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Covid-19: How to Deal with Anti-vaxxers

Updated: May 14, 2020

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast by America Dissected, titled "The Anti-anti-vax-vaccine," in which Dr. Abdul El-Sayed goes through the history and science of vaccines as well as the growing anti-vax movement. The episode was released in Sept 2019, but, given the current pandemic and the growing conspiracy theories, I find that it's relevant today.

In the episode, Dr. El-Sayed went all the way back to London in 1853, when a terrible outbreak of cholera hit the suburb of Soho. It was then that Dr.John Snow, who lived in Soho at the time, began his research to try to prove his theory of contagion.

He discovered that most of the people affected by cholera in Soho all lived by the same body of water, leading him to believe that the water was contaminated. Eventually, he got the government to turn off the water, and the number of cholera cases immediately decreased.

That was the first time that science and government came together for public health. Today, Dr. Snow is considered a pioneer in public health research in the field of epidemiology.

Now we know about immune systems, the systems that work hard to keep us healthy. Most immune systems are great at what they do, but they are terrible at dealing with new threats, i.e. Covid-19 virus.

To help our immune systems, vaccines introduce a weakened version of the sickness, so our immune systems can identify the new sickness, allowing it to learn what to do if ever threatened by the real thing, eventually making us immune to those sicknesses.

Unfortunately, not everyone can get vaccinated - think babies, people with allergic reactions, and pregnant women. Getting vaccinated helps protect those who can't by creating herd immunity.

This sounds great, right? Well, it is, except for the recent anti-vaxxer movements.

In recent years, there has been a rise in measles cases. In fact, earlier this year, there was a case here in Tampa. The reason for many of the new cases is anti-vaxxers and political moves that encourage anti-vaxxer movement, like philosophical exemptions to school immunization requirements. (Remember separation of church and state? Yea, there's a reason for that.)

There were 3 times more measles cases during the first three months of 2019 than in all of 2018. You think that's crazy? Well, in a recent poll, out of 2200 respondents, 9% said they wouldn't get vaccinated for Covid-19.

"What we do or don't do affects everyone around you." - Dr. El-Sayed.

Here is what Dr. El-Sayed learned about dealing with anti-vaxxers:

1. Yelling at people who are scared does not make them less scared.

Newsflash: anti-vaxxers are scared too, and many of them have reasons, which they find legitimate, for not getting themselves or their children vaccinated. Those reasons vary from religion to health to lack of trust in the government and our healthcare system (some might just be vegan). Like I said in a previous blog post, yelling at people to stay inside is not effective, neither will it be effective when trying to convince them to vaccinate.

Ethan, a guest on the podcast and someone who grew up with an anti-vaxxer mom, admitted that his mom's beliefs were based on being uneducated and they were reinforced by social media. He said that there are leaders in the anti-vaxxer movements, but there are also victims of misinformation.

Ethan suggested that we approach anti-vaxxers with empathy.

2. We haven't done a good job of speaking a language that people understand.

Statistics don't mean anything when there is mistrust in the government and the healthcare system. Statistics can be manipulated to favor any side of an argument. The news can also be manipulated to favor any side. What does get through to people though is real stories told by real people, not companies.

At this point, it is obvious that the CDC, the WHO, and Dr. Fauci are who we're getting all the Covid-19 information from. The fact that they have all of the information makes some anti-vaxxers question the reliability and motive of the information disclosed to the public. Quotes from those sources are not what anti-vaxxers want to hear.

3. Change our policies.

As previously mentioned, there's a reason for the separation between church and state. It's time for politics to stay out of what's best for the general public's health. Let's re-evaluate philosophical exemptions. Look at what the policies are in your state, and contact your representatives.

Here's my take on this:

4. Educate.

As Ethan said, anti-vaxxers' ideologies usually stem from being uneducated and then they are reinforced by other uneducated posts on social media. It's sad to say that some anti-vaxxers are indeed too far-gone. Only recently, a bunch of conspiracy theories regarding Covid-19 began to gain popularity. The only way to remediate this is by educating children about the importance of vaccines as well as the impact of Covid-19. By doing so, we ensure that the correct information will pass on to future generations.

Unfortunately, when it comes to various aspects of life, especially vaccines, we are forced to trust that the government and health providers know what they're doing. That's why voting is important. If the people elected are competent, there shouldn't be a problem. If they're not though... Scary, huh?

Thanks for stopping by! Leave a comment and tell me whether you've ever come across an anti-vaxxer and how you responded. Subscribe for more and share if you'd like. Additionally, let me know if there's anything you'd like me to write about.

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