Anita Sreedhar is a primary care physician with a degree in public health and she works in the Bronx. Anand Gopal is a sociologist from my second favorite University, Arizona State University. He is also an excellent journalist who covers international conflicts such as the war in Afghanistan. They have conducted research for 5 years to learn to better understand vaccine resistance. Again, from before the arrival of Covid-19. This is what they discovered:
“We’ve found that people who reject vaccines are not necessarily less scientifically literate or less well-informed than those who don’t. Instead, hesitancy reflects a transformation of our core beliefs about what we owe one another.
Over the past four decades, governments have slashed budgets and privatized basic services. This has two important consequences for public health. First, people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them. And second, public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation. People are conditioned to believe they’re on their own and responsible only for themselves. That means an important source of vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good.”
People think they are on their own, because they have largely been left on their own. They know they can’t trust anyone else. It is all on them.
In the Unites States there has been a powerful anti-vaccine movement since long before Covid-19.
I remember one day I was at a conference at my beloved Arizona State University, and at dinner when I was chatting with the woman sitting beside my wife and I. She seemed intelligent. After all she was an adult like me participating in a university conference with some of the top professors around the world. Both of us did not really belong there. We were ordinary citizens, but the university encouraged people like us to attend such conferences. That is why I like that university so much. I was surprised that she wanted to talk about vaccines which one of the professors had talked about as an aside. She told me she disagreed strongly with what he had said. She said he was dead wrong when the professor said the vaccine myth that they caused autism had been debunked. (It had). But she strongly disagreed and assured me the science was firm that vaccines did in fact cause autism. (She was wrong).
She was part of a growing movement of vaccine distrust that is particularly virulent in the US, but has reached as far as Canada, in particular, southern Manitoba.
Many reasons have been given for the anti-vaccine attitudes. Some have blamed online misinformation campaigns, others have blamed our tribal culture, and even fear of needles. Race has also been a factor. At first white Americans were twice as likely to get vaccinated in large part for historical reasons, such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on African Americans orchestrated by the government to their serious detriment. There was good reason for their suspicions and mistrust. Interestingly, that gap between whites and blacks has narrowed considerably since then. Many African Americans have been convinced to take the vaccines despite their suspicions.
All of these factors are significant, but Sreedhar and Gopal found a more significant factor. That was college attendance. “Those without a college degree were the most likely to go unvaccinated,” they said. Why would that be. As the two said in their Times article, “Education is a reliable predictor of socioeconomic status, and other studies have similarly found a link between income and vaccination… It turns out that the real vaccination divide is class.”
Class is the culprit. And that makes a big difference as I shall try to show.