#DiversityJC recap on vaccine refusal

Last week’s #DiversityJC discussed this article, that used interviews with 25 mothers who reject recommended vaccines to examine the gendered discourse of vaccine refusal. By analyzing the gendered discourse of vaccines, this article identifies how women’s insistence on individual maternal choice as evidence of commitment to their children draws on and replicates structural inequality in ways that remain invisible, but affect others. If you want a quick catch-up you can read the science daily article about it or the author’s blog post by Gender & Society. We had a great discussion about it! I am going to try to summary it here

Our discussion started with  bringing the point that fear is a strong motivator for mothers to refuse to vaccinate their children.  posted a link to Virginia Hughes‘ excellent piece “I Asked My Mom Why She Didn’t Vaccinate Me” also pointed that some mother’s are worried about what goes into their kids bodies, and prefer to act in a more natural way.  reminded that there are also highly religious people where fear takes over from evidence based reasoning. Then the next question was:

Indeed, the article suggests that “putting bad stuff” in kids’ bodies is a more realistic threat than epidemics, to privileged parents.  commented that it seems these moms are highly skeptical about “mainstream” science and “big pharma”.  pointed to this NPR article where they explore the psychology behind vaccine refusal. So it seems that this mothers indeed know the possible outcomes of not vaccinating their children, but they still prefer to do so because they are scared of the risks of vaccines. Also, a desire to be in control, & distrust of public health (what is described in more details in this post by Kate Clancy). But there’s also the belief that you’re only at risk of communicable diseases if you go to India, Africa, 3rd world nations, as  pointed out.  brought up that a big part is that these moms are in a “tribe” of similar thinking people; social pressure trumps real science.

That post started a conversation about reinforcing SES/ethnic segregation, as  pointed out. And this already started, as some states require vaccines for daycare. Also, some doctors refuse unvaccinated kids, and some parents go along with Dr’s requests, as you can read in this article. This vaccine refusal is already bringing some strong feelings, as you can read in this open letter “To the Parent of the Unvaccinated Child Who Exposed My Family to Measles”.

In the end the fear and the responsibility always was coming back to our discussion:

Exactly! Motherhood is new and scary. Scary to be so responsible for such a small, helpless child. So many decisions, all feel so important.  pointed out that she never considered not vaxxing, but felt enormous pressure to show she was a “good mother” by researching decisions.  

And just to finalize in a good mood, here goes the Daily show link that posted to complement our discussion

Les measlesrables

Let us know what you think in the comments! Thank you to everyone who participated and hope to see you in the next #DiversityJC on February 23rd, 2 pm EST. Let us know if you have a suggestion of topic or if you want to extend your view by writing a guest post!


3 thoughts on “#DiversityJC recap on vaccine refusal

  1. Great recap Dr! A few points I wanted to add (that you already touched on to some extent… ). There’s a lot in this conversation about privilege and the need for public health…

    1. UNvaccinated kids are often from white, wealthy, well educated families.

    2. Parents who don’t vaccinate aren’t crazy or stupid, they want what’s best for their kids, but what they don’t understand is that their privilege means they believe their education, time, and money will bring *better* health care than what is acceptable for the public (i.e. they believe, perhaps unconsciously, that public health care is *not* the best option, it’s for people with less, surely they can do better). Consequently, they ignore scientific fact.

    3. Under-vaccinated kids are often from black, single parent families with less income and access – it is often difficult for these families to stay on a vaccine schedule. This group should not be lumped in with #1 above.

    ***4. As outbreaks of preventable diseases continue and worsen (and they will, btw), under-vaccinated kids AND those that cannot be vaccinated will bear the brunt of these outbreaks. Basically meaning that privileged white families must face the fact that refusing to vaccinate their kids means they ARE putting more vulnerable (in terms of health AND access to health care) populations at a much higher risk.

    5. There is a significant amount of mistrust directed at the medical community. Certainly we all know big pharma makes mad cash monies, and yes medical professionals make bank too – and there be plenty shady deals that happen. However. This does negate the fact that both these groups also save millions of lives and protect us from very very serious diseases. In addition, things like the Tuskegee syphilis study mean black communities have a whole ‘nother reason for not trusting doctors, medical research, and drugs (PS to wealthy white people: you don’t get to claim these studies as a reason you’re distrustful – these studies were done FOR YOUR BEHALF and were never, and WILL NEVER be done on YOU).

    6. Being a parent comes with “awe-inspiring” responsibility that you can’t possibly prepare for. Trying to live up to this, and navigate the ridiculous pressures we place on parents to raise their kids is crazy challenging – and parents want to feel like they’re doing the right thing and in control.

    7. Especially given #6 above, even a simple trip to the doctor can be terrifying for parents of a newborn that cannot be vaccinated yet.

    Please – if you are on the fence about vaccinations or have chosen not to vaccinate, take a look at the literature around why you feel that way (below) and the literature you’re basing your decisions on. Is it truly science? Or gut feelings? Remember – pseudoscience is far easier to communicate than real science, and more often plays on our fears. You can change your mind, you can decide to be wrong. I know it’s difficult, especially given its your kids we’re talking about, but it’s not too late to think again.


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