Igot shingles last week. I went to sleep scratching what I thought was a particularly nasty bug bite, and woke up with what felt like a thousand of them — only they burned right down to the bone. Too much stress, I told myself. Too many appointments and emails and commitments, competing for my nervous system’s attention.
But deep down I know the real reason I got sick: I’d played a bit of vaccine roulette, and lost. Although I get the flu shot every year, I’d selectively ignored the CDC’s recommendation for healthy adults over 50 to get the vaccine for shingles. And as I sit here, contending with the bizarrely alternating burning and itching, fever and chills, I find myself replaying the twisted vaccine logic that went through my head, as well as the way it reflects the greater vaccination panic facing America today. The issue, itself a sort of cultural virus, epitomizes what’s wrong with our public conversation, our relationship to facts, and our sense of civic duty.
Despite my age (over 50), my doctor hadn’t even told me about the vaccine. I’d heard about it from a woman in my yoga class, but she’d added a few notes of caution, recommending that I pick a day where I could afford to be a little sick and pointing out that I’d have to get a follow-up shot within six months for the treatment to be effective and adding that the second vaccine was often out of stock. Meanwhile, the website for the vaccine noted a strong possibility of “short-term side effects more intense than you are used to from other vaccines,” and another study cautioned that it may only last for four years before you need to get it again. I weighed my options, and placed a bet on my immune system — a losing bet, it turns out.
At least I only hurt myself. Shingles is not typically a contagious disease; it’s more like a relapse of childhood chickenpox that’s lay dormant for years in a person’s nervous system.
Many others are currently enacting a similar calculus, with similarly myopic judgment and worse information, but they’re doing so with contagious diseases like the flu or measles that can end up affecting everyone else….Read More>>