Steven Novella recently published What is an Antivaxer? over at the Science-Based Medicine blog. It is a useful overview of different classic types of anti-vaccine advocates. He admits up front that it is really a continuum, but offers a couple of typical cases.
I will discuss them in turn and add my personal interpretation and evaluate how likely it is to persuade the individuals in these categories that they are mistaken. To emphasize again, these are stereotypical categories and all individuals should be treated as individuals.
1. The Misinformed Parent
This is the person who has heard anecdotes from their friends and started to believe, with no good evidence, in the general harmfulness of vaccines. Novella explains:
The first sub-category is not truly anti-vaccine, but can be made to feel as if they are being lumped in with extremists – and that is well-meaning parents who are simply misinformed or confused.
He goes on to point out that scientific skeptics are not critical of this group, as they are merely the unfortunate victims of anti-vaccine propaganda. Maybe they have heard that vaccines contain mercury, but not gotten the full story:
However, mercury was removed from the routine childhood vaccine schedule in the US by 2002. Tiny doses of mercury (in thimerosal) is still present in some, but not all, flu vaccines. You can get all the vaccines you need without any mercury (except for insignificant trace amounts). I should also mention that the doses of mercury in vaccines prior to 2002 was tiny, that it is in the form of ethylmercury, which is much less toxic than methylmercury (the form that is more likely to be encountered in the environment), and that the evidence does not show any link between mercury in vaccines and any adverse outcome.
I think that these group should be treated with kindness because they may be the easiest archetype to persuade of the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. Not quite an unbiased fence-sitter, but basically as close to one as you get when it comes to anti-vaxers.
2. The Mercury Militant
If one is heavily invested in the idea that mercury that is suppose to be found in vaccines (which really isn’t; see above) is causing pretty much most or all of modern day diseases, one may be placed in the mercury militant archetype. Novella suggests that: Read more of this post