Why do anti-vaxxers harass the families of children who died of pertussis or flu? Narcissistic rage.

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It is so vicious as to seem inexplicable.

According to CNN:

Not long ago, a 4-year-old boy died of the flu. His mother, under doctor’s orders, watched his two little brothers like a hawk, terrified they might get sick and die, too.

Grieving and frightened, just days after her son’s death she checked her Facebook page hoping to read messages of comfort from family and friends.

Instead, she found dozens of hateful comments: You’re a terrible mother. You killed your child. You deserved what happened to your son. This is all fake – your child doesn’t exist.

They are not the first family to suffer this additional horror and they won’t be the last:

Anti-vaxxers experience the death of another person’s child from a vaccine preventable disease as a narcissistic injury and react with narcissistic rage.

Interviews with mothers who’ve lost children and with those who spy on anti-vaccination groups, reveal a tactic employed by anti-vaxers: When a child dies, members of the group sometimes encourage each other to go on that parent’s Facebook page. The anti-vaxers then post messages telling the parents they’re lying and their child never existed, or that the parent murdered them, or that vaccines killed the child, or some combination of all of those.

What leads anti-vaxxers to such depraved behavior? Their monstrous vanity.

Wait, what? You thought the anti-vaccine lobby was concerned with the health of children? Think again.

The anti-vax movement has never been about children, and it hasn’t even been about vaccines. It’s about privileged parents and how they wish to view themselves.

Privileged

Nothing screams “privilege” louder than ostentatiously refusing something that those less privileged wish to have. In a world where the underprivileged may trudge miles to the nearest clinic, desperate to save their babies from infectious scourges, nothing communicates the unbelievable ease and selfishness of modern American life like refusing the very same vaccines.

Transgressive

Anti-vaxxers are intellectual toddlers having an extended tantrum.

Unreflective acceptance of authority, whether that authority is the government or industry, is a bad thing. BUT unreflective defiance is no different. Oftentimes, the government, or industry, is right about a particular set of claims.

Experts in a particular topic, such as vaccines, really are experts. They really know things that the lay public does not. Moreover, it is not common to get a tremendous consensus among experts from different fields. Experts in immunology, pediatrics, public health and just about everything else you can think of have weighed in on the side of vaccines. Experts in immunology, pediatrics and public health give vaccines to their OWN children, rendering claims that they are engaged in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of vaccines to be nothing short of ludicrous.

Unfortunately, most anti-vax parents, like most toddlers, consider defiance of authority to be a source of pride, whether that defiance is objectively beneficial or not.

“Empowered”

This is what is comes down to for most anti-vax parents: their egos. Anti-vax is a source of self-esteem for them. In their minds, they have “educated” themselves. How do they know they are “educated”? Because they’ve chosen to disregard experts (who appear to them as authority figures) in favor of quacks and charlatans, whom they admire for their own defiance of authority. The combination of self-education and defiance of authority is viewed by anti-vax parents as an empowering form of rugged individualism, marking out their own superiority from those pathetic “sheeple” who aren’t self-educated and who follow authority.

As a result, anti-vaxxers have monstrous egos that are pathetically fragile. Psychologically, they cannot tolerate being wrong about anti-vax ideology on which they have staked their identity and sense of self worth. Shockingly, they experience the death of a child from a vaccine preventable disease — a death their ideology tells them could not possibly have happened — an a narcissistic injury to themselves and react with all the fury that implies.

Anti-vaxxers lash out at the families of children who have died of vaccine preventable diseases in spasms of narcissistic rage.

Why do people with narcissism react so vehemently when threatened by a seemingly minor offense? …

Their grandiose views of themselves are threatened by perceived attacks. These grandiose views of themselves are necessary for their self-preservation. When threatened, they are not merely offended, but their entire sense of self is at stake…

Wikipedia describes it best:

…Narcissistic rage is the uncontrollable and unexpected anger that results from a narcissistic injury – a threat to a narcissist’s self-esteem or worth. Rage comes in many forms, but all pertain to the same important thing, revenge. Narcissistic rages are based on fear and will endure even after the threat is gone.

To the narcissist, the rage is directed towards the person that they feel has slighted them; to other people, the rage is incoherent and unjust… During the rage they are prone to shouting, fact distortion and making groundless accusations… [N]arcissists may even search for conflict to find a way to alleviate pain or suffering …

This narcissistic rage explains why anti-vaxxers will search out parents whose children died of vaccine preventable diseases to vent their terror — and shore up their fragile egos — through harassment, fact distortion and groundless (as well as heartless) accusations.

So when I see anti-vaxxers attacking the family of a child who died of pertussis or flu, my first thought is sympathy for that family, already grappling with unimaginable tragedy, being victimized over and over again by anti-vaxxers.

My second thought is pity for anti-vaxxers. Imagine the abject fear and rage that drives these people; fear that they have been wrong all along and rage that an innocent child dared to die in a way that exposes the hollowness of their ideology and fragility of their egos.

Anti-vaxxers are pathetic and I’m not just talking about their fundamental ignorance of immunology, science and statistics.

  • MaineJen

    It’s real. Remember that poor little boy who got tetanus and lay in the ICU for over a month? When the case was reported in the news, the anti-vaxxers descended into the comments sections, crowing that the whole story was fake, the boy never had confirmed tetanus etc etc. *Anything* to avoid that cognitive dissonance. Literally anything.

  • demodocus

    Those poor families; it must be harder than anything to deal with

    An anti-vaxxer once shut up when I told her I’d done my research, and came to a different conclusion. That can happen in history, even though it doesn’t in science. She still gave me a very weird look, like I was proposing to drink a dozen rum and cokes in one evening while pregnant.

  • Russell Jones

    Anti-vaxxers — just you basic, salt-of-the-earth, truth-loving advocates of libertarian freedom. Or so they’d have your believe.

    Christ. I haven’t laid hands on another human being in anger for decades, but this sort of bullshit can make a guy want to break that streak.

  • mabelcruet

    I’ve experienced something similar at inquests into cot death/crib death (although we generally code it as ‘sudden unexpected death in infancy/SUDI, cause unascertained). The peak age of risk for cot death is around 3-4 months, which is when vaccinations start being given. In population studies, vaccination is actually protective against SUDI but one of the main anti-vaxx themes is that vaccines cause sudden infant death.

    I’ve had a couple of cases where death occurred within days of vaccination but the circumstances of death were such that overlaying or overheating could not be excluded-deaths where the infant was sleeping in the parental bed with the parents being smokers or under the influence of alcohol or sedatives, cases where the baby was found face down on a soft pillow, or with their head under the pillow where the relative movement of the parental bodies during sleep had shoved the infant into a compromised position.

    In the inquest, the coroner has come under quite a bit of pressure from activists to put vaccination in his ruling of cause of death-I can understand that the parents are feeling guilty that its likely to be their choice of unsafe sleeping environment that probably led to the death of the infant, but bringing along an anti-vaxx ‘medical expert’ and demanding the coroner take evidence from this ‘expert’ to prove that the death was the result of vaccination isn’t helpful.

    The first time this happened, the ‘expert’ criticised my evidence (as the pathologist) because I hadn’t taken a skin sample from the site where the vaccine had been given-it was in the thigh apparently. That meant I had no proof that the baby’s body had reacted adversely to the vaccine-I’m not sure what proof I’d be expecting to see at the vaccine site, acute inflammation maybe? Lots of eosinophils to show its an allergic response? And given that the vaccine goes deep into the muscle, looking at the skin wouldn’t show you much anyway.

    So the next case I got with a similar history, I did sample the skin where the vaccine had been given-absolutely nothing to see. No cellular response at all. And that was used as ‘evidence’ that the baby had a malfunctioning immune system and thus should never have been vaccinated in the first place.

    It’s only happened twice that outside ‘experts’ have been demanding to speak at the inquests, sometimes the parents bring it up in their evidence and ask what role the vaccination played in their baby’s death, but the coroner tends to go along with conventional medical approach and states clearly that even though it occurs in a similar time frame, its not causal. I’m not sure how many people are willing to accept that though.

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Do you ever deal with shaken-baby syndrome and anti-vaxxers?

      • mabelcruet

        Only once, thankfully. I don’t do coroners cases any more now that I’m semi-retired, but where I was based previously, all unexpected infant deaths in the community were double doctored between paediatric pathology and forensic pathology. If there were suspicious features suggesting inflicted injury, the forensic pathologist takes the lead. We produce a joint report but usually its the forensic pathologist appearing at the trial. In the case I had, the defence argument was that the baby was frail and chronically ill and should never have been vaccinated because her system was too weak. But the only evidence that the baby was chronically ill was the mother’s statement-the baby had hardly ever been seen by the doctor, its weight was fine, all its organ weights entirely normal, there was no disease anywhere, except obviously the inflicted fractures, injuries, haemorrhages and brain injury.

        In the UK, its the crown prosecution service who take the decision to prosecute. After all the arguments about the ‘triad’ of typical injuries caused by shaking or shaking and impact, they produced a consensus statement discussing the accepted mechanism of injury:

        https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/non-accidental-head-injury-cases-nahi-formerly-referred-shaken-baby-syndrome-sbs

        There’s also various other consensus statements produced by other bodies, most of which stick to the conventional approach and currently accepted mechanism of causation:

        https://www.dontshake.org/component/k2/item/354-sbs-aht-consensus

        It’s supposed to help guide the courts decide if the mechanism of injury is plausible, and vaccination is discussed (and dismissed) in these. I think our courts tend to be less open to some of the more crackpot theories-we had someone touting himself around claiming that all fractures were due to temporary vitamin C deficiency, for example. Pathologists who give misleading evidence, or an opinion for which there is no evidence, risk being struck off-judges have referred a few pathologists to the GMC.

        But definitely anti-vaxxers and SBS/abusive head trauma go together-its the whole thing about undermining ‘authority’, going against conventional medical opinion, insisting they aren’t sheeple following the herd and instead think for themselves, and thinking medics/authority are hiding or falsifying evidence for whatever nefarious reason, and their few hours researching on google equips them with enough knowledge to deny all the medical evidence gathered over many, many years.

        The one case I had, the dad was charged with murder and the defence lawyer produced reams of nonsense to ‘prove’ that it was vaccinations that had caused the infant to be susceptible-the claim was that the baby had collapsed and the dad shook it to wake it up, but because vaccination had lead to temporary leaky veins, that’s how the haemorrhages happened (the theory being vaccination had affected cell membrane adhesion and cell junctions, so the baby was oozing blood spontaneously). There was obviously no proof, and the judge was very sensible-I said that even if there was a plausible biological explanation for vaccines affecting cell membranes, why had it only affected retinal and CNS vessels? There’s no difference structurally in other vessels elsewhere in the body, so if vaccines caused leaky veins, then all veins should be leaky. There was some guff about the blood-brain barrier being made more leaky, but the BBB is a function of the endothelial cells interacting with glial cells in the brain, so their line of reasoning was that the vaccine made the veins leaky, AND also made the glial cells abnormal so that the blood brain barrier was no longer functioning-there’s absolutely no plausible mechanism and the judge didn’t buy it at all. He instructed the jury that the evidence was totally specious, and even if there was the slightest chance of plausibility, there was still no explanation of the multiple fractures occurring at multiple ages, and the injuries in other organs (ruptured liver and mesentery).

        • GeorgiaPeach23

          Those poor babies. Thank you for sticking up for them, even after they died. You’re good people.

          • mabelcruet

            Thank you-thankfully its only a very small part of the job (well, now I’m semi-retired I don’t do them any more). I mostly look after babies who are stillborn or miscarried, or who have genetic syndromes and abnormalities-its helpful for the families so they can decide what to do for the future. The forensic pathologists do far more of the suspicious cases-I think I would have found that very difficult.

  • StephanieJR

    Jesus, how low can you get? The lack of empathy is utterly appalling and very worrying.