When Eula Biss became a mother, she stepped into a new world of fear: fear of the government, the medical establishment, the contents of her child's air, food, mattress—and vaccines.
In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity, and its implications for the individual and the social body. Weaving her personal experiences with an exploration of classical and contemporary literature, Biss considers what vaccines, and the debate around them, mean for her own child, her immediate community and the wider world.
On Immunity is an inoculation against our fear and a moving account of how we are all interconnected—our bodies and our fates.
An interesting and thought-provoking read.
On Immunity: An inoculation is a non-fiction work by essayist and self-described citizen thinker, Eula Biss. It is listed as one of the New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2014. Prompted by her sonâ€™s birth (â€œMy sonâ€™s birth brought with it an exaggerated sense of both my own power and my own powerlessness.â€), Biss examines the vaccination debate. Enlisting Greek Myth, Dracula and a wealth of literature on immunisation to help with her analysis, Biss explores epidemics, herd immunity, germ theory, the concepts of public health, of body purity, of being vulnerable to contamination vs being dangerous (contagious), women in healing and paternalism in prevention of risk.
She learns that â€œâ€™Vaccination works,â€™ my father explains, â€˜by enlisting a majority in the protection of a minorityâ€™â€. She explains historical resistance to vaccination, the concept of individual liberty and rights over oneâ€™s body, the difference between unvaccinated and under-vaccinated, and the dangers each of these pose, and the use of vaccination as a weapon of war. The myths surrounding vaccination, and their effect, are analysed: â€œWealthier countries have the luxury of entertaining fears the rest of the world cannot affordâ€. She notes that â€œallowing oneself to remain vulnerable to disease remains a legal privilege today.â€
Biss presents an articulate, balanced view of the vaccination debate from the perspective of a young, first-time mother with minimal medical knowledge. She states â€œThe debate over vaccination tends to be described by â€˜troubling dualismsâ€™ pitting science against nature, public against private, truth against imagination, self against other, thought against emotion, and man against womanâ€ Biss supplements her text with comprehensive, detailed notes, and a list of selected sources. She ends with a metaphor for the immune system that is perhaps the way of the future: â€œOur bodies are not war machines that attack everything foreign and unfamiliar, this metaphor suggests, but gardens where, under the right conditions we live in balance with many other organismsâ€. An interesting and thought-provoking read.