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If you've been
paying any attention at all to social media over the last few weeks, you've
seen the frenzy rising. Amidst a recent measles outbreak, the demonization of
the anti-vaxxer crowd has reached a fever pitch. People are out for blood, and
there seems to be no end in sight.
"Ignorant," "idiot," "morons"—these are
just a few of the negative sentiments being tossed around. There is a mob
mentality that has people calling for physical violence and forced
vaccinations. And as I read through the various comment threads, I can't help
but wonder, "How does anyone think this might help?"
When was the last time that someone talking down to you, bullying you or
calling you names actually changed your mind about anything? These discussions that are dissolving so quickly into harassment territory aren't
solving the problem. They aren't about educating or enlightening. Instead, they're Internet bullying at their very best—a group of parents eager for
opportunities to elevate themselves above those they see as being inferior in
their parenting choices.
this, perhaps, the most dangerous mommy war of all.
time I hear someone go off on how irresponsible anti-vaccination parents are,
what I really hear is them saying, "Clearly, I'm a better parent." It is this
self-congratulatory air of superiority that isn't actually about wanting to
change minds or educate; it is purely about wanting to elevate themselves above
The national vaccination rate last year, at the beginning of this most recent outbreak, was 91 percent. That's the same it was in 2000, when measles was considered to be eradicated.
here's the problem. If you genuinely care about changing the minds of those who
are fearful about vaccinations, then you need to be willing to have these conversations
in a respectful manner. And you need to first attempt to understand where the
other side is coming from before you can have a discussion that might actually
full disclosure: I am a vaccine-wary mom. I was one of those
moms who was on the fence about vaccinations before I had a child. And when my
daughter was born, I poured through the research, reading everything I could
get my hands on about vaccinations, relying heavily on the information that is readily
available through the CDC website. Ultimately, I decided the benefits
outweighed the risks, and my daughter has been vaccinated, albeit on an extended
schedule. But after working so hard to fully understand the arguments on both
sides of this debate, I can tell you with certainty that the way we are waging
this war isn't getting anyone anywhere.
both sides are failing to see the
let's start with some facts.
There is this
big misconception right now that anti-vaxxers are growing at an exponential
rate. But the reality is, their numbers haven't changed much in the last 20
years. Nationally, vaccination rates have
fluctuated between 89.5 percent and 92.5 percent over the last two decades.
Yes, there are
pockets where anti-vaxxers seem to cluster together and the non-vaccination
rates are higher in certain areas. But even in California, where those clusters
seem to be most prominent, only 3
percent of kindergarteners start school with exemptions for vaccinations.
majority of this country is still on board with vaccinating. And you know what else? The
national vaccination rate last year, at the beginning of this most recent
outbreak, was 91 percent. That's the same it was in 2000, when measles was considered to
be eradicated. According to the CDC, 91 percent is a high
You can't say we eradicated the disease in 2000, and then
simultaneously say that anti-vaxxers are solely to blame for this recent
outbreak. Because their movement hasn't grown. It has certainly gotten louder,
with various celebrities lending their names to it, but those who opt
completely out of vaccinations remain the same outliers they have always been.
Their numbers haven't changed. This makes vilifying them in this recent outbreak nonsensical at
best, and an egregious misrepresentation of the facts at worst.
There's a touch of irony there though, isn't there? The fact that
those most loudly crying out against the anti-vaccination crowd for not being
educated are the same ones who clearly failed to bother researching whether or
not the movement has actually grown before choosing to blame them here. After all, it is so much more gratifying to blame those "ignorant anti-vaxxers" than to dig any deeper in the quest for answers.
want a little more perspective? In the last 10 years, the CDC reports that
there has been only one
death in the United States from the measles, yet this is the issue that is
sparking such major outrage and contempt against those who fear vaccinations.
study in the journal "Pediatrics" that was published last year revealed
that 10,000 children are killed or injured by guns in the United States every
single year. Of those, 3,000 are dead before they ever reach the hospital.
Why is the same level of universal acrimony not being applied to an issue that is statistically killing far more children than the anti-vaccination movement?
If this debate is really about saving the lives of children, why is the same level of universal acrimony not being applied to an issue
that is statistically killing far more children than the anti-vaccination
not trying to make an already complicated issue even more complicated. I'm just
saying, let's have some perspective when we go into these debates guns blazing
(pun intended). The argument is routinely made that the reason vaccinations are
a mommy war worth debating is because anti-vaxxers have the ability to affect
and harm those outside their own family. Well, you know what else has that same
Irresponsible gun owners.
Lax gun laws. Even the dismal state of mental healthcare in this country. These
are things that also put all of our
lives at risk. All of our kid's lives, at risk. So why are so many quickly
jumping on the bandwagon to demonize anti-vaxxers, while simultaneously being
unwilling to commit a similar level of outrage to the level of gun-related
violence in this country, compared to those with stricter laws? Why are we so
quick to blast parents who exercise their personal freedoms and rights in one
instance, but then so adamant about clinging to our own rights in the next?
If you want to
argue that an educated person should focus on facts and statistics, you need to
be willing to do the same. And statistically speaking, there are a lot of
important issues in this country that are responsible for causing far more harm
than the anti-vaccination movement.
lets revisit that one death for a moment. The disease causing this big uproar
has killed a single person in the United States in the last 10 years.
Meanwhile, the CDC reports that there have been 106 deaths that can
potentially be attributed to the measles vaccine in that same time period.
There is so much more to this than just the difference in deaths caused by the
disease and the vaccine. And it does become clear that the benefits still outweigh
the risks when you dig a little deeper. I promise, I will get to that. But for
just a moment, let's allow that disparity of risk to serve as a reminder that
people have fears associated with vaccinations that go beyond any debunked
come with risks. Risks that are readily acknowledged by the CDC and made
public for anyone who cares to look into them. Some of those risks include
death. Downplaying or pretending that away doesn't serve anyone, particularly
when we are talking about children here and parents who just desperately want
to keep their children safe. People have fears, and their fears are justified.
Now, let's get
back to those numbers because it is important to put that into perspective as
well. Yes, there are risks associated with nearly every vaccination. And the
CDC outlines those pretty well. Just looking at the MMR vaccination, you will
see that potential side effects include seizures, deafness and brain damage.
Some of that is scary stuff, but when you dig deeper, you find that the most
severe side effects are extremely rare. To the point that it is difficult to
know whether they are truly linked to the vaccine, or to other issues occurring
around the time of vaccination.
brings us to those 106 deaths. First of all, it is incredibly important to note
that the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) is required to report all adverse
events following a vaccination, even if it isn't clear the vaccination was to
blame. Correlation does not always prove causation. Reading through the reports associated with those 106 deaths, it is
obvious that some of those deaths likely involved other factors. There are a
handful that do seem to have truly been adverse reactions, but certainly not
all. And when you put the numbers into context, remembering that over 3 million
children receive the MMR vaccination in the United States every year, 106
deaths over a 10-year timespan is a pretty negligible number.
necessarily alleviate fears when it comes to a concerned parent, but it is
important to keep in mind.
We are lucky to have the option of protecting our own children made so readily available to us. We are lucky to have this be an issue we can even debate.
thing to remember is that far more children are receiving the vaccination compared
to those who are contracting measles. Prior to this recent outbreak, we were seeing
less than 100 cases of measles every year. If as many kids were contracting
measles as are receiving the vaccination, you can guarantee we would be seeing
more adverse affects of the disease itself. The proof of that is in what this
disease is already doing worldwide, with the World Health
Organization reporting that in 2013, 145,700 people died of measles
globally. And The
Washington Post recently reported that for every 1,000 cases of the
measles, 1 or 2 will result in death.
Let there be
no doubt; the more this disease spreads, the more deaths we will see. And let's
also remember that the mere fact we are arguing about this goes to show what a
first-world issue it is. Because in other countries, mothers would willingly
walk 10 miles, barefoot in soaring heat, just to give their children a chance
at these vaccinations. We are lucky to have the option of protecting
our own children made so readily available to us. We are lucky to have this be an issue we can even debate.
But it isn't
just about deaths. Another common misconception I have seen presented about measles
online is that it is similar to chicken pox, just another childhood illness that
most of us are equipped to battle on our own. That can be true for some, but
the reality is, dealing with the measles is no joke. Yes, fatalities are rare
in the United States, but not the other long-lasting effects that too
frequently accompany this disease, including encephalitis, brain damage and
So I get it. I
get the fear on both sides. I don't want my daughter to get the measles either!
But I can also see how someone might have looked at a disease they were told
was otherwise eradicated, and decided that the risk of being exposed to it was
low enough to forgo the risks of the vaccination.
The problem is,
percent of those exposed to the measles will contract it if they aren't vaccinated. And with numbers still out of control
worldwide, there are no guarantees that you can avoid exposure. Which is why I
personally came to the conclusion that this vaccine, in particular, was
important for my daughter to receive. When I did the research, I realized that
the benefits outweighed the risks, no matter how scary those risks may have
No, anti-vaxxers are not on a mission to kill your children. So stop talking to them as though they are.
But that was a
journey. It took time. And research. And medical professionals who were willing
to talk to me like I was an educated woman with valid fears and opinions, not
those who would immediately talk down to me or tear me apart for even
And that's the problem with what is happening right now. Amidst all these conversations
about how evil and wrong anti-vaxxers are, very few people are addressing the
actual concerns or talking about the actual facts. When you do this, you are
skewing reality and committing all the same sins you have accused them of. You
are giving them reasons to distrust by allowing them to latch on to your
misrepresentations and half-truths as proof that you aren't worthy of trusting.
Yes, this is an important issue. Yes, we need to be talking about
it. Yes, the continued effectiveness of herd immunity is dependent upon the
majority of this country continuing to vaccinate. But no, it is not an issue
that has reached such a critical point that it is worthy of the level of
vitriol it has inspired. And no, anti-vaxxers are not on a mission to kill your
children. So stop talking to them as though they are.
There was an amazing
piece in the New York Times recently about the importance of how we talk to
those with vaccination fears. The gist? Turning this into a hot button issue,
or a "mommy war," only serves to further divide these two camps,
making an honest and beneficial conversation near impossible to have.
If what you
really want is to affect change, be careful of how you approach this topic. And
remember that most of us are just parents who love our children fiercely, and
who want to do whatever we can to protect them. So speak to that instinct.
Not to the one
that has you wanting to make it clear you are better than any parent who thinks
differently from you.