I have commented so much on this that I am sick and tired of it myself.
But unfortunately this is still an issue, and keeping silent is not an option (supposing that whatever I write makes any difference – well, someone may find at least the the links I quote can be useful resources).
PZ Myers (a frequent source – I like his blog, Pharyngula, a lot, and thoroughly recommend it) commented on this as well, making the obvious connections, as I did on a recent post, between anti-vaxxers and other forms of science denialism: It’s the same old story. The graphic at the end of that post, showing the growing number of cases of measles in a country that had eradicated it, is chilling, and it should be proof enough for anyone with more than one working neuron. PZ’s remarks are short, blunt, and to the point: “This is absurd, almost as absurd as declaring the earth to be 6000 years old. Vaccination is effective; the arbitrators of that effectiveness should be qualified doctors, not ignorant politicians pandering to the stupid vote; and some things are not a matter of opinion, and not subject to the whims of the biggest dumbasses in the population. ‘Balance’ should not be an issue in public health (what, we need to have equal numbers of the sick and dying vs. the healthy and thriving?) just as it isn’t a concern when determining what biological science to teach our kids.”
How could at this day and age people with at least a modicum of instruction at the same time subscribe to baseless beliefs, mistrust actual experts and refuse clear and unequivocal evidence? I find this as baffling as anyone else, especially after reading an article last year with a self-explanatory title: Study: You Can’t Change an Anti-Vaxxer’s Mind. In a nutshell, “(…) as a rational person, you might think it would be of the utmost importance to try to talk some sense into these people. But there’s a problem: According to a major new study in the journal Pediatrics, trying to do so may actually make the problem worse. The paper tested the effectiveness of four separate pro-vaccine messages, three of which were based very closely on how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) itself talks about vaccines. The results can only be called grim: Not a single one of the messages was successful when it came to increasing parents’ professed intent to vaccinate their children. And in several cases the messages actually backfired, either increasing the ill-founded belief that vaccines cause autism or even, in one case, apparently reducing parents’ intent to vaccinate“.
But I read a recent blogpost that goes in an entirely different direction, What everyone gets wrong about anti-vaccine parents, and I think the author makes a very interesting point: “The anti-vax movement has never been about children, and it hasn’t really been about vaccines. It’s about privileged parents and how they wish to view themselves.” She goes on to enumerate the three mainstays of that worldview: privilege; unreflective defiance of authority; and the need to feel “empowered”, concluding as follows: “We have to confront anti-vax parents where they live — in their egos. When refusing to vaccinate your children is widely viewed as selfish, irresponsible, and the hallmark of being UNeducated, anti-vax advocacy will lose its appeal“.
Another Mother Jones article (Mother Jones, by the way, is making an important contribution to this subject) makes an additional point that I believe belongs right up there with the shortlist of the blogpost just described: Vaccine Skeptics vs. Your Kids. Here’s (in my opinion) the money quote: “Here’s where we get to the deeper, fundamentally progressive reason for vaccination: The point is to protect not merely ourselves, but the community. To not vaccinate is to threaten the immunological commons, the array of trillions of antibodies and T cells that decades of vaccination have built up in our bodies, draping a web of germ-fighting agents around our most vulnerable neighbors. To not vaccinate is to affirm an overweening individuality. It’s a form of selfishness” (the stress on the last two sentences is mine). This adds to the view of ani-vaxxers as privileged a dimension of selfishness, which makes a lot of sense. And there is evidence for that.
Larry Wilmore, who recently occupied the time slot that was previously Steve Colbert’s, dedicated one of his recent episodes to the issue of vaccination, as described here (with a link to the actual video): Nightly Show: Anti-vaxxers want to control their world by putting your kids at risk. And although Wilmore was pretty much on message, doing a scathing monologue demolishing anti-vaxxers, the second part of his show was compromised by the familiar “he said, she said” format. He had an actual expert on his show, so he had to “counterbalance” that with an anti-vaxxer with no credible credentials, and I will return to that in a moment. But the thing is, when asked by Wilmore if her decision not to vaccinate might put other children at risk, the anti-vaxxer response was “The important thing to remember is, that we all want to do what’s best for our children. My main fear would be for my children’s health. Your job as a parent is to protect your child”. And, may I add, screw the rest…
The problems with the false balance were noted at least by another person, who wrote an open letter to Wilmore: On Vaccines and Autism: An Open Letter to Larry Wilmore. The whole thing is worth reading (as, by the way, everything linked to in this post), but I will nevertheless highlight a few points: “Creating a false sense of equivalence is a real problem in the news media. A one on one debate between a scientist and a dissenter can create the impression that there is division in the scientific community, when in fact there is none. (…) But your mistake was even worse; you paired an anti-vaxer with two comedians and a science news correspondent. This not only made the anti-vaxer seem more relevant, but enabled her to get her talking points across without anyone to dispute her. She even spouted a conspiracy theory that has been thoroughly debunked by snopes.com—and no one said anything!” Needless to say I wholeheartedly agree with that.
In closing, I feel contemplated by this last blog post: 9 things I wish the anti-vaccine parents would admit. As the author says, “(…) in somewhat of an a-ha! moment I realized what it is about the anti-vaccine movement that I loathe. Aside from the fact that they put the medically fragile and medically complex and the very young at risk…to the point where a family cannot even go to Disneyland for the holidays. It’s the constant lying. Lord do I hate liars. And that’s what you all are, liars. So here you go, here is your opportunity to have that ‘come to Jesus’ moment and be honest with yourselves. Because when you lie about this, I don’t trust anything else you say. You know these statements are true, and when you try to convince yourselves and others differently, you look ridiculous“. Go and read the whole list, it is worth it, and also in keeping with the other references in this post.