The 2020-2021 season of the Vaccine Dinner Club is devoted to discussions of pandemic diseases, old and new.

Virtual VLC*
Tuesday, November 10

*VLC=Vaccine Lunch Club: This month's program will open at 12:20pm, in order to accomodate the 5-hour time zone difference between Atlanta and our London-based presenter.

Vaccine uptake
Count Me In! Click Here to Register

SARS-CoV-2 Vaccines Part III:
Uptake Issues
(If We Build It, Will They Come?)


Heidi Larson, PhD

Director, The Vaccine Confidence Project
Professor, Anthropology, Risk, and Decision Science
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Author, "Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don't Go Away"
About Dr. Larson
More About Dr. Larson
What is the Vaccine Confidence Project reporting about C19?

Clubhouse Location:
A Zoom screen near you
Agenda: (all times Eastern time zone)
12:20pm — Grab some lunch from the fridge and get online
12:30pm — Meeting called to order in the usual way (ear muffs optional)
12:40pm — This is the part where some really excellent science is presented
1:30pm — Q & A
1:45pm — Adjourn, already dreaming of next month's program

This is the year in which YOU will put the Dinner in the Vaccine Dinner Club because it turns out to be logistically complicated and cost-prohibitive for us to have food individually delivered to everyone's house. Which is not to say that you can't make an occasion out of the event and arrange to have GrubHub or DoorDash deliver ….

Dear Vacciners,
This month's speaker, Dr. Heidi Larson, very well may be the world's pre-eminent expert on vaccine hesitancy (Check out the links above) so this is a DON'T MISS opportunity to interact with her.

Context ... As soon as a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is ready for use there is no doubt that social media and the rumor mill will be instantly pressed into service to help people decide how they should feel about it. How do I know this? Well, besides "Duh!," the truth is that using words or images to communicate information -- and mis-information -- about vaccines is a practice as old as vaccines themselves.

My own personal favorite vaccine mis-information image comes from the 17th century and depicts Edward Jenner vaccinating a room full of people, each of whom promptly starts sprouting actual cows all over their body.

But this one from the early 1900s is pretty good too – it depicts a "Vaccine Upas Tree" growing in a cemetery bearing the poisoned "fruits of vaccination" and warning that "the root that poisons the young life blood of the nation; it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder."

BTW: using an upas tree as a vaccine icon was a particularly clever touch because, at that time, it was widely believed that upas trees exude an invisible, poisonous miasma capable of killing anyone who breathed it in. And while gifting the upas tree with a built in 'fog of death' turns out to be giving it too much credit, the upas tree is still a pretty lethal bit of herbage -- as the crossword addicted among us know, the seeds of upas trees are used to make strychnine and poison darts are tipped with its sap.

The pro- public health types liked to use imagery too. In one example (that feels EXTREMELY timely right now as we hurtle towards a predicted winter convergence of C19 and influenza), postcards were disseminated in the mid 1900s showing little girls using a skipping rhyme to remember how important it is to get a flu shot.

Not to be outdone, the National Child Welfare Association of New York published a poster depicting a young David slaying the Goliath of Tuberculosis simply by standing up straight.

So we've been using words and images as a public health battleground for quite a while.

Historically, it hasn't always gone well.

Just ask the famous Puritan theologian Cotton Mather. In 1721 -- 30 years after he almost singlehandedly sparked the Salem Witch Trials and 75 years before Dr. Jenner threatened to make cows sprout from people's foreheads -- Rev. Mather passionately urged the people of Boston to be variolated* in an effort to halt a smallpox epidemic that was raging through the city.

Given the lethality of smallpox, you'd think that this would be a pretty popular suggestion. Not at all! Only a few hours after his stirring call to action someone tossed a homemade grenade into Rev. Mather's house, setting it on fire. The note attached to the proto-molotov cocktail said: "COTTON MATHER, You Dog, Dam You. I'll inoculate you with this, with a POX to you."

I bet Dr. Larson sometimes feels like things haven't improved a whole lot since then.

In an era in which responds to current concerns by 'helpfully' re-posting a webpage from 2013 that trumpets: 8 Damn Good Reasons Not to Get the Flu Shot and the Nigerian polio vaccine push could be brought to a standstill by rumors, not adverse events or even misinformation -- just rumors, you have to wonder if we -- the pro-vaccine side -- can't perhaps do a bit better in our anti hesitancy messaging.

I mean, their side uses fire bombs and pictures of poison trees and women giving birth to cows to get their message across, while we depend on children skipping rope and wielding slingshots plus the occasional shout of ironic laughter at the fix we are in.


Well, we could try inventing an application that automatically inserts pro-vaccine messages into the middle of random Tweets -- for example, here is a recent (10/30/20) Tweet from @realDonaldTrump that has been filtered through my proposed "PosVac" app …. "More Testing equals more Cases. We have best testing. Deaths WAY DOWN. #vaccinesforall. Get vaccinated for the flu NOW!"

Or how about a PosVac-filtered version of the famous Tweet @SeanHannity posted back in 2018 after he returned to Twitter following the second disruption of his account: "I'm baaaccckk from getting vaccinated against Shingles!"

An intriguing idea to be sure.

Barring the overnight invention of an intrusive, probably illegal app however, why don't we all just agree to start thinking about what the C19 vaccine hesitency issues will be by registering to attend the TUESDAY, November 10 meeting of the Vaccine Dinner LUNCH Club when Dr. Larson will try to lead us out of the wilderness.

Be there or be misinformed.
your friendly neighborhood Vaccine Dinner Club goddess

* 'Variolation, which was introduced from Africa to North America by Cotton Mather's slave Onesimus, refers to the pre-vaccine practice of conferring lifelong immunity to severe smallpox by intentionally infecting someone with a mild case. This was done by taking dried smallpox scabs and blowing them up a person's nose (presumably using a straw) or burying them under the skin of a person's hand or arm, via a cut made specifically for that purpose.