Why Some People Don’t Trust U.S. Calls to Vaccinate

BreakingModern — Here is former first lady, ex-senator, used-to-be secretary of state, sure-thing 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton: “The science is clear: The earth is round, the sky is blue, and #vaccineswork. Let’s protect all our kids. #GrandmothersKnowBest,” she (or more likely one of her staffers) tweeted yesterday.

Clinton’s tweeted remark was issued in response to a current measles outbreak, which has drawn renewed attention to the fact that many parents, particularly highly educated liberals, refuse to have their children vaccinated. In particular, she’s seeking to counter remarks by likely Republican challengers Chris Christie and Rand Paul, both of whom defended parents’ right to decide whether or not to have their kids get measles shots.

Clinton articulated the mainstream view, also seen on Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” which described vaccination refuseniks as victims of “liberal idiocy.”

Science denialism is usually the province of the uneducated, political Right, where climate change is greeted with skepticism. So what’s with these Berkeley types willing to expose their kids — and ours — to flu and the mumps?

Sciencesplaining, the National Center for Biotechnology Information says “vaccines are becoming a victim of their success.”

“Since many people have never seen the effects of debilitating diseases, some have become complacent, or even skeptical, about the benefits of vaccinating, reports The Boston Globe. Then there are conspiracy theories: “The Internet worsens fears regarding vaccination safety, as at least a dozen websites publish alarming information about the risks of vaccines.” Skepticism about the combined MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine originate with a since-discredited 1998 study published in The Lancet medical journal by Andrew Wakefield, who has since been stripped of his medical credentials, which claimed a link between the shot and the advent of childhood autism. Many people think Wakefield was right but was shut down by Big Pharma, which makes billions selling vaccines.

Still, vaccination skeptics aren’t operating in a vacuum. Government and the healthcare industry have worked hard to earn distrust.

A Grim, Irresponsible History of Government Vaccination Programs

When people aware of U.S. history think of vaccines and government in the same breath, events like the federal Public Health Service’s infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which victimized hundreds of African-American men for four decades, comes to mind. 


Although President Bill Clinton apologized for Tuskegee in 1997 (25 years later), victims and their families never received a penny in compensation.

The Pentagon also subjected soldiers, without their consent, to medical experiments that included mandatory vaccinations. “From 1955 to 1975, military researchers at Edgewood [Arsenal, Maryland] were using not only animals but human subjects to test a witches’ brew of drugs and chemicals,” CNN reported in 2012. “They ranged from potentially lethal nerve gases like VX and sarin to incapacitating agents like BZ.  The military also tested tear gas, barbiturates, tranquilizers, narcotics and hallucinogens like LSD.”

In the late 1990s through the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11, the military again treated soldiers as human guinea pigs, injecting them with an experimental anti-anthrax vaccine that had not received FDA approval.

Veterans of both the Vietnam-era and post-9/11 vaccination programs report numerous long-term illnesses as a result of the substances with which they were forcibly injected.

A Government That Spies

Edward Snowden’s revelations of rampant spying on every American citizen by the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and other federal espionage agencies, supposedly tasked with “keeping us safe,” are merely the latest in a long chain of news stories that, combined with the political class’ refusal to apologize, much less change behavior, have convinced millions of Americans that their government is not to be trusted.

Similarly, it is impossible to overstate the distrust created by the Bush Administration’s 2002-03 PR campaign to increase support for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Presented as necessary to avoid an imminent attack against the United States using biological, chemical and/or nuclear weapons, the war’s rationale fell apart after the “WMDs” failed to turn up. Even worse than the brazen lying — there had, in fact, never been solid intelligence to indicate that Saddam had WMDs after 1991 — was the complete lack of accountability. No one was prosecuted or fired for lying to the public. No official was impeached. Bush and Cheney were reelected. The media failed to challenge them.

Hillary Clinton, who voted for the Iraq War, wrote in 2014 that she “thought I had acted in good faith and made the best decision I could with the information I had.” In fact, she had never seen any evidence to justify her decision at the time. It was just politics — the polls skewed right at the time. So did she. 

Like the boy who cried “wolf,” you can’t repeatedly lie to the public and expect to be believed even — especially when — you claim to be giving them good advice, as to vaccinate their children.

A Heartless, For-Profit Healthcare System

Anti-vaccination activists are also reacting — understandably, considering their behavior — against a brutal for-profit healthcare industry that obviously cares more about its bottom line than Americans’ health.

From insurance companies that systematically reject legitimate claims because they know some people will be too sick to fight back, to doctors who kill and injure thousands of patients due to careless errors, to the inability to see a specialist or get a test you need because it would cost some CEO a dollar they’d rather have to buy a fourth vacation home, you can hardly blame Americans for despising their healthcare system, or disbelieving anything those who run it tell them.

Bottom line: People pay attention when you mistreat them. Which is why younger people are even more likely than older ones to refuse to vaccinate their children. They’ve grown up in the NSA era. They know not to trust their government.

You can’t lie and connive and steal over and over, cover it up repeatedly, and fail to punish miscreants — and then expect to retain a shred of credibility.

Even when you’re right.

For BMod, I’m Ted Rall.

Cover art: Parents - It’s Your Choice Art.IWMPST14192” by Central Council for Health Education (publisher/sponsor), Unknown (artist), Ministry of Health (publisher/sponsor), J Weiner Ltd, 71/5 New Oxford Street, London WC1 (printer), Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (publisher/sponsor) - http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//156/media-156529/large.jpg. This is photograph Art.IWM PST 14192 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Ted Rall

Author: Ted Rall

Based in New York, Ted Rall is an award-winning political cartoonist, essayist and Pulitzer Prize finalist. He covers news, justice, music and privacy for BreakingModern. Follow him @TedRall.

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1 Comment

  1. Ted, thanks for this post. There needs to be more skepticism about an issue where two of the major players are the government and pharmaceutical companies.

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