Simply telling people they are ignorant has failed. We need to find a better way to communicate
After reading the news that cases of measles have soared by 50% in the last year, I recalled the first time I heard an anti-vaccination conspiracy theory. It wasn’t from a member of Donald Trump’s administration, or part of a frenetic, grammatically challenged Facebook post – it was from a classmate when I was at school. Her family wasn’t waging a crusade against medical science: they simply gave credence to disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield’s study that wrongly asserted a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Back then, the study had not yet been discredited.
One only has to stray into anti-vaxxer internet forums for a few minutes to see that they’re stuffed with conspiracy theorists, opportunists, reactionaries, and – worst of all – hubristic idiots. This is the vanguard of the anti-vaxxer movement. But behind that vanguard are a lot of concerned parents who are being convinced of wild and dangerous ideas because we – and by we, I mean those of us who recognise the incontrovertible fact that vaccines are essential – aren’t talking to them properly. A number of the anti-vaxxer vanguard may have started life as concerned parents, but have gradually sunk into increasingly extreme positions because the only communication they’re getting from the other side is that they’re foolish and irresponsible. Almost every week the internet produces another diatribe against anti-vaxxers, or a listicle of their “horrifyingly stupid” social media posts.