In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
The antivaxxers have been at it for a very long time.
Even as the fourth wave of COVID-19 cases trends downward, one aspect of the pandemic remains strong: differing opinions on the value of COVID-19 immunization and vaccine mandates across the U.S.
Strong feelings around vaccination are nothing new. Claims that link the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism and opposition to measles vaccination that triggered outbreaks in California are recent examples.
People who were against smallpox immunizations, for example, ran advertisements, wrote to newspapers, and formed anti-vaccine organizations, as seen in news clippings from the 1860s to the 1950s.
In other words, although the furor over vaccines feels like a modern experience, disagreements throughout history reveal many similarities.
"There are a lot of parallels -- many of the same exact arguments," says Anna Kirkland, PhD, director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
"Some of the differences now are the stark political alignments by party that we see under COVID, which were there in some ways before but became very prominently organized by party," she says. "Those are only differences of degree, though, because there has long been an anti-government backing of anti-vaccine sentiments."
For example, the Anti-Vaccination Society of America was founded in 1879. Its public campaign against mandatory smallpox vaccination used wording about personal freedoms that might sound familiar today: "Liberty cannot be given, it must be taken."