Culture

The Anti-Vaccine Movement Is Gaining Traction, Largely Thanks To Trump And His Supporters

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It’s been a few weeks since President Trump met with vaccine skeptic Robert Kennedy Jr. and offered to team up in order to create a commission on vaccine safety. Trump is not part of the traditional anti-vaccine movement and Kennedy was adamant that he and the president were both pro-vaccine following their January meeting according to The Washington Post:

“President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies, and he has questions about it,” Kennedy said. “His opinion doesn’t matter, but the science does matter, and we ought to be reading the science, and we ought to be debating the science.

“And that everybody ought to be able to be assured that the vaccines that we have — he’s very pro-vaccine, as am I — but they’re as safe as they possibly can be,” he added.

But despite these statements and past claims by Trump that he is a “slow vaxxer” who believes children are given too many vaccines at an early age, many are using the new president to bolster their anti-vaccine agendas. According to The Washington Post, the president has connections to some with deep ties to the anti-vaccine push we’ve seen over the past twenty years and his support of Kennedy and his support of now disproven vaccine theories are adding fuel to their movement in places like Texas where it is called one of the “most organized and politically active”:

A leading conspiracy theorist is Andrew Wakefield, author of the 1998 study that needlessly triggered the first fears. (The medical journal BMJ, in a 2011 review of the debacle, described the paper as “fatally flawed both scientifically and ethically.”) Wakefield’s Twitter handle identifies him as a doctor, but his medical license has been revoked. The British native now lives in Austin, where he is active in the state and national anti-vaccine movement.

Trump has met with Wakefield, who attended an inaugural ball and told supporters afterward that he had received “tremendous support” for his efforts and hoped to have more meetings with the president…

In a brief phone interview, Wakefield said he had not spoken to Trump since last summer. He declined to say how he was invited to an inaugural ball. “Better to say nothing at this stage,” he said. Wakefield said he was heading to Europe to promote “Vaxxed,” the movie he directed and co-wrote in which he defends the debunked link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism. Texans for Vaccine Choice has sponsored showings of the film and promotes it on its Facebook page.

The efforts of the anti-vaccine community have appealed to a small but vocal minority of citizens and have many vaccine supporters feeling that they are “losing the battle.” While vaccinations remain at a high level in Texas and other states, there is a rise in those willing to let their children go unvaccinated. Statewide numbers in Texas have jumped to high levels since 2003, with The Washington Post finding that the state’s exemption rules have opened the doors for the growing numbers:

In Texas, the number of school-age children who are not vaccinated has soared since 2003, when the state expanded its exemption criteria to include reasons of conscience. Personal-belief exemptions increased from 2,314 in the 2003-2004 school year to 44,716 in 2015-2016.

Overall statewide vaccination rates remain high — over 98 percent. But in some parts of Texas, vaccine coverage is slipping below the 90 to 95 percent level that experts say is needed to prevent an outbreak. Many private schools, including in the Austin area, have the highest rates of unvaccinated children, exceeding 20 percent.

Pro-vaccine advocates are pressing lawmakers to pass laws in order to counter the rise in anti-vaccination rhetoric. This has run into some roadblocks in Texas thanks to libertarian and anti-government groups supporting anti-vaccine measures under the guise of choice, but some are attempting to mobilize the pro-vaccine base in an effort to combat the loud voices from the opposition. As The Post points out, some view vaccines as “such a basic part of life” that getting them mobilized is difficult. The full piece paints the full picture of just how difficult this seems to be.

(Via The Washington Post)

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