The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear

In Why the ‘Prius Driving, Composting’ Set Fears Vaccines Greg Miller interviews author Seth Mnookin on his new book. Here’s a fragment of the Q&A:

Q: There’s a perception that vaccine refusal is especially common among affluent, well-educated, politically liberal parents—is there any truth to that?

S.M.: It’s dangerous to make broad generalizations about a group, but anecdotally and from the overall data that’s been collected it seems to be people who are very actively involved in every possible decision regarding their children’s lives. I think it relates to a desire to take u ncertainty out of the equation. And autism represents such an unknown. We still don’t know what causes it and we still don’t have good answers for how to treat it. So I think that fear really resonates.

Also I think there’s a fair amount of entitlement. Not vaccinating your child is basically saying I deserve to rely on the herd immunity that exists in a population. At the most basic level it’s saying I believe vaccines are potentially harmful, and I want other people to vaccinate so I don’t have to. And for people to hide under this and say, “Oh, it’s just a personal decision,” it’s being dishonest. It’s a personal decision in the way drunk driving is a personal decision. It has the potential to affect everyone around you.

Q: But why liberals?

S.M.: I think it taps into the organic natural movement in a lot of ways.

I talked to a public health official and asked him what’s the best way to anticipate where there might be higher than normal rates of vaccine noncompliance, and he said take a map and put a pin wherever there’s a Whole Foods. I sort of laughed, and he said, “No, really, I’m not joking.” It’s those communities with the Prius driving, composting, organic food-eating people.


3 thoughts on “The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear

  1. I heard a discussion on the BBC the other day, with mothers who had or hadn’t had their children vaccinated, and one said she hadn’t done hers because her midwife told her not to. She subsequently found out she’d been given a bum steer and had the kid vaccinated. Might help explain the number of cases of midwives being charged with criminal malfeasance, if they can be that ignorant.

  2. Perfect. We are now back out of the no internet, no cell phone zone of Yellowstone. We are sitting in Jackson, WY doing laundry. On the way down from Flagg Ranch we were discussing “our favorite parts” of the week in Ystone. I have just added another: a week of not hearing the voice of or seeing the face of Barack Obama. Yellowstone in the winter is a really cool place. Fred

    As of 01/11/2015, please note new email address:


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