What We Talk About When We Talk About Vaccination (feat. Eula Biss)
Are the unvaccinated entitled, deprived, or just misunderstood? What would be a more effective way of controlling the COVID pandemic—shame or providing healthcare for all? (Or both?)
I talked with Eula Biss, author of On Immunity: An Inoculation, for this week’s Racket podcast. We went deep into the long history of debates over inoculation (debates that started even before the first vaccine was invented!), the power of conversation, and our own experiences vaccinating our respective kids.
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Also discussed in this episode:
“The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think” by Zeynep Tufekci
“Who’s afraid of the vaccine mandate” (The Racket)
Having and Being Had by Eula Biss
Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, The Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire by Jonathan M. Katz
Historian Farren Yero
Produced by Evan Roberts. Research by Annie Malcolm.
Transcript (may contain errors)
[00:00:00] JONATHAN KATZ: Welcome to The Racket, a newsletter and podcast that asks what's really going on out there. I'm Jonathan M. Katz. A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece at The Racket called Who's Afraid of the Vaccine Mandate in which I discussed the most thought-provoking and enlightening book on vaccines in American culture that I've read "On Immunity" by the essayist Eula Biss, who I'm very pleased to say is joining us here on the show right now. Eula is the author of four books most recently Having and Being Had. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. I can't really think of a higher honor than being awarded a prize for criticism by critics. And she also used to teach at Northwestern University—which, and I don't know if this takes the luster off of that particular accolade, but that happens to be my Alma mater— um in the English major in writing. Eula, thanks for being here.
[00:01:15] EULA BISS: Oh, totally. My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:18] JONATHAN: So the reason I wanted to talk to you is because, On Immunity is just this incredible deep dive meditation. , and really, I like, I highly recommend it to every, I've been recommending it since like before the pandemic, but especially in this COVID moment, this ongoing COVID moment, um, it's just this incredible meditation on. What vaccines mean, what it means to be, you know, anti-vaccine or pro-vaccine. , and I just, just to get us started, you know, obviously you wrote the book, uh, it came out in 2014, long before COVID , was a thing. What was happening in, in your life? What was happening in, the conversation around vaccines, that set you on the path to write it?
[00:02:04] EULA: Um, well, I started writing this book very shortly after having my first child. , when the question of vaccination was high on my mind. I had just gone through the decision of whether or not to vaccinate my own child. I was in conversation with lots of other parents around me about their vaccination decisions. And I was just, uh, I was really intrigued by some of the philosophical questions around vaccination. the biggest and most pressing one for me was really like the question of parenthood. How do you care for someone who can't care for themselves? You know, this to me felt like a Tremendously difficult question to answer. So I was very aware that I was making decisions for someone who couldn't make their own decisions. , and that's where a lot of the research that, that began the book came from was wanting , to do, , due diligence, I guess.
[00:03:04] JONATHAN: Yeah, I mean, and I think one of the important things to remember that is easy to forget in, in 2021 is that, you know, these arguments over vaccination over vaccine mandates, , have been going on for a very, very long time. Before COVID was even a glimmer in the eye of the horse shoot bat or, or wherever it started.
[00:03:26] EULA: I was actually really surprised when I started doing research to find out how very old these debates are. the first really robust anti-vaccination movement was in England, in the 1850s. So it's, you know, well over 150 years ago, so And there was something about finding that out. That, that also drove me further into the questions around vaccination. I was, I was really intrigued to discover that even though all the technology around vaccination was different in the 1850s, some of the fears around vaccination were the same and it had remained the same. Um, so some of the same things that I heard parents saying to me around 2009, I was seeing quoted in the texts and the pamphlets from the 1850s. So especially. You know, things about, uh, suspicion of state power, you know, and fear of state power, um, or the role of the state and the lives of individuals. but also fears about impurities entering the body and that vaccine back in the 1850s, this is before hollow needles, so people are not getting injections back then. A slit is made in the skin in the 1850s and the vaccine material is rubbed into that slit. So the skin is being broken and something is entering the body. So a lot of the fears people have around vaccination are just visceral responses to the body being penetrated. Right. It's and, and sometimes they're sexualized because there's some sexual nature to that penetration. So that, that comes up again. And again, if you read a lot about fear of vaccination, you'll see sexualized descriptions of vaccination that, you know, compare it to rape in some cases. Soit's definitely the people's sense of integrity of their own body is very, you know, caught up in, in their fears and resistance to vaccination.
[00:05:27] JONATHAN: Some of these conversations go back even before the invention of the first vaccine, they, they, they were happening around inoculation, which was an earlier process where, how did it work? They would cut part of your arm and like put a pustule from somebody who had smallpox into your body. Right.
[00:05:45] EULA: Yeah. So inoculation is the broader category that both vaccination and variolation fall into. And so variolation is the technology that preceded vaccination and it's really, really old it's um, probably thousands of years old. It goes back to, , Eastern medicine. It was practiced in China. It was practiced in India first. Variolation was folk medicine. and this was intentionally giving someone a less severe case of the disease. , so it's different than vaccination in that disease hasn't been. Attenuated in a way that prevents you from actually getting the disease you are in variolation, you're being given the disease. But ideally you're , being given a less severe version of it, you know, a strain that has shown itself to be less deadly. And there's various ways that this was done sometimes scabs from people who had had smallpox were ground up and sniffed through the nose sometimes. , plus was rubbed into a wound on a person, a child. But because variolation was actually giving someone smallpox. It was very dangerous. But it was less dangerous than getting the most deadly strain of smallpox. So for hundreds of years, people looked at this as a better alternative than to just leaving one's child to chance, this is usually done. Variolation was usually done on a child and it was done to try to prevent that child from later getting a more serious version of the same disease.
[00:07:24] JONATHAN: And, you know, you're hitting the nail on the head there. I mean, that's, that was the calculus that a lot of people were making back then. And it's the calculus that people are making today. And I think it's important. I mean, um,one of my friends, a historian named, uh, Farren Yero, her project is all about, original, uh, attempts at variolation under the Spanish empire, um, where they were, bringing smallpox in the bodies of enslaved people to the new world. Like that was the container that they were then using to then kind of scoop out and put into, into people in, in Mexico and, and, and their, and their colonies. And so, like, there is this, you know, very invasive Imperial, uh, you know, history, but as you note, you have to, you know, run these risk benefit calculations right from the beginning of American history.
you talk in, in, in, on immunity about George Washington, trying to balance that ledger in his mind between the risk of, very leading his troops and the risk of a major smallpox epidemic that could have, you know, wiped out the American revolution. Uh, can you, can you talk a little bit more about that?
[00:08:40] EULA: Yeah. Yeah. This came after, um, Washington lost a major battle. I think it was the first major loss of the revolutionary war. Um, and he lost it because so many of his troops were sick. There was a smallpox epidemic going on at the moment and he didn’t want to have to force variolation on his troops, but I think he also saw the possibility that the war could be lost to this epidemic. And so that's, as I understand it, that's the calculation that was going on for him. and he did end up forcing the variolation of all of his troops. and that wasn't something that his troops were necessarily happy about at that time. You know, this is a dangerous therapy that he's insisting on. This is from, um, Michael Welch's book, Pox Americana. It's a great history of, it's kind of like a legal history of both of smallpox in the US but of how many of our laws today originated in conflicts around disease and vaccination,
[00:09:55] JONATHAN: Yeah. I mean, I know you've talked about how conversations about vaccination are often conversations about other things. This kind of goes to the heart of what we're talking about here, right? Because to put it mildly, there's a lot of bad faith in the conversation about vaccines, vaccine mandates, and specifically the COVID vaccine. I don't know, it's something that I've had a hard time navigating myself. And it's one of the reasons why I really wanted to talk to you because I feel like you've explored a lot of these questions, you know, before the fact. One of the things that reading On Immunity did for me, was it gave me an extreme amount of empathy for people who make a different choice, as much as I think is a horrible choice, but just to understand a little bit where they're coming from. Not everybody who is refusing a vaccine is doing so because they're just an absolute moral monster.
[00:10:58] EULA: You know, back in 2009, when I first started writing about this part of the problem was that vaccination was very often framed as a question of personal choice. Like, like many things are framed in our society. You know, we're, we're very focused on personal choice and individualism. Um, it's more common now to see vaccination framed as a question of civic responsibility or civic duty, which is what I think it is. But it took quite a bit of time kind of mucking around in the information and the science of vaccination before I came to understand that myself. So much of the conversation back then in 2009, was still you, it might be helpful to say this is also in the moment of the H 1 N 1 pandemic, right? So there was kind of a special intensity around vaccination when I started writing about it because of H 1 N 1. When I was reading about vaccination in say, you know, the magazines that I picked up , in the waiting room at my, midwife's office or you know, the pediatrician's office or, popular newspapers, almost all those places, vacs vaccination was framed as a matter of personal choice. And you should make the choice that you're most comfortable with was how it was framed. I, I don't think that's how we should talk about vaccination, but I do think that it is useful to understand what is going on for people who feel resistant to vaccination, because what we're really dealing with with vaccination is. Uh, technology, that is a consensus technology. It works best if we all agree to do it. So we're not really used to building consensus in this society and this governance structure. and so I think we're fairly rusty around consensus building skills, but that's where we need to go. And I think part of that consensus building project is to understand why people who don't vaccinate don't vaccinate. So back in 2009, you know, part of what I learned in my research and my research included just casual conversations with other parents. So on playgrounds and on beaches and at my son's daycare and preschool, I was just talking to other parents about their decisions. And I found that there were lots of reasons why, people were hesitant around vaccination or didn't vaccinate or delayed vaccines. and that's backed up by research too, that we now know that that's true, that there is not one homogenous anti-vax position. That it's a very diverse, philosophical stance. People take the stance for lots of different reasons and sometimes don't even take it intentionally. Sometimes people don't vaccinate because of their situation in life. It's not a deliberate decision.
Various people associate vaccination with institutions and entities that they're deeply mistrustful of. And in many cases they have every reason to be mistrustful of those entities. So some, Some people who are very familiar with the long history of the medical establishments failure to, effectively treat women and women's health are, you know, for feminist reasons. Suspicious of vaccination and suspicious of what they see as a kind of paternalistic authority of doctors.
Does that mean that it serves women not to be vaccinated? No. But does that mean that some women have legitimate reasons to be kind of cautious around medical care? Yes, I think so. And the same is true for African-Americans, you know, there's a number of African-Americans who are acutely painfully aware of , the long histories of ways in which African-Americans have been failed by medical system and used as test subjects and subjected to unethical treatment, and trust has been broken there.
It's not terribly surprising that, that you then have a lot of people from this community who feel reluctant around vaccination, because There's been so much damage done that's why I think it's ultimately pretty unproductive to think about vaccination solely as a question of personal choice, rather than in the context of our interactions as a society and our interactions with institutions , and systems like healthcare systems. It's because I think there are certain reforms that have to happen on the institutional structural level for some people to feel absolutely confident with preventative health measures like vaccination. So I don't want to sound like an apologist, you know, for people who don't vaccinate. But I think that a lot has happened politically and socially That has created a lack of trust or damaged trust and huge segments of our society when it comes to medical care.
You know, there's an excellent piece in the New York times recently. One of the possibilities that's brought up in this article is that the people who aren't vaccinating. This journalist, she says that the most powerful predictor is not politics, race, or income, but a lack of health insurance. We could speculate a lot of different reasons for why that may be, but. One of the things is brought up in this article, is that people who don't have health insurance don't have, , established relationships with healthcare professionals who they trust. , when they see healthcare professionals, it's often not the same one, twice is it's in the emergency room. It's in a chaotic environment. They're not having, you know, long conversations with their family doctor about the benefits and drawbacks of vaccination. , so, and they probably have had a lot of bad experiences around healthcare, or they haven't had any healthcare at all and they don't think they need it. You know? So it's, I think this is, this comes back to the point I was trying to make around institutional and structural change. This data, you know, which is fairly recent. It comes from a study that was done in September suggests that, you know, one of the things that we could do to increase vaccination in this country would be to make sure everyone has healthcare coverage.
[00:17:39] JONATHAN: um, you can't, you can't see me nodding, but I'm nodding. And it's, like that goes into that is the vicious cycle this sort of inherent fear of like communal life and like social responsibility, creates these systems where, you know, trust is broken because you know, the government isn't helpful in, in the way that, that people are promising that it's going to be.
And so people who get the short end of the sticks or people who just, are predisposed to, you know, distrust state authority, You know, and so you've, you know, you have people who are just, talking about black people, you know, who, sort of have the, you know, the long tail of the, you know, Tuskegee, , experiment. you have women who have been failed by doctor, after doctor. You have all these people who have just been, you know, you know, just shat on by the system. And then here's the system saying, trust me, I'm going to stick, I'm going to put this needle in your arm and like give you, and, and as, as far as like a lot of people's understandings of vaccines work, it's like, I'm going to give you a disease or like some form of a disease.
You're asking people to trust the system that gives them no reason to trust that. You know, a country that refuses to, to ensure its own population and provide adequate medical care to his population is then saying like, but no, trust us, like this is a good vaccine, but then the problem is, and I, and I feel like you're sort of on the same page at the end of the day.
And I'm not just saying this on faith, like I'm, I'm saying this like on the basis of, of, you know, oh, you know, having read a lot of research the end, the end of this, the end of this spiraling, you know, thought is get vaccinated because it is, is better to be vaccinated than to get measles, it is better to be vaccinated than get polio. And it's better to be vaccinated then to get fricking COVID. Are you crazy? But yeah, but it's like, how do you deal with that?
[00:19:37] EULA: I do feel very strongly that It's not fair to totally leave a huge segment of the population unprotected economically in terms of health care, in terms of childcare in every way. And then, like you said, say, oh, but trust me, and take this shot because it's good for you. And it's good for everyone. That's it's an unfair ask. That said, I do think it's worth talking about how incredible. This technology is and how amazing vaccination is and how, , it isn't a lot of the things that we think it is. It's nowhere near as dangerous as variolation was, but compared to variolation you know, the vaccination especially of today of, of now is astonishingly safe.
And as far as medical interventions go it's, pretty extraordinary. It's not a drug. First of all, you know, it's not a typical pharmaceutical, , that's not how vaccines work so when people think of a vaccine is inherently unnatural, that's, that's not really true. You're harnessing your own immune system. It's quite, you're making use of your body's own natural response to a pathogen. Uh, the only thing that's unnatural is that the pathogen has been, uh, you know, usually you're being exposed to only part of it, a little bit of it, or a damaged or killed part of the pathogen. So it can't actually infect you.
It's almost the best we've got, you know, in terms of medical technology and. What you get out of vaccinating is you get to avoid all of these other much more imperfect therapies that you would get in the hospital if you had the disease that you're vaccinating against. Right? So that's the other powerful thing about this is it's it's preventative medicine. So it's the thing that is going to keep you out of the hospital. Yeah, if you're suspicious of hospitals and medical professionals and you don't want to be there, you don't want to have those interactions. It totally makes sense to vaccinate because that's part of, what's going to keep you out of that setting and reduce the number of interactions you have to have with medical professionals.
[00:21:49] JONATHAN: What are some of the other reasons other than, “I am an entitled white man and I make all the decisions for myself and everybody else can go and go screw themselves.” They're the ones who, you know, have been banging this drum, the loudest. Um, but as you note, they're not the only ones.
[00:22:07] EULA: Yeah, totally. But that's real. And it's worth mentioning. And that's, you know, I definitely saw that when I was talking with other parents in 2009 and around that time that there, there is an overlap between a general sensibility of entitlement and a resistance to vaccination. And that attitude, when you're talking about childhood vaccinations, that attitude sometimes manifests as a pretty offensive stance. That's along the lines of. Vaccination is for poor people. you know, I'm able to feed my child organic food and get them plenty of sunlight and we never take public transportation and all these other things that that person clearly considers dirty, you know? And, um, there's all kinds of offensive, ideas around what constitutes, you know, dirty or clean running through this conversation. So I just want to acknowledge that all that is offensive, but you know, it, it, so people are, you know, more or less saying, yes, yes, this is something that other people need, but people who live good, clean, healthy lifestyles, like myself don't need this because my child is not going to be, at risk of this disease or it's not going to be, exposed to it.
Rarely does the person with that mindset think about their child is potentially harmful to other children. And in general, it's kind of hard to think that way, especially when you have a newborn, your newborn seems so incredibly vulnerable in every way that it is hard to imagine that same vulnerable newborn as potentially dangerous to other people. Um, but everyone who has a body is both vulnerable and dangerous when it comes to disease.
And so, you know, I did see people who had what I considered that kind of entitled mindset. I saw them change their minds when they were able to understand their children as dangerous, rather than vulnerable. So, so a person in my own community who I had had some arguments about vaccination with, I ran into, , on the beach, but she let me know that she'd vaccinated her two children. And the reason she had was that one of her neighbor's children was being treated for cancer. And, , that neighbor requested that the children around for child. Be vaccinated so that her child who had a suppressed immune system, wouldn't be, , exposed to things like chickenpox, which might not be super serious for someone with a normal immune system, but could be very, very serious for someone with a suppressed immune system. And it just never occurred to this woman. That's what she said to me that her kids could be dangerous to someone else's kids, , that had never crossed her mind. And she went straight out and got them vaccinated once it did cross their mind. So, so that is, you know, and I think that that is significant to me. People, you know, might fall into thinking in a very entitled way. But they can also, when they're faced with the reality of their children being potentially dangerous to other children, don't want to hurt other people, you know, and I, I still believe this to be true of most people that most people who are not sociopaths don't want to hurt other people.
Um, But need to be able to understand the ways in which your child might be dangerous to someone else's child or that your body might be dangerous to someone else's body in order to then accept something that you're fearful of.
[00:25:42] JONATHAN: The subtitle of On Immunity is “an inoculation,” which is a great subtitle. You obviously couldn't predict that COVID was going to happen or that, the, this new disease was going to come and then a vaccine would be available like immediately after. But it does kind of feel reading your book now on, on the other end of this, you know, it kind of isn't inoculation that it could have been, or it could still be a way to sort of inject, you know, empathy into this conversation.
Um, and I mean, I guess I'm wondering. what do you think the way out of this is it seems like it's only the state, , or the community through mutual aid and, and civic action that can sort of convince people to, you know, just embrace this technology and vaccinate our way out of this and then other, and possibly future pandemics. But also that in order to have that work, you have to have some kind of empathy and some kind of mutual understanding for what other people are going to in the S the hardships that they're facing, in order to, to make that possible, because without it, if you're just trying to force it down, the throats of people who just don't trust you don't trust the system don't want it. They're never going to go along. So do you have an answer please? Help, Eula.
[00:27:05] EULA: I don't have an answer, but you, you know, I am. I'm a huge believer in the power of conversation. The primary way in which I know other people is by talking with them and by asking them questions and by finding out, um, what's, what's behind their fears. And I saw, you know, when, when I was working, started working on vaccination, researching it, you know, there was also an idea at that time that, um, people didn't change their minds about this and that it was pointless to talk to people about vaccination and a number of the people close to me, who I routinely talked with about this subject did change their minds. I changed my mind. I wrote this whole book, you know, it's because this book has very, you know, it has a very pro-vaccine message. I think what gets lost is that what's written into the book is that I was not vaccinating my son when he was born. I changed my mind. You know, he didn't get his first vaccine on the childhood schedule. He didn't get it because I. I told the doctors, I didn't want it in, which I believe was a mistake, but I changed my mind, you know? And so this book in my mind, it really is a record of changing my mind. And I changed my mind after conversation and in conversation with a lot of other people.
And when I was, you know, doing this in the process of doing this with on immunity, um, I I found out all kinds of things about the people I was talking with, um, that made their choice not to vaccinate seem utterly reasonable to me, even though I still didn't think it was in their best interest or in the best interest of society at large, you know. One of my close friends during the time period and someone who helped me a lot with this book, she's also a writer and she read many drafts of this book. She had not vaccinated her daughter. , she ultimately did. Um, but she had not vaccinated her daughter for years because her partner died of ALS. Um, and in, in the process of seeing him die, she kind of lost faith in the medical system because she kept, they kept going to doctors who just kept saying, we don't know enough to do anything. and the answer seemed to always be, we don't know, we don't know. And she was consistently being told that, you know, they, they didn't even know how to treat his pain, how to make him more comfortable. You know, it's, the answer was always, we don't know. And she, you know, she left that experience of course, you know, scarred in many ways, but also just having lost faith. In that system that kept on telling her, we don't know, we don't know. And the reality is we can't expect medical professionals to know everything. It's not fair. It, knowledge is always incomplete. That's just the nature of knowledge, but it, you know, it is fair for someone who's had a horrible, , traumatizing experience to then have to, , go through a process of building back their trust in the system. Um, but I think the kinds of conversations that lead people to change their minds rarely begin with somebody saying you're an idiot, you know? So I just don't think that's the most productive starting point.
Pre COVID people who were far left and far right, um, were more likely not to vaccinate than people who are somewhere in the middle. , and I've seen various reasons for that. but. W the one that I find most convincing is that people who are on either political, extreme don't feel represented by their government. Um, and so are less likely to trust that government or its, , recommendations.
So this is also something that, you know, in a slightly different shape and on different scale that you see internationally. Internationally, some of the places with the worst co vaccine coverage are the places that have the most chaotic government structures and, um, have the, the most political chaos and the least, , faith among their citizens. Um, so you know, this comes up, if you look at polio, which is, uh, radicating nearly everywhere in the world except, , Nigeria and Pakistan. And the reason for that is in both of these places, , political chaos, and, , lack of faith in governance structures. You know, led to people, refusing vaccination. It's more complicated than that in both places it's substantially more complicated
[00:31:51] JONATHAN: the fact that the CIA faked the vaccine program to get information about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. Didn't really help Pakistan. Yeah,
[00:32:00] EULA: U S cost lives there, you know, significant number, not just the children's lives, who didn't get vaccinated, but the women health workers who were then murdered, , as, you know, , the response to that CIA campaign, that, that was it tremendously poor judgment, but yeah, there's also vaccines are also in some places, including Nigeria associated with the west and Western power in Western prejudices and colonialism. And so they're like, oh, this stuff is just, I guess what I think is that vaccination is all wrapped up in all of our social ills. Right? So We've really got to sort out all these things before we can get people to vaccinate. You know, we've, we've got to create governance structures that make people feel confident and, and that they can trust. And that deserve the trust of citizens. And we've got to give people medical coverage. Um, we've got to make sure that people have good experiences when they seek medical treatment. Um, it's all of this as part of it. Um, but w we also have to like, not fake vaccination campaigns and, and fold vaccination into acts of war. That's incredibly stupid.
[00:33:13] JONATHAN: Yeah. Yeah. Maybe, maybe it is. Maybe you would sum it up as, as like do the good things. don’t do the bad things.
[00:33:23] EULA: It does, but it does come back to this difficult work of consensus making and consensus building that is, you know, consensus making is, does demand that people meet each other as equals trust each other and talking good faith, you know, and, and this is, we're not doing that right now. You know, everyone knows that in this country. So it's, um, that like that I think is that's the, the part that we've got to figure out the fastest is, you know, how to have a conversation.
[00:33:59] JONATHAN: We were talking about, , children, you know, being, being vectors of, of disease and people, trying to understand their attitudes toward vaccination through that, you know, I sort of, you know, with as a fairly new parent, , you know, but my baby was born during the pandemic.
[00:34:16] EULA: You have a COVID baby.
[00:34:17] JONATHAN: I've got a COVID baby. Like, and this was like you know, one of the things that has really informed my thinking about it the whole time, and of course it was, it was basically where I started, but is that, you know, she still can't get vaccinated. And so it was like, I need everybody else to get vaccinated, to protect my child.
[00:34:31] EULA: To me, this is the beautiful thing about vaccination, is that in many cases, I feel like I can be aware of other people's vulnerability and in various ways, political vulnerability, economic vulnerability, and, and I feel a little overwhelmed. Like there's nothing I can do about it. And what's exciting to me about vaccination is that this is a situation where you can actively do something to address someone else's vulnerability, you know, it's, you can't do it alone. You have to do it in concert with a lot of other people. But there's a number of diseases where the actually the most vulnerable group can't be vaccinated. So children under one, as you probably know, are the most likely to die of pertussis and their vaccines aren't fully effective, you know, , they aren't able to get all the doses, um, in, in time to make them. Yeah, we can't make a six month old child, fully immune to pertussis. Um, so we need to surround, you know, I think the word they use is cocoon, cocoon, the child, but with adults who are vaccinated against pertussis, pertussis is not fun. If you're an adult from everything I've heard, you know, I've heard of people breaking ribs, coughing from her testis, but it's, it's far less likely to kill you as an adult. Um, but it can kill an infant. And that's why we want everyone to carry immunity is to protect that one very vulnerable group. Um, but I just think that this is kind of like, there's some moral beauty to it that here's an opportunity where we get to protect vulnerable people with our own bodies,
[00:36:16] JONATHAN: I just have this very vivid memory of, you know, that she was just this. Image of just perfect angelic innocence. And she was sitting on the, examining table, as, you know, the, the, the assistant was getting ready to give her, you know, these, these vaccinations and my wife was there and she couldn't even stand next to us. Right. She was across the room and I was holding my daughter so that she wouldn't move. And she was just looking at me with just this beautiful smile of just like perfect trust and love. And I was like, oh sweetie, this I I know what's about to happen to you. And you don't. And then she just went when the needle goes in, she just turns completely white and then completely red. And it's just. Explosion of just like pain and betrayal. And it was like, I was like, oh God, I did this to you. Like you are so innocent and perfect that I did this to you. If I didn't come into that situation with, to a certain extent, I want to say the knowledge, but also the faith. And also like the bias that I have, you know, being the son of a pediatrician, like, you know, coming into it and being like, it's for your own good. And to be able to say, wholeheartedly, if I was like, I'm not sure about this and then to see your child just suffer, I could totally understand like why somebody would have, if they came into it with a different set of priors, um, why they would have just a much harder time getting over that feeling.
[00:37:56] EULA: of course. yeah, It's no, it's a very, I think it's very visceral. It's very emotional. It's like what you were going through is real and, you know, anywhere that we've experienced, you know, pain or trauma in our lives, we're going to map it onto that experience too. It's I think it can become such a complex stew of emotion. what we were talking about.
[00:38:21] JONATHAN: we were talking about places that people should get information and besides, the CDC or the, you know, journal of the American medical association, I think your book on immunity is a great place that people should go for information about this. Tell us, uh, where can people read more of your work, about your new book?
[00:38:40] EULA: Sure. Yeah. I do have a new book, um, Having and Being Had, and its relationship to on immunity. , is that I'm writing about the mindset of entitlement. So I'm writing about through from the mindset of entitlement. So that's partly how it's related to on a Monday. You and I were talking about entitlement being one of the mindsets of people who don't vaccinate, so that was a jumping off point for me, but there is also a short chapter in on immunity where I talk about the anticapitalist reasons, why people sometimes resist vaccination. Um, so suspicion of big pharmaceutical companies and, uh, suspicion of the profit motive, , for doctors , , and other healthcare professionals and what I was writing that chapter, I became very interested in. The psychological and emotional effects of capitalism. So that, that chapter in on immunity was also a jumping off point for this new book, having him being had, which just came out in paperback. And I am continuing to write about capitalism. I'm, I'm hoping to have a long essay about the origins of capitalism coming out sometime this winter. I don't know yet when or where, but that's, I guess that's a stay tuned thing. And I’m very excited for your book on capitalism too.
[00:40:06] JONATHAN: Yeah. Thank you. I was going to say when Gangsters of Capitalism comes out in January — on January 18th — maybe we'll maybe we'll do this again. I feel like the, the, the ultimate big bad of every of every podcast is maybe especially this one always comes back to capitalism—it always goes back to capitalism.
[00:40:25] EULA: It's a big subject. It's a big subject. It's worth, it's worth the conversation. I think. Well, Jonathan, this was great. It was terrific talking with you. Thank you so much.
[00:40:37] JONATHAN: Yeah it was great having you on.
[00:41:29] EULA: Talk to you soon.
[00:41:30] JONATHAN: Thank you. That was Eula Biss, the author of On Immunity, which came out in 2014. Her current book is Having and Being Had, it’s about the mindset of entitlement, it just came out in paperback form. Thank you so much Eula we’d love to have you back on very soon. The New York Times article that Eula referenced is titled “The Unvaccinated May Not be Who You Think,” it was written by my friend Zeynep Tufekci, we’ll link to it in the shownotes. Hey Zeynep. Our theme music is by Los Plantronics. Thanks to The Racket podcast team. This episode was produced by the diligent Evan Roberts, Annie Malcolm and the editor of The Racket is Sam Thielman. You can subscribe, find transcripts, previous issues all that stuff at theracket.news — that’s dot N E W S — you can also stream the audio version on Spotify, Downcast, or wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. Stay safe out there. Please get vaccinated. Vaccinate your kids. See you next time.