Tribalism and Anti-Vaxxers

Let’s start off with this:  you should get yourself and your child vaccinated.  I don’t understand why anyone doesn’t!  It’s like a superpower, guys.  You’ve gained resistance or immunity to something that could hurt or kill you.  That’s awesome.  I only wish I could get vaccinated against more things.

But I’m getting uncomfortable with the sheer amount of vitriol being directed at the anti-vaxxers.  It’s gone well beyond “you’re being stupid” and into two-minutes-of-hate territory.  Somehow, anti-vaccination-hate has become a marker of tribal affiliation, and it’s driving all kinds of weird behavior.

Like the flu shot.  Somehow it has become my duty to get a flu shot every year or I’m suspiciously anti-vaxxer-ish.  Flu shots are typically not very effective, guys — and when they are effective, they save you not from life-threatening diseases, but a few days of nausea.  I get them when they’re made easily available to me (because, hey, why not?), but I’m not interested in pretending that they’re an affirmative duty for membership in civilization.  I know people who would rather suffer the flu once every few years than get a shot every year, or who want to wait late enough into the season for the CDC to report on how effective this year’s vaccine is.  This is their personal cost/benefits analysis to make.  I do not have a compelling interest in it.

(God, and please do not talk to me about herd immunity to the flu.  The flu shot is not anything remotely like effective enough to create herd immunity.)

Anti-vaxxers hurt almost exclusively themselves and their own children.  And they don’t even hurt their own children that much.  Current death toll from the measles outbreak: 0.  Let’s be blunt: people hurt their children all the time, in ways much more profound than “the kid gets scary sick for a few weeks,” by teaching them bad values, giving them bad examples of functioning adults, making poor financial decisions, etc. etc.  “We have to do it FOR THE CHILDREN” is an argument rightly mocked by the technocratic elite in almost all venues except, apparently, for piling vitriol onto anti-vaxxers.

And look, a couple of points:

You’re being pretty stupid if you think that vaccinations will harm your child.  But you’re also being pretty stupid if you think chiropraxy will help your back.  And you’re being pretty stupid if you think that homeopathic remedies will help you with, you know, anything.  Or accupuncture.  But you can take yourself or your child to any number of “alternative medicine” providers who have been shown in study after study to offer no more than the placebo effect, without anyone giving you shit.  Why is it that on this issue we’re all of a sudden champions of scolding people for believing bullshit medicine?

And finally, there’s relatively compelling evidence that all of this hate directed at anti-vaxxers is not effective at increasing vaccinations.  I think that this has become tribal.  People in either tribe understand on a visceral level that you’re not just making a factual case, you’re branding and judging their lifestyle and identity.  To the extent that we are motivated by a genuine desire to get as many children as possible vaccinated, then I think the most productive way to do it is de-escalate the rhetoric and allow people to address the issue of whether to vaccinate their children without renouncing membership in their tribal affiliation of being slightly hippy, counterculture and reflexively anti-establishment parents.  You just can’t do that when there are thousands of articles out there saying that anti-vaxxers are worse than Hitler.


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