I can sympathize with anti-vaxxers. I nearly was one. Here's how I escaped that mindset and used my skeptical beliefs for good.
Before I wrote my book on taking risks, debunking pseudoscience, and critical thinking, I was a vaccine skeptic.
Crazy but true.
Unlike most of my friends, who described being pregnant as one of the happiest times of their lives, I hated every second of it. I had all the bad stuff—hot flashes, extreme mood swings, back pain, relentless heartburn, and nightmares that would have terrified Freddy Krueger himself.
Books were my escape. Although I read mostly horror novels, I also digested a couple on pregnancy. My favorite of those by far was by Jenny McCarthy. Her book Belly Laughs spoke to me in a way that no other pregnancy book did, or even my friends. Finally, someone who was as miserable as I was. I needed that book. Even though it was crude and gross, I found her to be so relatable.
But when I came to her commentary on vaccines, I paused. And then I reread it. It made sense. I mean… do we really know what’s in them? Is it safe to jab a baby with so many meds in such a short time frame?
There wasn’t a lot, but there was enough to make me wonder if I should vaccinate my growing crotch goblin. Being pregnant was so hard for me, and I certainly didn’t want to go through it only to poison the poor guy.
This was back in the olden times before YouTube and Google. So I went to the library to research. For those who don’t know, that’s a big public building filled with books you can read for free. Crazy, I know. I read some stuff on vaccines, and felt a little more confident.
But I wasn’t ready to jab him just yet. Jenny made sense, and she was so relatable not to mention pretty. With only a dumb phone, I didn’t have access to all those reliable and informative memes on Facebook. So I did what all old-timers used to do: I asked a Doctor.
My son’s soon-to-be pediatrician was more than happy to answer all my questions, including the big one about that infamous and now-retracted study implying the connection between childhood vaccines and autism. She listened calmly to my concerns and addressed them one by one. And when my bundle of joy arrived, I poked him with everything they had. Not today… measles. Or any other day either.
That should have been the end of my doubts about vaccines, but it wasn’t
Working as a stripper in Vegas, I had the misfortune, albeit a lucrative one, of meeting a pharmaceutical lobbyist one night in 2007. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, he told me how the opioid crisis would begin. Lubricated by overpriced drinks, he was terribly honest. I was disgusted, but it opened my eyes. Not all doctors have their patient’s interests in mind all the time. They can be bought, and the pharmaceutical industry is more than happy to buy them.
Doctors and scientists are people. They’re flawed and susceptible to corruption and greed because they are human. That doesn’t mean I don’t trust them, but if being an atheist taught me anything, it’s that blind faith isn’t always a good thing.
When COVID-19 hit, as much as I wanted to get out of my house, I wasn’t totally on board with the vaccine. Was it rushed? Has it been tested enough? Who’s making money off the thing? Am I comfortable giving it to my kid? The president was promising it before the election, but trusting him on anything seemed like a bad move.
Thankfully, that was after I had become familiar with secular and skeptic issues. I had learned where and how to find unbiased information. Even as the lowest layman, I was able to read and understand the academic studies I found. And although the correlation between myocarditis and young men seemed significant, I was able to dig through the online hysteria and find the actual statistics on the risk. Despite Joe Rogan’s blabbering, the risk is higher for young men who get COVID than for those who get the vaccine.
I made my son’s 1st COVID vaccination appointment on his 16th birthday.
But would I have done that had I not been involved with the skeptic community?
That’s hard to say. It’s possible that I would not have. It kills me to admit that.
While I’ve grown so much since my days of questioning vaccines, I have sympathy for those who doubt not only the safety of vaccines but other medicine too. There’s a lot of scary stuff out there, and our medical community is not always great at communicating. They get drowned out by pretty or smart-sounding celebrities and grifters in lab coats on YouTube.
Throw in the politics, and it becomes hard to blame them for being wary. I doubted the COVID vaccine simply because Donald Trump was involved. Even being aware of my own bias didn’t stop me from being skeptical.
Not everyone knows how to look past the rhetoric and clickbait to get to the actual data, let alone interpret it when they find it.
Talking to vaccine skeptics
Anti-vaxxers make me angry. Full stop. Knowing what I know about vaccines, to refuse one without a legitimate medical reason is just selfish. And not only that, I think it’s dumb.
Not only have I avoided talking to anti-vaxxers, but I have also cut many of them out of my life completely. I spent two years doing the right thing and missing out on all sorts of things that anti-vaxxers were gleefully doing.
There was a six-week period last year where five people I knew died of COVID. Only one was vaccinated: a recipient of a transplanted kidney who was infected by an unvaccinated friend.
I was angry. And not nice. And I insulted and made fun of them. Or ignored them altogether, which is exactly the wrong way to change minds.
Going about it that way only makes them dig in their heels. However cathartic venting my anger was, it just makes everything worse.
What I should have done and will try to do in the future is listen, like my son’s pediatrician did with me. That was how my mind was changed. I felt like my concerns were taken seriously, but more importantly, I wasn’t treated like an idiot (even though looking back, I was kind of an idiot).
Because she listened to me, I was more willing to listen to her. And it worked.