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.
Unfortunately, Republican politicians and conservative media figures are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers. Even before COVID, they were fighting vaccine mandates and other public health measures.
Objectives. To examine trends in partisan polarization of childhood vaccine bills and the impact of polarization on bill passage in the United States.
Methods. We performed content analysis on 1497 US state bills (1995–2020) and obtained voting returns for 228 legislative votes (2011‒2020). We performed descriptive and statistical analyses using 2 measures of polarization.
Results. Vote polarization rose more rapidly for immunization than abortion or veterans’ affairs bills. Bills in 2019–2020 were more than 7 times more likely to be polarized than in 1995–1996 (odds ratio [OR] = 7.04; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 3.54, 13.99). Bills related to public health emergencies were more polarized (OR = 1.76; 95% CI = 1.13, 2.75). Sponsor polarization was associated with 34% lower odds of passage (OR = 0.66; 95% CI = 0.42, 1.03).
Conclusions. State lawmakers were more divided on vaccine policy, but partisan bills were less likely to pass. Bill characteristics associated with lower polarization could signal opportunities for future bipartisanship.
Public Health Implications. Increasing partisan polarization could alter state-level vaccine policies in ways that jeopardize childhood immunization rates or weaken responsiveness during public health emergencies. Authorities should look for areas of bipartisan agreement on how to maintain vaccination rates. (Am J Public Health. 2022;112(10):1471–1479. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2022.306964)
From the article:
The trends we have identified can be explained, in part, by the rise and fall of controversies during this timeframe. Beginning in 1998, Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike were focused on the possibility that the mercury-containing vaccine preservative thimerosal could be linked to autism. The high frequency of bills to prohibit mercury in vaccines and to expand access to exemptions in the early 2000s were almost certainly motivated by these safety concerns.13 However, a 2004 Institute of Medicine report established the scientific consensus against the autism‒mercury hypotheses, the Lancet retracted the study that first proposed a vaccine‒autism link because of ethical and scientific concerns, and the study’s lead author, Andrew Wakefield, was removed from the United Kingdom’s registry of physicians in 2010.13,14,28
Faced with the loss of legitimate scientific arguments, leaders of vaccine-critical organizations were compelled to innovate new narratives that might resonate with blocks of potential supporters.28 In their analysis of antivaccine Facebook pages from 2009 to 2019, Broniatowski et al.17 found a decreasing prevalence of safety or efficacy concerns and an increasing emphasis on protecting individual liberty from government intrusion. This shift in emphasis from safety to parental freedom would certainly have been felt by policymakers. Legislators might strongly disagree about whether certain vaccines are safe for children, but such disagreements are not inherently partisan. By contrast, as vaccine policies became increasingly framed in terms of individual liberty versus the state, legislators might have faced mounting pressure to choose their side based on adherence to conservative or progressive views on the appropriate role of government.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said in a new interview that the “anti-vaxxer attitude” of some Americans risks causing non-COVID virus outbreaks in the U.S.
“I’m concerned the acceleration of an anti-vaxxer attitude in certain segments of the population . . . might spill over into that kind of a negative attitude towards childhood vaccinations,” Fauci told The Financial Times in an interview published Sunday.