So let’s talk about anti-vaxxers, shall we?

So let’s talk about anti-vaxxers, shall we? March 27, 2019

So, apropos of nothing, let’s think about anti-vaxxers for a bit, shall we?

It seems to me that you can classify them into four groups.

First are the traditional faith-healers.  They’re a small minority and their anti-vaccination stance is a small part of an overall rejection of modern medicine.  We accept their refusal to vaccinate in a sort of choose-your-battles approach, and save our energy for the bigger questions of what to do when a parent from one of these groups (whether Christian Science or the small Christian faith-healing subcultures) refuses medical treatment for a child with a lifethreatening illness.

Second, vaccine rejectors motivated by the use of fetal tissue.  Catholics may know that vaccines are Vatican-approved despite the fact that some of them were developed using tissue of aborted fetuses, because of the remoteness of the connection.  A Right To Life document on the vaccines lists available “non-tainted” vaccines and encourages readers to avail themselves of these, but notes that some parents have come to the conclusion that the circumstances of the original procurement of the tissue (these were abortions which were known to be elective and the specific parents were known to the researchers, in order to confirm that there were no health issues; this were not random fetuses procured only after the fact) were such that they cannot in good conscience use fetal tissue-based vaccines, and my tendency is to respect that.

Third, anti-vaxxers specifically motivated by the claims that the MMR vaccine could cause autism.  I gotta say, I just don’t have any willingness to accept this type of anti-vaxxing, because it is simply so irrational.  At least the faith-healers acknowledge that it’s about their faith; the “MMR vaccines cause autism” folks claim to be pro-science but reject actual science with respect to the countless studies showing a lack of connection and demonstrating that even though autistic children regress at about the time of the MMR vaccine, that is coincidence only and it is simply a characteristic of (some types of) autism to have this regression, vaccine or no.

And fourth, anti-vaxxers who reject vaccines because of the risks, admittedly real but actually very small in likelihood, of injury, or because of a generalized anxiety about vaccines paired with the absence of outbreaks that make the consequences of these diseases visible to them.  These are the ones who appear to be growing in number, I presume in part because the MMR=autism folks, when their theory was disproven, turned to generalized protests about vaccine harm.  And some of these folk get spooked by the vaccine schedules and think they’re simply finding a middle ground by following alternate vaccine schedules they find online (see this WebMD article).  To some extent there is a patient-education issue here, in which they find lists of possible side effects and don’t understand the risks one way or the other.  (See “Exploring the Reasons Behind Parental Refusal of Vaccines” for some scholarly research.)

But here’s the issue:  this is a Tragedy of the Commons sort of situation.  These anti-vaxxers depend on the herd immunity the rest of us provide by vaccinating our children, while at the same time, they themselves opt out in order to avoid the risks that the rest of us accept as a part of our living in community.

To go back to the themes of Alienated America — well, it’s not so much that vaccine resisters are disconnected from communities since, after all, they are likely better connected up to a community (because that’s how these ideas spread), though it might be the informal sort of community of neighbors or yoga class or Mommy and Me or whatever, but they reject the idea of having a responsibility to their (wider) community, that is, as it extends beyond their narrow social group.

And there’s no easy answer here.  How do protect the genuinely-held religious beliefs of parents (and personally I think those morally opposed to fetal tissue use have a stronger case) without providing a loophole for others to take advantage of, even when their only strongly held belief is “I want to take advantage of everyone else doing what’s right without actually doing so ourselves”?


Image:; public domain.  Yes, that’s not actually a needle.  But good luck finding a public domain picture with an image of a baby getting a shot!

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