Who’s Who in the Anti-Vaccine Movement

No, this isn’t another article about Andy Wakefield or Jenny McCarthy.

Defining the Anti-Vaccine Movement

The great majority of people know that vaccine work and that they are safe and necessary.

And then there are the folks who don’t.

“The term movement as a description for vaccine deniers is also very misleading. A movement implies the image of a powerful, coordinated group, united by a shared collective identity.”

WHO on How to respond to vocal vaccine deniers in public

It is important to understand that this minority of people who do not believe in vaccines do not have uniform beliefs. Calling them a movement is simply for convenience, as a way to group them all together.

Who’s Who in the Anti-Vaccine Movement

So who are the different types of people that you might come across in various discussions about vaccines?

More importantly, why do you want to know?

You don’t want to think that everyone who questions the safety or efficacy of vaccines is totally anti-vaccine and is going to refuse some or all vaccines. Some of these parents really do just have questions, want to get educated, and may have just been scared by misinformation. On the other hand, others won’t change their minds no matter what new evidence you bring to the table or how long you talk.

“Although many may characterize all individuals who eschew vaccines as “anti-vaccine” or “vaccine deniers,” in reality there is a broad spectrum of individuals who choose not to have themselves or their children vaccinated.”

Tara C Smith on Vaccine Rejection and Hesitancy: A Review and Call to Action

However you characterize the groups, you will be much less frustrated when talking about vaccines if can quickly recognize if you are talking to someone who is:

  • a go along to get along immunization acceptor – this type of cautious acceptor understands and accepts that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary, but still may have some doubts about one or more vaccines.
  • an immunization advocate – understands, accepts, and helps teach others that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.
  • a vaccine denier – someone who does not accept the process of vaccination while denying scientific evidence and employing rhetorical arguments to give the false appearance of legitimate debate. These are the vaccine rejectors who are “unyieldingly entrenched in their refusal to consider vaccine information.”
  • vaccine hesitant – usually a classic fence-sitter, who has doubts about whether vaccines are really safe or necessary or has simply been scared and influenced about something they read on the Internet. They may skip or delay some vaccines, but are typically willing to listen to why getting their child fully vaccinated is their best and safest option.
  • a vaccine refuser – doesn’t vaccinate their kids or themselves, but unlike the vaccine denier, probably doesn’t have very strong beliefs in conspiracy theories and may be willing to listen if you address their concerns about vaccines. They are also sometimes called the vaccine resistant. Often seem to put aside their beliefs against vaccines in special circumstances, like during outbreaks or other high risk situations.
  • a vaccine skeptic – this term is often misused, as classically, a vaccine skeptic would be defined as a person who has questions about vaccines, but then accepts that they are safe and necessary once they have examined all of the evidence. As a skeptic, they would also question all of the “science” of the anti-vaccine movement too, and would find it lacking. Folks who question vaccines, but then ignore all of the evidence that supports their safety and effectiveness are in denial – they are not vaccine skeptics.
  • a vocal vaccine denier – a vaccine denier who influences others, especially on the Internet.
  • one of the worrieds – often immunization acceptors who are still a little worried about vaccine side effects.

What about those who say that they are pro-safe vaccines or pro-choice about vaccines?

Don’t be fooled, these are simply anti-vaccine arguments of a vaccine denier or refuser.

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008.
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey went on a mission to Green Our Vaccines in 2008. How would you classify them?

Still having trouble telling the groups apart?

Try asking the person you are talking to what would change their mind about vaccines.

Would new evidence work? Or would they dismiss any new evidence as being biased, just as they already dismiss all of the evidence that  so strongly supports that vaccines are safe and necessary?

It is important to identify who’s who, because while you will likely not change the mind of someone who is at the stage of being a vaccine denier, you have a much better chance to help the others get their kids vaccinated and protected.

What to Know About Defining the Anti-Vaccine Movement

The anti-vaccine movement includes a lot of different groups of people, from those who are simply hesitant because a friend or family member is scaring them on Facebook to the vocal vaccine denier, who probably wouldn’t even change their mind if they were bitten by a rabid dog.

More About Defining the Anti-Vaccine Movement

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