Thursday, June 19, 2014

"I'm pretty sure everyone on your Facebook page has high-functioning Asperger's": The bigotry of the anti-vaccine movement

By Karen Ernst

This has actually been a great week. I’ve been buoyed by Maranda Dynda’s story of deconverting from anti-vaccine to pro-vaccine over at Voices for Vaccines. Her story reminded me that vaccine-hesitant parents are trying to do what is best for their children and that we can reach them.

But I don’t like to rest for too long after such fantastic wins, so I decided to ask Voices for Vaccines’ members what we could do better by sending out a survey. I knew that anti-vaccine activists would find it, and I knew that it would be easy to dismiss their rankings and their comments. I suspected nothing they would say could shock me. I was expecting the regular pharma-shill-propaganda-evil-reptilian comments that seem to populate the majority of the fervent anti-vaxxer’s vocabulary. I was not disappointed.

The comment about government propaganda was expected. The comment about VFV members being “sociopaths” is important. Keep that one in mind as we go.
I was particularly interested in this latter survey response, because of the sheer anger the respondent exhibited. After reading through her other comments, including one where she said she wanted “to ruin everything your organization touches,” such as a Colorado bill introduced last session that some of our parent-members supported through testimony at legislative hearings, I had a pretty good idea of who I was dealing with.

Voices for Vaccines was actually an important topic for some of the anti-vaxxers at those hearings, with one anti-vaxxer dedicating nearly all of her testimony at those hearings to poisoning the well against VFV and our members. It would seem that some of the anti-vaxxers are still upset that pro-vaccine parents would dare to become involved in this legislation. We have learned that parent vaccine advocates are deeply threatening to the anti-vaccine movement. In fact, the hearings and the bill were threatening enough to the anti-vaccine movement that an anti-vaccine lobbying group in Colorado, sponsored by the National Vaccine Information Center, became deeply involved.

[Editor's note: At this point in the post, we had included  a photograph from National Vaccine Information Center's Facebook page. Because we do not own rights to it, we have been asked by the Executive Director of NVIC to remove it. The photograph was included in this post to demonstrate how deeply involved NVIC was in the Colorado legislation, and how closely tied it is to anti-autistic language. However, we are sensitive to the fact that the people in the photo, as well as their children, do not want to be associated with this kind of bigotry, and we have removed the photo from this post at NVIC's request. We do hope they will work with us to rout out anti-autistic language and the use of "autism" as a slur.

One other note: while we have chosen to honor NVIC's request that we remove the photo, we urge NVIC to revisit its own photo-sharing and blog-sharing policies, as it has a track record of including photos of individuals associated with Voices for Vaccines, which they had no prior permission to use, such as Sundari Kraft, Paul Offit, Karen Ernst, and Dorit Reiss.]

Anyway, that an anti-vaccine advocate hates a parent-led pro-vaccine group is not shocking. It’s what we all expect, and it’s what we are all used to hearing. In fact, the unhinged nature of their comments is how the anti-vaccine movement helps us out.

But then she did shock me with this:

In case you misunderstand, this comment is meant to be an insult. A reasonable person might miss the insulting nature of this comment because who really cares if all of our members are autistic? To be honest, I’d be honored if our Facebook page were filled with autistic fans, because that would mean that we are doing something right for neurodiversity.

On the off chance that you don’t see the implied insult here, let’s say I replaced the words “has high functioning Asperger’s” with “is homosexual” or “is Jewish” or “is black.” Using such identifiers as a slur is bigoted.  It’s not funny; it’s just hateful. When we think about the harm the anti-vaccine movement causes, we think about the nearly 500 cases of measles spreading across the country, or nurses who refuse flu vaccines in the name of personal freedom. 

But there is another layer of harm--bigotry and hatred toward autistic people. The anti-vaccine movement relies on this deep fear and even hatred, and it permeates their messaging and their fear-mongering about vaccines. Once you peel back the layers, it's a little shocking to see just how blatant it can be.