Oh great, we have to deal with anti-vaxxers again

COVID-19 has dominated the lives of Americans for nearly a year as I write this. The path out of the pandemic is clear, however; as coronavirus vaccines are distributed in ever-greater numbers across the country, a light at the end of our long national tunnel is appearing. At last, a definitive end to these months of death, fear, and uncertainty is in sight. All we have to do is get enough people vaccinated. 

Luckily for us all, there’s a particular pseudoscientific cult that’s seen the writing on the wall and realizes that now is the perfect time to strike: with everyone thinking about vaccines, they can have a field day spreading misinformation on incomprehensible Facebook posts. I refer, of course, to the humble anti-vaxxers. This coalition of middle-aged moms, wannabe faith healers, “doctors,” and one-size-fits-all conspiracy theorists has emerged from the woodwork in unforeseen numbers, and I’m here to offer you readers of the Bi-Line a field guide on the kinds of anti-vaxxers and how they operate.

There are four different types of anti-vaxxers, in my experience: the Facebook Friend, the “Shaman,” the PhD Recipient, and the Newbie. I’m going to dive into what makes each one tick, and how to avoid being caught up in their shenanigans and lies yourself.

Class One: Facebook Friend. The only time I’ve ever used Facebook is to pretend to be Lawrence Kohlberg for a psychology class (I will not elaborate), so I can’t say I’m an avid user. Everything I’ve heard about the site over the past couple years suggests that’s for the best. It’s apparently a hellscape on par with Dante’s Inferno, just with a charming blue-and-white color palette and even more sin.  It’s unsurprising, then, that anti-vaxxers seem to infest Facebook like the radioactive cockroaches in Chernobyl. A Facebook Friend is a devious sort, as they appear to be just like you or me, lounging around, going to work, grabbing a drink on a Friday night; and then BAM, they post about how their three-year-old isn’t a sheep so of course she’s not getting a measles shot. You may be tempted to think, “Oh, that’s a one-off incident, or maybe it’s hyperbole, or maybe the child had additional health problems…” That’s a dangerous game. Nine times out of ten, that Facebook denizen just showed you their true colors, and those colors are a BRIGHT RED FLAG.  These folks tend to talk a lot about how their kids aren’t being vaccinated to make it a “think of the CHILDREN!” issue, when in reality it’s a “your rugrat is gonna give me the mumps” issue. The online nature of this class of anti-vaxxer makes them easy to avoid if you don’t have Facebook, but almost impossible to evade if you do. Tread carefully.

Warning signs of a Facebook Friend class include: focusing on how their kids are “chemical-free”/”not sheep,” posting statuses in the wee hours of the morning, and being a friend of a friend’s friend.

Class Two: The “Shaman.” People who think subsisting on a steady diet of imported Central American fruits and healing crystals is a swell idea tend to hate vaccines. I guess if you’ve invested years of your life into arguing that buying a topaz necklace protects you from the negative energy that gives you tetanus, learning that a two-second shot does the same thing is a bit of a slap in the face. So these folks proclaim that a flu shot is just shoving chemicals up your nose, whereas eating poison oak is how the Lord intended us to not get the flu. This isn’t meant to knock forms of medicine that aren’t Eurocentric and may involve more natural ingredients; this is just to say that fearmongering about important scientific developments on those grounds, especially if you’re not from a culture that actually uses those medicines, seems more like paranoia and trying to appear “spiritual” than actual insight. Know the line between helpful alternative medicines and distinctly unhelpful misinformation about what’s in vaccines and who they’re safe for.

Warning signs of the “Shaman” class include: claiming their commuter suburb is a mountain village, purchasing things that “look indigenous” if they’re not indigenous, and knowing the difference between random rocks at a glance.

Class Three: PhD Recipient. I use this phrase to specifically avoid using the term “doctor.” These are not doctors. Once I heard of a man named Dr. Morris Berg, whose PhDs included degrees in hypnotherapy from “overseas universities” according to the National Hypnotherapy Society  and who is an “accredited past life healer” and a “modern energy tapping professional.” He was also involved in the creation of a movie about how Galileo was wrong and Earth is the center of the universe. That’s how I heard about him, because I watched the film as a joke and he was credited. Though he was “Dr.” Morris Berg, to argue that his title of “Dr.” is perfectly legitimate is misleading at best. It’s unknown where he got it from, and his expertise seems to be in pseudoscientific energy theories (and the Earth being the center of the universe, I suppose). 

Many of these sorts are around in anti-vaxxer communities. They’re doctors, with medical degrees that you’d have to be a fool to question or look into, and they say things that have never been proven true–things that can reach a lot of people because a doctor said them–and declare that they’re the “rebels” who are speaking the “real truth.” Have there been instances of coverups in the medical field? Absolutely. The AIDS crisis comes to mind as a time when many health agencies were politically pressured to remain silent, because of the conflation of AIDS with homosexuality and drug use. However, the doctors who spoke out against that silence were real doctors, with proven experience in their fields, not these quacks who won’t even reveal where they went to “medical school.”

Warning signs of a PhD Recipient class include: degrees in things that seem wholly unmedical, getting cagey when asked where their degree is from, and websites that were clearly designed in the early 2000s.

Class Four: Newbie. Some people think that because they’ve only lived through one pandemic, this is somehow different from all the other ones and they don’t need a vaccine because COVID isn’t a problem. No. Get the vaccine. No one is so special that they just don’t need it. Actually contribute to society, please bro. COVID is in fact just like other diseases, in that it needs vaccines to be mitigated. It’s easy to slip into this once in a while, since this is such a rare occurrence, but just like with diseases decades ago, we need to all do our part.

Warning signs for a Newbie class include: there really aren’t any. It’s mostly just important to avoid thinking like one.

So there they are, four classes of anti-vaxxers and how they think. I hope you’ve enjoyed this field guide to the brigade against life-saving vaccines, and here’s hoping we all get those sweet, sweet needles in our arms sooner rather than later.