Antivax 101: Tactics and Tropes of the Antivaccine Movement

Vaccines are NOT toxic
This is the first of a series of posts adapting a presentation made at The Ontario Public Health Convention in April, 2011. The presentation, “Fighting in the Trenches: Countering Anti-Vaccine Sentiment with Social Media” was a panel discussion from Scott Gavura and Kimberly Hébert:

One of the best parts of the infectious disease outbreak movie Contagion was the decision to include an antivaccinationist, conspiracy-minded, alternative health advocate, played by Jude Law. Law gave a character-perfect performance of someone intent on deliberately and selfishly thwarting public health advice, putting lives at risk as a consequence. Sadly, the writers didn’t have to look far for real world examples: It’s hard to forget “Health Ranger” Mike Adams’s paranoid music video produced in 2009, at the height of H1N1, when he decided to put every antivaccine argument into one performance.

But the Health Ranger is just the current manifestation of antivaccine sentiment which has been around since vaccines were invented:

When a theory has been confirmed so completely by facts as has the proposition that vaccination effectually performed will prevent an individual from contracting small-pox, or at least so fundamentally modify the disease that it is no longer a serious malady, there is in many minds a natural distaste to fight the battle again or to be constantly defending the position against the attacks of ill-informed or prejudiced persons.

– British Medical Journal, July 24, 1897

But this battle is still being fought, after over 100 years of immunization, and over two dozen diseases becoming vaccine-preventable. The anti-vaccine movement is a real movement, and it’s doing what it can to create fear, uncertainty and doubt regarding public health messaging. There is evidence that antivaccinationists can influence vaccination decisions. The arrival of social media over the past decade means there’s the need for public health advocates to adapt their messaging to this new medium. What seems clear is that “traditional” public health tactics, with warnings and arguments from authority, are dwindling in their effectiveness. All aspects of medicine are moving towards models of shared decision-making. This is an overdue change, and it’s been facilitated by the widespread availability of health information. Information is no longer hidden from public access. Want the approved product monograph for a vaccine? It’s available online. Even the primary literature is becoming more freely accessible.

Unfortunately, the power of the Web 2.0 and social media has made it easier for antivaccinationists to foster antivaccine fears and sentiment. In order to combat this misinformation, the movement’s tactics and tropes must be understood, so they can be called out.

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Seasonal Science Advocacy With Gifts That Save Lives

The holidays are upon us, and it’s traditionally the time of year when celebrate our good fortune, and pause to give thanks. Exchanging gifts is a big part of of the holidays, and it can sometimes be challenging to find something meaningful, that the recipient will appreciate.  Chocolates, toys, and gifts sometime become our “go-to” gift options. These things are nice in their own way, but I’d like to suggest something that not only reflects your good taste, but also your science advocacy.  It’s a gift that will also make a demonstrable impact on the lives of others. This holiday season, consider giving the gift of vaccines. Continue reading

Canadian Flu Update 2010

We’re entering flu (influenza) season in North American and the annual vaccination campaigns have started. Here in Canada we’re fortunate to have a health system that covers the cost of immunizations for residents. In Ontario, where I’m located, the province funds a universal immunization program: everyone is eligible for a free flu shot. Here’s some background on influenza and some common questions (and answers) about the flu shot. This information is based on Canadian data and Canadian information with some general information pulled from the CDC. Apologies to SBP’s international readers, as much of this information will not be applicable outside Canada.

If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please post them in the comments.

What is Influenza?

Influenza is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It typically appears 1-4 days after the initial infection, with fever, chills, muscle aches and fatigue common. Cough, sore throat and runny nose are also seen. In children, stomach complaints are frequent. On its own, the flu can be nasty. But it can complicate into viral pneumonia, or lead to a subsequent bacterial pneumonia. And if you have other chronic illnesses, like heart failure or asthma, it can cause significant worsening of these conditions. Continue reading

Time for some #vaxfax

Anti-vaccine advocates have declared November 1-6 to be Vaccine Awareness Week, and intend to use the week to spread unfounded fear about vaccines. Here in Canada, we already had our own Immunization Awareness Week, but I’ll happily take up the antivax challenge. I’ll be joining other science advocates to counter-detail the fearmongering and outright misinformation that usually erupts from those indifferent to public health. Here’s an excerpt of the release from Mercola and the National Vaccine Information Center:

In a long-scheduled joint effort to raise public awareness about important vaccination issues during the week of November 1-6, 2010, and NVIC will publish a series of articles and interviews on vaccine topics of interest to newsletter subscribers and NVIC Vaccine E-newsletter readers.

The week-long public awareness program will also raise funds for NVIC, a non-profit charity that has been working for more than two decades to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and protecting informed consent to vaccination.

The November 1-6 Vaccine Awareness Week hosted by and NVIC will follow a month-long vaccine awareness effort in October that was recently announced on Facebook by parents highlighting Gardasil vaccine risks.

The six-week-long focus this fall on vaccine issues will help raise the consciousness of many more Americans, who may be unaware that they can take an active role in helping to prevent vaccine injuries and deaths and defend the legal right to make voluntary vaccination choices.

Keep an eye on Science-Based Medicine and Skeptic North for more details and blog posts. An aggregator will be set up to collate articles, and I’ll link to it once it’s online. On Twitter, you can follow discussions with the #vaxfax tag. And if you want to get started, PalMD has is responding to an article that attributes infertility to vaccines.