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.

Comments

  1. #1 Leigh Jackson
    July 13, 2017

    A day of reckoning may be coming to Texas. Freedom from reality cannot be legislated.

  2. #2 Dorit Reiss
    July 13, 2017

    I will point out that at least one of the leading politicians helping anti-vaccine groups in Texas appears very anti-vaccine himself.

    And yes, this highlights the problem really well.

    • #3 Orac
      July 13, 2017

      Oh I know that one of the “parental choice” legislators is very antivaccine. I even mentioned him in my last post. However, my concern is how antivax rhetoric seduces libertarians who aren’t antivaccine, like the one featured here.

      • #4 Dorit Reiss
        July 13, 2017

        Which is clearly a bigger danger. I know you’ve referred to Renee DiResta’s work on this before, and one of the things she highlights is the efforts of anti-vaccine activists to appeal to tea-party types.

  3. #5 Zach
    July 13, 2017

    I don’t see the difference between not vaccinating and driving drunk. Both are decisions that are known and proven to create scenarios with a high risk of harm to the person making that choice and those around him or her.

  4. #6 Anonymous Pseudonym
    In Your Head
    July 13, 2017

    Y’all may want to start pointing out that living in a society also involves responsibilities to others in the community. Rights are great and all, but without the responsibilities, everything falls apart.

    Vaccination is a responsibility that comes with living in society. If you don’t want to accept the responsibility, maybe the rights should be revoked.

  5. #7 MikeMa
    July 13, 2017

    Ignorance is the new GOP mantra. More than half believe college is unamerican. This is just an offshoot of that mentality.

  6. #8 Jonas
    July 13, 2017

    Normally, you’d think that, if there were a major outbreak of a VPD, then the anti-vax legislators would be (rightly) blamed for it, and perhaps voted out of office, but this is Texas, so I’m not sure.

  7. #9 Jonas
    July 13, 2017

    @MikeMA-Yes, but is it really “new”? After all, the GOP has been full of climate-change deniers and creationists for a while.

  8. #10 Zach
    July 13, 2017

    @ MikaMa

    Considering how many colleges have racist protests promoting “social justice” a/k/a cultural marxism, I can see why it would be viewed as un-American. I don’t think vaccination is something that can wisely be fought on a political level, as both Democrats and Republicans are creating more and more extremists by simply taking the opposite side of anything that their opposition says. Look at how pro-Islam the regressive left is now, despite also claiming to be in favor of feminism and gay rights, two things Islam directly opposes at a philosophical level. There’s no rationale for those three groups working together except for the regressive leftists saying “well the right is wary of Muslims, therefore its in our best interest to have their back so as to get their votes and support.”

    This is science, and science needs to be apolitical.

  9. #11 The Smith of Lie
    July 13, 2017

    I don’t know a lot about American politics, but given what I understand I’d love to see reaction of those conservative politicians, who go for “parental choice” and “personal freedom” rethoric, asked to champion pro-choice laws under the same standard.

  10. #12 Jonas
    July 13, 2017

    @Zach-Yes, the protests against right-wing speakers at colleges is probably part of the reason why many conservatives have an increasingly unfavorable view of higher education.

    Personally I think that they have every right to speak, but I question why some of them choose to speak at very liberal college campuses where almost everyone disagrees with them-it make me think that they do it just for no reason other than to provoke the “snowflakes”.

    I don’t think that the religious right has *ever* valued higher education whatsoever. They have always hated science and real (that is, secular) education.

  11. #13 Gray Falcon
    July 13, 2017

    @Zach: You are aware there are dozens of different factions of Muslims, aren’t you? I have several female Muslim coworkers, computer programmers. I know several Christian groups that would not allow that.

  12. #14 Jonas
    July 13, 2017

    @Zach-You do have a point about the by some on the left seem to be ignoring the intolerance of Islam, though.

    The best example is one of the leaders of the Women’s March was Linda Sarsour-Nobody in their right mind who looked Sarsour’s disgusting remarks about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a women’s right activist and critic of Islam, would ever think that Sarsour should be leading a “women’s march”.

  13. #15 dean
    July 13, 2017

    “Look at how pro-Islam the regressive left is ”

    Yeah, that’s a line of crap.

  14. #16 sadmar
    July 13, 2017

    Oh, Zach. Science and medicine have never NOT been political, and never will be. And obviously, with your clueless reference to “cultural marxism” and your butt-hurt-white-boy smack equating “social justice” with racism here on a science blog, you’re exhibit A of that fact.

    Jonas: To be fair, the religious right hardly devalues higher education. They just want it done ‘their Way’. Some of the academic programs at the big evangelical unis like Liberty aren’t half bad, on their own terms. They probably even do undergrad science reasonably well within the borders cordoning off certain verboten matters. There are also lesser well known conservative religious colleges that have quite good academic reputations overall, e.g. Wheaton in Illinois. I wouldn’t endorse any of these schools, of course, but it’s just wrong to brand the right as anti-college because they’re vehemently against some of the intellectual activity going on at ‘mainstream’ schools and public unis. Anti liberal education, maybe, anti critical thinking (in the humanities sense) certainly, but that’s not the same thing. As for only secular education being “real”, I think the Jesuit colleges would disagree, and having taught at two Jesuit schools – which have their share of ‘issues’, don’t get get me wrong – I’d have to concur.

    And yes, the campus conservatives are trying to provoke with those publicized speaker invitations. It’s not that they invite ‘conservative speakers’, it’s that they invite bomb-throwing trolls like Ann Coulter and Milo Yannoputz. There’s hardly a free expression issue involved, since no one is being denied an opportunity to become acquainted with their views, as they’re easily accessible in a variety of media outlets. Believe it or not, the sort of sober conservative academics who don’t have public megaphones appear in various campus venues regularly. BTW, the recent Coulter flap at UC Berkeley was indeed about very real campus security concerns. The kids making real trouble in Berkeley aren’t UC students, but gangs of black shirt self-styled anarchists who live in squats down in the flats, and show up at any legitimate demo seeking cover for acts of vandalism and to pick fights with anyone ready to rumble. UC offered Coulter a safe venue and time, but she and her sponsors refused because they wanted the black shirts to show up and stir the pot so they could blame UC and the ‘student left’ for the riot. “Sad”!

    But we weren’t talking about religion or education, we were talking about Texas… so to Zach’s original comment:

    I don’t see the difference between not vaccinating and driving drunk.

    When I was a young man, anyway, Texas was infamous as one of the few states without an open bottle law. So, yeah, a state full of drunks in pickups with two assault rifles in the gunrack behind the front seat isn’t the place to expect sensible vaccination policy will necessarily rule the day.

  15. #17 Denice Walter
    July 13, 2017

    re ‘madness in Texas’

    Oh we know ALL about that!
    ( i.e. various woo-fraught residents, both full and part time)

    – as an aside-
    one of them ( @ Natural News) writing today about chemotherapy manages to slime our benevolent and magnanimous host, Orac.

    Shame on him – oh, but he has no shame ( I stole that line from someone)

  16. #18 Ren
    July 13, 2017

    “Look at how pro-Islam the regressive left is now, despite also claiming to be in favor of feminism and gay rights, two things Islam directly opposes at a philosophical level.”

    Oh, boy… Where to begin?

  17. #19 Tom B
    July 13, 2017

    On a less political note: After reading last week’s discussion on school vaccination rate reporting I spoke with a couple of school principals (elementary and highschool). They each told me that they have student vaccination status readily available and would absolutely keep any immune compromised student out of contact with unimmunized students (different classes, lunch times, etc.).
    If vaccine status of classmates is a concern, talk to the school principal, reporting laws or not, they can and will protect vulnerable children.

  18. #20 Panacea
    July 13, 2017

    Tom, if protecting the immunocompromised student from the unvaxxed student means the compromised student has different classes or lunch times from his peers, there’s a potential ADA issue there.

  19. #21 CJTX
    July 13, 2017

    Sadmar, at #16 – thanks for tackling that. I have not the energy.

  20. #22 Tom B
    July 13, 2017

    Panacea, the principals I talked to spoke as if the differing schedules were equal. So they would be separated from at least 50% of their peers regardless.
    Mostly I was trying to learn how they current handle the situation. I did not delve into the legal aspects but will convey your concerns.

  21. #23 Gretel Hansen
    July 13, 2017

    Tom B-Many of these diseases are airborne. The air is contaminated for up to two hours after a person with measles has been in a room. That’s the most extreme example, but many other diseases are spread that way as well, and sometimes the bacteria/viruses can live on surfaces for some time after they have been contaminated, thus being infectious to the next person using a desk, etc.

  22. #24 Narad
    July 14, 2017

    Sadmar, I would have expected better than the use of the essentially meaningless word combination “assault rifles” from you. That’s aesthetics, nothing more.

  23. #25 fusilier
    July 14, 2017

    Narad @24

    While it is pedantically true that an SKS or AR-15 is not an “assault rifle”*, they can be made fully automatic by any one with a hone and some time spent on the sear.

    My FIL brought a fully automatic M1 Garand back from the Pacific

    fusilier

    James 2:24

    * capable of selective – single round, burst, and full auto – fire

  24. #26 Tom B
    July 14, 2017

    Gretel Hanson,
    Great point and I agree with you completely. Separating students is clearly inferior to vaccinating everyone who is medically eligible. In addition to your measles example, Strep pneumo can survive on surfaces for 24 hours and Influenza 6 hours.
    My purpose was to let people know that while school vaccination are not publicly available, there are people with that information who are willing and able to help. Parents forced to make school choices for compromised children do not have to make those choices in the dark.

  25. #27 Michael J. Dochniak
    Back in Minnesota
    July 15, 2017

    Orac writes,

    I was just too tired to write my usual length Insolence.

    MJD says,

    Sadmar (#16) is a helping hand with his entertaining and often full-length analysis.

    When your down and lonely and you need a helping hand…
    – James Taylor

    Last week, I was present at the annual Quaker gathering (Niagara University) and some of the kids were un-vaccinated.

    I noticed that the antivaxxer parents were guarded and kindly attentive about the health and safety of every child and adult present.

    It’s possible that increased outbreaks, and a declining rate of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), may convince all parents to fully vaccinate their children without government intervention.

    Q. Is the ASD rate increasing or decreasing.

  26. #28 Johnny
    On the road, actually
    July 15, 2017

    …they can be made fully automatic by any one with a hone and some time spent on the sear.

    Not really. Yes, you can file parts and a semi-automatic can be made to fire multiple rounds with one press of the trigger. However, it can’t be controlled – the gun will fire until it’s empty, and it will do it every time.

    I suspect your FILs M-1 was the same. I’ve never heard of a true fully auto Garand, and given that it only had an 8 shot capacity, it would be a silly thing.

    Of course, it’s illegal to even try file a sear to make an automatic, much less be caught with one, so I don’t recommend it.