Sunday, November 7, 2021

Vaxxers and anti-vaxxers

 Vaxxers and anti-vaxxers

by George J. Dance

As a Covid libertarian, I have often been called an "anti-vaxxer" on social media. By "Covid libertarian" I mean that I am a libertarian when it comes to Covid. Being a libertarian just means holding the basic libertarian belief (that it is prime facie wrong to force or coerce other people), and since a person can believe that on one issue but not on another, a person (whether they identify as a libertarian or not) can be a libertarian or not on a particular issue. A Covid libertarian is one who applies that belief to Covid as a political issue, i.e. to government policy during and regarding the Covid pandemic. 

Covid libertarians, then, oppose government mandates, whether the government is mandating lockdowns, business and church closings, mask wearing, or vaccination. They can have various beliefs about the value of staying home, avoiding contact, wearing masks, or being vaccinated during a pandemic. For the record, and for what it's worth, I believe all four of the latter have value. What defines a Covid libertarian is a lack of belief that those things' value is a reason to ignore libertarian principles and human rights, and go with force and coercion instead. 

But what is an "anti-vaxxer"? And whom or what are they "anti"? It turns out the term has two definitions. Historically, it has referred to the view of a small minority that opposes vaccination, whatever the reason, and refuses to be vaccinated, a meaning best summed up in the Oxford English Dictionary definition: "a person who is opposed to vaccination, especially a parent who does not wish to vaccinate their child because they believe it could be harmful.".(1) The word has had that meaning since 1812, when Edward Jenner coined it to describe opponents of his cowpox vaccine.(2) I am certainly not one of those. Vaccination can help protect one from injury, death, and even disease, depending on the disease and the vaccine, which strikes me as a good reason to be vaccinated. 

But there is another definition of "anti-vaxxer," which has been around since at least 2008, and its use has increased exponentially during the Covid pandemic. In 2018 that definition was added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "a person who opposes the use of vaccines OR regulations mandating vaccination."[stress added](3) By that definition I am an anti-vaxxer, because I oppose vaccine mandates. 

The Merriam-Webster (MW) definition looks like an example of what Ayn Rand called "package dealing", or "the fallacy of ... treating together, as parts of a single conceptual whole or 'package,' elements which differ essentially in nature, truth-status, importance or value."(4) As with Rand's original example of the fallacy – the early 1960s media crusade against "extremism" – that fallacy is often used to demonize a group through guilt by association with an already demonized group. That is exactly how the word has come to be used during the pandemic; but, as was noted on Quora as early as 2018, the term was already a pejorative before that:  

There are dictionary definitions of anti-vaxxers, but there is no agreement. The reason is simple. Most of the use of the word anti-vaxxer is by people who are against vaccine choices, who see and label their opposition “anti-vaxxer”.... Dictionary com gives a simple, and more accurate definition “(slang, derogatory) An anti-vaccinationist.” Wictionary org gives a very similar, accurate definition: “(slang, derogatory) An anti-vaccinationist. ”
"Both definitions make the important point clear. The important part of the definition of an anti-vaxxer is not the meaning of the term ... anti-vaxxer is a negative, derogatory, slang term. It is used to insult people, to put them, their understanding, their ideas, their research, and everything about them and their friends into the “negative” box.... Anti-vaxxer is a contemptuous term for anyone who challenges any vaccine or vaccination information or dogma. It is also a contemptuous term for anyone who might listen to such a person, try to understand their position, or even dare to befriend them in any way.
In general the term anti-vaxxer is used by people who are anti-anti-vaxxer, who want to dismiss, insult, or worse, people who wish to make informed medical choices for themselves and their children. People who are anti-anti-vaxxers extend the term anti-vaxxer to anyone who makes the slightest challenge, question, or suggestion that vaccines are not akin to God.... The term anti-vaxxer is used to describe someone who is so bad that no further analysis is attempted. 
This is clearly seen in some of the more ridiculous definitions. Here’s the top version from UrbanDictionary.... “A person who thinks they know more about medicine and public health than the overwhelming majority of doctors, scientists, immunologists, and every major health organization across the whole entire planet. ‘Pfffft, I don't need to believe in "evidence based medicine" & fancy "science" made up by sheeple and shills! I'm an arrogant anti-vaxxer!’”
and another from UrbanDictionary of similar style[:] "A particularly toxic kind of narcissist who places their own science illiterate beliefs in woo over the welfare of their own children and that of the general population. "Oh great, another measles outbreak, thanks to those dumbass anti-vaxxers."
Note: Attempting to create an honest definition of “anti-vaxxer” is likely to have yourself labelled as one." (5

So the term has always been a smear, an ad hominem used to label and discredit some people's beliefs by attacking the people rather than dealing with the beliefs. But now, thanks to Merriam-Webster, I have been successfully labelled with it as well. But if I am to be defined and labelled by anyone (and with such a term!) , I should at least be allowed to define and label them in return.

Who has defined and labelled me this way? The Quora article calls them 'people who are anti-anti-vaxxers,' which gets our essential opposition across, but is way too long for a label. Therefore, I propose coining my own word – "vaxxer" (which I am claiming because I have failed to find any prior use) – and defining it as someone who believes the opposite of MW's anti-vaxxer:

Vaxxer: "a person who supports the use of vaccines AND regulations mandating vaccination." (stress added)

By this definition, everyone (with an opinion) is either a vaxxer or an anti-vaxxer, and no one is both. 

Let there be no confusion: "Vaxxer" does simply mean being pro-vaccination. It does not mean someone who gets vaccinated, or who supports or encourages vaccination: someone like me who does both of the latter, but opposes vaccine mandates, is an anti-vaxxer by MW's definition, and therefore not a vaxxer by mine. To make the distinction: Someone who is pro-vaccination is interested in getting vaccinated, and in letting or helping others get vaccinated; a vaxxer simply wants to vaccinate all of them. Like Caesar, who wanted the whole world to be taxed, vaxxers want the whole world to be vaxxed. They want a society where everyone is vaccinated. If possible, they would simply grab and jab them all, with or without their consent. Barring the legal power to do so, they advocate forcibly segregating the unvaccinated, excluding them from society as much as possible, entirely if they could. 

By the above definitions – MW's and mine – I am definitely, and defiantly, an "anti-vaxxer". I am not opposed to vaccination; but I am opposed to vaxxers and their schemes. Whether the scheme is to vaccinate everyone to get "herd immunity," or to get rid of the virus entirely, the effect is the same: Government power is being used to coerce people, to police everyone, to harass and stigmatize a minority, and to violate human rights. While some anti-vaxxers may pose some danger to me, some risk of infection, so does everyone else, including the Covid-vaccinated; that is something I have been able to deal with by social distancing, by sometime mask-wearing, and now by getting vaccinated myself. I see far more real danger from vaxxers and their plans, both to me and to my society, and no good way (other than vocal opposition) to deal with that risk.

References (accessed Nov. 6-7, 2021

(1) "Definition of anti-vaxxer," Oxford Learners' Dictionaries.

(2) Ruki Sayid, "Anti-vaxxer, willy-waver and Wagwan among new words in Oxford Dictionary - see list." Daily Mirror, Sept. 10, 2021.

(3) "Definition of anti-vaxxer," Merriam-Webster. 

(4) "Package-dealing, fallacy of," Ayn Rand Lexicon.,_fallacy_of.html

(5) Tracy Kolenchuk, "What is the exact definition of an anti-vaxxer? Does it mean someone who opposes some vaccines, all vaccines, or only mandatory vaccines?", Quora, Aug. 27, 2018. 

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