There’s a lot of debate on how to best fight against the disinformation spread by anti-vaxx or "vaccine hesitant" organizations. Is it best to fight it with facts? Or the emotional appeal of the suffering and deaths the movement is causing? The debate continues but a medical student on Reddit shows that sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.
Redditor ArcaneRuby posed the question “Doctors of Reddit, what are some of your anti-vax parent stories?” on Reddit a few weeks ago, a thread that got quite popular quite quickly, with medical professionals sharing some heartbreaking stories of kids suffering thanks to the "anti-vaxx propaganda".
One story, in particular, jumped out, reported by Redditor _Haliax_, a fourth-year medical student who was completing a rotation in pediatrics when they encountered the “classic anti-vaxxer mom”. They describe the encounter as this:
“This lady was a conspiracy theory magnet. She casually mentioned everything from 9/11 to chemtrails. Of course, she loved the idea of the vaccine conspiracy as well, opting to not protect her one-year-old to stick it to big pharma,” _Haliax_ wrote in their post.
Their job was to collect information about the child’s medical history and carry out the exams to present to the attending physician. After discovering the child was unvaccinated and the mom was keen on conspiracy theories, they relayed this to the attending. The medical student said they returned to see the women with the doctor who was sporting a “watch this” smirk.
The exam was straight forward but the woman still brought up the fateful subject of vaccines. She listed about 15 reasons why vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they protect against, and the evils of pharmaceutical companies.
“My attending listens quietly until she’s done with her soapbox (about one eternity later), and then interjects with: “Have you considered the possibility that anti-vaccine propaganda could be an attempt by the Russians or the Chinese to weaken the health of the United States population?”
And the reaction was priceless.
“In a moment of catastrophic cognitive dissonance, I swear I heard a strange popping noise as her brain misfired," _Haliax_ wrote. "It actually broke her. The allure of the increasingly ridiculous conspiracy theory was just too strong.”
The good news is that she ended up agreeing to a modified vaccine schedule. _Haliax_, like us, wondered about the ethics of a doctor doing this. But maybe Machiavelli (and the first commenter under their post, above) is right: “The end justifies the means.”