The small but vocal group of parents propagating fringe views about the safety and effectiveness of childhood immunizations have found unlikely allies — Minnesota lawmakers.
Through personal and official Republican Senate media channels on Facebook, as well as appearances at an anti-vaccination rally last year at the Capitol, more than a dozen state legislators in the House and Senate have lent the support of their elected offices to groups that medical professionals say are sowing disinformation about vaccinations. Other Minnesota lawmakers made appearances at a February 2019 event featuring vocal anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at the Minneapolis Club.
The Minnesota lawmakers include state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chair of the Senate Human Services Reform Finance and Policy committee, who formed the Minnesota Autism Council, an advisory panel. His decision to appoint two vaccine skeptics touched off criticism, given the 2017 measles outbreak in Minnesota, which was attributed to the work of anti-vaxxers spreading disinformation among the Somali community.
Kolina Koltai, a researcher at the School of Information at the University of Texas, has been studying the social media behavior of those active in the anti-vaccination movement for five years. In the past two, Koltai said she has detected a shift in partisan ID for those opposed to vaccinations, with Republicans increasingly more likely to sponsor legislation undermining immunizations.
“There’s a politicization of science that is happening,” Koltai said, likening it to the debate over climate-change, in which skeptics include many prominent Republicans who continue casting doubt on the scientific consensus.