Hug me, I'm Vaccinated

My wife teaches yoga. I practice yoga. I make it clear that I’m a consumer of yoga and not a yogi. I don’t pay attention to the philosophy or spiritual side, but I like the fact that at 64 I can touch my toes and do a few other things that I might not otherwise be able to do.

As the spouse of a member of the community I know lots of other teachers. Yesterday I saw a post on Facebook by a senior yoga teacher who I’ve known for years and like a lot. He was saying that his students ask him about vaccination quit a bit. He said he wouldn’t and hasn’t vaccinated his kids and he said:

Our decision was based on our research through the current literature as well as my experience as molecular biologist and genetic engineer.

And yes, 20 years ago or so he was a molecular biologist and genetic engineer. As a friend (a real scientist) said to me this morning

Sad to see someone who studied molecular biology go over to the dark side.

The fact that he is a yoga teacher isn’t relevant to this post except that he’s quite senior and very well known.  He has close to 3000 friends on Facebook and is likely quite influential. The yoga community in my experience is a lot more anti-vaccine than the community in general so he probably has an audience that will warm to his arguments.

On Facebook I see lots of nonsense in the posts and in the ads. Political, new age, free energy, alternative medicine, crystal healing, lots and lots of crap. Most of it has me roll my eyes and move on. By this point in my life it’s pretty clear to me that in a world where the vast majority of people believe in a fairy tale (i.e. religion) belief in other weird things is just the way it’s going to be. I know that a lot of those beliefs have the potential to do some harm, but it’s usually minimal and quite localised. They are not likely to hurt people beyond a small circle of friends and family. I’m willing to move on and try to keep a straight face.

Vaccination is different. People who are anti-vaccine or who have rejected vaccines for one reason or another seem to think that it’s a private matter. It only affects them and their kids and it’s no one else’s business. The yoga teacher said (after strongly arguing against vaccines)

But I would never recommend our decision to anyone as it is so personal. You have do decide for yourself.

Then he went on to argue against vaccines some more.

But vaccination is much more than a personal decision. Your decision to not vaccinate yourself and your kids affects everyone in your circle. And your circle is your kids school, playground, hospital, their friends, their grandparents, your neighbour’s infant daughter, and your entire community. When it comes to infectious disease your decision affects me and my love ones. Maybe that’s why the yoga teacher’s post upset me so much.

People who don’t vaccinate do research. But I believe that most or many of them are using motivated reasoning and confirmation bias to make their decision. Motivated reasoning means they’ve actually made up their minds prior to the research and no matter what they find they will interpret it as proving that vaccines can’t be trusted. It also means that they’ll mostly look at anti-vaccine sites to do their research and believe what they find as being conclusive. Confirmation bias means that they’ll ignore whatever disagrees with their prior conclusion and notice anything that agrees. What it is that has them make up their minds in the first place is a good question, but I’m convinced it precedes everything else. As such there is usually little point in arguing or discussing the science of vaccination. If there are 50 studies showing the benefit of vaccination and 1 that suggests a problem, they will only see the one and ignore the 50.

It’s sad when someone who has worked in science goes down that path, but they are certainly not immune. It’s pretty human. Vaccination has worked so well that we rarely see vaccine preventable diseases. It’s easy to focus on the risks of the vaccine while ignoring the dangers of diseases you no longer see around you. People in places where children are dying of vaccine preventable diseases are rarely anti-vaccine. But we in the west are protected (by everyone else who is getting vaccinated) and feel like we have the luxury of having vaccination be a “personal decision”.

When anti-vaccine propaganda appears on my computer screen (assuming I haven’t gone searching for it) I always respond. If people choose to not vaccinate their kids so be it. I think they are selfish, misinformed and wrong, but I suppose that’s their right. When people spout propaganda or forward someone else’s propaganda I try to call them on it. I’m surprised I haven’t been unfriended more often than I have. But I notice that those who happily forwarded antivax propaganda tend to not do it after I jump on them a couple of times.  Sometimes other critical thinkers pile on. It feels worth the effort.

I’d encourage anyone who is upset by anti-vaccination propaganda do the same. We won’t get Meryl Dory or Jenny McCarthy to shut up, but a lot of people who aren’t quite that bat-shit crazy might figure it’s just not worth the bother.

It’s only a small thing, but it might help.


4 Responses to “Don’t suffer anti-vaccination propaganda gladly”

  1. I remember a heated discussion we had together in our kitchen many years ago.

    If we had that discussion again now – I would probably thread much more cautiously and properly review the medically (and properly researched) arguments.


  2. Well said Daniel!
    It was only recently when I became a grandfather and took an interest in this subject that I realised how dangerous it is to believe that vaccination is a “personal decision”.

    You can compare it to another situation – some believed that carrying a loaded pistol and feeling free to use it when irritated by someone is a “personal decision” . Thankfully that one has been sorted out now.

    I hope that the day soon comes when we collectively laugh at the idea that anti-vaccination is an issue worth considering, but we’re not there yet.

    • Thanks TBuck6,

      But the anti-vaccination movement when vaccines were first invented and the it will probably be with us forever. It’s what’s known as an unsinkable rubber ducky, or maybe a whack-a-mole. There is always a new justification for apposing vaccines. You can disprove one (like it causing autism) and the antivaxers will continue to use it for years without any evidence. Then, if the public starts to cotton on to the lack of evidence, they’ll just come up with something new, like “toxins” or “too many too soon” or “vaccine safety”. There is no stopping them.

      It’s an ongoing battle. That’s why I think jumping on Facebook antivax posts is useful. Let’s make it uncomfortable for them in every possible arena.

  3. Mercola, Tenpenny, Adams and Humphries are laughing all the way to the bank off the backs of parents who are gullible.

    Mercola scares folks by saying, “Don’t use storebought shampoos! The SLS will give you cancer! Buy mine! It’s made with all natural ingredients!!”

    What he doesn’t mention is those ‘all natural ingredients’ aren’t any better than the SLS. Comfrey is hepatotoxic if ingested – and as Mercola himself notes – chemicals become aerosols in the shower and can be ingested!

    Tenpenny is selling ‘access’ to peer-reviewed articles in her ‘vaccine library’ – I wonder how she gets around copyright laws for that, to be honest.

    Mike Adams has gone so far off the deep end he’s passed the Mariana Trench.

    Humphries is no better – once a nephrologist, now she’s hawking a ‘Vitamin C Cure’ for pertussis which isn’t based in any form of reality.

    I hear the ‘I do my research!” from some friends who have fallen into the woo trap. They point to Mercola, Natural News,,, Vactruth, etc. Not ONE of them will accept anything the CDC, NIH, NHS, etc publishes because ‘Big Pharma’ has bought out each and every government agency, scientist and publisher.

    I’d be utterly exhausted if I were so paranoid about everything and everyone.

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