258808 A historian's assessment of the current intellectual politics of vaccination

Monday, October 29, 2012 : 12:30 PM - 12:50 PM

Robert Johnston, PhD , Department of History, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Over the last decade, the intellectual politics of vaccination have significantly changed. After a period of relatively respectful openness to the concerns of vaccination skeptics, the main public voices of the public health, medical, and scientific establishment have been articulating an extremely hard-line case for the ethics and legality of compulsory vaccination. Parents who refuse or even delay vaccination are being accused of being ultra-selfish, if not even murderous; pediatricians are frequently being pushed to refuse services to vaccine-skeptical parents; and long-standing legal exemptions that allow some parents not to vaccinate are being strongly challenged. This paper will explore the rise of this hard-line thinking from authors such as Arthur Allen, Seth Mnookin, and (especially) Paul Offit, while comparing that hard line to the previous era of relative openness, the opposing perspectives of vaccine skeptics, and the more pluralist way that recent historians have tended to explore controversies over vaccination. My hope is that I can help bring some of the insights of the historical method—an openness to the viewpoints of others, a chastened learning from the past, and a skepticism toward totalizing policy ideas—to bear on the way we might formulate policies toward vaccination in the most democratic way possible.

Learning Areas:
Advocacy for health and health education
Communication and informatics
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Implementation of health education strategies, interventions and programs
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Analyze from a historical perspective the current intellectual politics of vaccination.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am under contract with Oxford University Press to write a book titled _Crusaders against the Needle: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in American History_. I have also written “Contemporary Anti-Vaccination Movements in Historical Perspective,” in Robert Johnston, ed., _The Politics of Healing: Histories of Twentieth-Century North American Alternative Medicine_ (Routledge, 2004).
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.