Could memory play a key role in the anti-vaxxer movement?
Americans seem to have settled on a vaccine-versus-anti-vaccine consensus.
According to the Pew Research, 82% of U.S. adults believe that vaccination should be a requirement “in order to attend public schools because of the potential risk for others when children are not vaccinated.”
In contrast, 17% of Americans say that “parents should be able to decide not to vaccinate their children, even if that may create health risks for other children and adults.”
Additionally, 90% of Americans put their trust in “medical science” when they seek out information and data on vaccines, with 55% of U.S. adults saying they do so “a lot” when reading up on vaccination information. Only 9% say they don’t trust medical science when reviewing the same information.
Yet 55% of Americans who Pew claims have “low knowledge of science” believe that vaccinations for primary childhood diseases like measles, mumps, and rubella don’t offer “high preventative health benefits” from children suffering from those diseases and its that segment of the population that concerns the medical community.
After all, how, in the age of sophisticated high-tech, digital science, can anyone really believe that clinically-tested vaccinations aren’t effective in combatting many childhood diseases?
It turns out that many Americans disagree with that sentiment – and they’re not backing down.
Down the memory hole
Why do so many Americans stand up against the vaccination movement?
One theory making the rounds is the “memory lapse” concept – where older Americans forget the threat level of insidious childhood diseases, like the mumps, they may have experienced decades ago – and underplay that threat with today’s younger generation.
“We are now approaching the point where two or three generations have grown up without dealing with formerly common childhood illnesses like the mumps and measles,” says Christopher Hanifin, PA-C, and Department Chair/Department of Physician Assistant at Seton Hall University.
To the average person, these diseases now seem as remote as the black plague, Hannifin notes.
“When large segments of the population had these diseases, they seemed much more real,” he says. “People have also forgotten the complication associated with these conditions which included things like encephalitis and death. The odds are small, but these diseases are easily preventable.”
“Along with establishing clean drinking water, vaccines are the greatest public health advance in history,” he adds.
Statistics and risk assessment are big issues
Detachment to childhood issues over time is an issue, medical experts say, but there is more to the story than fading memories of having chicken pox as a five-year-old.
“The issue of opposing vaccination goes far beyond societal loss of memory of the destructiveness of vaccine-preventable diseases,” says Tish Davidson, an author of two books on vaccines who’s based in Fremont, Cal.
Parents today do not have first-hand experience with polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, and measles, causing them to question how prevalent and how serious these diseases are, Davidson notes.
“However, many of today’s parents may have had first-hand experience as children with chicken pox (the varicella vaccine for chicken pox was approved in 1995) and Haemophilus influenza type b (a vaccine introduced in 1985 followed by an improved version in 1988),” she says. “Some of these vaccines cause pneumonia and meningitis and can be fatal to infants, so something more than loss of memory is going on.”
In her book The Vaccine Debate, Davidson examined some of these “outlier” factors.
“The basic reason is that people are terrible at evaluating the meaning of statistics and assessing risk,” she says. “When I wrote a book on school violence about 10 years ago, a reputable study found that most parents thought their child was more likely to be killed in a school shooting than in a car accident — exactly the opposite of what is true.”
One problem in the risk assessment of vaccines is that although statistics show that about one in every 2.5 million doses of vaccine causes a serious side effect, the statistic say nothing about which children will be affected. “It’s the same with actuarial tables,” Davidson says. “They are good at predicting when the average American will die but say nothing about whose life will be cut short and who will live to be 100.”
In assessing the risk of vaccines to their own children, parents are well-intentioned – but misinformed, Davidson says
“Anti-vaxx parents aren’t stupid,” she says. “They genuinely believe that they are doing what is best for their children.”
“However, they have a skewed perception of the risk of permanent disability or death that vaccine-preventable diseases can cause,” Davidson adds. “Because of implicit biases and fear, it is very hard to change their minds. Logic and repeating statistics won’t do it. The stories anti-vaxxers tell beat statistics every time. The medical community needs to find a narrative to compete with the false anti-vaccine stories.”
Vax supporters projecting?
Not everyone agrees that memory lapses are a reasonable description of how they feel about vaccinations, and for how they became anti-vax converts.
“It’s actually the pro-vaxxers who have memory lapses,” says Kristin Heinmets, a St. Paul, Minn.-based marketing and public relations professional. “I had chicken pox as a child and it was no big deal. During that experience, I ate popsicles and watched television, as did all of my childhood friends.”
Heinmets says maladies like chicken pox and measles are normal childhood illnesses that actually prevent against later-in-life diseases like cancer. “I have talked to my parents and aunts and uncles and they all had measles, mumps, and whooping cough – what they call the ‘normal’ childhood diseases are no big deal.”
“It’s why previous generations called it the “measly measles” and the Brady Bunch said, “if you have to get sick you sure can’t beat the measles.” No one feared measles because there was no vaccine to sell,” she says.
Some medical professionals say that Heinmets has a point.
“As a physician, I remember very well that measles, mumps, and chicken pox were childhood diseases that everyone had and we developed lifetime immunity to the infections,” says Mary Ann Block, medical director of The Block Center, an international clinic for the treatment of chronic health problems in children and adults. “We missed a few days of school and were done for life.”
According to Block, “so-called” anti-vaxxers just want everyone to have a choice.
“If you look at the statistics, no one has died from measles in years but hundreds have died from the vaccines,” she says. Parents should have the decision whether to inject a foreign substance into their child. Religious rights are protected in the Constitution and the Nuremberg laws.”
Block also advises parents to read the ingredients in the most widely-used vaccines.
“Formaldehyde is a common ingredient and it is classified as cancer-causing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “The U.S. has the highest childhood cancer incidence of any industrial country and yet we give more vaccines containing formaldehyde.”
Insults instead of help
Bolstered by the strong belief they are in the right, anti-vaccination advocates clearly aren’t going away anytime soon.
“The vaccine safety movement consists of enormous numbers of people who know damn well what happened to them,” says Mark Girard, a fluoroquinolone (FQ) toxicity and antibiotics critic who has suffered severe health problems after being given fluoroquinolone-based antibiotics for treatment of a broken ankle. “They or someone they know were harmed by vaccines in the past.”
But instead of getting any meaningful help from their medical teams, “these people are instead mocked and belittled and gaslighted and abused into accepting a bogus diagnosis for their very obvious adverse reaction to a vaccination,” Girard says.
Increasingly, patients are threatened with termination or even with labeling as an unfit parent if they insist the injury was from the vaccine or if they resist giving these toxic dangerous shots to their kids, Girard adds.
“We have now entered an Orwellian era where we no longer have the right to choose what medical procedures we will undergo,” he says. “People who object on religious grounds have found that they don’t really have religious freedom either. If we don’t have freedom when it really matters then we only have the illusion of freedom.”
“The U.S. Constitution is worthless at this point – it’s just a memory.”