Dreams die hard. As a new Warrior Dad, early in the epidemic, I battled for Ben’s recovery, hoped my 4-year-old-son would join the mainstream soon. Bernie Rimland’s fiery voice, igniting dark facts, blazed up like a whirlwind, lighting our journey. Just beyond the horizon, truth would prevail; the bell curve on the autism incidence graph would trickle down to nothing. Ben, voiceless since his regression, would speak again. Soon.
Decades later, Ben is 27 and still mostly mute. Kindergarten classrooms in Kaufman County, Dallas, Austin, and Gun Barrel City overflow with damaged kids. Moving deeper, I see that the battle is not just about truth and facts. Vaccine promoters, the old warriors, have armies anchored in tectonic plates where hope and money, faith and values, collide with ours. They, too, are dreamers.
Consider John F. Kennedy’s Vaccine Assistance Act, a mass immunization program to safeguard the health of the nation’s youth, improve the vitality of the population, and build a great country by making vaccines available to families that could not afford them (1). And Jimmy Carter’s Childhood Immunization Initiative, launched to eradicate childhood afflictions, prevent mental retardation, protect children from disabilities caused by preventable disease, and reign in the spiraling cost of health care (2). Or Clinton’s Vaccines for Children’s Program and Comprehensive Child Immunization Act, promoted to lower vaccine prices, extend public clinic hours, and shield families that would be bankrupted by illnesses that could be prevented with a cheap, simple shot (3). And now the Affordable Care Act, aimed at reducing health care costs in part with free vaccines and funding for programs to promote them (4).
Ten years, twenty years. The journey continues. Mountains arise. We scale them. Infectious diseases dwindle, replaced by chronic illness. Some vaccines fail, are bolstered by more vaccines. Thirty years, forty years? The horizon recedes, yet the dream beckons still. Promoters study their incidence graphs and plan more shots. And we study ours.
1) Elena Conis, Vaccine Nation: America’s Changing Relationship with Immunization, pp. 34-38.
2) Conis, pp. 93-100.
3) Conis, pp. 168-174.
4) Conis, p. 252.
Dan E. Burns, Ph.D., is the father of a 27-year-old son on the autism spectrum and the author of Saving Ben: A Father’s Story of Autism. Dr. Burns is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism and serves on the Executive Leadership Team of Health Choice, advocating for vaccine-injured children and their parents. Through his dba, Appleseed Ventures, Dan empowers parents to organize communities where their adult children on the autism spectrum can live, work, play, and heal.