Published December 27, 2016
The media is in a tizzy over the recent trial results of Merck's experimental Ebola vaccine, rVSV-ZEBOV (recombinant Vesicular Stomatitis...
— William Wilberforce
When your net worth is estimated at $42.6 billion and you are the co-founder of an online social network used daily by more than 1 billion of the world’s 7.4 billion people, anything you say or do, no matter how mundane, has the potential to become instant, bigtime news that just about everybody is commenting on.1 2 It even has the potential to stir up controversy and take over countless headlines in newspapers, magazines, and blogs.
That is precisely what happened when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took his five-week-old daughter Max to the doctor’s office, ostensibly, to receive her first round of vaccinations (although the CDC child immunization schedule appears to recommend the first round of infant vaccinations at eight weeks). He then proceeded to post (on January 8, 2015) a photograph of the two of them on his Facebook page with the caption, “Doctor’s visit- time for vaccines!”
Predictably, the photo and the story have gone viral, giving a boost to the evolving conversation on vaccine safety and effectiveness. The same thing happened when Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Rand Paul generated news headlines last September when they offered views perceived by some to fall short of a 100% endorsement of current U.S. government vaccination policy.
On the surface, the story would seem to be unworthy of such widespread coverage. After all, it’s one baby’s visit to the doctor to get vaccinated, and it’s one father’s remarks in support of vaccines. Just how many times has this scene been played out when mothers or fathers take their children to pediatricians’ offices for “well baby” visits?
But the story really isn’t about Zuckerberg and his daughter, or the millions of likes and tens of thousands of comments posted in response by people visiting Zuckerberg’s Facebook page. If you read the articles about the “event”, what you find are quotes of peoples’ views on vaccines. Some are in favor of following the CDC’s vaccine recommendations without question; some want to use fewer vaccines or a different schedule; some don’t want to use any vaccines and some haven’t made up their minds yet. The story is in these views, because they reflect the growing debate and conversation about vaccination, health and autonomy that is taking place among families, and within towns and cities throughout the country.
Contrary to what some people would like to think, the issue of vaccines and vaccine policy is alive and well. The debate is awkward and often uncomfortable, almost always emotional and personal. But it is taking place, and it is building. Like it or not, the issue is not going away. That’s the story.
Zuckerberg has left no doubt as to his position on vaccines. On February 18, 2015, he posted the following on his Facebook page:
Vaccination is an important and timely topic. The science is completely clear: vaccinations work and are important for the health of everyone in our community.3
Fair enough. That’s one opinion, and many people vocally agree with it. Then there is the equally vocal chorus of others who don’t or are just asking for balance. For example, Amy Smith, who was quoted in article by World Tech Today. She said,
Vaccines are a pharmaceutical. The baby has a new immune system and the blood brain barrier has not formed. I don’t think it’s controversial. It’s pretty simple. A pharmaceutical carries risks. If you wanna vaccinate then great. But get the full story on what it does to your immune system to be ‘tricked’ so early in life. Ask yourself if you have a strong family history of autoimmune disorders. Know that it gives an immune system extra jobs which may lead to less ability to fight off other ailments.4
In the midst of many superficial, crass and one-sided remarks, both complimentary and critical of Zuckerberg’s photo, words and perceived motives, Smith’s thoughtful perspective tends to be the exception—a breath of fresh air. Sadly, that’s also part of the story.