The most frustrating thing I see in pro-vaccination articles, comments, blogs is the constant assumption that the 2 main drivers in the anti-vax ‘movement‘ (you can hardly call it that, it’s not really that popular) are Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy. Examples are everywhere:
“If vaccines caused the harms Jenny McCarthy and her ilk claim they do, then my persistence in giving them must say something horrifying about me.” – source
“16 Years Ago, A Doctor Published A Study. It Was Completely Made Up, And It Made Us All Sicker.” – source
“Some of the people currently spreading the mumps self-identify with the anti-vaccination movement, a dangerous and scantly informed craze that is probably best known for semi-celebrity Jenny McCarthy…McCarthy was taking her cues from a fraudulent 1998 research paper written by the discredited former surgeon Andrew Wakefield, a charlatan who had planned to launch a venture that would line his pockets on the back of bad science.” – source
Or hey – this entire website dedicated to showing how many ‘bodies’ are the fault of Jenny McCarthy.
I could go on. And on. And on. Just Google either name to see what I mean. Attached to these and any pro-vax article on social media are usually snide remarks about taking medical advice from washed up Playboy models; how stupid anti-vaxxers are for refusing to give up on Wakefield despite him being debunked on numerous occasions; or, you know, how vaccines are proven by science and science is and has simply never, ever been wrong.
Here’s the thing: It isn’t about Wakefield. It definitely isn’t about Jenny. Those are just the two easiest arguments to counter. For some unknown reason, this belief by pro-vaxxers that these are the anti-vax population’s biggest influences is rampant and incredibly puzzling. I know a lot of anti-vaxxers. I’m a self-proclaimed hippy, after all – it comes with the territory. Of those people, exactly zero of them allowed Wakefield or McCarthy to have any bearing on their decision. Even the most rigid anti-vaxxers I know acknowledge that Wakefield was a piece of shit. Seriously. Even if they believe that autism could possibly be triggered (I say triggered, not caused) by a vaccine, they don’t believe this because of anything Wakefield said. The guy has no credibility on either end of the spectrum.
Anti-vaxxers are also some of the most well researched people I know. You don’t just generally decide to go against status quo without reading the shit out of the subject. My anti-vaxxer friends have read, and researched, and analyzed. Point being – Jenny McCarthy is a celebrity with zero medical background and a very biased viewpoint. Taking the advice (any advice) from anyone without the credentials to dole it out is irresponsible at best. Anti-vaxxers on the whole know this. To prove my point, I did an informal poll in a group I’m in that is overwhelmingly anti-vaccination. No, folks, this isn’t a formal, peer reviewed study and you won’t find it on Google Scholar (although I’ll point out that at one point you’d find Wakefield’s work in there. Irony is a wonderful thing). It does illustrate what I mean, though. Of 79 people that responded, 77 of them indicated that Wakefield and McCarthy had zilch to do with their decision not to vaccinate. 2 people indicated they had ‘some’ influence but clarified in the comments that Jenny McCarthy brought attention to the subject of vaccinations which prompted them to look into it more, but that her opinion on them didn’t carry any weight. Many people indicated they didn’t even know who Wakefield was until they started seeing pro-vaxxers spout his name at every opportunity.
So, my pro-vaxxer friends: stop it, m’kay? Stop it with assuming that everyone who chooses not to vaccinate is blindly taking the advice of a ‘washed up Playboy model’ or a debunked fraudulent charlatan. It’s not even accurate and such a waste of your focus. You can’t start off by making a misguided assumption about the motivations behind the anti-vax population and expect them to listen. Wakefield and McCarthy are the easy ones to destroy, but the assumption that anti-vaxxers give a shit about either of them seriously undermines your entire cause. Who’s going to change their mind on the rantings of someone who hasn’t even taken the time to understand the full scope of the problem? Of course, you will find individuals who have based their opinions on either of these individuals. There are extremists when it comes to any subject. Don’t use the one example that you know and generalize the intelligence of an entire population. Also, I don’t give a shit what you think about vaccinations. This isn’t anti-vaccination propaganda. I didn’t state my stance on the subject (and actually, you’d probably be surprised). My request is simply that if you are going to fill up my social media newsfeeds with your rants about how dangerous and irresponsible anti-vaxxers are, at least have your facts straight. At the very least know why people are making the choices they do. It isn’t about Wakefield. Or Jenny. I promise.
Update: I’ve often been asked “Ok – you’ve said it wasn’t Wakefield or Jenny. Then what IS it? You can’t just tell me what it isn’t and not tell me what it is.” Friends, if you’re truly curious about the real reasons why, you need to ask the anti-vaxxers. Except that I mean ask and genuinely listen. Then would not be the time to belittle or shame them, you won’t get the meat that way. If you are so darn passionate about refuting the anti-vax argument, you really shouldn’t be turning to some random blogger to give you all the answers. Do some discovery. The reasons are as vast and varied as anything else and you’ll find themes but nothing that’s one size fits all. Despite common belief, there actually are peer reviewed scientific studies available that support the anti-vax side. I know, I know, this goes against everything you’ve ever learned. You’ll be okay.
If you’re really not sure where to start, I did highlight some of the concerns over here, but the post was never meant to be a be all end all to the argument.