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Anti-vaccination = anti-feminist?

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, December 29, 2008 14:35 EDT
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Well, not intentionally, but there is a reason to think that anti-vaccination ideologists could hurt women more than men, amongst other damage that they can do. I finally had a chance to listen to a recent “This American Life” that dealt with, amongst other things, an outbreak of the measles in San Diego that was caused by parents refusing to vaccinate their kids because they’ve been fed and believe the misinformation about how dangerous vaccines are. The show is sympathetic to the parents who are caught up in this panic, since obviously they’re the same Whole Foods-shopping, over-anxious yuppies that make up the audience and staff of “This American Life”. The reporter understands how you want to control everything your kid eats or is exposed to, and how obsessed some parents get with the concept of purity in their kids’ input. (Which really is completely understandable, since you are what you eat.) Though I do have to wonder why the same people who refuse to trust the FDA, the CDC, the AMA, their own doctors, a multitude of scientists, and the entire medical community when it comes to vaccines happily trust a cardboard box at Whole Foods that says that the item inside is organic. If the FDA won’t or can’t control vaccine safety, then why on earth would they be able to ensure that organic food really is organic? There’s a darkly funny moment on the show when the initial quarantine announcements warned people who shopped at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s that they were in the greatest danger of exposure.

The San Diego measles outbreak is being shrugged off by anti-vaccination cranks because everyone survived it. They got lucky, because if the trend of not vaccinating your kids continues to grow, the next outbreak will be a lot bigger, and the chance of fatalities will go up dramatically. But, as “This American Life” demonstrates, just because all 11 kids who got the disease survived doesn’t mean that what happened was a small deal. First of all, measles is a miserable, serious disease, and kids run temperatures so high that it could cause brain damage. (Ironic, no? After all, the cranks claim the vaccines cause brain damage, which they don’t. However, many diseases we vaccinate against do in fact cause brain damage.) On top of that, the health department was only able to contain the disease (which could have easily infected a lot of small babies that haven’t had the MMR vaccine yet, as well as kids who have been unfortunately born to gullible anti-vaccination parents) by imposing a quarantine. Every kid who hadn’t had the vaccine yet and was exposed was subject to a 3 week quarantine, and that includes kids whose parents were completely innocent, because they were planning to vaccinate when their babies got old enough.

This brings me to an interesting and quick observation made on the show, which is that child quarantines worked just fine in pre-vaccine communities where most women with small children were housewives and could handle being stuck at home for 3 weeks. But nowadays, most mothers have outside employment, and maintaining a quarantine is nearly impossible. If the anti-vaccination people had their way, and we got rid of vaccines and childhood diseases started to run rampant again, we would only be able to control it through quarantine. And that would mean a whole lot of women would lose their jobs because they couldn’t handle both quarantines and holding down a job. Once again, my suspicions about the crunchy mothering trend are aroused. A lot of the crunchy parenting trends seem directly aimed at eating away at women’s time for themselves. I doubt that’s the intention, but there’s sometimes “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” air about crunchy parenting trends. But if childhood diseases come back, that’s going to make it even harder for women to manage both motherhood and a career.

Of course, anti-vaccinations folks don’t want their kids to catch the measles or any other disease that vaccination prevents. They’re counting on herd immunity. Unfortunately, that means that it’s all too easy for people to frame this as a “one vs. the many” argument, as if the sole reason to vaccinate is to sacrifice yourself for the good of the group. In fact, the folks on “This American Life” embrace that narrative. But it’s a false narrative. You should vaccinate for your kids and for the community. As this show demonstrates, it doesn’t take that many unvaccinated kids before a measles outbreak could take over, and the kids that will get it are the ones whose parents thought it was so smart skipping the vaccine. I wish more people really grasped that point. Vaccines are about herd immunity, yes, but that doesn’t mean that you’re automatically getting some advantage and beating the system by trying to become a free rider. If you care about any individual child’s health, you would have that child vaccinated, because the real diseases with real causes are out there, waiting to grab a kid not protected because the parents were trying to hound off imaginary causes.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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