#Book Review: The Herd

Author: Emily Edwards

This book was part of reading for the school’s book club I formed with colleagues as part of the #WECAN project. It is indeed one of the most thought-provoking books we read as part of the book club due to the moral, ethical and behavioural questions it opens.

In the book, we follow two families and two female friends, one is a vaccine advocate and has an obsession with vaccines, and the other one is against vaccines due to her parent’s anti-vax advocacy, which came as a result of their son, Bry’s brother, developing autism soon after receiving a vaccine as a child. Therefore, Bry’s parents became strong anti-vaxxers and have engrained fear into Bry who refuses to vaccinate her daughter Alba to the dismay of her pro-vax husband. She does not mention this to her friend Elizabeth, who is obsessively pro-vax and has a daughter, Clemmie, who cannot be vaccinated due to epilepsy in early childhood. As Clemmie’s birthday approaches, despite going to school and interacting with children, Elizabeth worries that too much close contact and play can instigate measle infection and asks parents to confirm their children have received the vaccine or not attend the party. Bry finds out her husband has given Alba some vaccines, albeit not all that NHS prescribes, and confirms attending the party. Clemmie, Bry and Alba obtain measles and two friends end up in court with Elizabeth suing her once best friend.

I only said above what is known right from the beginning of the book or not most relevant and will not spoil further.

But what is absolutely fascinating in this book is how the author attempts to portray arguments from both sides as valid and clearly outlines that what unites both camps is fear because anti-vaxxers are afraid of side effects whereas pro-vaxxers are afraid of the disease. What neither side sees is that the fear is real and that an honest conversation could lead to far better outcomes.

However, another thing that was striking in this book is opening the question of personal freedom and how to manage this. So, anti-vaxxers have the freedom not to vaccinate children and oppose mandatory vaccines as the state decides what is injected into our bodies and controls them. On the other hand, pro-vaxxers oppose anti-vaxxers’ right to infect them by refusing to refrain from attending parties or isolate themselves and argue they have the right to live free of measles and other infectious diseases. What is more, pro-vaxxers argue that those who cannot be vaccinated due to some other conditions are unfairly put in danger. This indeed opens an interesting question on the limits of personal freedom and whether our personal freedom can be extended to harm others? Also, how does our freedom to refuse vaccines work with other people’s refusal to be around unvaccinated and being put in danger? How does it work with the vulnerable who do not have a choice and rely on the personal integrity of each and every one of us to act?

Interestingly, there is a notion of behaviour here with the book portraying protests in a front of the courtroom and narrating stories of vaxxers and anti-vaxxers who came to protest to the court defending their cause, thus showing both camps can come from a variety of lives.

A very interesting read with lots of food for thought and moral and behavioural dilemmas.

Thank you for reading.

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