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The Limits of Civil Discourse: How Anti-Vaxxers May Cause What They Most Fear

The Limits of Civil Discourse: How Anti-Vaxxers May Cause What They Most Fear

Posted On April 6, 2015 by Joe Abramajtys

The Limits of Civil Discourse

How Anti-Vaxxers May Cause What They Most Fear


A recent appeal by a Facebook friend lamented the vituperative attacks on people who oppose vaccinating their children and themselves. In particular, she was alarmed by the calls on the part of pro-vaxxers to limit their contact with the unvaccinated, calling the attempts to avoid contact acts of shunning. Instead of engaging in these more extreme protective reactions, my Facebook friend called for civil discourse, presumably to give both sides a chance to better understand each other and come to some possible accommodation. Before the recent controversy I never gave the issue of vaccination much thought; I was glad there were vaccines, I knew the small risk that vaccines presented, and I willingly got myself and my child vaccinations. My childhood was during the polio epidemic and I remember eavesdropping on adults expressing their fears, and saying prayers in church so we didn’t get this disease.

My Facebook friend’s appeal for civil discourse seemed reasonable…who could possibly be against talking through a problem or difference of opinion…so I gathered pro and anti-vaxx information. I learned, for instance, that one in every twenty children with measles will develop pneumonia,  one in a thousand will develop encephalitis (which can leave a child deaf or brain damaged), and two in a thousand will die from the disease. In addition I learned that children under one year-old can’t be inoculated, nor can sick people whose immune system are compromised, such as cancer patients on chemo, leaving them particularly vulnerable.

I also learned about the concept of “herd immunity”, where each disease has a tipping-point inoculation level that a group of humans must reach before enough people in the group are protected well enough to carry over that protection to the group minority who cannot be protected. The RO number of a particular disease is the number of people in an unprotected population that one sick person could pass the disease to. This is the data for some diseases:


          Disease    RO     Threshold (%)
Mumps   4-7          75-86
Polio   5-7          80-86
Smallpox   5-7          80-85
Diptheria   6-7             85
Rubella   6-7          83-85
Pertussis 12-17          92-94
Measels 12-18          83-94


A “threshold” is the percentage of people in the group that must be inoculated to provide herd immunity.

I then researched the anti-vaxxer information and discovered that a 1998 article in The Lancet, which linked vaccines to autism was debunked and the author lost his medical license. The more I looked, the more I found information such as “Herd Immunity.” The flawed Science and Failures of Mass Vaccination, Susan Humpries, MD, that flat-out states that there is no such thing as herd immunity, and also claims “…there is little proof that vaccines are responsible for eradicating disease…”, and supports these statements with anecdotal ‘I talked to a guy’ information, and quoted research rife with terms such as “may”, “could”, “inferred”, and “must be”---terms that register in the average reader’s mind as “do”, “will”, “cause”, and “are”. In addition, Dr. Humpries presents a static history of vaccine development, and treats what was true about vaccines in the eighteenth century as the current state of the vaccine science; as if little or no advances in vaccine production and safety have taken place.


Dr Humpries is a member of the International Medical Counsel on Vaccination, whose website says: “The International Medical Council on Vaccination is an association of medical doctors, registered nurses and other qualified medical professionals whose purpose is to counter the messages asserted by pharmaceutical companies, the government and medical agencies that vaccines are safe, effective and harmless.”

One of the best websites explaining why vaccines work is: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Vaccine_Monitoring/history.html, which explains the history of vaccines, why they are effective, what the risks and safeguards are, and has an extensive list of references and links.

I then reviewed the many anti-vaxxer comments on my friends Facebook post and settled on this one as being a summary of all the other objections offered:


"Whether you're pro-vaccine, anti-vaccine, or fall somewhere in the middle, the questions you need to ask yourselves are as follows: Do you want to live in a world, where you cannot freely refuse a medical procedure that carries risk of injury or death? I'm not questioning your comfort level with today's vaccine schedule, because today's vaccine schedule will change. New vaccines and additional doses are added all the time. Children today receive as many as 49 doses of 14 vaccines before they reach age six, which is roughly 12 times higher than the number of vaccines administered to children back in 1940. With more than 220 new vaccines in the developmental pipeline for children and adults...and no end in sight…the question you must ask yourself is ARE YOU CERTAIN you will be 100% comfortable with vaccines that are added to the mandated list in the future? If you say that yes, you're comfortable, then you're either a) not expecting to be a parent or grandparent, b) don't have to worry about it because your kids are grown and out of the house, or c) lying to prove a point. No critical thinker, no honest person, would ever sign off on the sight-unseen vaccine schedule of the future. And yet that's what you're doing when you condemn the people who are fighting for your right to refuse. YOU have the right to refuse, should you ever choose to use it, because the very "anti-vaccine" people you demonize have been fighting for us all. Right now, the burden of "herd immunity" falls on small children, but that is changing. Vaccine manufacturers see an untapped market in adult vaccines and are coming for you next. What will you do if your state, your employer, or your insurance company forces you to get a vaccine that you simply don't want? It hasn't happened to you yet, but if the right to refuse is eroded, it will happen to you sooner than you might think. Who then will you turn to? Your legislators who get campaign donations from pharmaceutical companies? The CDC that has former pharma executives sitting on the board? Who will you turn to if you ever want to say no? There will be no one. Once we enter the slippery slope of removing and individual's right to refuse medical procedures that carry a risk of injury or death, once we remove an individual's right to speak for him/herself and his/her children, we open ourselves up to an insidious new era, where other drugs and other procedures can be mandated. I heard (on NPR, interestingly enough) that there are people who want to test for a gene marker that's been found in mass shooters in the hopes that they can put the carriers of that gene on medications in early childhood. Sounds great, right? But many of us carry genes that will never be expressed. You could be a carrier of that gene. Or your child could be a carrier. So if we follow the "for the greater good" mentality behind vaccines (or the Nazi's "for the greater good" mentality behind eugenics (breeding out illness), we are looking at forcing people who may never express a sociopathic gene to take antipsychotics, just in case. Because that's what forced vaccination does. It asks children who may never come into contact with a particular virus to accept a vaccine just in case. And that's what eugenics was all about. It sterilizes people who can pass on a genetic disease just in case. Forced vaccination is a human rights violation, and to support it when you know that the government's own Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System exists and lists people who have died as a result of vaccines is unethical at best, sociopathic at worst. The ethical thing to do is to allow people their right to refuse and leave it up to doctors and big pharma (who have marketing budgets larger than the GDP of some countries) to do a better job of convincing parents that vaccines are safe. We can start by reversing the law that grants vaccine manufacturers total immunity from vaccine injury lawsuits. Because as it stands, you can't sue a vaccine manufacturer if your child is injured or killed by a vaccine, even in cases where they could've made a safer vaccine and chose not to or when they failed to recall a contaminated lot# in a timely manner. Think about that. You can't sue the manufacturer. That immunity from liability does more to shake parents' confidence in vaccines than anything else out there."

Author is reported to be Louise Kuo Habakus, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Center for Personal Rights.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tough time sustaining a civil discourse with someone who states that I’m a liar and can’t possibly be a “critical thinker’ or an “honest person” if I trust a “sight-unseen vaccine schedule of the future.” Just what is a “sight-unseen vaccine schedule of the future”? If it’s a schedule recommended by the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and endorsed by the physician with whom I have been entrusting my life for decades, then you’re damn right I’ll extend trust; just like I extend trust every time I get behind the wheel of my truck that other people will obey traffic laws; or when I cross the street that vehicles will stop at pedestrian crosswalks. Are there risks with these trust behaviors? Sure there are, but we engage in those behaviors because the rewards are greater than the risks, and they contribute to the cooperative functioning and wellbeing of society.

When Ms. Habakaus states “…you can’t sue a vaccine manufacturer..,” she is correct. In 1986, Childhood Vaccine Injury Act was passed to protect vaccine manufacturers from civil suits; before the law, several enormous jury awards were granted in cases where there was no link between the vaccine and the claimed injury. Juries saw parents with hurt children and who better to pay than the deep pockets of big pharma? It was feared that if these large awards continued, manufacturers would stop making vaccines.

However, the 1986 law also established the National Vaccine injury Compensation Program to hear vaccine related complaints and determine and award compensation.  The program is funded by a tax on every dose of vaccine administered. An article on why the program doesn’t work was written by Barbara Loe Fisher (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2008/12/13/why-vaccine-injured-kids-are-rarely-compensated.aspx) and states the following:

During its two-decade history, two out of three individuals applying for federal vaccine injury compensation have been turned away empty-handed even though to date $1.8 billion has been awarded to more than 2,200 plaintiff's out of some 12,000 who have applied.

Today, nearly 5,000 vaccine injury claims are sitting in limbo because they represent children who suffered brain and immune system dysfunction after vaccination but have been diagnosed with regressive autism, which is not recognized by the program as a compensable event. There is $2.7 billion sitting in the Trust Fund, which could have been awarded to vaccine victims.  

Several thoughts come to mind: $1.8 billion awarded over twenty years is a sign of failure? The article’s only listed reference is the National Vaccine Information Center (http://www.nvic.org/) , an anti-vaxx website. And, there again is that pesky reference to autism, as in: If only we understood the link between autism and vaccinations, or at least called autism an immune disorder.

So what to make of the Ms. Habakaus and her anti-vaxxer colleagues? Is a civil dialog possible? As I thought of these questions and re-read the anti-vaxxer literature I was reminded of Erick Hoffer’s True Believer, in which he describes a person so committed to a cause that s/he would die for it (or in the case of anti-vaxxers, risk their children’s deaths). Hoffer was concerned with mass movements, and I don’t know if the anti-vaxxer movement is a mass movement, but I think it must be getting close to being one when in some states up to 4% of the children have vaccine exemptions. But one thing that characterizes true believers is that they embrace a shared prescriptive rule, one so ingrained that its followers don’t even know it exists. What is this shared prescriptive rule in the case of anti-vaxxers? It is that evil forces are bent on taking away their freedoms, and the evil is the government, the medical community, and above all, the pharmaceutical industry, and that they (the anti-vaxxers) are the only ones on the front line defending our freedom. There is evil, they are victims, and they are martyrs.

My experience is that I have never been able to maintain a civil discourse with a true believer. Whether the person was a political ideologue, a religious adherent, or a racial supremacist, attempts at civil discourse breakdown because I don’t share their prescriptive rule and no amount of information sharing, or education, or data will change the mind of a true believer.

What happens in a society where a large group of people (a mass movement?), though still a small minority of the total population, cannot be engaged in civil discourse, and are perceived as an existential health threat to the majority? If history is a guide we can expect the following:

1.      Shunning:  An act of social rejection where people will physically stay away from the unvaccinated. Shunning is done to get anti-vaxxers to change their minds about vaccinations, and to limit their contact with disease susceptible people (potential victims). Shunning can take the forms of requiring proof of vaccination before allowing individuals to participate in certain activities, and of pursuing civil and criminal actions against anti-vaxxers thought to be culpable in the infection of others. Shunning in fact is being carried out now against anti-vaxxers, but not in any organized manner. Shunning is a two-way street and may also be practiced by ani-vaxxers in the form of operating their own schools and other social organizations. Shunning is the first strategy attempted after the decision is made that civil discourse is impossible.

2.      Exile: A relocation of individuals away from their homes. Exile can be internal (in the country) or external (outside the country).  Although exile can be forced, it is often voluntary as in the case of religious groups such as the Amish. Exile will be attempted when the perceived disease threat continues to increase and shunning does not work to change anti-vaxxer behavior. Anti-vaxxers will most likely try to settle a proscribed (ghetto?) area, or may be hounded into doing so. In West Michigan exile is already taking place among some charter and parocial schools where parents of students have secured vaccine waivers. The West Michigan public schools have a near 100% vaccination rate, while charter and parocial schools have kindergarten/elementary school waiver rates from 10-40%. In West Michigan there is a strong link between religiosity and being anti-vaccination (htmhttp://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2015/03/vaccine_rates_vary_widely_in_wl).

3.      Concentration Camps: If the disease threat becomes severe or is perceived to be, anti-vaxxers will be forced into concentration camps. There is a history of operating concentration camps in the US: During the Second World War the Federal government operated three types of camps (Civilian Assembly Centers, Relocation Centers, and Detention Camps for citizens thought to be disruptive) which housed tens of thousands Japanese-American citizens thought to be a threat to US security, though there was no evidence that they were a threat. Many states are adopting legislation intended to decrease current prison populations. The result is that there are a growing number of vacant prison facilities that could be used to house anti-vaxxers.

I want to make it clear that I do not endorse any of the above described strategies beyond shunning. I am simply describing what societies throughout history have used against people they see as an existential threat, if a society wishes to avoid or keep violence, particularly vigilante violence, at a minimum. With luck, and in all likelihood, shunning will convince/coerce enough anti-vaxxers to vaccinate themselves and their kids that herd immunity will increase and the level of disease threat will diminish.



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