This isn’t a topic I’m expert in. If the comments heat up, I will call in my wife, who in this case is the cavalry.
That said, it strikes me that “anti-vaxxer” is the kind of scurrilous use of language we should oppose. It is akin to calling Christians homophobes because they oppose homosexual conduct. Except that I don’t even oppose vaccines. The situation is more like this:
I agree with the general principle of vaccination. I have no problem with vaccination in principle. It is an excellent idea. And I am sure there are many vaccines which are scientifically sound and medically safe.
I disagree that governments exist to micromanage people’s lives or replace sound parenting. Whether or not I will take fluoride, whether or not I will vaccinate my children (and which vaccines I will give them), are not decisions I believe the government has legitimate power to make for me. Even if I were fully in agreement with the government recommendations, I don’t want those recommendations to be, in fact, requirements.
It is not hysterical to observe that vaccination is, effectively, an industry, and one which suffers from serious conflicts of interest between transparency and financial gain. It was not hysterical to point out the same with respect to the purported benefits of smoking 50 years ago. And it is not hysterical to make similar observations about the orthodoxy of evolution or climate change within the current scientific establishment. It is honestly naive to think that scientists are any less influenced by ideology, money, peer pressure etc than other people, and that they don’t interpret or massage data to fit preconceived theories or to toe a party line. The same is true of journalists, who largely shape the popular perception of vaccination, and medical establishments, which largely shape the perception of doctors in the materials they select when teaching them.
Contrary to popular belief, there are numerous studies illustrating all kinds of correlations between vaccinations and adverse outcomes. The evidence is far more than circumstantial or anecdotal. The fact that so many people who call people like me “anti-vaxxers” aren’t aware of this suggests that point (3) is not nearly as “paranoid” as they make it out to be.
What has not been done is a properly controlled study of entirely non-vaccinated population samples against variously vaccinated ones. Without such a study, there is simply no way to establish with any confidence what kinds of outcomes are statistically correlated with what kinds of people receiving what kinds of vaccines. It is not unreasonable to refuse vaccination if you suspect your children might be susceptible to adverse outcomes in view of more circumstantial evidence (as my children appear likely to be, and are thus not vaccinated).
The calculus for deciding to vaccinate is not as simple as looking at whether getting a given disease is better or worse than the typical alleged vaccination side-effects. Some diseases can cause death, and obviously no parent wants that for their child. But you have to weigh the probabilities, and also the long-term effects. How do you weigh the minuscule chance of your child catching a disease which has a reasonable chance of killing her, with the *unknown* chance of your child having a severe reaction that could leave her permanently disabled or affected in some way? It is simplistic to dismiss this calculus as if the answer is obvious and should be the same for every parent.