In the hills of northwest Louisiana there is a graveyard behind a church. My family on my mother’s side donated the land for that church as well as land for a public school next to the church (long gone now, but I’ve seen the photos, it was your typical four-room schoolhouse of the era with two grades per room), and as a consequence was granted use of a portion of that church-owned land for a family graveyard in the early 1870’s. Most of her family has been buried there ever since.
I walk through the old section of that graveyard, the section under the largest of the old oak trees, and I wonder at the number of tiny little graves. They outnumber the big long adult graves, sometimes by a factor of five to one. Some of them just say “Baby X” (where X is the family name), with a date of birth and a date of death a few weeks later. This is because it was so common for children to die young that families didn’t bother naming them until they were big and robust enough that it was likely they’d survive.
Walking through this old section is like walking through a chamber of horrors. Reading the headstones, women had babies from late teens until menopause, often fourteen or fifteen babies in all, in hopes that two or three would survive to adulthood and continue the family. Women did nothing but breed, continually, in hopes of out-breeding the disease and adversity that killed so many children young. Until after WW1, most children died before reaching adulthood. It was not until my grandmother and grandfather’s generation, starting after WW1, that the majority of children survived to adulthood, and not until after WW2 that the child mortality rate dropped to what we consider modern levels.
There were two things that ended this horror show of disease and death: antibiotics, and vaccination. The first one, vaccination, is what happened after WW1 — effective vaccines for smallpox, whooping cough, diphtheria, etc. had been developed, and most states had passed laws requiring vaccination prior to enrollment in schools, as well as mandatory education laws requiring all children to attend school. The US Supreme Court said such laws were constitutional in 1922. The end result was that significant herd immunity started to develop as the old childhood killers lost the spread mechanism of children attending school.
The second one, antibiotics, is what happened after WW2. That, and an effective polio vaccination. When I walk through the modern section of the graveyard, the children’s graves that I see primarily died due to childhood accidents, not disease.
So anyhow, anti-vaccinators say “how do you explain the fact that humanity survived all these centuries without vaccines?” as their argument. But the old section of the family graveyard is pretty clear: most of humanity didn’t survive all these years without vaccines. And the human race itself survived only by turning women into breeding animals that spent their entire lives from late teens to mid forties barefoot and pregnant desperately attempting to out-breed the childhood diseases that killed ten out of every twelve children born. When you look in the eyes of those women in old photographs, the exhaustion and desperation in those eyes almost reaches out and suffocates you. Yes, humanity did survive — but at horrific cost. Horrific cost that the anti-vaccinators apparently are wanting to see happen again, because it was not their anti-healthcare rhetoric that ended that flood of tiny corpses, it was modern medicine with its vaccines and antibiotics.
Except all the anti-vaxxers do, when I mention this fact, is claim that the family graveyard is a lie and that I (a highly paid computer software engineer) am a shill for drug companies.
I do not know what to say to that. The graveyard is what it is, and even if I had ever worked for a drug company (which I have not), that does not change the reality of the family graveyard. It is there, still, on the side of that hill in rural Northwest Louisiana. Those tiny little bodies still rest in tiny little graves underneath the old live oak trees. People who would deny this need only walk themselves to any such family graveyard in their own locale and see the same thing. But that, I suppose, would require some attachment to actual physical reality and a willingness to test their views against said actual physical reality. It would require, in short, a scientific mindset — exactly what the anti-vaxxers reject in favor of woo-woo and hand waving.
We live in the age of unreason
where nothing is valid
nothing is true
lies are the currency
and death is our due.
- Badtux the History Penguin