Trying to understand vaccine resistance

by Emrys Westacott

Upton Sinclair famously remarked that “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” It is easy to imagine the sort of scenario that illustrates his point. A drug company rep works to increase how often a certain drug is prescribed, putting aside any worries that it is addictive. A video game designer seeks to increase the number of hours young players spend hooked on a game, not thinking about the impact this might have on their education.

Yet the current situation in the US regarding vaccine hesitancy–or, more accurately, vaccine resistance–seems to offer some striking examples that call Sinclair’s claim into question. A number of states, including New York State, have mandated vaccinations against covid for health care workers. Those who refuse to get the vaccine face termination. Some of these workers have nevertheless chosen to forfeit their jobs, income, and benefits rather than be vaccinated. Their salary depends on them not allowing their judgement to be influenced by the anti-vaxxers; yet they appear to have fallen under the influence just the same. Read more »

Asking Questions About Vaccines Does Not Make You Anti-Science

by Godfrey Onime

Robin Peace, MD, Medical Staff President at UNC Health Southeastern, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
Robin Peace, MD, Medical Staff President at UNC Health Southeastern, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.

Ponder this. It is the 15th century and you have a high chance of contracting and dying from a rampant infection. Turns out that you could intentionally infect yourself with a small dose of the contagion, get slightly sick, and become protected for life. Of course, things are not always that simple.  You could get more than just a little sick. You could even die, but 1000 times less likely than if you acquired the infection naturally. Would you infect yourself and beloved family members? I believe I would, and I’ll tell you why.

Long before science knew about bacteria and viruses or that they caused diseases, long before vaccines were even imagined, that exactly was the dilemma that people the world over faced — whether or not to preemptively infect themselves, in hopes of preventing more serious illnesses, or worse, death. Indeed, those were desperate times, with no antibiotics, hospitals, or ICUs.

One vexing affliction for this historical palaver was smallpox, which was rampart in much of recorded history. Not only was it highly infectious, it rendered its victims extremely sick: raging fevers, splinting headaches, searing backaches, crippling fatigue, monstrous skin eruptions, and quite often, death. When it did not quickly and gruesomely kill sufferers, the scourge left them disfigured, not the least with unsightly pockmarks on the face. Little wonder then that many started to intentionally infect themselves and kids with smaller and possibly weaker doses of the infection, which they obtained from the oozing sores on the skins of the afflicted. This practice of using the actual, live bug to self-induce infection is called variolation.  Among those intentionally exposed to smallpox through variolation, about 1-2 in 100 may die. For those who got the infection naturally, about 30 in 100 died. Read more »

Political Agendas in the Anti-Vaccination Discourse

by Jalees Rehman

Vaccines exemplify the success of modern medicine: Scientific insights into the inner workings of the immune system were leveraged to develop vaccines which have been administered to billions of humans world-wide and resulted in the eradication or near-eradication of many life-threatening diseases. Most vaccinations have minimal side effects, are cost-effective and there is a strong consensus among healthcare providers all over the world about the importance of routine vaccination against diseases such as polio, measles and diphtheria. Despite these extraordinary successes of global vaccination policies, there is a still a strong anti-vaccination movement which has gained more traction in recent years by using online platforms. To scientists and physicians, the resilience of the anti-vaccination movement often comes as a surprise because their claims are routinely debunked by research. The infamous study which attempted to link the administration of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism was retracted by the medical journal Lancet in 2010. The claim that healthcare providers promote administration of vaccines as a means of generating profits for their clinical practices have also been disproven because the reimbursements for vaccinations by health insurances are lower than the actual costs of administering the vaccines, i.e. healthcare providers in the United States may be losing money on vaccinations.

If the efficacy and safety data on vaccinations are so robust and if many of the anti-vaccination claims have been disproven by research, why do so many people continue to oppose it? One approach to analyze and interpret the beliefs of the anti-vaccination movement is to place it into the context of social and political movements because the opposition to vaccination may not be primarily based on an analysis of scientific data but instead represents an ideological stance. Read more »