REVIEW: ‘VICE Investigates’ Season 1, Episode 6 – Anti-Vaxx Fever

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Anti-Vaxx Fever
The Crazymothers’, an anti-vaxx advocacy group, founder Hillary Simpson with VICE’s Krishna Andavolu speaking on the episode “Anti-Vaxx Fever”

VICE Investigates is a Hulu Original documentary series that explores various newsworthy topics. In its sixth episode, “Anti-Vaxx Fever,” Vice News’ Krishna Andavolu speaks to people on both sides of the issue. The episode begins by speaking with a former Measles patient who happened to not have been vaccinated by his mother. By doing this, VICE Investigates immediately sets up the consequences for not getting vaccinated. As mentioned by Andavolu, so many people don’t remember what life was like when these diseases ran rampant. Measles is often reframed by anti-vaxxers as a childhood disease everyone used to get, but that isn’t remotely true. The World Health Organization deemed vaccination hesitancy as one of its top-ten threats to global health in 2019. 

After explaining the history of the anti-vaxx movement, “Anti-Vaxx Fever” explains the importance of herd immunity. While it is logical to deduce that more people being vaccinated means more protection, I didn’t realize just how quickly that protection can fall if even a percentage less of people are vaccinated. Dr. Mark S Roberts, Professor of Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, breaks down the numbers in detail and the stark reality is terrifying. Not vaccinating your children seriously endangers others, but primarily other children and people who by no fault of their own can get vaccinated due to being immunocompromised.

Similarly, Andavolu also speaks with Ethan Lindenberger. Lindenberger isn’t a doctor, he’s an 18-year-old who went against his mother’s wishes and got his vaccinations. After testifying in front of Congress, Lindenberger has made it his mission to educate people and spread the idea that there is no vaccination debate, you are just wrong or believe in sound science. Lindenberger feels compelled to spread his message because the future of the country relies on younger generations vaccinating their children. But through his message, viewers also get a look at just how powerful the anti-vaxx community is, how they use manipulation and emotional appeals to spread their pseudo-science, and just how far their reach is.

Anti-vaxx ideas are contagious and advocates’ emotional appeals can be convincing. Andavolu spoke to Hillary Simpson, the founder of the anti-vaxx group The Crazymothers, about how she spreads the message. The statistics about how much attention anti-vaxx ads garner over pro-vaccination ads are alarming. And while I am usually wary of journalists giving a platform to people who are clearly going against sound science, the episode does a good job of debunking or admitting that some of her claims could not be backed up by science. But even with the steady stream of donations and revenue, Simpson goes into detail about how Facebook’s decision to crack down on anti-vaxx content has her movement. Long story short, de-platforming works and we should continue to do it. However, Simpson and other anit-vaxxers are not backing down, instead, they believe the de-platforming means they are on to something.

While the anti-vaxx community has been online for a while, doctors and various health organizations are just now catching up. “Anti-Vaxx Fever” does a great job of explaining how the anti-vaxx movement uses social media against doctors. When doctors post pro-vaccine information, swarms of commentators from the anti-vaxx community will downvote the page, review bomb the office on Yelp or Google Reviews, and of course comment. When the Kids Plus Pediatrics, located in Pensylvania, posted a pro-vaccination video in favor of the HPV vaccine, they were inundated with this swarm. However, after partnering with the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh, they found a majority of these commentators did not live in Pensylvania. Additionally, many of the commentators and anti-vaxx supporters were on different sides of the political aisle. Everyone from essential oil salesmen to white nationalists was attacking Kids Plus Pediatrics’ Facebook page. The fact so many different extremist political groups are against vaccines makes them more powerful than they should be.

And while the majority of the anti-vaxx community is made up of mothers, there are many mothers fighting back. The science behind the danger of the movement and not vaccinating the population is dangerous but what pulls your heartstrings is hearing the story of mothers who are terrified to send their children to school because so many of their classmates are unvaccinated. A group of pro-vaccination mothers in Texas has the odds stacked against them. Texas has a large anti-vaxx community that has rebranded itself to be pro-medical freedom. In Texas, anti-vaxxers have stalled pro-vaccine bills and are actively involved in lobbying elected officials as well as donating to candidates that align with their views. Vaccines, a medical marvel that has saved countless people, is political and anti-vaxxers are willing to co-opt any political party to get their message out. In Texas, that would be the GOP but elsewhere, democrats are also campaigning against vaccines.

“Anti-Vaxx Fever” does a good job of speaking with anti-vaxx advocates but also in between the interviews, debunking their claims. VICE Investigates did their homework and the episode offers both logical and emotional arguments for vaccines. Considering that so much of the anti-vaxx community thrives off manipulative language and emotional appeals, it is incredibly important sound science about vaccines to match that emotional sentiment. More often than not doctors struggle to communicate the fatality of not being vaccinated in a way that is compelling and tugs at your heartstrings. Additionally, “Anti-Vaxx Fever” avoids overcomplicating the math, statistics, and medical science it is explaining. By breaking down everything down, primarily the science supporting vaccines, “Anti-Vaxx Fever” does an excellent job of making the issue more understandable. Considering the ongoing rise in Measles outbreaks and flu deaths, this episode should be required viewing.

VICE Investigates’ episode “Anti-Vaxx Fever” is streaming now on Hulu.

VICE Investigates Season 1, Episode 6 - Anti-Vaxx Fever
10/10

TL;DR

By breaking down everything down, primarily the science supporting vaccines, “Anti-Vaxx Fever” does an excellent job of making the issue more understandable. Considering the ongoing rise in Measles outbreaks and flu deaths, this episode should be required viewing.