Vaccination Nation: The History of the Anti-Vaccine Movement and its 21st Century Impact on Public Health and Public Opinion
Beehler, Victoria W.
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As an emerging scientist who strongly believes in the power of modern medicine the conflict surrounding vaccines has always fascinated me. As the child of two advanced degree carrying scientists, I was always assured that vaccines work. As a child, I was told that it was okay to be afraid of the needle pain, but that it was to ensure that I did not get sick. I got a flu shot yearly along with my parents; it was simply a yearly tradition. When I first learned how vaccines worked and was told of their efficacy, I staunchly believed without question. Growing older, when more access to the internet and more interest in current events led me to articles and evening news segments about the anti-vaccination campaign, I began to feel a little wary. Even now, with my research on the topic, I have found myself falling down a rabbit hole of information that seems so reasonable and is laid out so logically that I fear I might come out of my research shifted in my beliefs. The anti-vaxx campaign is insidious in the fact that many anti-vaccination groups hide their agendas behind innocuous names and present their claims on “health websites” that seem to have no direct bias. Often in my research, I found myself unaware I was on a site that supported the anti-vaxx campaign until after having gone through several site links. Other times, I did not realize an argument was trying to sway me away from scientific thought until later, when I had more time to process the words entirely. These anti-vaxx arguments worked on me exactly as they were supposed to; just as they often work on countless others. Fortunately, with focus and the desire for complete understanding, I was always able to find my way back to a place of scientific reason, something I am very proud of. I went to a small, private K-8 school. The majority of my classmates had been my friends since kindergarten and all of the families knew each other. One such friend had an older brother three years ahead of us who was on the Autism spectrum. Everyone treated him with kindness V and respect, however, he often had a hard time making and keeping friends. One day, when we were 13, I asked my friend how he felt about having a brother who was on the spectrum. Unexpectedly, he told me that his brother was not on the spectrum and that he only acted that way because of a shot he got when he was a toddler. My initial reaction was to sympathize and take what he said as truth, because he was my friend and knew his brother and his story best. This line had from his parents, who truly believed this to be the case. It was not til many years later when I realized the full context of what was said that day. What has always stuck with me about this conversation is that rather than fully accepting that their son was on the spectrum and supporting him in any way they could, they chose to deny his condition and place blame elsewhere. It is by no means to find them at fault for reacting this way or accuse them of not loving their son, but I wonder how their feelings have influenced actions they have taken in efforts to give their son the most fulfilling life possible. Through research, I have often thought of the brother and hope that his parents have changed their ideals. However, I suspect they may not have. My motivations for researching and writing about the anti-vaccination movement have often shifted around throughout the process. In the process research, I have often found myself heartbroken for young lives lost to preventable infectious disease, angered by false claims, and more often than I had expected, dumbfounded by the strength and influence of the anti-vaxx movement.
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