When it Comes To Vaccination, We Have 99% To Thank
When I began writing on this blog three and a half years ago, I had never had a face-to-face conversation with someone who I would’ve described as “anti-vaccine”. That’s not surprising really, since about 99% of people vaccinate. The odds of me knowing someone who didn’t vaccinate was fairly low, and the odds of me speaking to them about their opinions would likely be even lower. While I had never walked around wearing a sign that said “I vaccinate”, I had never hid the fact that I vaccinate either. Each of my five children wore their band-aid badges of honor after their scheduled well-visits and it was not uncommon for me to tell others that “my kids had shots today”.
But today – knowing what I know now – I think about the hundreds of people who I’ve associated with over the years. It’s entirely likely I’ve known people who were selective vaccinators, delayed vaccinators, or parents who followed an alternative schedule. But anti-vaccine? Could it be? Other than one acquaintance I’ve had, I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever known, in real life, that has refused vaccinations entirely. And even though this one acquaintance believed her child’s developmental delays were in some way a result of her child’s immunizations, she never once tried to persuade me not to vaccinate or even suggest that she believed vaccines to be dangerous.
Unfortunately, since I began writing about immunization issues, I’ve been shocked and appalled at the people who ridicule, threaten and personally harass me day after day – all because they reject the scientific views that I base my vaccination decisions on. And while there are still less than 1% of people nationwide who refuse vaccines entirely, I’ve seen how a very small minority of that 1% can be extremely persistent, vocal and downright rude. These are the people I would label as “anti-vaccine”.
Which brings me to the interesting popularity of a recent article entitled “I’m Coming Out…As Pro Vaccine“. The author’s views have been articulated by many before. But for some reason, this particular post has gone viral. I’ve seen lots of acquaintances discussing it on social media and it’s encouraging to see how the popularity of this piece may be helping the 99% of parents who vaccinate to make their views known publicly.
At the beginning of the article the author, JJ Keith, admits,
“When I see debates about vaccines online — and as someone who writes about parenting culture I see a lot — I used to pat myself on the back for not getting mixed up in the fray. I mean, what’s it to me what other people do with their kids? I’m secure in my own choices. Besides, even if I wanted to change the minds of anti-vaccine advocates, how could I?”
But after following along in the lives of two children with leukemia who can’t be vaccinated, identifying the breakdown in herd immunity by parents who are skipping routine immunizations for their children, and recognizing the resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles, the author declares that it’s time to speak up. She explains,
“The ideas of anti-vaccine advocates have been allowed to spread because vaccinating parents tend to not be radicalized enough to bother with arguing with them. However, this tendency for vaccinating parents to stay out of the discussion is what’s causing vaccination to lose its bandwagon appeal. Anti-vaxers are loud. The rest of us need to be loud too, because there’s nothing crunchy about a resurgence of polio.”
Of course, I couldn’t agree more. People who are constantly speaking out against vaccines are hoping others will agree with their misguided views. Maybe their constant noise is a tactic to convince others that there are more people rejecting vaccines than there really are. Maybe they hope that planting seeds of fear and doubt will be enough to get people to ignore the scientific evidence that proves immunizations to be safe and effective. Maybe they simply need justification for their own dangerous decisions. Or perhaps, as one recent research article suggests, they are simply off their rockers!
In a Mother Jones article published yesterday, University of Bristol psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky explains the findings of some interesting research that he and his colleagues published in the journal PLOS ONE. In short, he explains,
“People who tend toward conspiratorial thinking are three times more likely to reject vaccinations,” says Lewandowsky.
So maybe that’s just it. We’ve got a small percentage of people who are extreme in their views. And yet the people we really need to focus on are those who are genuinely concerned about immunization safety and efficacy but who are just needing need more credible information to make an informed decision. People who are hesitant – who delay vaccinations, selectively vaccinate, or insist their children only receive one vaccine at a time – are in a different category from those that we may call out as “anti-vaccine”. They are confused by the misinformation that is so widely spread by anti-vaccine extremists and their fear and doubt can make it difficult for them to know how to identify credible sources of scientifically accurate information.
One of the first steps in educating oneself about vaccines is to stay informed on current immunization news. You can do that by liking the Vaccinate Your Baby Facebook page, following the Shot of Prevention Twitter account (@shotofprev) and signing up to “Get Involved” on the Vaccinate Your Baby website to receive daily news clips and other important immunization related alerts.
If you have questions, just ask. There are plenty of experts available to discuss your concerns, such as those at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Vaccine Education Center where you can submit an online question. Make an appointment to talk with your own doctor, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to respond. Whatever you do, just be sure to get the information you need to make an informed decision.
And if you vaccinate, tell others what an important decision it has been for you and your family. Your voice matters more than you may know in this immunization conversation. Don’t be afraid to use it!