Beware of Bambi

The anti-vaxxers of 2021 aren’t the first ones to spread misinformation to undermine public health. Vaccine hesitancy has existed in some form or another for nearly 200 years writes Tara Haelle, science journalist writing in “The New York Times” (Sept 2, 2021). Just twenty years ago anti-vaxxers contributed to stopping the use of a FDA-approved vaccine used to prevent Lyme disease, a crippling tick-borne disease. The three dose regimen called LYMErix was bashed by anti-vaxxers who stoked public fears including the untruth that it caused arthritis. The lies were responsible for poor sales which led its pharmaceutical manufacturer Smith Kline Beecham to take it off the market so writes Sue Halpern (no relation) staff writer at “The New Yorker” (August 19, 2021).

Lyme is a crippling, painful disease borne from borrelia spirochete, a bacteria carried most frequently by deer. Ticks are the size of a poppy seed yet can unleash great havoc on the human body. The symptoms: joint pain, fever, body aches, chills, heart palpitations, myocarditis and brain fog are many of the same symptoms which are common to those suffering from Covid-19. I find it amazing at how such a tiny, tiny being can cause such debilitating pain and suffering, let alone death, when untreated.

I admit it: I’m dreadfully afraid of contracting Lyme disease because of its devastation to the human body. Recently while vacationing in rural central Virginia I came prepared to prevent those little ticks from feasting on me. I wore my ex Offico pants treated with permethrin. I tucked the pants into my socks so no skin was exposed and made a conscious point to walk in the middle of the trail and not brush up against any grass or greenery. When I finished my hike and was back safely inside, I checked my body for ticks with a magnifying glass and had someone else check my back as well before taking a hot shower. Ticks don’t like hot water. I follow this protocol whether out walking for an hour on a trail or taking a short 100 yard stroll. A good friend younger than I can hardly walk up a flight of stairs today as he failed to take precautions when out mountain biking in Massachusetts; he was diagnosed with Lyme six months after the tick bite. The damage had already been done. I shudder to think what living with Lyme might be like for me.

Due to climate change the heat, hot and humidity which occasionally defines New England weather conditions has increased in number of days making New England even more attractive for ticks to thrive. Mosquitoes too like hot and humid weather. Deers may be beautiful graceful creatures but Bambi’s an innocent perpetrator weaponized to inflict great pain and suffering. Tick-borne diseases alone are bad enough but climate change also brings other debilitating diseases like Dengue fever to New England. (Dengue fever virus is in the same genus as West Nile virus, Zika virus and tick-borne encephalitis to name a few). Humans are the primary host for Aedes mosquitoes that bite and spread infection.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” says Seneca, a Roman philosopher born in 4 BC. Climate change is upon us and with it horrendous hurricanes, wildfires and drought and other threats to our health and well-being. Ticks are like terrorists. They’re out there and they cause harm and even death, but there are proven and effective treatments available to ward them off. No need to be paralyzed by their threat. But be informed of one’s surroundings.

Life is different today. There are new threats to contend with: terrorists, infectious diseases, hackers and scammers too, the blazing sun, drunk drivers, gun-toting vigilantes, lying politicians and salesmen, and misinformation spread by misguided bad actors.

Staying safe and living a meaningful and purposeful “good life” is not a binary choice between “freedom” and the wisdom borne out of science. That choice is just how anti-vaxxers circa 2021 have learned to frame the vaccines produced for Covid-19. They make it out to not be a health issue at all. It is a tragedy since death is largely preventable by simply following social distancing, wearing masks and receiving a vaccine, and being knowledgeable about how to navigate digital information. It’s a small adjustment to be made to preserve your life and your life with loved ones. I liken it to wearing a seat belt while driving, not drinking and driving, or wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or closing a match book while lighting a match. Pretty simple. It saves lives. It could be your own or your child’s.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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