February 11, 2015 at 11:54 PM by Dr. Drang
Fifty-four years of exposure to human pig-headedness should have left me immune. Not immune to displays of pig-headedness myself—it’s a congenital condition—but immune to surprise at seeing it in others. But the anti-vaccination movement has surprised me in a couple of ways.
The first surprise was just how big the movement is. The noise generated by a celebrity or two is not a good indicator popularity among the general public, and I assumed the habit of parents getting their kids immunized according to the recommended schedule was still largely intact. But then I read Kieran Healy’s post a couple of weeks ago and this Wired article today. People who should know better are putting their kids at risk.
I wish they could’ve met my aunt. Leah always had to buy two pairs of shoes at a time because her feet were different sizes. One leg’s growth had been stunted by polio. She was born in 1938—too early to benefit from the Salk and Sabin vaccines that were rightly considered a godsend. My generation never had to worry about polio.
Chickenpox was still around, though, and I did get a mild case when I was twelve or thirteen. It wasn’t a big deal, but I’m at risk for getting shingles as I get older. There is now a shingles vaccine, and it’s recommended for people over 60, but it’s nowhere near 100% effective and even when it is, it’s not clear how long it stays effective. My kids, though, won’t have to worry about shingles any more than I’ve had to worry about polio. They don’t carry the chickenpox virus because of the vaccine that came out in the 90s.
The second surprise is that Republican candidates have found themselves on the wrong side of this issue because they’re afraid of offending “the base.” I had always thought this was more likely to be a problem for Democrats. The holistic vegetarian homeopathic stereotype of the anti-vaccinator is more aligned with a Democratic voter than a Republican.
Yes, there was the HPV vaccine controversy during the 2012 Republican primary, but I thought that was a special case, spurred on by the segment of the GOP that fervently believes women should be punished for having sex. And yes, that same group is opposed to the gubment telling them what to do. But I really thought their reflexive hatred of anything associated with liberals would keep them away from the crunchy anti-vaxxers of California. Not so. Thus we have spectacle of Chris Christie and Rand Paul talking more about the sanctity of personal choice than Cecile Richards does.
It’s not even clear to me that Republican opposition to vaccination is based on medical concerns. It seems to be more a matter of “if government scientists are for it, I’m against it.” They don’t seem to realize Groucho was joking.