It’s Not a Charity- It’s Just Marketing

My husband and I have never owned a changing table.

When we started having kids, we were really tight on money and space, so we had to pick and choose what was most crucial. There are certain no-brainers (like a carseat and a baby carrier). But as we went down the list of all the things we “needed” for our first baby, I realized my parents had never owned a changing table either. They raised three children and changed plenty of diapers without one and we all turned out just fine. And for that matter, my grandparents never owned a changing table, my great-grandparents had never owned a changing and my great-great grandparents… well, you get the idea. So what did people do before changing tables existed?

It’s quite simple. They changed their babies on a floor or table with some sort of changing pad underneath. Throughout thousands and thousands of years of human history, parents didn’t have changing tables and diaper changes went just fine. Ditto on Baby Einstein, Exer-saucers and baby swings. We’ve never owned a baby monitor either. The best way to keep our kids asleep was to put them in a baby carrier, so none of the sleep gadgets have ever been necessary. If you really want any of these items though, more power to you.

I went through a similar process with the flu vaccine. I remember being in college when I first started hearing admonitions to get a flu shot. I never did. I’d had the flu several times and it wasn’t pleasant, but it certainly wasn’t deathly. Maybe elderly people needed one, but I figured I’d probably be fine. I rarely got the flu anyway. And, I reasoned, it’s not like the flu was a serious disease like other diseases that vaccines existed for. (Of course at the time I didn’t know that according to the CDC, the flu shot is actually less effective in elderly and infant populations, the people who are supposed to be at the greatest risk for flu complications. It’s considered most effective in young, healthy people who are least likely to get sick to begin with. Now that’s some good marketing!)

However, I noticed many people who were buying in- literally- to the whole flu shot thing. All of the sudden, an illness that these people had once considered an unpleasant, though not serious, part of life suddenly became a crisis. I saw friends running out to get to flu shots, standing in line, calling their pediatrician’s office repeatedly to see if the flu shot was available. Despite having the flu themselves multiple times and recovering just fine, my friends were now convinced that the flu was a lethal threat to their health and their children’s health. (And even if they became sick after getting a flu shot they still extolled its virtues.) Suddenly something they had never needed before became indispensable.

Of course the same thing is happening for Millennial parents with chickenpox, rotavirus, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Our generation is doing the same thing our parents did- buying into marketing messages that the diseases we and our grandparents, parents and friends lived through are deadly. It was interesting to hear my parents reasoning on why they felt I needed to have the MMR vaccine even though they had had measles (and mumps and rubella) as children and did just fine. My dad said that truly the measles wasn’t a big deal to anyone when he was a kid, but the doctors said that all babies should get an MMR vaccine now so he figured they knew best. My mother said that no one understood how big a threat measles was at the time. My mother-in-law said that she had to spend a few days at home with the shades drawn and that was simply too awful to allow anyone to endure- even for lifelong immunity. It’s marketing, folks. Convince people that they need something they didn’t think they needed before.

Now, it’s at this point when most people will start saying that I just don’t understand how terrible things were during the pre-vaccine era, that I’ve gotten used to a world where I don’t have to live in fear of deathly illnesses taking my child’s life and that I simply take it for granted. That type of “post-reality thinking” is a problem. Llike the number of people who have gotten used to living in a USA that is still relatively free and prosperous and now think the government stages shootings and terrorist attacks to keep people fearful and keep the military and police around). But I don’t think it’s a valid argument about vaccine refusal. Take a look at the public health documents from the pre-measles vaccine era or around the time the polio vaccine was introduced. There’s no talk of massive deaths from measles. In fact, the the Vital Statistics Report on mortality in the US between 1900 and 1950 is actually quite optimistic about the future of the public and mentions nothing about measles being a serious public health threat. The Vital Statistics Report from 1955 states that the polio vaccine couldn’t be responsible for the decrease in polio deaths because polio had decreased across all age groups not just children- who were the primary recipients of the polio vaccine.

Yes, popular thought is that this type of line of thinking is just a fallacy, but maybe the problem is a sort of reverse fantasy- that measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox really were serious threats and we live in a world that is so much safer because of pharmaceutical technology. After buying into vaccination, we have to tell ourselves a story about why we need it now.

Proponents of vaccination seem to believe that vaccines are practically a charitable cause for pharmaceutical companies- something that makes very little money but has enormous benefit. It’s all marketing. The same thing that spurs us on to buy the handbag with the designer label, spend huge amounts on a wedding (even though spending large amounts on a wedding is correlated with higher divorce rates), and get that changing table, play mat and baby swing.


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