Anti-vax is a particularly ugly form of privilege

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Surprise! Vaccinations jump 500% in antivax hotspot amid measles outbreak.

Demand for measles vaccines leapt 500 percent last month in Clark County, Washington—a hotbed for anti-vaccine sentiment that has now become the epicenter of a ferocious measles outbreak.

As of February 6, the county which sits just north of the border from Portland, Oregon—has tallied 50 confirmed cases and 11 suspected cases of measles since January 1. The case count is rising swiftly, with figures more than doubling in just the last two weeks. On January 18, the county declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak.

That’s what happens when the privilege that allows anti-vaxxers to wallow in their delusions disappears.

What do I mean by privilege? It a sign of privilege to live in a society where a disease has been nearly eradicated by vaccination. Indeed, nothing says “privilege” quite like refusing the same vaccines that an impoverished mother in a developing country would trudge five miles to get for her child.

It was fun when they were just immoral freeloaders who exposed other people’s infants and immunocompromised children to injury and death. It’s not fun when their own children face the very same risks.

No sooner did the privilege disappear — destroyed by anti-vaxxers themselves whose choices have ushered back a deadly public scourge — then the anti-vaxxers folded. It was fun when they were just immoral freeloaders who exposed other people’s infants and immunocompromised children to injury and death. It’s no longer fun when their own children face the very same risk of injury and death they were willing to countenance for other mothers’ children.

Anti-vax is a form privilege in another way. Anti-vax is only possible in a society where most of the parents behave morally and follow the admonition to get their children vaccinated. It’s an example of the ethical conundrum known as the free rider problem.

The classic example is a conservation water ban. People in a town are told not to water their lawns in order to conserve water for drinking. Most people, understanding the importance of having enough water to drink, comply. However, there are always a few people who secretly violate the ban. They believe that they will be protected from a water shortage because everyone else is conserving, and — privileged as they are — they imagine they are entitled to keep their own lawns green.

Free riders are free loaders and they’re unethical.

How do we know? If everyone ignored the water ban the town would run out of water for people to drink and everyone would be harmed. So no matter how much you might want to water your lawn during a water ban, it is unethical to do so. It doesn’t matter that the harm is not immediate, or that no one can draw a direct line between your violation of ban and the lack of water. People who continue to water the lawn during a water ban are stealing an unfair share of a communal good and put the entire community at risk. You have to be remarkably entitled to imagine that you have a right to do that.

When enough people become free riders, the town runs out of water and everyone begins to suffer from thirst. Not surprisingly the unethical people who eagerly wasted water on their lawns stop watering them so they and their families will have enough to drink — just as anti-vaxxers are now rushing to get their children vaccinated. But the damage has been done and the most vulnerable members of the community face the biggest threat.

Similarly most people, understanding the importance herd immunity, vaccinate their children. In contrast anti-vaxxers assume that they will be protected from diseases like measles because everyone else is vaccinating, and — privileged as they are — they imagine they are entitled to keep their own children unvaccinated. But anti-vaxxers have been stealing an unfair share of a communal good (the high level of vaccine induced immunity) and, because of their immoral actions, the entire community is now facing a terrible risk.

In Neoliberal Mothering and Vaccine Refusal: Imagined Gated Communities and the Privilege of Choice Sociologist Jennifer Reich explains how anti-vaxxers leverage their privilege to harm other women’s children:

As privilege facilitates choice, it also potentially jeopardizes the health and well-being of other children who lack resources or whose families are more constrained in their options… [T]hese women’s “choices” about vaccines carry consequences for other women’s families as well.

Anti-vax mothers claim to be empowered by their decision:

Yet, they do so by claiming their power through dominant feminine tropes of maternal expertise over the family and by mobilizing their privilege in the symbolic gated communities in which they live and parent… They also refuse to acknowledge the role their children play in protecting or undermining systems of public health that aim to stave off infections at a community level.

But anti-vaxxers aren’t empowered protectors of their children’s well being. They are ignorant free loaders.

They imagine themselves as having a “right” to behave unethically at the expense of other women’s children … and that’s a remarkably ugly form of privilege.

  • thevaccinemachine

    Privilege is a leftist delusion

  • GeorgiaPeach23

    I’m in Seattle. My pediatrician said their office has had a massive increase in phone calls from current and new patients seeking vaccines. They’ve had to order a lot more to meet demand. Thanks Gov Inslee for the state of emergency which has raised awareness and made funds available.

    • Spamamander ctrl-alt-right-del

      I truly do <3 Governor Inslee.

  • KeeperOfTheBooks

    I live in the Houston, Texas area where we now have simultaneous outbreaks of mumps and measles. I also have a baby who can’t get the MMR until late next month.
    To say that antivaxxers stir up absolute rage in me at the best of times is accurate. You may multiply that by a factor of about a thousand right this second.
    (I do realize it’s quite statistically improbable that he’ll get either one, but that doesn’t keep my evolutionary mommy lizard brain from going all RAWR BABY IN TOTALLY PREVENTABLE DANGER DUE TO MORONS STABBY STABBY SNARL.)

    • GeorgiaPeach23

      My pediatrician assures me that my one month old still has measles antibodies received in utero and enhanced via breast milk. I hope she is right, and that sick people in PDX don’t drive up here.

      • rational thinker

        I think its time for a new pediatrician.

      • FallsAngel

        The baby probably still has some from in utero, but is getting nothing useful against measles from breast milk.

      • Daleth

        If you’re still immune to measles, IOW you had the disease as a kid or you were up to date on boosters when pregnant, then you would’ve passed some antibodies through the placenta to your baby. But it’s getting nothing for measles from breast milk.

  • Russell Jones

    All in all, anti-vaxxers and anti-vaxism is not at all funny. But they DO make decent satire fodder, and I sure do lubs me some DPRK News Service.

  • mabelcruet

    OT, but I was looking at the programme for a maternity conference in London-this was an accredited meeting and approved for CPD/CME points. They had theatre performances scheduled-plays (not role play used for training purposes, actual plays), and spoken word poetry performances by ‘word artists’. Is it me? Should we be having poetry readings about cancer in pathology conferences? Interpretive dance productions in General Practice seminars? Line dancing classes in a radiology symposium?

    • demodocus

      Sometimes being absorbed into someone else’s story can work better than pretending it yourself, so I can see the point if the plays are about patient experience from the view point of the patient or something of that nature. After all, The Jungle worked better than all the newspaper reports to reform the meat packing plants in Chicago.

  • Christopher Hickie

    No, they haven’t really folded. A few have decided to vaccinate, but many are not (what would really be useful from the “500%” article would be a calculation as to how closed those additional vaccinations would bring the region back to herd immunity levels–500% is meaningless if overall vaccination rates still stink there…plus it takes 2 weeks for that MMR vaccine to fully kick in). I state that anti-vaxxers haven’t folded because one of the rising stars of the anti-vax movement practices in Portland–quack anti-vax pediatrician Paul Thomas MD FAAP, who has an best-selling anti-vax book telling parents not to vaccinate (and even claiming ridiculously he prevented autism in his practice by not vaccinating). Thomas had doubled down during this outbreak, shamelessly promoting his practice and book online, on TV and on radio. Most shamelessly he gave an https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7jtkB5QhBU on measles yesterday on his youtube channel. These outbreaks all have anti-vax physicians as cancerous tumors at their center and sadly no state medical boards, professional societies or groups of physicians in the US are calling out these jerks.

    • rational thinker

      Doctors should lose board certification (if they have it) and/or be stripped of their license to practice medicine for promoting and/or making money off anti vax bullshit. Cause they are a big part of the problem.

      • Griffin

        Frankly they should be sued by the government for recklessly endangering the lives of others. Why is no one taking on these quacks?

        • rational thinker

          Perhaps the government makes a lot of tax money off of the incomes of these quacks. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the reason but they could also make money with a lawsuit, sadly money is all too often a big factor.

      • mabelcruet

        The General Medical Council in the UK (which is the medical profession’s licensing and disciplinary body here) has a rather patchy history about doctors and vaccination. Wakefield was struck off permanently for falsifying research, obviously, and there was a Dr David Pugh who offered single vaccines and faked blood test results in the immediate aftermath of Wakefield’s false research being published, so he got struck off permanently too.

        But there are a few others who were reported to the GMC over vaccination issues and who were either cleared or allowed to practise with conditions attached-Peter Mansfield was a GP who promoted single vaccines, but more importantly, falsely claimed that vitamins and dietary supplements could cure you of HPV so the HPV/’cervical cancer’ vaccine wasn’t necessary. He was cleared of serious professional misconduct-he’s now working in the field of nutrition and health and thinks everything can be cured by green smoothies.

        Jayne Donegan, a medical doctor working as a homeopath, gave biased expert witness testimony according to a judge, and was reported to the GMC for misleading the court (I think it was a case where divorced parents were fighting over whether the child should be vaccinated or not, and she was brought in as an ‘expert’ about the dangers of vaccination). The judge stated that there were serious concerns about her impartiality and judgement, but the GMC ruled that her references supporting the dangers of vaccination were from properly accredited journals (except they were reporting 1 in a million type adverse reactions and she was exaggerating this in court). Sarah Myhill has been reported to the GMC on multiple occasions-she is medically qualified, but a firm believer in ‘adrenal fatigue’ and mitochondrial depletion syndrome as a cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, and nonsense like mammograms cause breast cancer, and oral contraception is a form of immunosuppression. She is firmly into the anti-vaxx mercury/aluminium poisoning camp. The GMC ruled she had to make changes to her website and gave her undertakings about prescribing, but didn’t strike her off.

        The anti-vaxx supporters get very vocal whenever one of their medical stars is being questioned-GMC hearings are held in public (like court) and in some of the transcripts the audience is being admonished by the chair of the panel to keep quiet and stop interrupting proceedings. And there was an issue I remember reading a while back about Myhill-one complaint against her came from a family doctor, and several of her supporters then put in grudge complaints against him, even though they weren’t registered with his medical practice at the time.

        • FallsAngel

          Very interesting to see the UK perspective. Thanks!

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        Indeed.
        When the kids have vaccine appointments, the nurse inevitably comes in with some trepidation, probably because I could be a classic antivaxxer: white, upper-middle-class, religious, homeschooling, etc. I do rather enjoy the look of relief they get when I cut them off in the middle of “So, Kid will be getting vaccinated against X today, X causes Nasty Complications And/or Death– ” with a perfectly genuine “Awesome! Fantastic! Let’s get to it! Kiddo, it’s gonna hurt for a second, but let’s take a deep breath, blow it out, and then we’re going for ICE CREAM afterwards!”

  • Griffin

    As an immunologist, I have had quite a few contentious conversations with anti-vax parents. I once even offered to debate one in public at the assembly of my kid’s primary school (she agreed aggressively but then magically disappeared from the school yard scene, I never saw her again). Initially, I saw the arguments as an amusing intellectual pursuit – I really didn’t think anti-vax would catch hold because it’s so inutterably stupid.

    But then, 10 years ago, the issue suddenly got personal. A toddler at my family daycarer’s got pertussis. The parents hadn’t vaccinated either of their kids because vaccines were full of mercury and the governments weren’t telling the truth about all the vaccine-damaged babies. Toddler got so sick he had to go to the ER. His 3 yo sister got so sick that extended family had to come and help the “poor parents” because they were run off their feet and exhausted. Grandma with COPD then got horribly sick and and also had to be hospitalized.

    Meanwhile, EVERYONE was quarantined – daycarer, daycarer’s daughter, my kid, two other kids. Daycarer lost 2 weeks of pay. H and I had to take precious holiday time to look after our son. Everyone was so angry with those stupid parents. All that misery, including their own two kids.

    Do you think that the parents showed any understanding of what they caused? NOPE! They were haughty and defiant. Daycarer said they could not return with their kids until kids were fully vaccinated. The parents threatened to sue her! The term “grotesque selfish entitlement” doesn’t really adequately cover their attitude.

    So now I don’t play around with nice intellectual arguments with anti-vaxxers. Instead I go straight for the jugular with fierce public condemnation. It’s not fun and of course, it never convinces the anti-vaxxers. However, it HAS turned some people who were leaning towards anti-vax around.

    • rational thinker

      I thought day care would not take unvaccinated children, maybe that’s not every daycare but it should be. No shots No service.

      • Griffin

        That was in Australia 10 years ago. At the time, family daycare (= a woman in her own home taking up to 3 toddlers-5yo plus 1 baby) was a kind of informal ad hoc situation. The system tightened things up a lot after that & our lovely 60 yo Sicilian daycarer quit because they wanted her to attend classes, pass tests, and get a certificate. She was almost illiterate, so she felt she had no hope of getting approved.

        Anyway, I agree totally: no vaccines, no service.

        • rational thinker

          I am in the US in new jersey but it has been about 9 years since I used a daycare. I only used one daycare it was a wonderful Spanish lady in her 60’s and it was in her home. That was the only type of daycare that would do weekends and she did not mind taking an autistic child. I remember my first meeting with her and she did ask for vaccine records for my kids and she said she only took vaccinated children. She was licensed with the state so I just thought every legal daycare required them. Now if a daycare does take a child who is not vaccinated are they required to tell the parents of the other children or no due to HIPPA privacy laws?

          • Griffin

            Good question. I’d like to know the answer to that too.

          • Daleth

            Now if a daycare does take a child who is not vaccinated are they
            required to tell the parents of the other children or no due to HIPPA
            privacy laws?

            They probably can’t say “Frank is starting here next week and his parents haven’t vaccinated him,” but they certainly can and should have a clear, written vaccination policy. If it’s anything other than “All kids must be vaccinated unless they have a documented MEDICAL reason they can’t be,” don’t enroll your kids. And tell the providers that’s why you didn’t choose them.

          • rational thinker

            I am glad I dont need daycare anymore but I would not have a problem sending my kids to same daycare as a child with a medical reason being something like chemotherapy or any other real medical reason that the child cant vaccinate.
            With the rise in the number of quack doctors I am concerned that since these quacks are anti vax themselves they will give any privileged woman that comes into their office an exemption cause her child is privileged a special snowflake. I know a few of those women in my neighborhood. They always ask me which shot caused by daughters autism.

          • GeorgiaPeach23

            They ask how you gave your daughter autism? What horrible ugly souled people. I’m so sorry you have to live near them.

          • rational thinker

            I think they honestly think its caused by vaccines. Although I am pretty sure most of them do vaccinate their kids, but most do that stupid schedule that that quack doctor came up with. I think it was dr. sears or his son im not sure though.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            “Which shot caused your daughter’s autism.”
            Good heavens.
            I have no words. Except that I am so very sorry that these people dare to say any such thing to you.

          • rational thinker

            I usually just tell them “it was the prenatal one called genetics”. Its fun to watch the confused look on their faces cause these aren’t the smartest people to begin with so they don’t get it right away.

          • MelJor

            In Oregon daycares follow the same rules as schools—so they are required to collect and report vaccination status, but a student can get a waiver based on medical, religious, or philosophical reasons. Vaccination rates are reported for each vaccine for all licensed centers, in home and otherwise, but no names are attached. My son is in infant care and I have to drive a long distance and pay even more $$$ to attend a center with a >99% vaccination rate. I considered a few closer to my home (I live in an affluent part of Portland) and the rates were disturbingly low. Presumably a center could refuse to honor non-medical exemptions, but the state does not require that.

      • FallsAngel

        Here in the US the day cares have the same exemptions as the schools.

        • Daleth

          It depends on the daycare. Generally they’re private entities and can set their own policies on that.

          • FallsAngel

            I worked in a pediatrician’s office. I know the vaccine laws. Maybe some in-home unlicensed day cares don’t collect immunization information, but everyone else has to. Also private K-12 schools and colleges have to follow the law as well. (Colorado)

          • demodocus

            There are a ton of unlicensed day cares in my area; wouldn’t be the least surprised to find out the one run by my old downstairs neighbor selected for unvaccinated kids.

    • MaineJen

      I feel you. I work in transplant immunology and the amount of sheer ignorance I see in (without exception) every anti vaxxer I encounter is really frustrating.

    • mabelcruet

      I’m a paediatric pathologist (now on the verge of retiring). In my professional career, I’ve had three cases of children dying as a result of a vaccine preventable illness, all of whom were too young to be vaccinated. None of them had underlying health issues. Another awful case I had was an infant who had been deliberately exposed to chickenpox on the grounds that this would ‘strengthen’ the baby’s immune system-chickenpox vaccination isn’t standard yet in the UK I don’t think. The baby died a couple weeks later as a result of myocarditis-massive myocardial necrosis. I know its a very rare complication of chickenpox, and chickenpox is usually a mild illness in children, but it was so unnecessary.

      Deaths and serious morbidity as a result of vaccine-preventable diseases happen. I’m a bog standard paediatric pathologist, I don’t work in a highly specialised tertiary referral centre, I’m ordinary NHS. If I’ve seen 3 in my career, you can be damn sure that every other paediatric pathologist has seen similar cases. The numbers aren’t huge, but it shouldn’t be happening at all, ever, anywhere. These deaths should be consigned to history in the way smallpox deaths have been. Cowdry type A inclusions and Warthin-Finkeldey giant cells should be things our pathology trainees learn about in a textbook, not from seeing them in the lungs of a baby dead from the measles.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks

        I hate chicken pox. I fucking HATE chicken pox. My idiot parents didn’t vaccinate me against it because the vaccine is just chock full of aborted babies*, don’t you know? And chicken pox isn’t THAT bad, right? *snort*
        You know, unless you don’t catch it until you’re 13, which I was, by hanging out by equally wacky antivax homeschoolers. I have never been so sick in my life. I was covered in them, especially my face. I was delirious for some time, and then borderline hysterical because of a combination of fever, delirium, and getting triggered by not being able to touch my face anywhere without touching several pox and scabs and such.
        I had pox, general weakness and malaise for weeks, and scars all over my face for years, as did my next-youngest sister. (She actually still has scars almost 20 years later, though she makes up well to cover it.)
        But…at least I didn’t die. That poor, poor baby. I can’t imagine what he or she went through, and for no fucking reason whatsoever.

        • Zuul

          I’m so sorry. On what grounds did your parents oppose the vaccine?

          I was not vaccinated for chickenpox, because the vaccine was not yet available when I caught it. I hear it is mild for most children. Not for me. Three weeks of being too ill to eat solids, too weak to stand or walk myself to the bathroom, throat too sore and swollen to talk, high fevers and delirium, hundreds of itching scabs everywhere,and what felt like a splitting migraine the whole time.

          It was, at the time, considered just another normal part of childhood, but I am damn glad that my own kids won’t have to suffer it.

          • KeeperOfTheBooks

            My parents were really out-there radical Catholics. Like, they would have literally described themselves as more Catholic than the Pope.
            There are aborted fetal stem lines used in the production of the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine. They decided because of that, they wouldn’t vaccinate us against it.
            For context, please bear in mind that the Church has literally come out with a statement to the effect of “we don’t like that there are vaccines developed from aborted fetal tissue, but since there aren’t alternatives, use those vaccines unless/until there are alternatives because it’s morally wrong to risk the lives and health of other people with vaccine-preventable diseases.” However, my parents–see “more Catholic than the Pope”–“knew better.” Sigh.
            My youngest sister was about 6ish when she got it, and as I recall, yes, it was mild for her. It was pretty bad for my 11-year-old sister, and absolutely horrible for me, though not quite so drawn out as your case. I mostly remember being left in my room for a long, drawn-out delirium interspersed with that awful hysteria about the scabs on my face, being hot and so sick and no one there to do things like bring me a cold drink. I also remember the sickly-sweet smell of the scabs and fluid, and my hair stinking horribly because of the sweating but being too scared to take a shower lest I disturb the scabs or fall down from weakness. *shudder* And then being told I was overreacting, chicken pox wasn’t that bad, and I was being lazy by not wanting to return to my homeschool co-op a few days after the symptoms started. I believe even one or two of the teachers there were a bit horrified when we came staggering in 4-5 days after the symptoms started.
            Suffice to say that while I’m very pro-vaccine in general, I have a special place in my heart for the varicella vaccine simply because of my personal experience with chicken pox, and like you, I am so very, very glad my kids won’t have to go through that hell, nor worry, as I do, about shingles.

          • rational thinker

            I only remember a few things from when I had it. I know I was In better shape than my older sisters. I was 5 when I had it they were 8, 10, and 13. We all had it the same time. That was 1989 they did not have the vaccine yet.

          • Griffin

            My 35 yo father caught chickenpox from me in the mid 70s. I was 10 and had about 6 pox. It started on his chest and over about 10 days, it spread all over the place, including to his genital area. His scalp and ears became a dense mass of pox. To counteract the itch, he either lay submerged in a cold bath or covered himself thickly from head to toe with pink calamine lotion. It was so bad that even my hard-boiled no-nonsense mother felt sorry for him.

            It’s such an enduring memory that I made sure all of my kids got the vaccine, even though at the time it was not mandated.

          • BeatriceC

            Hi fellow adult child of radical/fundamentalist catholics! I was ten when I got the chicken pox. It was 1985, so long before the vaccine was available, so at least on that point I can’t blame my parents. I was so miserable. It was honestly worse than the time I had a severe kidney infection the year before. My sister got them shortly after I did. She had it even worse. She was hospitalized and fed via TPN because she had pox in her mouth and down her esophagus, and couldn’t eat at all, and that wasn’t even the worst part of it for her. As for me, my case was “mild”, but I was still so miserable I can’t even describe it properly.

        • Sarah

          My friend somehow managed not to get it until she was 15, and had a similar experience. Not her parents fault in this case, we’re in the UK where it’s not routinely offered and I’m not sure it was even available privately in time for her to have avoided this (we’re mid 80s births). But still, very unpleasant.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      My kids’ former pediatrician’s nurse got to the point of practically frothing at the mouth at one appointment over a family who pulled a similar stunt in terms of not vaxxing. Largeish family, all of ’em got pertussis, and them they had the unadulterated nerve to cop an attitude when the office told them “no, we bloody well can’t have you all just walk in for an appointment this morning, we have to close the office to everyone else first and then schedule the afternoon for office-wide disinfecting, and we certainly aren’t having you in here with any other patients.”

  • demodocus

    Real medical exemptions are like those whose green lawns are because they were bailing out the sink when washing clothes rather than just letting the dirty water drain away. We were under a water ban one summer when a cop noticed Mom’s lush little strip of lawn. Since she was doing laundry at the time, he could see what was happening. (Problems with the drain meant we had to bail anyway, and it made more sense to water the lawn than the tub. Problems with the landlord meant that damned drain is probably still broken.)