21 Mar 2011

The other day, I was talking about immunisations with two other women. We were reminiscing about our experience of the MMR jab, bemoaning side effects, and most importantly, remember how it pissed us all off royally that we had an extra obligation to get the jab than the boys in our class - namely, the ability to get pregnant. I recall at the age of 11, already on the prowl for further evidence of the vile sexism I was starting to see around me, needing little encouragement to be enraged that my body was already considered public property merely for being female. Girls HAD to have the jab, you see, because if we didn't and got pregnant, then contracted rubella (or German measles as it's also known), the unborn foetus was in danger of being born deformed, deaf or disabled. Even though it didn't alter much in my mixed-sex school as both sexes dutifully lined up to get their arms punctured, the difference was already screaming out to me - the boys are getting immunised to protect their own health, whereas YOU are merely being prepared as a virus-free vessel for future children, and to hell with what you want.

Granted, I would've loved - and still would love - to find any excuse to avoid hypodermic needles, but my rage at having no choice in getting the jab went deeper. It was one of the first times I remember clearly being aware that my choices, my wants and needs, and the fact I didn't want, and still don't want, to ever have children, were considered completely secondary to the right of the state and medical profession to interfere with my body as it saw fit. It pissed me off then, it pisses me off now, and yet, apart from a good three-way rant the other morning, there's been little to no public discourse about the sinister nature of treating young girls as nothing more than empty vessels waiting to be filled with babies, and the presumptiong that this is the only true destiny of a female.

Yet, when you compare this to the implementation of the cervical cancer vaccine, you see a very different story. With depressing predictability, the right wing and their conservative religious pals were up in arms over the introduction of a vaccine that actually SAVES GIRLS' LIVES. Why? Because cervical cancer is largely caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is thought to be sexually transmitted. And in the minds of the woman-hating, anti-sex freaks, immunising girls against a sexually transmitted condition is the same as giving them carte blanche to go off and fuck everything in sight at the age of 14. Leaving aside the bizarre logic which implies that if I feel protected by my seatbelt, I'm thus going to head out and deliberately crash my car, let's look at the really hateful agenda underlying objections to the jab. Those objecting to it would rather a girl risks dying of cancer (and the cancer that is the second biggest killer of women under the age of 30) than has under-age sex. It's fine to inject a girl with a strain of a disease if we're protecting the children she may one day give birth to, but to give her a jab with the paltry intention of just saving her worthless female life? Hell no.

Fortunately sanity did prevail and the cervical cancer jab programme was rolled out across the UK in 2008. I just wish it had been around when I was at school, so I could proudly roll up my sleeve and accept my recognition as a full, human, sexual being whose life is worth saving, rather than the MMR jab's label of an incubator on legs.


Tiger Mum said...

I'm certain that if your parents did not want you to have the MMR jab they could have refused treatment- I know that parents can reuse to have the first MMR jab at 13 months old, so I would assume that it would be no different for parents of older children? So in that sense, I don't think young girls were being forced by the state- you were being forced by your parents.

And secondly, the vaccine provides protection for yourself- just a quick google shows that there are currently outbreaks of measles in Leeds university and at Bradford University(http://www.leedsmetsu.co.uk/node/1803).

Giving the MMR vaccine to as many people as possible means that those people who cannot be vaccinated, for example due to allergy etc, have the best chance that they will not come into contact with rubella whilst they are pregnant.

I completely agree with you regarding the cervical cancer jab, the analogy with seatbelts is a good one.

But i just can't get het up about the MMR jab. Like most vaccinations the chance that the one individual will contract the disease is small, but when looking at populations take up needs to be more or less universal so that the most vulnerable are protected.

Chas said...

True, parental coercion is also a factor. Unfortunately it was my dad who started reciting the "If you get pregnant..." spiel when I objected, so it ended up feeling like a double whammy of control from both the parents and the state, to my peed-off 11 year-old self.

How much awareness there was about the option to refuse I'm not sure, as this was in 1995, pre the autism/MMR hysteria which led to many parents opting for separate jabs. But yes, I'm guessing they could've refused if they'd wanted to. Obviously I'm glad they didn't because immunisations make sense and the risks are low - I'd just rather someone had phrased it to me in terms of concern for MY health, not the unborn babies I was destined to have just because I possessed a uterus.