What You Need to Stop Doing to Vaccine Skeptics

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Not too long ago, “anti-vaxxers” were just a ridiculed fringe group. Taking shots for polio and the measles and such seemed like an ordinary part of life. Why would anyone see a problem with it?

But now that the COVID-19 vaccine has entered the scene, people are feeling pressured. They’re questioning whether this coerced intervention is really going to be worth it, often with the same concerns that vaccine critics have pointed out for years.

The experts have noticed this phenomenon they call vaccine hesitancy. The response: insisting that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective, and that we need to take it to protect the vulnerable and get “back to normal” soon. To combat the fear, we’re encouraged to share resources from official public health organizations.

Do you not see the issue with this?

That’s like responding to “I don’t want to take birth control pills” with a source explaining how birth control is safe and effective — on the website of Planned Parenthood. It’s like responding to “I want to go on a low-carbohydrate diet” with a source stating you should eat at least three servings of grains per day — citing the USDA Food Pyramid.

In these cases, we hopefully wouldn’t just say, Look, the experts say you’re wrong. We’d ask why someone believes these choices are best for them, evaluating the evidence they saw that convinced them. We’d consider that maybe they’ve looked into it more than we have, and maybe we can learn something from them. And ultimately, we’d trust them to be the best judge of what risks they’re willing to accept.

If all someone needed to be okay with the vaccine was the consensus of mainstream public health organizations, there would be no “hesitancy.” A simple Google search would be enough to dispel the debate. When people are skeptical of the vaccine, it’s often for reasons more like these:

  • How can we believe that big pharmaceutical companies have our best interests at heart when they’re known to push unhelpful or even risky treatments for their profits? (See the history of SSRI research!)
  • How can we accept the possibility of serious risks when the vaccines have federal immunity from liability?
  • How do we know the exogenous ingredients in vaccines, which are often inflammatory, won’t raise the risk of health issues years down the line, beyond the time frame of any trials we’ve had?
  • If everyone needs to show evidence of a medical intervention in order to partake in basic activities of society, what precedent does that set?

There are probably good answers to these. But you won’t find them in the trite info pieces from WHO and the CDC and other public health organizations, all parroting the same narrative of “safe and effective.”

So, to those who say “listen to the experts,” consider that vaccine skeptics have already heard your side. It’s time to listen to theirs. You can’t address their concerns if you don’t understand what they truly are.

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