Oh man, did you see that Jimmy Kimmel bit last week about vaccines? The one where all the doctors use curse words and make fun of non-vaccinators?
When Kimmel quipped, “Parents here are more scared of gluten than they are smallpox,” I guffawed. And then I immediately reflected on the friends of mine who don’t vaccinate their children. I’m as frustrated by the anti-vaccination movement as anyone who believes in the scientific method. And yet I count at least half a dozen vaccine-free families among my social circle.
Instead of talking to these friends face-to-face, or sharing my earnest concerns with them, I save my parley for the imagined safety of social media. On Facebook I can post a video like Kimmel’s in the hopes of getting under anti-vaccinators’ skin. I can make my stance known without truly risking anything. It’s the ultimate in passive aggression.
A measles break-out in Disneyland in late January triggered the latest round of vaccine debates on the internet. Nearly every major publication ran pro-vaccination articles, most accusing non-vaccinators of ignorance and magical thinking.
Now, I won’t argue with the charge of magical thinking. The hubris of living in a modern society yet rejecting one of its basic tenets—abundant health care—strikes me as folly. Not to mention there’s an apparent selfishness in making a decision for your family that could lead to harm for the population at large.
Despite feeling strongly about vaccines and about those who opt-out, I’ve had a recent revelation: name-calling, snark, sarcasm, and internet memes aren’t going to get children and their families healthy. In fact, the humorous articles—I particularly loved the one comparing seat belts to vaccines—just serve to further divide us.
There’s nothing more tempting than sharing a pithy “gotcha” meme on Facebook so that your kooky cousin and his wife can see how dumb you think their choice is. But the reality is, they don’t take your opinion any more seriously than you take their claims that the thimerasol and mercury in the DTAP are causing generations of birth defects.
If we truly want to turn the tide away from rhetoric and back towards science, we have to stop acting like bullies and jerks. It pains me to say it, but I don’t think this is a problem best solved with humor.
Instead, we need to let family doctors lead the charge. Many have said they will no longer see non-vaccinated patients, and hospitals have begun to limit access, too. After doctors come the schools. We must advocate that our schools take a harder line on public health. Kids shouldn’t be allowed in the classroom without up-to-date medical care or a darn good excuse. It’s important to maintain personal liberties, but not at the risk of our children.
Most importantly, we need to maintain our sense of community. It’s no wonder some people feel like outliers, when that’s how they are treated. If you must talk about divisive topics—and believe me, I understand why—do so with empathy and with an eye towards accord. The last thing we need is more division.