When people imagine the types of people that would be hesitant or outright against vaccinations in general, they seem to have a picture in mind.
Usually they picture a mom, a “Karen” if you will, who is all about the non-GMO, organic, no chemicals sort of existence for their kids. They picture someone entirely anti science and educating themselves by Dr. Google about the dangers of vaccines. They picture someone taunting rhetoric about how it causes autism, and how kids are sicker because of the chemicals and Big Pharma.
This stereotype character is the target of shame and venomous sentiments to remind everyone that this character should be shunned from society. They say that any child isn’t fully vaccinated should be out of the public school system. This character of a person is sad excuse of a parent and if they had done their research, they would know there is One True Way. If you didn’t believe the science, you were a heretic.
I don’t think it should come to any surprise that this approach does not turn minds and hearts. Using shameful attacks doesn’t somehow bring people to the light. I can say this, because , up until early 2020, I was, in one regard, part of the group in question. The one that they thought was ignorant, selfish, stupid, and anti science. I was a parent who regarded vaccinations with unease and unrest.
Granted, at this point in my journey, I fell somewhere in between anti vaccine and pro vaccine, and to that end, that meant feeling unwelcome on either side. I was not firm enough that vaccines were entirely horrible and not a proponent enough to satisfy to steadfast pro side. My kids weren’t unvaccinated (they had some as babies), but not vaccinated enough by public health requirements for schooling. They required an exemption to attend school.
This is why I saw myself as vaccine hesitant, and this group of people is far larger then society realizes. I believe this is largely in part of we are too scared to speak up. We all have stories that may have a common origin – it wasn’t entirely the convincing done by the anti-vaccination movement that got us here but rather the dismissiveness of the medical community when you even dared ask questions that added fuel.
It wasn’t Jenny McCarthy, fear of autism, Big Pharma that was the smoking gun that led us down a different path.
It was fear. Fear of screwing up as a parent and wanting to make sure we didn’t misstep. For some, it leads you down one path, for others you end up going another way.
I’m not anti science at all. I love science – I love the wonderment, the constant state of questioning and thinking, and re-thinking. That’s what I believe is at the heart of it. I wasn’t anti vaccine prior to my first born but I wasn’t pro vaccine by my the time my other child came along 2 years later. It was 2 years of experiences and rabbit holes that ended up leading a journey of vaccine hesitancy.
Consider the messaging – look at the research and the data and learn! Ask questions. Talk to your doctor. Yet, when you do, you are brushed aside, shown irritation that you are even asking these types of questions. In my case, my doctor answered my concerns with just a blanket statement that it was just reckless not to vaccinate.
So off you go to do your own research – and depending what rabbit holes you encounter, you may come across compelling articles from even medical professionals themselves who are adding their voices to the anti-vaccine movement. It’s easy at this point, to feel lost.
The last straw for me was when I was pregnant in 2010 and was aggressively told by my doctor that I should get the H1N1 vaccine. One that was not tested on young children and pregnant women. My concerns were again, dismissed.
A close friend also had an adverse reaction with one of her children to initial vaccines so I just felt so scared that that could be one of my own kids. What if, that was one of mine? Like I said, the fear of messing up as a parent is big. There are conflicting evidence everywhere and people all seem to have the “right” answer. This is just another notch.
Full transparency – I was I hard core at first. I went down the rabbit hole big and considered non-GMO, making everything organic with no chemicals and was on Google/YouTube a lot. I resembled to some degree, that stereotypical anti-vaxxer.
My ex husband was on board with this too but I think he was in the same boat as me. Just scared.
Over the years, it started to wane in intensity, and I came to exist more into the grey space I have referred to as “vaccine hesitancy”. I came to find out how many people navigated this space and how we just felt…..lost. Unsure. Unwelcome all around.
It took 2020 to change all that with a pandemic and the love and trust of a partner, who would shift the path that had taken years to cultivate.
In the end of February 2020, I had my folks over and my partner whom I had been dating for a few months at this point. He was a doctor and I had yet to tell him about my thoughts about vaccines. Admittedly I was terrified. What if he had the same thoughts as the other doctors? What if he thought my fears and questions were silly?
The pandemic was just in it’s infancy and my mom had made a slip about my position on vaccines and since I thought he picked up on that, I figured now was the time.
That night, over dinner, we talked for hours. I had the privilege that I hadn’t had years ago – trust, privilege and care. He listened without judgement, validated the fearful feelings, addressed the questions and brought perspective. You see, numbers and data aren’t always enough. Putting them in perspective in such a way that it clicked struck the needed chord for me.
Trust. That’s the elixir. That’s the magic to will have people reconsider.
If people don’t trust you, they won’t open up. Everything you say won’t hit its mark at all.
Since then , I felt that hesitancy fall away. When the COVID vaccine comes my way, I’ll be up for it and I’m glad that I had the opportunity to be heard and understood instead of being attacked and shamed. That’s what changed for me.
If you want to reach a vaccine hesitant person and/or cultivate a presence that feels safe for vaccine hesitant people to reconsider, here are some suggestions that I know worked/would have worked for me:
In summary, the next time you promote hateful and shame inducing messages against anti-vaccination folks, please consider that it’s not doing the good you think it does. I’m sure it feels nice to roast them and poke fun, but let’s be realistic……those who are deeply rooted will not change course and those on the fence are not going to fall on your side because of it.
Forcing people into your way of thinking will only backfire therefore, instead make a foundation that people feel open enough to reconsider. There are a lot of people you can reach out there with just a different approach. From this pro-vax turned anti-vax turned vaccine hesitant turned vaccine supportive, I know that this can work. It’s worth a shot. 😉