Even in the time of COVID-19, people are dying, and we, as a society, should trust the most extraordinary minds working on vaccinations and coronavirus treatment and therapies.

I’m quite liberal on social issues, and on some business issues. But, I am primarily a centrist who cares deeply about human rights and individual autonomy. While vaccines are important (very important), we still need to respect personal responsibility.

Author’s note: I am not an anti-vaxxer. I support widespread immunization, and I believe that all people should receive vaccinations for the benefit of the health and wellbeing of the community. I only suggest that we should refrain from shaming people for not getting themselves or their children vaccinated. While the message for vaccination should be built around persuasion and support, we as a society must desist from shaming and ridiculing people.

Michael McGrady is a United States-based contributor to The Spectator Australia. He covers public health and harm reduction policy related to drugs and disease.

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