Enough hating on anti-vaccination parents, please

My Twitter feed is full of mockery of parents who do not vaccinate their children.

From the New Yorker.
From the New Yorker.

Anti-vaccination parents are getting important things wrong:

  1. They have irrational and mistaken beliefs about vaccination risks.
  2. Many of them understand that by not vaccinating their children, they put other children at risk. And yet they choose to do it anyway.

Some innocent children will die because of these views. That’s a huge deal.

However, is derision or hatred an appropriate response to views (1) and (2)?

With respect to (1): Misperception of risk is everywhere. It’s irrational to be more afraid of flying in a commercial airplane than of riding in a car. But when you meet a person who has irrationally ordered their fears in this way, do you mock him?

With respect to (2): Some anti-vaccination parents knowingly put the safety of their own children before that of other children. That seems wrong and probably is wrong. However, almost every parent puts their own children first in some circumstances. I’ve devoted a lot of my income to educating my kids, much more than I can easily justify given the far more acute needs of hundreds of millions of other children. The priority I gave my children is not easy to reconcile with my (ostensible?) commitment to altruism.

More importantly, I doubt that mocking or shaming these parents will promote vaccination and save lives. Would we frame any other health education this way? I am out of my area of expertise here, but my belief is that embedding health information in a message that demeans the listener will only motivate her to search for reasons to discount the message.* I don’t know the most effective strategy for communicating our message to anti-vaccination parents. But much of what I am seeing seems likely to do more harm than good.

*Health education experts: If I have this wrong, please tweet me about it. You may be able to change my mind if you can make a case that shaming anti-vaxxers will save more lives.


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