Millions of Americans Uneasy About Vaccine Safety are “Notorious”?
Published May 21, 2017 | Opinion
Coming on the heels of a column published on May 8, 2017 by the editorial staff of the Boston Herald calling for those concerned about the safety of vaccines to be hung,1 2 and an opinion piece on March 3, 2017 in Scientific American by Peter Hotez, MD saying that steps should be taken to “snuff” out the antivaccine movement,2 3 senior health writer Maggie Fox of NBC News has now written an article describing vaccine skeptics as “notorious.”
Fox’s piece, “Vaccine Debate Vexes Vermont Ski Resort Town,”4 opens:
A planned symposium featuring notorious vaccine skeptics has set off a testy but polite debate in the Vermont ski resort town of Stowe.4The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word notorious as: “well-known or famous especially for something bad.”5 Examples of the word’s usage include: “a notorious gangster” or “a notorious mastermind of terrorist activities.”6
So, Fox is characterizing as notorious anyone who has concerns about the safety of vaccines and believes it is their right to decide when or if they should vaccinate themselves and their children? She is likening to gangsters or terrorists Americans who maintain doubts and questions about this medical intervention and wish to exercise their informed consent right to refuse or delay the procedure?
This is an irresponsible and chilling use of a word at the outset of a news article by an experienced journalist for a major news organization. It directly plays into the narrative being crafted by the Boston Herald and other media outlets that people who hold dissenting views on vaccines and vaccination policy should be executed. After all, what should you do with gangsters and terrorists, right?
Fox’s characterization is insulting, to the say the least, particularly when a large and growing segment of the population in the United States is concerned about vaccine safety. While public polling shows that a majority of people in the U.S. support vaccination against infectious diseases, there are also polls that show that a significant number of Americans favor the right of parents to choose not to vaccinate their kids. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015 found that about 41 percent of adults under 30 years of age were in favor of having this right.7
That same poll found that, among older adults over age 65, support dropped to 20 percent7 and that one in 10 Americans today believe vaccines are unsafe.8 A poll conducted by Pew last year found that 43 percent of parents of children 0-4 years of age express a medium to high level of concern about the side effects of vaccines. In that same poll, 31 percent of parents of children 5-17 years of age had a medium to high level of concern about vaccine risks.9
Be it 43 percent or 10 percent, or anywhere in between, that’s a lot of American moms and dads Fox is pigeonholing as gangsters or terrorists. Really, Ms. Fox, you consider tens of millions of Americans who believe they should have the right to exercise control over their own bodies and the bodies of their children… you consider them to be on par with Al Capone or Osama bin Laden?
The public insult by Fox is certainly egregious, but it is also extremely odd, given the article she wrote just two years ago titled “Don’t Call Them Dumb: Experts on Fighting the Anti-Vaccine Movement.”10
As I wrote last year in a column titled “Media Struggles to Pin Stupid Label on Well-Educated Vaccine Dissenters,” Fox “suggested that belittling people with regard to vaccines may, in fact, be helping them attract sympathizers because many people don’t like to see others being abused.”11 In her article, Fox noted that “some of the criticism on cable television, social media and in mainstream newspapers and magazines is starting to look like bullying.”
Fox went on to quote risk perception and communication consultant David Ropeik of Harvard University12…
When you attack somebody’s values, they get defensive. It triggers an instinctive defensiveness that certainly doesn’t change the mind of the vaccine-hesistant person.11Fox also included a quote from professor of government Brendan Nyhan, PhD of Dartmouth University13…
Imagine what calling people selfish and dumb can do. If people call me selfish and dumb, it doesn’t make me more open-minded, and I don’t know why anyone would think otherwise in this case. I think it’s really short-sighted. People enjoy lashing out at anti-vaccine folks, (but) it turns into an ‘us versus them’ thing.12Notorious? Short-sighted, indeed.