Vaccines and time

Remember the scare about EMFs? Remember Satanic ritual abuse? Remember how cell phones were going to give us brain cancer? The list of things we’ve been afraid of is long, but it changes over time.

That’s something to keep in mind as you consider the current dangerous anti-vaccine movement. Because these scares have no basis in fact, they’re not sticky. They’re fashion trends, and things go in and out of fashion. In particular, it’s worth noting that the anti-vaxx crowd consists of people who like to think they’re smarter than everyone else: lefty liberals, Northern Californians, Silicon Valley tech workers. Once your marvelous insight is shared by the great unwashed masses, it’s time to move on to something else.

Vaccines present an unusual problem because the panic has a meaningful way of manifesting: parents refuse to vaccinate their children. This is different from simply being freaked out about power lines or mobile phones. Nevertheless, I do think there’s some hope that this anti-vaccine trend will taper off with time — especially (alas!) after some children begin to die.

A worrying counter-trend is food fears, which do tend to last: people are still insisting on the dangers of aspartame and MSG and gluten long after the initial studies showing problems with these ingredients were overturned by better studies. I think that’s because of the ritual, almost spiritual quality of food in human life, and I hope that’s the case; if it’s more an issue of being afraid about what we put in our bodies, then the anti-vaccine problem might be stickier than I’m predicting.

Nevertheless, I do think there may be some possibility that the anti-vaccine epidemic, like so many earlier epidemics, will run its course with time. Hopefully we can inoculate ourselves against a recurrence.