Anti-Vaxxers Threaten My Son’s Health But Have Him To Thank For Theirs
The internet erupted into a furore last week when Shanelle Cartwright, wife of footy player Bryce Cartwright, went public with her decision not to vaccinate either of her kids.
Cartwright explained that, rather than vaccinate her infant son, “We nourish and support his gut health with wholefoods and probiotics.”
Probably not. And that’s a big problem.
The World Health Organisation has blamed the current global outbreaks of measles on the anti-vaccination movement. This year, the organisation has listed “vaccine hesitancy” as one of the top 10 threats to global health.
Diseases we once assumed all-but eradicated are making a comeback. And yet the anti-vaccination cause is only growing. The lives of our children depend on halting this movement, but its adherents are impervious to our outrage. It doesn’t matter how many times we explode into collective rage; how many lectures we deliver or statistics we list.
They’re not listening. But why not?
I ventured into the anti-vaccine communities of the internet to get a feel for the movement’s appeal. What I found was a collection of heart-wrenching stories. On the pages of Facebook groups and blogs, parents recount losing babies to SIDS, or finding out that their third child in a row has been diagnosed with autism, or struggling to raise a second son with severe learning impairments.
These are people who are desperate for answers. The problems with their children’s health are not easily linked to genetics or environment or events, and they need a way to explain it.
We’re all susceptible to this type of desperation; this yearning for answers where there are none. For the parents of the anti-vax blogs, it’s the ultimate relief to have a concrete scapegoat on which to pin their pain. ‘Vaccine injury’ is held responsible for all manner of illnesses, from autism to asthma.
There is a powerful sense of communion within these forums. The sentiment is one of us-and-them; of intellectual superiority; of being the only ones smart enough to comprehend the large-scale cover-up being perpetrated by big pharma. The people within these communities feel special.
In this environment, it’s not hard to see how anti-vaxxers so easily dismiss the science, and our lectures. The lack of credible information supporting their beliefs isn’t seen as a detriment, but rather as evidence that the truth is being suppressed. As they see it, they have access to ‘special’ information which supersedes popular wisdom.
At its heart, the belief that vaccines cause irreparable injury is a conspiracy theory. Its adherents think that they are the only ones who truly ‘get’ what’s going on, and they have access to reams of pseudo-science which support this belief.
What the anti-vax community has created is a self-contained world which is impervious to truth. And it’s an intoxicating place to be. It’s a place where everyone has the answers to their tough questions; a place where you get to feel woke and morally superior. And it’s all based around these highly emotive stories which give members a deep sense of kinship.
If you had your own un-answerable question, the anti-vax community would be a pretty tempting world to jump into.
It’s understandable. But that doesn’t make it okay.
Because, the only reason anti-vaxxers have the luxury to coalesce in their particular haven of ignorance is because people like me keep them safe. People like my little boy. It takes a profound level of privilege to simply take for granted that others will do the heavy lifting required to prop up your all-natural, toxin-free lifestyle.
Yet take it for granted they do. There is no reflection from these bloggers on what they would do if communicable diseases were a realistic threat. They appear to believe they live in some sort of wonderland in which their decision has no implications for public health, and where diseases like polio and rubella simply do not exist.
Anti-vaxxers may be naïve to the implications of their choice. But they’ve still made a choice. They’ve decided that it’s okay for the rest of us to bear the risks created by their indulgence.
The question I’ve always wanted to ask a non-vaccinator is this: Why is your child more important than mine? If you believe that vaccines are full of toxic chemicals that ruin the minds and bodies of little kids, why have you made the decision that my little boy should be exposed and yours not? Because, of course, you are literally relying on other parents putting this supposedly toxic substance into their children so yours can avoid it.
It’s a perfect circle of selfishness. And that’s what these communities are: selfish.
They may be ignorant. They may not get how their decisions are contributing to vaccination rates falling below 95 percent in some areas, the level at which herd immunity begins to collapse and all those once-eradicated communicable diseases start to infect our babies before they ever have a chance to get jabbed.
They may not understand that the measles outbreaks we are seeing are their fault, and are likely to worsen, and that soon the rest of us may have to take special care to keep our newborns from getting infected.
They may be ignorant. But that’s no excuse.
Because you can be as ignorant as you like when it only affects you and yours. But when your very comforting, very close little conspiracy community starts to get the rest of our kids sick, you’re not allowed to claim ignorance.
You’re not allowed to fall back on your pseudo-science and your discredited studies from 10 years ago and your demi-god Suzanne Humphries who, for all her clever talk, has never once made a convincing argument as to how world-wide, rampant disease would be preferable to the list of ailments she associates with vaccines.
When other people start getting hurt, you don’t get to be ignorant and naïve and float around in your little bubble of privilege where there are no toxins. You have to look at the mess you are creating. You have to look at it and think about what you’ve done.
So, yes, I understand the compulsion to be anti-vax. Just like I understand the compulsion to be in a cult or a religious sect. There is profound comfort in the belief that you have all the answers and the surety that everyone else is wrong.
I understand it, but I don’t abide it. I think these people should go and find another place to answer their unanswerable questions, one that doesn’t stuff up the rest of us.
But how do we get through to them? How do we get through to people when they have carved out a little world where they have inoculated themselves against truth?
We can’t. They won’t listen. So what’s plan B? The ethical question at the centre of all this is: what is more important, the civil rights of the few or the public health of the many? How far does measles have to spread before we mandate vaccines?
Or should we call the anti-vaxxers’ bluff and ask them if they’d all like to be quarantined on a utopian island where no one has to be vaccinated against anything, ever again?