Are anti-vaxxers the new terrorists?

How many of you remember the mumps? The mumps is a viral infection that affects the salivary glands and is often associated with trouble swallowing or earaches. I think I had them as a kid – then again I don’t have a really good memory of my early childhood. I just read that the mumps vaccine didn’t become very effective until the 1960s (I was born in late 1960 for your information) so I may or may not have gotten vaccinated. Today of course we have very good vaccinations and mumps is highly preventable through the MMR vaccine (MMR stands for mumps, measles and rubella).

I am pretty sure that my mom would have had me vaccinated. She was, after all, a smart lady and cared for her kids. Unfortunately, there are parents out there who do not get their kids the protection that vaccinations afford, either for ‘philosophical’ reasons – whatever that means – or because they believe in the quack scientific theories of ‘Dr’ Andrew Wakefield that vaccines cause cancer or autism or the heebie-jeebies (NB THEY DO NOT!! Real science has categorically shown Mr. Wakefield’s views to be false).

As an aside, if you still believe that vaccines are bad, instead of one of greatest medical advances in history, a discovery that has probably saved the lives of hundreds of millions of children over time (yes, measles, and mumps can be fatal), then fill your boots. You have every right to hold to whatever conviction you want: the earth is flat, the moon is made of green cheese, Neil Armstrong did not walk on the moon as he is lactose intolerant, whatever. But if you are an anti-vaxxer and as a consequence won’t get your child vaccinated keep him/her away from MY grandson until he is vaccinated (coz my daughter is rightfully pro-vaccine). I want my grandson to live, thank you.

It appears, however, that there is a fringe within the anti-vaxxer movement that is turning scary, even violent. Several Canadian doctors have begun to receive what seem to be death threats for their advocacy of vaccines. We know that there is some nasty stuff online, but anti-vaccination messages are “escalating from social media misinformation to personal threats.” One doctor got a message which read “Come at my son with another vaccine and I WILL make sure you NEVER support vaccines EVER AGAIN! This email isn’t even CLOSE TO LISTENING TO ME IN PERSON!” Another was subject to “threats of killing and dismemberment.” I am not making this up. The emails came from IP addresses in the US, where the anti-vaxxer movement appears to be stronger.

I know two things. First, most anti-vaxxers are not violent, just woefully uninformed, in part due to the influence of our celebrity culture (American actress Jenny McCarthy, who has zero medical background to my knowledge, was one of the leading proponents against vaccinations). Secondly, most people who make online threats never actually do anything. We used to see this at CSIS all the time. It is fortunately true that most blowhards are cowards who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet.

But this is still a worrying development. What started as a marginal bunch of dumb people is now attracting a violent cohort. It is inevitable – sorry – that one person will move from posting to shooting some day. Then we will agonise over ‘why wasnt’ this prevented’? And yes this would be an act of terrorism: serious violence for ideological reasons (anti-vaxxers are ideological in nature).

So, what now? What is the best way to nip this in the bud? Better education? More dialogue? Mandatory state-imposed vaccines? I am not sure – do my readers have any ideas?

What about free speech? Yes, we all have a right to express our views, as ill-formed as they may be, and anti-vaxxing is really ill-formed. But no one has the right to threaten to dismember a doctor for doing her job. That crosses a line and should be punished.

For those who are still against keeping their kids safe, do what you think you have to do. Just keep your unvaccinated children away from my grandson.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

Leave a Reply