I have always regarded the anti-vax movement as either bafflingly stupid or deliberately malicious. Perhaps that is not entirely fair.
Some parents genuinely believe their children suffered serious adverse effects as a consequence of being vaccinated. In vanishingly rare instances they may be right. And some anti-vax propaganda is glossy and convincing. I remember the first time I encountered the argument that Japan had reduced its incidence of SIDS to zero by stopping early childhood vaccinations. It was well-presented and convincing, with carefully laid out photos, graphs and tables.
Of course it only took about ten minutes to confirm that the claim was completely false. During the couple of years in which Japan reduced its childhood vaccination programme, the number of children dying from SIDS increased, not decreased. What changed was that none of these deaths could be blamed on vaccines.
I understand parents whose children become ill a few hours, days, weeks or even years, after being vaccinated, wondering whether that illness was in some way connected. Some time ago I posted the story of a child taken to a paediatric practice in Perth for a routine vaccination. While the practice nurse was drawing the vaccine into the syringe, the child began to convulse. If this had happened a few minutes later, no one would have been able to convince the parents that the convulsions and the vaccine were not connected.
But children (and adults for that matter) get sick all the time, and sudden infant deaths occur during the period when most children receive their first batch of vaccinations, so it is natural that some parents will make a connection between the two. In the same way, no blame attaches to people who are initially taken in by glossy and apparently detailed anti-vax websites and publications. People are entitled to ask questions.
But it only takes a little effort to go to genuinely science-based websites or publications, or to talk to a paediatrician, and get factual answers. What people are not entitled to do is to pass on dangerously misleading and counter-factual propaganda.
I have a rule that I try to behave in online conversations as in real life conversations; to be careful and polite in all interactions. Anti-semites and anti-vaxxers are the two exceptions, both online and face to face. Both of those philosophies are so false, so dangerously false, and so easily checkably false, that anyone who contributes to their spread is either irretrievably stupid, lazy to the point of being maliciously careless with the well-being of others, or deliberately vicious.
If you have no medical or scientific expertise (and even if you do) you have an absolute moral obligation to check carefully, and ensure that you are not passing on falsehoods which will endanger the lives and health of other people. If you continue to forward information which is out of context, misleading, or deliberately false, as all anti-vax information is, then you forfeit any right to be considered a truthful or decent person.
One of the regulars in the anti-vax line-up is the argument that you can’t trust big pharma – just follow the money! But big pharma have been forced to admit their products are harmful in an insert to vaccine packaging. They just do it in a way that makes sure no-one reads it because it is in such tiny print. In fact, anti-vaxxers say, most doctors have never read a vaccine insert, or if they have and keep giving them, they are just in it for the money, so you can’t trust what they say either. Sometimes you will read a story of a brave mother who insisted on her rights, and demented, sorry demanded, the doctor read the vaccine insert before giving the vaccine to her child. At which point the astonished doctor realised the error of his ways, and vowed never to give another vaccine again. I’ll take things that never happened for $500, please Alex.
Another is the argument that vaccines are full of poisons. Anyone who makes this claim might as well put a big sign on their head saying “I know nothing about science and can’t be bothered learning.”
If you are interested in reality, as opposed to dark fantasies and conspiracy theories, here are a couple of science and research based web pages about vaccine inserts and “poisonous ingredients” to read through. Of course the anti-vaxxers won’t because 1. They don’t care, and 2. They prefer their loony Facebook posts to reality.
If you want the world to be a better place, reality is better.
And finally, I am pleased to be able to report that I have discovered the actual source of most Facebook anti-vax material. See photo below.