Ten thoughts about vaccines and what it means to reject them:
1) Most of the basic anti-vax arguments merit some attention. Many medicines have side effects, as does our processed-food diet; the immune system can do wonderful things when properly maintained, modern medicine is influenced by politics and money as well as by science, and everything we do has results more complex than we know.
2) The real pro-vaccine argument isn’t that immunizations are completely without side effects (they’re not) or 100% effective (as demonstrated in this measles outbreak, they’re not); it’s that these problems are terrifically, conclusively, and dangerously outsized by the risks of NOT being immunized.
3) It’s impossible to discuss vaccines without dehumanizing those on the other side of the argument. Attempts at reconciliation may take the form of “Everyone is entitled to their opinion”, which is itself arguable when those opinions can lead directly to the deaths of children whose parents took every precaution. The stakes are high, which makes some people less likely to change their minds.
4) Physician-blogger Dr. Amy Tuteur here suggests that the anti-vaccine movement is really about maintaining privilege in a world where behaving like a rational, responsible citizen feels like surrendering our rights to the enemy. In my view, this rejection of even the most obvious and rewarding compromises may also explain the skewed logic of open carry advocates, global warming deniers, anti-abortion activists who demand abortions for their own daughters, and Tea Party supporters who don’t want to pay for the very road work that makes it possible for them to drive to their own rallies.
America’s myth of the sovereign individual has left behind the unifying road that got us where we are. Our nation was built through collective action and shared responsibility, but now the climber at the top of every human pyramid is free to believe they reached the peak all on their own.
5) “Holistic” is the word for a world view which considers the disparate factors affecting an outcome. Alternative medicine is often called “holistic” because it may trace details overlooked by conventional medicine.
An holistic approach to vaccines calls for measuring the effects of getting vaccinated against the effects of NOT getting vaccinated. The statistics very clearly show that one set of predictable results is vastly preferable to the other set of predictable results. If you’re against vaccines, you’re not being holistic.
6) Modern medicine is becoming more holistic all the time as statistical analysis reveals meaningful connections between genetics, lifestyle, stress, diet, etc. Perhaps as the medical establishment accepts new treatment options, that minority which confuses scientific fact with authoritarian control will migrate further and further away from rationality and what protection it can offer.
7) “Signaling” (Described here) is the term for actions taken not to show rational judgment, but to prove commitment to a cause. Whether by painting our faces with team colors or showing off status symbols, we all do impractical things that serve mostly to prove the depth of our devotion to some ideal.
Fighting vaccines has been an optimal platform for signaling: anyone can repudiate the entire political, scientific and social establishment by failing to do one simple thing. Until recently, such people could even parade their defiance through an environment almost free from disease, thanks to the very vaccines they argue against. That’s changed.
8) The measles outbreak will cause some to convert and get vaccinated, but other deniers are likely to double down and stick to their discredited arguments. Those that maintain the argument may view any scorn that results as further evidence of what an exclusive level of knowledge they’ve reached.
9) Each of us now spends all day paddling through an ocean of information. It’s impossible to interpret it all ourselves, so we must rely on others to do it for us: our friends, the media, and the authorities. If we can trust those sources, we’re empowered by information like never before. But if our legitimate suspicions give way to habitual rejection of all authority, we’re left with only what isolated details slip past our defenses. Reflexive opposition to medical authority in particular makes us vulnerable to every disease mankind has battled through the centuries.
10) The argument was never about medicine, but about capitulation. Accepting the rational argument for vaccines means accepting the authority of the government, and the medical establishment, and anybody who has a better grasp of statistics than we do. It means surrendering the tiny amount of control that hope and conspiracy theories and selective irrationality may seem to have provided.
To fight disease on any scale, we must acknowledge the real risk of disease, the vulnerability we share, and all the knowable dangers from which God, and our own blustering confidence, may not protect us.