Co-Opting Discrimination to Augment Privilege: Misuse of Claims of Discrimination by Anti-Vaccine Activists
19 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2016 Last revised: 26 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 10, 2016
In their efforts to fight against tightening of school immunization requirements anti-vaccine activists have repeatedly claimed that such tightening discriminates against, or even segregates, intentionally non-vaccinated children. They have drawn on language and imagery created in response to racial discrimination against minority groups. This essay explains why such claims are legally incorrect - and pragmatically inappropriate. First, unvaccinated children are meaningfully different from the vaccinated. Second, not vaccinating is a choice, and not an immutable characteristic. Treating non-vaccinating parents differently is closer to different treatment of those who drink and drive than to different treatment of racial minorities. Finally, the use of the discrimination language is troubling here. Most parents that do not vaccinate (though not all) belong to privileged groups. Vaccine refusal is much more common among white, middle class people. Using the language created to protect disadvantaged minorities from oppression in this context is incorrect and jarring.
Keywords: Vaccines, Discrimination, Civil Rights, Equal Protection
JEL Classification: J15, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation