It could be a scene from a sci-fi movie.
The world has united as one. Social media is the acknowledged Prophet. Lives are built and destroyed on it. Opinions are filtered through it, entering homes, curling their stories around minds, stifling alternate thought. Wars are fires stoked by social media opinions, battles are fought through it.
In such a scenario it needs one wisp of a rumour to set a continent ablaze. And one such rumour is that innoculating a child can lead to serious fall-outs; complications that may not show up till much later in life. Girls could become barren, the vaccine invading their wombs and emptying it so they never gain the capability of holding a new life safe within; boys could face impotency in adulthood.
Of course, there will be those who counter the rumours; holding up a rear view mirror to the generations who lived full, healthy lives, from an infancy where first and booster shots were the norm to a childhood that passed through the normal sicknesses into a procreative adulthood. But drama holds centrestage. And fear is a powerful emotion. Riding on the wings of rumour it grabs many by the throat. A pestilence gathers increasing numbers into its fold.
The widening circle moves to include all such efforts to hold known sicknesses at bay. Polio drops can cause bone marrow depletion, small pox vaccinations can cause skin defects. Protectors are painted as attackers with powers of stealth on their side; or as insidious invaders, let loose on an unsuspecting populace by those with vested interests. Who sets off these rumour bombs no one knows, but they carry the scent of conviction with them.
And despite the best efforts of well-meaning authorities, the balance tilts. Mothers hide their babies when the team administering door to door polio drops comes around; they lie about vaccination schedules they have followed and feel they have ensured a better adulthood for their children… and it goes on. In such a scenario it takes no time for infections to multiply, spread and wreck more havoc than a wild fire in the heat of summer. Catching entire generations unawares. And unprotected. Like the dinosaurs, mankind systematically starts disappearing from the face of the earth, one pocket of population at a time.
Interesting story? But fantasy! One more Doomsday story that could make an interesting film script.
Not really. The tip of the ice berg, if you want a visual, is already peeking out. In every region, city, in countless homes there are those who for reasons of their own knowing, avoid getting vaccinated. Some fear the needle and the pain it may cause; others are sure it is a conspiracy to swell corporate pockets. The more knowledgeable with the world at their fingertips, courtesy technology, believe that the vaccine is a monster snaking through their midst to swallow their futures. And there are those who believe they are invincible; no virus can touch them, they have survived so far on the strength of their convictions and will continue to do so, unharmed.
Depending on who writes it, history may paint them as the secret assassins, who could be the possible spreaders of successive new strains of infection. Or heroes who saved their own kind falling victim to corporate greed. But the moot question is, if the scenario becomes real, will there be anyone to write about the flow of history?
Author & Consulting Editor, Penguin Random House