Privilege and the Anti-Vaccine Movement

A common argument for keeping (often easy-to-obtain) philosophical exemptions to school entry vaccine requirements is that failing to do so will cause an undue burden on single parents or low-income families. This arguments serves to make refusing vaccines a right and a matter of social justice–when really, nothing could be further from the truth.

Are anti-vaxxers out of touch or are they knowingly trying to play a sleight of hand? Mainstream media has reported on the correlation between wealth and vaccine refusal over and over and over and over and over again. (Apologies for all the overs–it’s been reported a lot!) In an article titled, “Neoliberal Mothering and Vaccine Refusal,” Jennifer Reich explains that children who are intentionally unvaccinated are those who are raised in families with two parents making an income over $75,000 a year.

PediatricianAccess to medical care, and therefore immunization, is an issue related to poverty, as we see higher under-vaccination rates (children who are behind schedule or missing some immunizations), in single-parent families earning less than $30,000 a year. A child who is under-vaccinated may not have seen a doctor recently and probably does not have a medical home–a clinic or doctor who maintains that child’s health records and who knows that child’s full health history.

It’s easy to imagine how a parent with little in the way of resources could end up with an under-immunized child. Taking a child to the doctor often requires time off of work, and when you earn little in terms of pay, taking time off to bring a child in to the doctor means less income yet. Transportation and health insurance are just two other barriers for a low-income child in receiving appropriate healthcare, including immunizations.

Those leading the charge in trying to keep their easy-to-obtain exemptions to vaccines are almost certainly those with the most access to healthcare. These are the parents with enough disposable income to spend extra money on supplements and sham healthcare such as homeopathy. Anti-vaccine parents are not worrying about taking time off of work, finding a medical home, or figuring out transportation to the doctor. They are working from a position of privilege.

What do these privileged anti-vaxxers want to do to solve the problem of access to care? They want to keep it easy to keep children under- and un-vaccinated.

In a cynical and self-serving turn, anti-vaccine activists ignore the many real issues of access to medical care–children who are not being screened for developmental problems, children whose asthma or hearing problems or slow growth are not being monitored, children with serious and potentially deadly illnesses who are suffering for too long because of lack of access to care. The anti-vaccine activists have decided to ignore these real issues in order to use children in poverty as a shield to protect their children of privilege from getting required vaccines to attend school.

A wealthy and educated group of people who use another person’s poverty and lack of resources in order to protect the privilege to opt out of a community responsibility is the absolute height of selfishness. The onus is on the rest of us not only to make sure that immunization rates are high, but also to make sure our under-immunized children get the care they need instead of becoming a shield for the anti-vaccine industry.

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