when confronted with measles, anti-vaxxers and their kids get vaccinated
Anti-vaccination activists are quite literally a danger to global health according to the WHO. And for good reason. They caused numerous measles and whooping cough outbreaks, including the current one in Washington. They flood the internet with horror stories meant to convince new parents not to vaccinate their kids. They insist that any chemical they can’t pronounce is meant to poison them for Big Pharma profits. They find allies in doctors who spew nonsense to endear themselves to cranks. They refuse to believe their own studies showing that vaccines are safe. They tried to take over a country’s health service to stop vaccinations. They’ve even argued that vaccination is an alien experiment to cull and enslave humanity. And instead of being immune to preventable diseases, they’re immune to science, facts, and exhortations to save their kids.
Even worse, Facebook allows anti-vax groups to spend tens of thousands of dollars to advertise their fear mongering propaganda to new parents in states currently experiencing outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, while YouTube is busy queuing anti-vax videos to play after legitimate health information, and suspected Russian trol accounts promote anti-vax conspiracies on Twitter. The biggest websites on Earth are now flooding us with dangerous misinformation as the people who run them respond with what boils down to “something something free speech, but we’re totally taking it seriously” in a tone that makes you wonder if they’re discretely miming a masturbatory gesture during their reply. Even though YouTube pulled ads from anti-vax channels, those of us who dealt with anti-vaxers know any money they made was just a bonus to their mission to make childhood diseases epidemic again.
But there are some interesting bright spots developing in the anti-vaxxer crisis. Since vaccines were so successful in stopping so many childhood diseases and are aiming to prevent certain cancers we know are caused by particular viral infections, a lot of people forgot how measles can turn fatal and cause life-long complications, how whooping cough doesn’t mean a few fussy nights, and that smallpox, humanity’s number one infectious killer for 12,000 years, but now thought to be extinct in the wild, could come back and wreak havoc once again. Now, as sudden outbreaks of illnesses we had under control unfold, people are being reminded why we started making vaccines and running to doctors’ offices.
Previously staunchly anti-vaxx Clark County, Washington saw a 500% spike in vaccinations, with patients saying they’re not interested in seeing their children risk permanent hearing loss, swelling of the brain which can cause seizures and other disabilities, and women potentially giving birth prematurely or to babies with a low birth weight. Skeptics and science activists may recognize these concerns as the exact reasons they gave in favor of getting vaccinated, but it’s probably a bad idea to start spiking the football while screaming “we told you so!” While it really shouldn’t take an outbreak for anti-vaxx parents to wake up from their anti-science stupor, we need to just be happy that at least they’re beginning to wake up.
But sometimes, even outbreaks aren’t enough to break the spell of anti-vaxxer hysteria, leaving the activists’ and vaccine refusers’ kids unprotected. Thankfully, those children are discovering the fun of teenage rebellion by sneaking out when mom isn’t looking, and getting themselves vaccinated. As it turns out, anti-vaxxers aren’t actually raising new generations of anti-vaxxers who will march against the best and most effective medical campaign in history, and one of the big reasons why we have a much better life expectancy than our ancestors. Instead, their kids are becoming old enough to push back against their parents’ dangerous views and show their friends, classmates, and yes, social media followers, the benefits of being vaccinated.
While this is encouraging, we shouldn’t drop our guard. Anti-vaxxers are still out there, and they are still clogging the web with ignorant disinformation that’s a hazard to our health, and this is far from the last outbreak they’ll cause. For as long as there were vaccines, there were people who refused to accept them as valid medical tools out of fear, principle, spite, or as a gambit to make money by casting modern medicine as dangerous and evil compared to the snake oil being peddled. But at least now we know that when push comes to shove, the anti-vaxx spell will be broken for many, hopefully enough to restore herd immunity in pockets where those outbreaks began. And if it won’t be broken for parents, their children will see through the lies and fear mongering, and help themselves if their parents refuse to do the right thing.