I recently listened to On Immunity by
Eula Biss. It’s about immunity and vaccines.
This is a book about immunization and
vaccines. It looks at the history of vaccines and the politics of vaccines.
Eula Biss is not a scientist, but a poet. She started thinking more about
vaccination when she became pregnant and had a baby. When she had a baby she
realized she would have to choose whether or not to vaccinate him, and she
started looking into vaccines. She has looked at history, and the politics as I
said, and she has referred to a lot of other mothers who she spoke to about
vaccines and the choices they made.
I really liked science books that aren’t
written by scientists, because the ones I’ve read have been really well done
and they are usually easier to understand than dense scientific text. It
obviously helps that Biss is a poet and prose writer, her writing is good and
flows really well.
I think it worked well to structure the
vaccination narrative around her son. Since she’s not a scientist she needs a
different frame of reference. Her father is a doctor and he features a lot too.
She tends to use him as her first port of call when she’s sick or her son is
sick. I liked her dad having this presence in the book, because Biss has
clearly grown up in a home where she has learned a bit of medical science just
by knowing her dad. And I think it makes her more suspicious and it makes her
look more deeply at what doctors told her.
It was really interesting to learn about
how vaccines have been forced on people, literally. Soldiers and women were
forced to vaccinate on gunpoint basically, and it has led to medical
legislation on personal freedom, which is really cool. And it was interesting
to see how inoculation has been so important in big social and military
movements through time.
She uses a vampire as a metaphor for
infection through the whole book. To me it worked well as a metaphor and it
made sense. Vampires have a long history and they’ve always been this
mysterious thing that causes illness or anemia, or fear. Only lately have
vampires become these brooding, sexy teen crushes. And she connected Dracula’s
arrival in England with the way that plague comes to a country and decimates
people. Obviously he’s also Eastern European, so he’s an immigrant, which makes
him feel threatening as well, and it’s a fascinating link to infection as well,
it’ll come from somewhere else, people we don’t know, which was an interesting view.
She obviously looks at the many
conspiracies around vaccines. There is the big one which says that the MMR
vaccine causes autism, which is absolutely not true. There has been a lot of
criticism of vaccines lately and people stop vaccinating themselves and their
kids. Refusing vaccines have a long history though, particularly when the way
of vaccinating someone was to infect them with a milder strain. She doesn’t
really seem to have a strong opinion, or at least she doesn’t give a strong
opinion either way. She just presents the cases for both vaccinating and not
vaccinating. Which I really appreciate. I’m pro-vaccination and I tend to get a
bit annoyed with anti-vaxxers so it was nice to hear the positions presented
sort of neutrally. I should point out. I understand that some people can’t get
vaccinated, but that’s why it’s important for the rest of us to vaccinate to
protect as many as possible.
I found the whole thing really interesting.
She’s a very engaging writer and it’s a topic that really fascinates me. I
liked Eula Biss’ writing and the flow of it. I listened to it on audiobook, and
it was great. Tamara Marston did a good job of narrating it.