Why is Anti-Vax a thing

How to deal with vaccination opponents?

The first vaccines against Covid-19 will probably be approved in Europe from the beginning of 2021 and will also be available in Austria a little later. Health policymakers are faced with the question of who should be given it first and how to get people to accept the vaccination. Since there will be no coercion, each and every one of us has to decide for himself whether he or she wants to be immunized.

Vaccinations have been around for almost exactly 300 years: The official start was the immunizations during the smallpox epidemic in Boston by means of variolation or inoculation in 1721. Of the 287 people inoculated at the time, six died after being infected with smallpox, i.e. just two percent. In contrast, 842 of 5,759 non-inoculated people who had smallpox lost their lives, i.e. around 15 percent.

A few decades later, under Maria Theresa, who herself lost children to the viral disease and contracted smallpox, vaccinations were also first introduced in Austria by means of variolation, initially with the very unpopular leaf secretion, and from 1800 with cowpox. (The term vaccine is also derived from the cow.)

But the resistance against vaccinations is as old as vaccinations: Vaccination critics appeared as early as 1721. And there was resistance to Maria Theresa's efforts as well as to many other vaccination initiatives in later centuries.

One might think that in view of the success story of vaccinations, which have saved millions and millions of lives over the past three centuries, opposition to vaccinations would have subsided. But exactly the opposite is the case.

One of ten great dangers

Not least thanks to the new social media, the anti-vaxxers, as they are called in English, have gained a lot of ground and of course have long been mobilizing against the Covid-19 vaccinations. Given the overwhelming success story of vaccinations, the World Health Organization paid special attention to anti-vaccinations in 2019. The WHO counted them among the ten dangers to human health that should be addressed in particular. But what is the best way to learn about them?

The US physiologist and science communicator Jonathan Berman, who co-founded the "March for Science" movement, has tried an entire book. In his historical outline, he can show that the basic structure of the main arguments of those opposed to vaccination has changed little for around three centuries. Vaccines, for example, are always new when they are first introduced - accordingly, people are now mobilizing against the novelty of RNA vaccines against Covid-19.

It is also clear, however, that the regulatory authorities have a central role in ensuring not only the safety and effectiveness of the new vaccinations, but also ensuring trust among the population. The fact that the FDA recently refused to allow corona vaccines in a fast-track process before the election shows that the political pressure was withstood here and the tried and tested procedure is being followed. (In Russia things are a little different with the Sputnik vaccine.)

Refuting Alleged Evidence

Berman spends the majority of his book on deconstructing the more recent "clues" of those who oppose vaccination and exposing them as false - such as the alleged "scandal" at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the film made in the 2016 film "Vaxxed" is dealt with. The agency allegedly removed a finding that said African-American boys who were given the MMR vaccine were at increased risk of developing an autism spectrum disorder.

These findings were just as false as the notorious study by Andrew Wakefield, who had already made similar claims in the journal "The Lancet" before he had to withdraw the study. Wakefield, who lost his medical license in the UK, is the director of "Vaxxed". (There is also a new book on the Wakefield case with a significant title: "The Doctor Who Fooled the World".)

In the main part of his book, Berman neatly dissects most of the common arguments and campaigns against vaccinations, but also names the "anti-Vaxxers" and their strategies very directly - and thus provides readers with a good set of arguments for the next family or acquaintance meeting who are talking about vaccinations.

Mere evidence is usually not enough

The enlightening author also knows, of course, that mere evidence, better scientific communication and the informal compulsion of the better argument in the case of vaccinations are usually not enough to convince their opponents. One has to go deeper, says Berman in the final chapters, in which case studies are also cited from people who changed their minds and went from anti-vaccination to vaccination advocates.

A central target group are parents who are usually well networked with other fathers and mothers of children of the same age and whose worries about their children should be taken at their word. In some cases it was well-made factual information that led to a change of opinion, in other cases it was personal experience - for example with Ingvar Ingvarsson, who did not want to vaccinate his toddlers. Ingvarsson later became a medical nurse and, as such, dealt with elderly patients who suffered from the long-term effects of preventable polio and measles infections. His children were then vaccinated. (tasch, October 19, 2020)