Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
How Anti-Vaccine Sentiment Took Hold in the United States (nytimes.com)
67 points by mhb 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

To understand this perspective better, step back and ask yourself how much do you trust the US healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry to have your best interests as it’s top priority?

Given everyone’s various degrees of lack of trust in a highly corrupt and inefficient system, it’s perhaps easier to see how people “throw the baby out with the bathwater” when it comes to understanding science & medicine relative to the industries that profit from their corrupt establishment. If you don’t trust the messenger, how can you trust the message?

I think you’re giving them too much credit.

I don’t think it’s based in science, or distrust of a “corrupt“ or untrustworthy system. It seems to be a combination of cult-like group-think, misplaced parental emotions, and social media-driven fear-mongering, all brought together by a determinedly anti-intellectual anti-science stance.

The people in my life who are in this same category also clearly want to “know something no one else knows.” Saying no to something mainstream gives them the ability to “be above” the rest of us who follow the mainstream. It can be a kind of comfort in their circumstances.

Orthogonally: Trust is hard when you don't understand the subject.

I recently had the weirdest convo with a cardio nurse who doubted evolution. How does someone get trained and end up working in healthcare not believe in evolution?!

I'm guessing that he's like a talented mechanic. Probably very good at the job. But can't wrap his head around anything meta like evolution.

(Yes, this person is also deep into one of those Rock & Roll Jesus churches.)

You aren't giving them enough credit. If you want to solve a problem between two groups, understanding the underlying rational for their decisions is prudent and productive.

Simply claiming they are idiots because you can't make the argument, doesn't solve the issue or push things any closer to a resolution.

Think of it this way, there may be actual issues with vaccines that aren't being addressed because the current legal and political environment protects the vaccine companies from litigation and consequences. You also have a group think around vaccines that says they are all good, no matter what, take every shot on the schedule they tell you to take without question, they can't possibly be wrong or bad. This presents a problem in the debate also.

What if the concerned parents only response to these issues is to stop taking the vaccines because concerns aren't being addressed?

This would be a good time for everyone to step back and start having a discussion instead of shaming and flinging barbs.

Clearly it's not based in science, no one in this thread has claimed that.

As for the list of negative traits you mention, none of those are incompatible with distrust of a corrupt system. So I'm not sure what your point is.

I can only assume that you think every anti-vaxxer would still be an anti-vaxxer even if the medical community had a 100% sterling record on everything and education was perfect. While that might certainly be true for some of them (Christian scientists and such), I have a hard time generalizing that to the movement as a whole.

Who are you referring to when you say “them?”

Based on the two previous messages I am inferring they meant "people who hold an anti-vaccine sentiment".

What qualifies a sentiment as “anti-vaccine?”

Not sure why this is downvoted. I’m genuinely curious. The perspective that having a sentiment puts someone into a group is one I haven’t considered and I would like to understand it more.

Naw you’re wrong. I grew up unvaccinated, and for my parents it’s 100% a distrust of the pharma companies and modern medicine, and it’s really hard to blame them. The system is absolute shit, there are more bad actors than good actors -or the bad actors have overwhelmed the system in the US.

I know they were wrong on the vaccine stance, but I do think their viewpoints are correct about most of modern medicine and I’m happy for the healthy criticism of it I have, in part due to them.

I think it is exactly based in science.

Clinical tests for vaccines do not follow golden standard that any other pharmaceutical products have to follow. Vaccines are never tested against inert placebo. No pharmacocynetic studies were ever done and are not required. Manufacturers are exempt form being liable. Any parents reporting any side effects are ridiculed. Epidemiological studies done on the subject are just bad.

But if you portray people asking this question as "anti-intellectual anti-science cult-like group" then you won the discussion because you prevented any rational and scientific discussion from even taking a place. A job well done.

as a person who has worked in pharma and knows many company-leaders in that space, I gotta say it's painful to read things like this. Many of us are in this business because we thought it would help people, and many of the reasons we can't get things done are due to systemic problems in human health care, not because the leadership is grubbing as much money as it can.

Well its hard to buy that line of thought when you have widespread rule flouting to fix prices and worse.[1]

[1] 60 minutes : Generic drug makers accused of price fixing


I don't consider interviews with prosecutors about allegations to be factual sources of criticism.

Interestingly, nearly all drug companies have compassionate use programs that get high cost drugs to poor people. Funny how the articles rarely mention these programs!

Note: there certainly are unethical players in this field, but it's still painful when you're an ethical player in this field, to hear people throw accusations that don't have all the internal context.

Again, there are massive systemic barriers to making higher quality drugs that are effective- both against disease, and in terms of cost. The government could go a long way to changing laws to achieve this.

>how much do you trust the US healthcare system and pharmaceutical industry

More than I trust myself to diagnose and treat medical issues.

This. Back when I was in middle school learning about what a reliable source was and wasn't, major newspapers were taught as citation-worthy. I wasn't allowed to cite my textbook, but I could cite the New York Times.

I still respect the New York Times but even they've jumped the gun so many times recently it's hard not to question. If I was less educated and didn't understand the economic/social forces driving them and how to account for that I'd probably just write them off entirely as many have done.

Same goes for government agencies and the medical establishment. People have literally been killed, sometimes slowly and painfully on account of their corrupt advice.

Edit: Lot of down-votes all of a sudden. For the record I'm not endorsing anti-vaxxers. Just saying in a world where skepticism of institutions is rightly warranted many will take it too far.

Or is it more about being corrupted by false information on social media? I know some anti vaxxers and it feels charitable to them to say its because they analyzed and studied healthcare and therefore mistrust its vaccines.

Rather, the occams razor is that they are just wrong and misled. They got into anti vax propaganda on FB or elsewhere, its straight misinformation, feeling of parental superiority, and conspiracy thinking. Given they hold numerous false views about vaccines like risks with autism and arsenic, its clearly bad information that is virally infecting people via social media.

And downvoted for disagreeing civilly, have to love it, is this reddit?

I find it weird how everyone wants to blame social media for all of our problems. Like there wasn't dumb pseudoscience and conspiracies being spread constantly and fringe political groups before Twitter.

I have a feeling it's because it's an obvious change so everyone blames the surface level platforms (like they blamed TV and video games in the past). Which then offers them an easy "solution" to censor our way out of them as a panacea and then they can blame the tech companies and regulators and politicians for not “doing something” to make humans less dumb.

Editorializing hundreds of millions of people’s daily thoughts and opinions on our way to utopia!

I think it’s more about speed.

The speed of spreading information, true or false, in social medias.

And sadly my own experience suggests that false informations spread way faster.

Did social media cause the distrust, or did the distrust already exist and social media simply validated those concerns when they saw many others shared the same concerns?

It is easy to blame this on Facebook or Twitter, it feels neat and concise. The reality is the concerns already existed outside social media, and the medical community and companies were not addressing these concerns adequately.

Hence, we are where we are at now.

The medium is the message.

TV news results in news becoming pageant hair, red dresses, and flag waving graphics. TV changed what it meant to be informed and the end state was what we have now.

It's easy to see that the social medium will and did change the message. It also changes what it means to be informed, but in a different way than TV did.

If we are the media does that mean it changes the form of what it means to be person and social life?

How would you then explain well-to-do parents -- not to mention with reputations to protect -- coming out in opposition to the way vaccines are administered and the current vaccine regime in general? [1] [2]

What do they possibly have to gain from taking these adversarial positions in such hotly contested issues? Is it really possible that they are grossly misinformed too?

These people have the net worth to wholly forsake raising their kids here and picking some foreign domicile that offers them choice in these vaccination issues.


Robert De Niro and RFK Jr. have joined forces to push vaccine nonsense



Jessica Biel Weighs In on Vaccine Fight, Drawing Fierce Pushback


> What do they possibly have to gain from taking these adversarial positions in such hotly contested issues? Is it really possible that they are grossly misinformed too?

Yes. They also have kids with working immune system and if their children get measles, they have enough money to have them checked before anything debilitating happens. The child of my mother's cousins died in 2016 because he couldnt get vaccinated (his immune system was too weak), and those antivax who chose not to vaccine their children disturbed the herd immunity. Murderers.

I was particularly annoyed when I found out vaccines sometimes use Aluminium to kick up the immune system. I don’t know how widespread the use was or is, but that certainly didn’t help. I don’t want a heavy metal added to my body...edit-see my comment below, this is false

There’s a certain power and thus seduction to just claiming you know something other people don’t know. There will always be dissension for the sake of dissent.

Aluminium is a “heavy metal”?

Delete your account, you scientific illiterate.

Correction/TIL-per google, aluminum does eventually get removed from the body. Now I know.

Unfortunately, you didn’t check whether you opinion had any basis in fact prior to sharing it. That is part of the problem. At least you are willing to acknowledge it, but most aren’t. So here we are.

Please review the HN guidelines.

Well isn’t that fortunate, seeing as aluminium is only the third most common element in the Earth’s crust and so everywhere you go you’re already exposed to it every day of your life; in the food you eat, in the dust you breathe, in the cuts on your knees from playing in the dirt like a regular child. And, just like every other element/compound (cyanide, lead, water, oxygen, and so on) which your body encounters, Al will have toxic effects at sufficiently high levels, so evolution has developed numerous mechanisms for excreting it before it ever reaches harmful levels.

Ironically, Al is added to vaccines as an adjuvant, thus reducing the amount of antigens needed to provide an effective dose. And the quantity of Al used is tiny; less than what babby is already exposed to through the environment. So you’d think that “vaccine-concerned” parents would be all for something that actually reduces exposure to active ingredients. But as we’ve seen again and again, your average anti-vaxxer doesn’t know biochemistry, epidemiology, and risk-vs-benefit calculations from a kick to the head; though that’s hardly surprising for a bunch of malignant narcissists all pathologically incapable of counting beyond One.

“We ask parents in the first two years of their child’s life to protect them against 14 diseases, that most people don’t see, using fluids they don’t understand,” Dr. Offit said. “It’s time for us to stand back and explain ourselves better.”

The last paragraph is the whole article.

The whole anti-vax thing started in the UK. I went to school in the UK and we spent a lot of time talking about how horrible some of these diseases were and how we can be thankful for vaccination and antibiotics.

It's more of a media thing IMHO: the media love scandals because it generates a lot of viewers. What better than a scandal involving your defenseless babies to drive those $$$?

In fairness, that initial fraudulent study was all over the media, and it did appear to show a real link between MMR and autism. Of course it did, he was faking the figures with intent to deceive.

The media and public reaction was, initially, entirely understandable. Particularly where few remember how bad measles and the rest can affect the unvaccinated. It necessarily took time to disprove and strike-off Andrew Wakefield.

What I fail to comprehend is that now he's no longer allowed to call himself Dr, he is permitted to spread his lies in the US. Somehow he has managed to become and remain something of a personality doing so.

Good point, he was a doctor who had release a groundbreaking study so it was pretty rational to get worried about it.

On a tangent: what has your post been down-voted? It's a good well reasoned reply to my comment. It should be getting up-votes.

shrug Someone didn't like my opening sentence I guess. The first down landed in a second or two - far too fast for someone to have read all. :D

I have observed a case here in Poland - the parents refused a vitamin K shot to their baby because they found something in the leaflet. Later it turned out that this particular vitamin K was not approved in Poland for normal use, only for urgent cases - but still was used routinely on newborns by the hospitals because there was no other. Of course the parents were called crazy anti-vaxxers - but who is there to read the leaflets and check the doctors if not the parents?

Parents can be ignorant - but they are more reliable to have their children interest as their main objective then any institution. In communism times, and probably generally in the past, the institutions like hospitals were much more authoritarian, and in my family there is a personal story about how horrific it sometimes was.

Of course doctors don't like being checked.

Now vaxination is a kind of shibboleth - something you need to agree with, and agree quickly and automatically, to be admitted to the 'enlightened' society.

I think the hysteria around anti-vaxxers is the worst thing.

Well antivaxxer in France caused the death of at least one child in 2016 (who could not get vaccinated because of a weak immune system). They might be other cases.

Does the responsibility of murder dilute when enough people is involved? At this school were this happened, the only antivaxxers who showed guilt were the ones whose children will have sequela.

I know its not possible, but let those antivax live in the same communities and develop their own immunity w/o vaccines. Or at least, when a kid can't get vaccinated, let his parent know if the school is safe.

I'm not sure what you mean by "particular vitamin K was not approved in Poland for normal use". Was it the dosage? Because Vitamin K is Vitamin K, so I'm not sure I follow why this would be bad. In the US, the FDA allows doctors to prescribe any approved drug for any need. So called "off label" use of drugs is common. The only issue is sometimes insurance will not cover the costs.

As for the mistrust of medical professionals, I cannot fathom what it was like to live in a society that blindly followed the State without data to support the position--that must be horrible. Fortunately in the developed, modern world, the data is free for everyone to look at and decide for themselves. Here is a nice review with references showing just how amazing vaccines are: https://medium.com/@visualvaccines/graphic-proof-that-vaccin...

I think part of the reason 'enlightened' society requires everyone to be vaccinated is herd immunity. Not everyone can take a vaccine and be protected, so it's up to the majority of society to protect them. Granted, this is another discussion of who's responsible for taking care of whom, but in modern developed societies we have agreed as a majority to help the less fortunate. An example here are small children, people undergoing chemotherapy, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. These are the people that vaccine herd protection protects.

I'm sorry you feel the hysteria around anti-vaxxers to be the worst thing. I can imagine how difficult it must be to feel better informed than the masses and everyone to think you're the fool. Numerous people throughout history have been murdered for speaking truth to the masses because what they were saying was not convenient.

Citing wikipedia: "Vitamin K is a group of structurally similar, fat-soluble vitamins found in foods and in dietary supplements", but of course drugs always contains also other substances - so different label drugs do differ and can have different side effects.

Herd immunity is indeed the part that makes the whole thing political and difficult, because it is a common good. But in a healthy debate there should be a place for people sceptical about something - they should not be automatically demonized.

I don't quite understand what you write about my feelings - because I don't identify as antivaxxer, I vaccinated my children and I trust the scientific data in general. I just feel better thinking that there are people who read the leaflets and double check the doctors and I don't think they should be vilified even if in the most part these people are not reasonable in their distrust. I also believe that it is better if we don't mandate trust in vaccination - but let people make their minds individually, even if we sometimes lose herd immunity, because the alternative authoritarian system leads to worse things.

It's the grouping, amount, frequency, and unsolved health issues around early childhood issues such as SIDS and autism that freaked parents out.

The fact that the only answers to the questions and concerns is to employ shaming tactics is not compelling or rational enough to push parents with major concerns into doing it.

The medical communities modus operandi of "we have a drug or pill for that", especially around opioids for instance, has created distrust amongst a lot of people also that had recent interactions with doctors.

It is kind of a perfect storm of issues in my opinion.

When our kids were born our pediatrician who was from Germany mentioned that the US vaccine schedule was accelerated compared to Europe. The reason was that parents here are more likely to just stop bringing their kids in for scheduled checkups at some point and the accelerated schedule somewhat compensated for that. In addition pharmaceutical companies don’t or won’t coordinate so there are fewer combo vaccines and more shots than necessary.

So take a new parent who’s surging with oxytocin and vasopressin; give the parents only one choice (vaccinate or don’t); and then stick a needle in their kid. Then repeat that the next visit but with multiple shots.

Hmmmm... yep it is the internet...

How about this:

- Create two vaccination schedules to provide parents choice

- Force vaccine providers to package vaccines to reduce the number of shots

- Eliminate vaccines at birth when parents hormones are surging

- Centralize tracking of vaccinations to reduce the burden on parents who move between health care providers because of changes in insurance

- Offer in-home checkups and vaccines for at-risk groups that you wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise

So what you’re proposing is to increase the period in which unprotected infants may be exposed to dangerous diseases, just to pander to a bunch of noisy know-nothing narcissists?

The CDC et al already tried placating those malevolent turds by removing a perfectly safe preservative from vials (increasing the cost and risk of those vaccines to everyone), and the only thing that happened was those messianic loons and malignant grifters took that “goodwill gesture” as a validation of all their egomaniacal bullshit, and so doubled-down on their screeching and lies in return.


Here’s a much better idea: how about taking each one of those new parents for a good long walk around every nineteenth-century graveyard in town, and count up all the gravestones under which little kids lie, from a time when even in a “first-world” society endemic diseases killed one in ever two or three before adulthood, and tell all thpse blessedly ignorant modern-day parents of yours to grow the fuck up.

Part of the problem with trust in the medical community is how inconsistent doctors themselves can seem.

I’m on my 6th doctor (2nd urologist) and finally I think I have a diagnosis for a long standing issue. Every doctor has a different opinion or way to treat what I have. Some of it is because the science is actively evolving. But a lot of it is because doctors themselves have their own opinions about the science based on their own anecdotal experiences treating patients.

Eventually I have to go with the doctors opinion that “feels right” to me.

I know vaccines fall in a seemingly “obvious” category, but when my experience is fairly typical, I can understand the frustration with being told to take the doctors opinion as gospel.

We almost don't have these anti-vaxer folks here, but it seems to me that people who spread hate towards them are incomparably more worse. It's like a hate cult. People buy whatever the media sell them and start to harass any group they were told to hate and fear, actually giving these groups growth.

This article hints at, but doesn't fully articulate, the irony of two apparently very different disciplines applied upon each other.

Vaccine-resistance, as a mental-state looks akin to the immune system, which normally confers disease immunity but, when running amok can trigger allergies.

It is implied that some medical sociologists now consider vaccine-resistant thinking as a kind of allergy to benign societal forces and are planning a social vaccination program to eradicate such wrong-headedness.

As an aside, the word meme was used near to its original sense - as Dawkins defined it - in the last chapter of his classic "The Selfish Gene".

If these people fear Big Pharma shouldn’t they believe that vaccines are a blow against the “man” because every prevented disease prevents Big Pharma from selling medication?

Anti-vaccers always make me think of things like these: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toxoplasmosis

I'm by no means a biologist, so I have no idea how much substance the idea has, but it seems to me like the existence of anti-vaccine mindsets in general should provide an evolutionary advantage for many strands of germs.

Why are people so STUPID? Why would you A) not protect your child from harmful disease by vaccination. B) Put other people at risk by reducing herd immunity. Why? Fuck, I hate humanity.

This is the simply the result of the US education system. You reap what you sow as a country, but it's a tragedy that defenseless children will be the ones who bare the brunt of it.

Not necessarily, this is the result of many things combined. Social media made it super easy to spread lies and misinformation. You could have a broken education before, but without the means to distribute your lies, your impact on society was small. Also Hollywood celebrities are the biggest contributors to anti-vaccination sentiment.


No. Social media is an extension of ourselves. Better education stops lies, not censorship - which is the only viable alternative to fake news and come with all the obvious pitfalls.

I agree! It's the gradual dumbing down of the populace that is one of the primary causes. Someone asserted a link to autism from vaccines and then the whole thing took like gasoline on a fire.

Should "undocumented immigrants" be vaccinated? How could that be achieved?

They need to be documented obviously. Valid medical records are an absolute must, or more people will end up dead. Refugees are a different matter but should still be taken care of.

In some cases (certainly not all) the answer to your question is: Because you actually study the clinical trials. Because you read all the epidemiological studies. Because you try to understand the pharmacokinetics of the vaccines. And after then you make a (very hard) decision weighing all the risks and unknowns on both ends.


While “clever” seems to be a descriptor with positive connotations, I think that most people would agree that in terms of game theory defecting in the matter of vaccines in a community with no instances of a disease might give one a tremendously small advantage over the vaccinated. However, given that travelers from areas of high measles rates can bring the disease into an area of low incidence, it is probably a case of penny wise pound foolish.


Surprised this was downvoted. From a purely self-interested perspective it makes sense. For anyone who's not aware of the (very low) risk of harm from various vaccines, see https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm. "Life-threatening severe illness with organ failure (about 1 person in 250,000). More than half the people who suffer this side effect die.", for instance, is a side effect of the yellow fever vaccination, which might still be a higher chance than the chance of catching yellow fever, especially if everybody else has been vaccinated against it.

Of course it doesn't hold so well when not everybody else has been vaccinated, as then the chance of catching the disease is higher. That's presumably why OP added the qualifier "everybody else is vaccinated".

Except that antivaxxers proselytize, vastyly increasing the likelihood of crippling or killing their own unvaccinated crotch-spawn far beyond the ~one-in-a-million risk of injury inherent in vaccination.

Sorry, but anti-vax is not an exercise in Game Theory; it’s an exercise in narcissistic shit-flingers indulging their malignant ignorance and delusions of control; and fuck everyone else, including their own children, that pays the price for their depraved indifference.

"There is a risk of harm from the vaccine itself" - A very low risk. And the risk from the disease itself is much higher.

The OP's point was that the risk of _catching_ the disease might be even lower, _if_ everybody else is vaccinated.

Executing that strategy has a cost much higher than the risk of vaccine complications. So it's not the best strategy by any means.

It depends on the variables. Besides, we can't even measure the risks.

is is beyond being an egotistical and cynical POV.

besides, if this is true then you shouldn't publicize anti-vax, because this means "not everyone else" is vaccinated.

Easy to solve. Just bill antivaxers for the moral and economical consequences of every outbreak. That will teach them a lesson.

Some antivaxers are doing it because they’d can’t afford medical care...

Well, of course, there are exceptions - medical or financial reasons. But this is a minority, and I doubt these are spreading this brain plague.

Getting measles is cheaper than getting a shot? Even uninsured, I'm sure you could call the doctor and work out a low or no cost solution.

That’s not the context the decision is being made within, I’m afraid.

The government can’t even protect us from a known carcinogen - RoundUp. And we’re suppose to just trust them when it comes to vaccines and their side effects? Most anti-vaccine people I know don’t doubt it protects from a specific virus. They question the side effects and secondary impacts vaccines can cause to the body. Just like there’s no doubt that RoundUp is an effective pesticide — but that’s not the issue, is it?

Sorry, my comment must not conform to the hackernews groupthink. If you think some vaccines don’t have significant side effects, you’re also not very smart (as so many comments are stating anti vacciners are).

This article is mainly pro-pharma propaganda. Not because its “pro-vaccine”, since vaccines themselves are very useful medical tools. It’s that it frames the issue that “any questioning of the 25 vaccine schedule orthodoxy means you are an anti-science religious whack job” It’s fine to be both pro-vaccine, without feeling the need to purchase the whole Merk lifetime subscription catalog.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact