As the outbreak of measles in Southern California continues its spread, public health officials have turned their attention toward the rising number of parents forgoing vaccinations for their children. Once based on the now discredited study linking vaccines to autism, the choice not to vaccinate is now considered an issue of individual choice, albeit one made at the expense of public health.
Vaccinating has become highly politicized. With conflicting information about potential side effects and the increase in mandated vaccines, some parents have grown anxious and distrustful—they are now known as “anti-vaxxers.”
- James Colgrove. 2006. State of immunity: The politics of vaccination in twentieth-century America. Berkeley: University of California.
- Monica Casper and Laura Carpenter. 2008. “Sex, drugs, and politics: the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer.” Sociology of Health & Illness 30(6).
- Mark A. Largent. 2012. Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Social networks and institutions help distrust spread. For instance, you can’t “catch” autism from other people, but as parents near each other share information and experiences, the chances that a child will be diagnosed with autism increases.
- Ka-Yuet Liu, Marissa King, and Peter S. Bearman. 2010. “Social Influence and the Autism Epidemic.” American Journal of Sociology 115(5).
When parents who distrust medical advice about vaccines consider other parenting practices, such as breastfeeding and nutrition, they also seek out institutions like private schools, which are more friendly to alternative choices. The parents’ networks are thus made smaller.
- Jennifer A. Reich. 2014. “Neoliberal Mothering and Vaccine Refusal: Imagined Gated Communities and the Privilege of Choice.” Gender & Society 28(5).
Although anti-vaxxers are not necessarily motivated by religious values, sociologists study how multiple sources of authority, such as religious and political affiliations, impact scientific distrust and result in deeply held personal beliefs that may place facts and values at odds.
- Gordon Gauchat. 2012. “Politicization of Science in the Public Sphere A Study of Public Trust in the United States, 1974 to 2010.” American Sociological Review 77(2).
- Timothy L. O’Brien and Shiri Noy. 2015. “Americans’ Traditional, Modern, and Post-Secular Perspectives on Science and Religion.” American Sociological Review, 80.
- John H. Evans and Michael S. Evans. 2008. “Religion and Science: Beyond the Epistemological Conflict Narrative.” Annual Review of Sociology 34(1).