I had a bit of a rough day yesterday. By the time I was done with work, I was just too tired to write my usual length Insolence. I was, however, fortunate enough to see something that reinforces something I wrote last week. Last friday I discussed the politicization of vaccine policy that has been occurring over the last few years and that has accelerated since the battle over SB 277, the law in California that eliminated nonmedical (i.e., personal belief) exemptions to school vaccine mandates. Specifically, antivaxers, particularly at the state level, have co-opted the rhetoric of conservatives, particularly libertarian-leaning conservatives, to the point where conservative politicians are actually paying attention and coming to view school vaccine mandates as an affront to freedom, “parental choice,” and “parental rights.”
The legislators might not be antivaccine themselves, but they’ve accepted the antivaccine frame—or at the very least feel it politically expedient to pander to antivaxers. The example I used was Texas, where the antivaccine movement has become associated with highly conservative Republicans and, as a result, have both been scuttling bills introduced to tighten up school vaccine requirements and by promoting bills that would make exemptions to school vaccine mandates easier to get. They’ve been very successful at the former, such as when they helped stall until the end of the legislative session a bill that would have required reporting school-level vaccine exemption rates by labeling it as an affront to freedom and privacy,. Fortunately, they haven’t been very successful at the latter—yet.
Here is a VICE report that shows exactly what I’ve been talking about:
It’s only seven and a half minutes long, but in it we meet a Texas legislator who opposes vaccine mandates in the name of “freedom”; an antivax parent who opposes mandates because she’s antivax and believes that vaccines injured two of her grandchildren, and a couple expecting a baby who are very concerned about the increasing frequency of personal belief exemptions. The report describes the reason for resistance to vaccine mandates for school as due to an “unconditional commitment to freedom, even at the expense of public health,” which is true but incomplete. It doesn’t really go into how strategically antivaxers have tapped into this attitude by using terms like “vaccine choice,” “health freedomm,” and “parental rights.” In any case, I fear that Dr. Peter Hotez is correct and that the madness in Texas (and elswhere) won’t stop until we have outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. In fact, I’d go beyond that. The attitude I described last week was so extreme, so self-centered and not giving a damn about anyone else, that it wouldn’t surprise me if even outbreaks would break this fever unless they are truly massive.