My Anti-Anti-Vaccination Post That Wasn’t

I had been writing a post about the growing anti-vaccination movement in my head for the past few days. I was figuring out how to structure my argument about why parents who decide not to vaccinate their kids against preventable diseases like measles, mumps, polio and whooping cough are endangering not just their own kids, but our society as a whole. Then I got into an online argument with the husband of a family friend on the topic and I’ve decided to take a pass. Not because he convinced me that not-immunizing his kids was the right choice, scientifically, no.

I’m not going to bother because it’s obvious there’s really no point. Anti-vax parents are just as dead-set in their belief system as flat earthers or climate deniers. They tend to ignore the bulk of the science as well as the overwhelming good vaccines have done that say immunizations are not only safe, but save thousands upon thousands of lives each year. At the same time, they are motivated in their deep-seated belief by the well being of their child, which is the first tenant of any good parent, and so I cannot fault them for that. But trying to convince them, in any way, that their decision not to protect their children against potentially deadly diseases was the wrong one will fail each and every time. This is a conclusion that the CDC also recently reached themselves which spells trouble for any hope of stopping the very recent rise of preventable diseases in the United States.

The more I think about it, the only way I see to slow the growing anti-vacination movement is to discover the true cause (and eventually the cure) for autism. The ever-increasing numbers of children diagnosed with autism in this country is the catalyst that fuels these parents and rightly so. Autism is a scary neurological condition that places heavy burdens on both the afflicted and their families. Until the true causation for the condition is known, vaccines will continue to be blamed, and more and more outbreaks of preventable diseases will occur. We can (and should) pass laws that mandate vaccinations but even those won’t completely work because there will always be parents who will willingly break such a law to “safeguard” their child. Unfortunately, the cause(s) of autism may never be found and that, more than anything else, is what scares me most.


  1. I agree with you up to a point. Severe autism – where there is little to no communication ability – can be devastating both to the individual and to the family. And the more of those kids who are finding ways to communicate (through technology and/or incredibly resourceful, patient parents and workers) do often want it to be easier to communicate and understand. Not all of them want to give up all the aspects of their autism, however. I’m sure some do. I know most of the parents do.

    And then there’s the aspie community – folks with “high-functioning” autism – many of them don’t see the need for a “cure” at all because they feel their brains are simply different. It’s another way of being that has pros and cons just like the pros and cons of having a more “normal” neurology. Check out http://www.wrongplanet.net – a site by aspies for aspies. These folks tend to believe in “neurodiversity” – different ways of brains working.

    Autism is a hard, hard conversation. When it’s at its largest variance from a normal brain (normal here being defined as averaging brain function across the planet – typical might be a better word), it’s a scary thing because it’s different and so, so far out of the typical. When it’s not such a huge gap, it does seem like a tradeoff of characteristics. My question has always been can the high-functioning ASD folk truly speak for the uncommunicative when talking about a “cure”? Can the neuro-typical truly speak for the uncommunicative?

    Does different always mean problem?

    A really good look at this issue and a really great read overall is Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark. She’s got a son on the autism spectrum and while this book is fiction, a lot of folk on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum really believe this captures a sense of what it can be like. (The joke is: you know one person with ASD? Then you know one person with ASD. Each individuals symptoms/quirks tend to be quite distinct.)

    Actually, my fear is that there is no getting at the root cause of the anti-vaxxers. If we cure autism, then they will simply attribute some other issue to vaccines.

    The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – and I would add, difference. Humans fear what they do not understand. And worse, when they don’t understand it, they want to warp it out of shape into something they do understand.

    Obviously I don’t know the answer here either. Just that it’s far more complex than vaccines or autism. Or, indeed, making the population more peaceful (the Pax? Reavers?).

    To me, the issue lies in getting people to understand that they don’t understand and that not understanding is okay. That difference is okay.

  2. Ender, some really good points there. I do agree and can certainly see that not all people who have autism would think they need to be “cured”. Just because they process stuff differently from you or I doesn’t mean they are at a disadvantage. I had a friend in college who I would today term to have higher function ASD. At the time I thought he was being himself (different personalty type), but today I’m certain he would be diagnosed with some form of Autism.

    Herein lies the problem with the perceptions of the anti-vax crowd. They perceive the increasing rate of those diagnosed with the disorder as a result of increasing vaccinations in this country but when in reality, there are something on the order of 100-1000x more people simply being called Autistic because of the expanded definition of the condition. There may be other contributing factors, but this is certainly the one responsible for the “explosion” of Autism in this country. More kids these days (even with mild ASD) are being diagnosed, hence the larger sample.

    Lastly, I get why anti-vax parents are feeling persecuted or ostracized lately from “the rest of us”, but honestly they shouldn’t be surprised. I’m all for personal freedom and choice, especially when it comes to your kids. But when your personal choice directly effects ME and MY kids as it does with the anti-vaccination movement, then I think I and others like me have a right to speak up (even though I don’t have kids myself). It’s the same with smoking. You can smoke all you want. In your own home. Not when you’re sitting next to me on an airplane or at a restaurant. Your choice has implications for the rest of us and so WE get to make judgements based on that direct behavior, and sometimes we pass laws to those effects.

  3. Dave, I had not seen that but it does make a great point. And in the same way that autism develops in most kids around the time they get their shots, that doesn’t necessarily mean they *cause* it. Great example.

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