Trying to understand the anti-vaccination movement

Those of us who know the importance of immunization need to continue to talk about it with facts and compassion.

measles.CDCMeasles – MEASLES!, which were all but eradicated in the United States by 2000 – has been experiencing a comeback in 2014. This was due almost entirely to unvaccinated people, who catch it from other unvaccinated people.

Surely, we can just dismiss some of the anti-vaxx discussion as political posturing by Chris Christie and Rand Paul and especially Sean Hannity of FOX.

But what can we do to try to UNDERSTAND this choice by what someone called The Know Better Party? (Check out the great links to the facts about vaccines.)

There is an interesting article in the New Republic, Don’t Blame Anti-Vaxxers for the Measles Outbreak. Blame American Culture. that says: “Parents who opt out of vaccines come to their decisions by prioritizing the very virtues American culture readily recommends: freedom of choice, consumer primacy, individualism, self-determination, and a dim, almost cynical view of common goods like public health.”

Miriam Axel-Lute, an Albany writer, commented there, and on her Facebook page:

So I agree that what this author is describing is a problem in American culture, but in my experience it doesn’t line up well at all with who opposes/opts out of vaccines. Here’s my theory… Vaccine opposition tends to be concentrated in places where people have the resources and wherewithal to challenge the medical model of birth–and there they are on very solid scientific ground.

If you have just gone through pregnancy and birth, deflecting a whole lot of scare-tactic hooey about how home birth and cosleeping are both criminally dangerous, you can’t drink anything in labor, episotomies are necessary, etc. and have been given all sorts of stupid conflicting information about breastfeeding and milk supply from professionals who ought to know better, you are very primed to be skeptical of the medical consensus and likely to believe instead the people who were more helpful and accurate on those other topics…

Original Title: FluVac25sRGBAs someone who supported his wife’s decision to change ob-gyns in her ninth month of pregnancy because her old doctor had dismissed our birth plan, there is definitely a credibility issue with the medical establishment in terms of childbirth and children’s needs, generally, e.g. the overuse/overprescription of antibiotics.

A participant in the very civilized Facebook discussion noted: “When people argue something like vaccines should be mandatory… it is in the same vein as forced c-section/forced hospital birth/illegal midwives.” Or it may certainly feel that way.

My point is NOT to say no to vaccines, but to try to understand the other point of view, so we can try to change their minds. For instance, convincing reluctant parents to vaccinate their child by explaining the “backfire effect”. This parent-to-parent approach in this Mother Jones article may be instructive.

In short: Don’t Call Them Dumb: Experts on Fighting the Anti-Vaccine Movement: “People enjoy lashing out at anti-vaccine folks, (but) it turns into an ‘us versus them’ thing…They are committed to that point of view. You can provoke a kind of backlash reaction if you are not careful,” with even fewer people getting vaccinated. Most people do not respond well to feeling bullied.

Those of us who know the importance of immunization need to continue to talk about it with facts and compassion, rather than with vitriol, disdain and schadenfreude, mostly because the latter attitudes simply won’t work.
Guess which state is #1 in vaccinations. Nope, not my guess, either.
A fellow named Rob made a cogent comment on this debate:

“In most of these cases [of public debate] (overprescribing drugs, climate change denial, gun ownership), there are marketing and PR firms making untold sums of money to stoke public fears and doubts about scientific research. That is one thing that sets the anti-vax crowd apart – no one is making lots of money off of people NOT vaccinating, at least not on the scale of these other issues. And maybe that could explain why they are the targets of such intense vitriol: they don’t have multi-million dollar disinformation campaigns bolstering their credibility.”
Film Review: When There Was No Vaccine.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

5 thoughts on “Trying to understand the anti-vaccination movement”

  1. I wonder if some of this can be chalked up to the dismal state of how science/health news is reported – overhyping, scaremongering some stuff, and then six months later, the opposite being reported? I hate how dietary stuff is reported – and some of it does feel like “bullying” or at least “nagging” to me, and yes, I react badly to it.

    I also wonder if some of this is that we’ve been TOO lucky of late. I had older aunts who raised their children before the polio vaccine was available and I heard scary stories as a kid. And I knew people in my parents’ generation who walked with braces and crutches from polio. (And my mom talks of two weeks isolated in a dark room – allegedly to protect her eyes – when she had measles).

    I guess I look at vaccines as a social-responsibility thing. I’m not the only one affected if I do not get vaccinated. I get the flu shot annually for myself, but also because I work with a few people who are on chemo or are otherwise immunocompromised and it would be BAD if they got the flu….so I do it partly for them. (I also got vaccines for a couple things renewed before going to see my baby niece, when she was too young to have been vaccinated….just to be on the totally safe side)

  2. For what it’s worth, Oklahoma, which generally ranks meh or sub-meh on most public-health stats, does a pretty good job of vaccination: 96.4% by pre-K, a tick or two above the national norm.

  3. I’m guessing states like Mississippi, West Virginia, and Oklahoma tend to look less-favorably on non-medical exemption requests than some others.

    My understanding is that Mississippi ONLY exempts for a clear medical reason, like a child taking chemotherapy.

  4. Calling one’s opponents “dumb” isn’t a smart tactic, but it can be very satisfying. In as polarised a society as the USA now is, I’m not sure that any sort of middle ground or, at least, less strident discourse about anything is even possible.

  5. It’s never a good idea to call someone with a differing opinion as “dumb” or worse. I’m surprised at how many parents are on board the anti-Vax train. There is such a fine line between the rights of parents with respect to how they handle the health of their children and the risk they impose on others when their child contracts and exposes others to a potentially deadly virus or disease. (i.e. infants too young for MMR shots). There’s a reason why measles, small pox and polio were considered eradicated for the most part in this country. I, for one, don’t want to go back to those times.

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