The annals of ignorance: Part 1 

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I was going to call this the You Can't Fix Stupid Files, but a precocious six-year-old of my acquaintance insists I shouldn't call people stupid. I don't think he's right but there is a line between stupid and ignorant. Problem is, I'm never sure which side of it people—myself included—are on.

And while I don't want to pile on the anti-vaxxers, an act akin to whipping a puppy who's just peed on the rug that holds your room together, ignorance—possibly stupidity—have blossomed like crocuses in Victoria lately on that front.

Exhibit A is an unnamed six-year-old—not the one referred to earlier—from Oregon. I'm not sure where in Oregon since none of the reports say and, for obvious reasons, no names have been published, but it may be some place like Eugene, the only town I've ever visited where I believe everyone is issued an alias as soon as they move there.

He was visiting a farm in 2017 and cut his forehead. A kiss and a Band-Aid and he was good as new. Except he wasn't. Several days later, his parents noticed all was not well. Maybe it was the body-contorting spasms he was experiencing, maybe it was his tightly clenched-shut jaws and trouble breathing but whatever it was, they took him to the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland rather than shaking rattles and burning incense.

Now, you might be wondering why I'd dredge up a case from 2017, and that's a fair question. The reason is because it was just reported last week in the USA's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The docs in Portland were gobsmacked. The kid had tetanus, colloquially referred to as lockjaw. They were gobsmacked because no one in Oregon had seen a case of tetanus in 30 years. Why not, you ask? Because there has been an effective vaccine for tetanus since the early part of the 20th century, one that is regularly administered to children along with all the other childhood vaccines.

Needless to say, this particular kid hadn't had the vaccine, which is generally administered in five doses to children with another one during adolescence and a booster every 10 years. When was the last one you had?

The upshot of this isn't that the kid spent 57 days in hospital. It isn't that he was on a respirator for over a month. It isn't that he suffered pain that made the doctors treating him cringe. It isn't the 17 additional days in in-patient rehab he went through or the month after that before he was able to begin to lead a normal life. It isn't even the US$800,000 hospital bill he ran up. No word, of course, on whether his folks paid, could pay or will just become one more medically bankrupt U.S. couple.

While he was under the care of the docs, part of their treatment was to administer a dose of tetanus vaccine. When they met with him and his parents after he'd been discharged and returned to health and informed them of the need for a second dose of vaccine, as well as the various other vaccines he could benefit from, they refused. The docs pointed out tetanus, as opposed to many other diseases for which there are vaccines, is something you can contract again. They still refused.

So you decide. Ignorant? Stupid? Remarkably mule-headed? I don't know but if it were up to me I'd vote for forced sterilization, removal of the kid, criminal prosecution and banishment to a deserted atoll ... but that's just the latent redneck in me.

As fate would have it, in the same week the CDC report came out, along comes Ethan Lindenberger to cast enlightenment on ignorance. Who?

Ethan is an 18-year-old from Norwalk, Ohio. Norwalk is a little speck of a town in north-central Ohio nicknamed The Maple City and therefore near and dear to the hearts of every Canadian. Until Ethan came along, the most notable contribution Norwalk had made to medicine was the Norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug. It was originally called the Norwalk agent when it was discovered in 1972 in a stool sample from the town. It is the reason you can't walk into a hospital or grocery store without seeing ubiquitous antibacterial goo to smear on your hands. But I digress.

Ethan is living proof ignorance can be overcome through education ... or at least peer pressure and an open mind. As reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, he was brought up by an anti-vaxxer mom, who believed vaccines were poison and a conspiracy of some sort, compliments of Big Pharma. When Ethan turned 18 late last year, he decided he was tired of being considered a health risk by everyone at this school and got the childhood vaccinations he'd missed.

The reason Ethan's actions are on anyone's radar is because he appeared before the U.S. Senate's health committee and told his story. The committee was holding hearings since measles are breaking out all over the world because of people like Ethan's mom who dance the fine line between stupid and ignorant with a healthy dose of lazy. They found out about Ethan because he'd posted a query on Reddit asking how he might get vaccinated on his own.

So what did mom have to say about her boy testifying before Congress? "I didn't agree with anything he said," she said. "They've made him a poster child for the pharmaceutical industry." She couldn't understand why a teen, her teen, was given such an august platform from which to discuss this topic.

Ethan, for his part, was a bit kinder. He acknowledged his mom's love and concern but opined she was "steeped" in online conspiracies and he wanted the congressional committee to do more to spread accurate information about vaccines.

I think it was Wordsworth who penned, "the child is the father of man."

While it's undoubtedly true there is enlightenment to be had even on social media—an assumption on my part since I've been social-media-free for over a year now—there are also vast pools of ignorance, hate, conspiracy and closed-mindedness. We won't know until some time in the future whether the upsides outweigh the downsides but I feel safe in saying it has added fuel to the tendency to jump to conclusions based on insufficient, misleading and downright false information.

Maybe that'll be next week's column in light of the unwinding scandalette playing out in Ottawa. Then again, maybe I'll just stick to a cute dog-and-cat story.


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