Once, when I was about 9 or 10 years old, I was witness to a fatal car crash. The neighborhood kids were hanging out on what we called “the hill”, a stretch of local street that was on a steep incline, punctuated by a stop sign at the bottom.
This was where we’d sled in winter: the slope of doom where we kids owned the sidewalk and pedestrians were forced to trudge through the snow on either side. We’d lug buckets of hot water from our houses to dump over the frozen sledding surface and create an icy ramp at the midway point.
One kid would tow us with a rope tied to his dirt bike, and you weren’t really cool unless you came perilously close to sledding past the stop sign into the busy intersection, where the cross traffic had no stop.
It was summer, though, and the hill simply served as the central meet-up spot where we’d plot the day’s activities.
We knew the car was going down the hill too fast to stop in time. We waited for the impact; the crash of metal on metal that our eyes and ears couldn’t avoid. For many of us, this became our first experience of the paradox of watching an unstoppable high-speed tragedy play out in slow-motion. We saw a person die.
This is the memory that came to mind in a rush of irony when I read a transcript of HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan’s recent speech to a roomful of Lyme “activists” on “the Hill”.
In a few quick minutes of pandering, Hargan described the wreck-to-be to the wide-eyed audience. (In my imagination, one participant uses the back of her hand to wipe a glistening trail of drool from her chin.) Hargan announced plans for a nearly one-third increase in the federal budget for fighting tick-borne diseases while tying it to vaccines like a tether to a dirt bike on an ice-laden hill.
There likely will not be a silver bullet for fixing the problems caused by tick-borne illnesses. We must fight this battle on many fronts: by decreasing the ticks in the environment through traditional or innovative means; by better managing the wildlife that carry the ticks; by immunizing people against the viruses or find ways to immunize against the tick itself; and of course, driving innovation toward more sensitive and reliable diagnostics, therapies, and preventive measures including vaccines.
Surely if there had been any outburst we would have heard about it. I can only presume, therefore, that no activists were in attendance.
An activist would have set aside politeness and thrown out an objection. An activist would have at least laughed at the notion that vaccines are the answer here, when vaccines are what created this mess.
There is no dignity in deference to government officials who would gladly show us the way to our graves while explaining how much it cost to get there.
The President’s 2021 Budget also proposes an action plan that will prioritize and advance the most promising candidates and technologies for diagnosing and preventing Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. This plan, which would be led by Admiral Brett Giroir and his Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, in partnership with NIH, CDC, and the FDA, addresses four primary areas: innovations in diagnosis and advanced detection, developing vaccine-based prevention, ensuring robust domestic surveillance of vector-borne diseases, and providing additional knowledge to advance the best treatment and prevention options.
Hargan provokes another memory of my childhood hill. In what seemed one swift motion, a four-year-old neighborhood girl yanked off her panties, hiked up her dress, plopped her bare bum onto the asphalt and watched her stream of urine run down, down, as far as it would go. She seems an apt metaphor for our government’s attitude toward Lyme. They both just want to watch their piss run down the hill.
Are we not better than this? Do we not deserve honesty, forthrightness, dignity? Are we prepared to stand by and witness another few decades of carnage while the government literally pisses away millions of dollars on fake research into fake vaccines and fake diagnostics?
We need to rise up, and we need to do it now. If only for our own self-respect.