Since 2003, when Texas laws changed to allow parents to opt out of certain vaccines for non-medical reasons, the number of unvaccinated public-school children in Texas skyrocketed from 2,300 the first year to around 45,000 more recently. Not only are these children at a greater risk of contracting infectious diseases, but they also endanger the children and adults who cannot be vaccinated due to age or poor health.
According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, our state has experienced the highest rate of mumps cases since 1994, and an outbreak of measles at the start of this year. Some public health experts warn that Texas is on the brink of a major disease outbreak as a result of one disgraced doctor’s continued campaign of dishonesty and anti-vaccine groups’ influence.
Recent elections show that the ideology anti-vaxxers push is spreading.
One race that stands out as a cause for concern is the Texas House District 114 Republican primary. Far-right conservative Lisa Luby Ryan defeated moderate incumbent Jason Villalba, likely due to voter turnout spurred by an Anti-Vaxxer organization called Texans for Vaccine Choice. Ryan expressed support for their cause, promising she would fight for them.
Texans for Vaccine Choice is just one of many organizations perpetuating pseudoscience that vaccines are harmful to children, and the District 114 primary shows the worrisome but undeniably growing political power and influence these groups hold in Texas.
This influence has serious consequences.
However, their power is only possible when otherwise reasonable people become misinformed about vaccines. When people have been sucked into conspiracy theories or misunderstand the science behind vaccines, it may feel impossible to convince them of vaccines’ medical benefits.
Many of these people may be our loved ones and relatives. So what can any of us do about this?
There are too many different flavors of anti-vaccine arguments to debunk in any one conversation, social media post or opinion column. At a certain point the only solution becomes to promote what is true, rather than shaming what is false.
Asking questions like, “Do you want your children to die?” serves nothing but your own ego. It’s actually really rude, and immediately puts the person you disagree with on the defensive. Anti-vaxxers are motivated above all else by a deep-rooted concern for their children’s well-being.
Instead, try mentioning that before 1963, close to 500,000 cases of measles were reported to the CDC every year. Then, after the invention of the measles vaccine in that same year, the number drastically dropped into the double digits.
Stick to the facts. If they are worried about their kids being harmed by vaccines, help them put it into perspective. According to Sanjay Gupta, the chief medical correspondent for CNN and practicing neurosurgeon, “you are 100 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to have a serious allergic reaction to the vaccine that protects you against measles”.
And, finally, try mentioning that it’s the same story for every other now-preventable disease which formerly ravaged our populations on a scope and scale we can’t even begin to fathom today.
Being willing to have these difficult conversations with our loved ones and relatives is more than just a solution to an important political and cultural problem. It’s the fulfillment of the engraved sentence on the UT Tower we all walk by each day: “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” As students of this University, and as subjects of that tower’s shadow, we each have a responsibility to kindly, but firmly, promote what is true about vaccines.
Zaher is a government and European though sophomore from Hudson.