What Does the Latest Anti-Vaccine Failure Mean?

By now, it’s old news that the efforts to get a referendum on the ballot that would overturn the new California vaccine law have failed. The law, SB277, eliminates all non-medical exemptions to school entry vaccine requirements, so that students (without certain IEPs) must be homeschooled if they do not have all of California’s required vaccines.

Opponents to this bill were predictably upset when it passed, and they immediately launched an effort to try to get on this November’s ballot  a measure that would overturn SB277. In order for the anti-SB277 referendum to appear on the ballot, they needed 365,800 people to sign a petition asking for the referendum to be placed in front of voters. According to initial counts, they landed at least 100,000 signatures short.

To put  the petition drive into perspective, California has over 17 million registered voters and a population of 38 million people. As further perspective, a ballot measure that will appear in November in California would restrict how stores use plastic bags. In other words, out of 17 million people, less 2% of registered California voters were motivated to allow unvaccinated children unfettered access to public, private and charters schools. And more were motivated to vote about how the state regulates plastic shopping bags.

You would not have guessed that this would have been the outcome had you followed the legislative hearings surrounding SB277 this spring and early summer. After heated and passionate testimony at committee hearings on both sides, California allows the public to come forward and state their position about the bill to the committee. The lines for those supporting the bill were impressive. It’s not often that people stand publicly and offer their support for a bill.

But the anti-vaccine lines were long. They came to hearing after hearing after hearing, wearing their red shirts, and their lines wound around the building and into the hallways. Their statement of opposition took hours.

In the end, California had a legislative body that was motivated by measles outbreaks sparked in Disneyland and by a science-savvy state senator who knew how to explain vaccines to his colleagues.

And it turns out that the legislators in California were right not to be swayed by the many passionate voices opposing SB277. Because although they were loud, they were a tiny fraction of the voting population in the state–less than 2% of registered voters. And an even smaller percentage of actual California residents.

What does that mean? It would be tempted to declare that it means that we are right and they are losers and we win and they lose so go suck it, Trebek. It is tempting, but it’s wrong. It does not mean that we can be boastful and get our swagger on about a win in California.

It means that there are at least 300,000 people in California who have been scared witless by the lies of the anti-vaccine movement. Their fear makes them very loud, but they are still a tiny minority. It means that now is the time to reach out to them, to befriend them, and to reassure them that they can vaccinate their children and send them to school, and that the risk of something bad happening is very, very, very low.

It means that the death of the referendum efforts are not the end. If we consider it the end, we push the Red Shirts back into their lines and their gated groups and send them back to the echo chambers where they will hear nothing but lies and frightening rumors concerning immunizations. We ask vaccine hesitant parents to wall off their unvaccinated children with other unvaccinated children. And we risk creating new clusters of children who are vulnerable to outbreaks of diseases.

We aren’t done. Don’t pack up your belongings just yet. We have some real work to do.

Here’s the Good News Following the GOP Debate

Cringe-worthy. You could see the inner workings of their minds as they figured out how to straddle the different sides of the vaccine “debate” during the (actual) CNN debate. Some GOP Presidential candidates were trying to make everyone happy, like Ben Carson, who wants people to vaccinate and think some nebulous idea about spreading vaccines out is reasonable. I mean, if it makes parents feel better, who cares if they are leaving their children at risk for diseases longer than is safe?

Others have a core base that supports the idea of parents have freedom to do whatever they want to their children. And the last guy is a narcissist who isn’t used to his ideas being challenged and wouldn’t know a fact if it bit him in the rear.

These men who would rule the most powerful nation in the world and could easily unleash nuclear weapons also want to unleash measles on us. It’s easy to become disheartened if you stop at the debate.

But the debate isn’t the only thing that happened this week. Come Thursday morning, a torrent of backlash was unleashed on these candidates. They may not have expected it because anti-vaccine activists are loud and persistent and focused on only that one issue. They may have assumed that the debate was equally matched.

They were wrong. So many articles were written debunking these candidates and their misinformation that every word in this sentence has its own fabulous, lovely, pertinent, excellent hyperlink. The backlash was so great, I even had to add adjectives to my sentence. And I am guessing the backlash isn’t done.

The backlash is great enough that the campaigns are likely strategizing right now about how best to untangle themselves from their debate statements. If they want my opinion on how to do so, here’s my suggested language: “During the debate, I made statements about vaccines that were wrong. My wrongness was great and horrible, and I regret threatening public health with my wrongness. Children’s lives are too important to allow my wrongness to stand. Therefore, I retract my wrongness, and will gladly state now that vaccines do not cause autism and that parents should stick with the CDC schedule.” Not hard. Statements like this are made in marriages across the world.

Another presidential candidate has sniffed out this backlash. Bernie Sanders met with Rachel Maddow and stated:

I think the evidence is overwhelming that vaccines do not cause autism. It really is a little bit weird for Trump, who has no medical background, to be raising this issue. And obviously it is a concern because when somebody like that says it, thousands of people are going to hesitate to get their kids their shots, and bad things may happen.

I predict good news to come. Being pro-vaccine is now mainstream, and anti-vaccine statements are not allowed to stand. I predict a flurry of pro-vaccine statements by candidates and public figures  in the weeks to come.

But if you are listening carefully, pro-vaccine statements are embedded in our culture. References to the value and importance of vaccines are now part of casual allusion, such as the analogy made in the preview of Benicio Del Toro’s new film, shared on Jimmy Fallon’s show this week.

Despair not. Pro-vaccine voices are becoming more significant.
Although, if Donald Trump becomes President, you should despair. You should despair a lot.