US media and government have united to demonize "anti-vax" parents, demanding censorship, fines and even jail for questioning scientific progress. If they wanted to end the "crisis," they could - but that would defeat the purpose, which is to keep the people divided, fearing and hating a malignant "enemy within" that threatens their beloved children.
When anti-vax activist Del Bigtree donned a yellow star in a melodramatic show of solidarity with Hasidic Jewish parents being pressured into vaccinating their children under a short-lived emergency law in upstate New York's Rockland County, many cringed. Sure, public opinion was against anti-vaxxers, but they weren't being rounded up and sent away to camps, or fenced into ghettos as Jews were in Nazi Germany.
Then the Washington Post took Bigtree's idea and ran with it in a bizarre, overwrought editorial that slammed anti-vax parents as "pro-plague" and called for them to be arrested, fined, and isolated, placed on registries like sex offenders (their comparison, not mine), and…fenced into ghettos ("force isolation on pockets of populations that might have been exposed to the outbreak").
This isn't how you defuse a controversy. No amount of catastrophizing - whether it's the World Health Organization declaring anti-vaxxers a threat on the level of ebola and HIV, or New York mayor Bill deBlasio sending "disease detectives" to Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods to hunt down unvaccinated kids, or Facebook removing photos of vaccine package inserts posted by parents concerned by the laundry list of side effects - will convince a vaccine skeptic to embrace inoculation. Indeed, these measures guarantee anti-vaxxers will become further entrenched in their beliefs. If vaccines are truly safe and effective, the argument goes, why are the authorities suppressing anything that questions them?
It's clear from the institutional response to the measles "crisis" that the powers that be are not interested in changing anyone's mind. It should be a simple matter for doctors to take scared parents aside, listen to their worries, and address them one by one - perhaps even offer to meet them halfway by developing an individualized health program that takes their child's needs into consideration.
Certainly, pretending there's no risk to vaccination when the government's own vaccine court has paid out $4 billion to the parents of vaccine-damaged children over the past 30 years is disingenuous, and only serves to convince skeptics that a cover-up exists. Many "anti-vaxxers" are parents of autistic kids who believe their children were damaged by vaccination; most have done a significant quantity of research on the subject. Treating them like gullible fools is guaranteed to alienate them further.
Nor is the US government's response to a measles "epidemic" that has infected 880 people since January in a country of 327 million people designed to put anyone at ease. With a vocal segment of the population already alarmed over unprecedented assaults on First Amendment freedoms of speech and of the press, several states have put forward bills to end religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination laws, thus inflaming another vocal segment of the population, this one concerned for the First Amendment freedom of religion. Headlines like the New York Times editorial earlier this month, titled "Infecting people isn't a religious right," deftly add insult to injury. If the government's goal was to create civic unrest, to encourage division in a country already more divided than ever, they couldn't have done a better job.
And this may indeed be the goal. "Wedge issues" - controversies which divide and inflame a population, despite often having little or no bearing on their day-to-day lives - are a time-honored means of manipulating popular sentiment. Divide and conquer as a political principle dates back to the Roman Empire. As the American Empire crumbles, with poverty and homelessness at record levels (despite the government's attempts to redefine poverty and hide unemployment) while companies like Amazon and Google break the trillion-dollar mark, even capitalism's biggest cheerleaders are concerned about the unwashed masses rising up and breaking things.
It's no coincidence that the vaccine debate is being amplified at the same time Americans are duking it out over abortion, another popular wedge issue. Threaten people's children, even other people's hypothetical children, and a strong emotional response is guaranteed. So why, if the end goal is universal vaccination, is the government threatening the parents of unvaccinated children with taking those children away?
If health authorities are serious about converting the anti-vaxxers, they will have to stop thinking in terms of war. This means engaging in civil dialogue, instead of refusing to debate the other side, and listening to parents' concerns - even treating those concerns as if they come from their own minds and not nefarious Russian influence campaigns - instead of censoring all criticism. It means conducting more safety studies, studies not funded by pharmaceutical companies or other institutions with a vested interest in the products being tested, and publicly admitting that even the Centers for Disease Control acknowledges certain pre-existing conditions can interact with vaccines to produce devastating developmental disabilities. It certainly does not mean treating anti-vaxxers like plague-loving brainwashed zombies.