Actress Jessica Biel, who grew from a tween to a Maxim cover girl on the family drama 7th Heaven, and has since put together a respectable television and movie career (and married Justin Timberlake to form a Hollywood power couple), found herself in the midst of quite a kerfuffle when she aligned herself with anti-vaccination nut bar Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Public outcry was swift and substantial, prompting Biel to, um, clarify her position on the matter.

Biel’s explanation apparently reflects a growing trend among the antivaxx crowd: to restate their opposition as one against mandatory vaccinations, rather than about (utterly unsupported) assertions that vaccinations can cause autism. Considered on its own, this shift is a bit of an oddity, because the folks who seem to squawk the loudest about the perils of vaccinating are so often also big-government leftists/progressives, who have no problems with all sorts of other forms of coercion. There’s some clarity to be found, however, within the context of the evolving zeitgeist.

Measles outbreaks are being reported all over the US, particularly in communities where vaccinations are shunned, for various reasons (not all of them having to do with spurious connections to autism). This smack-in-the-face reality has induced introspection even among the traditionally anti-coercive, including (some) libertarians. The libertarian position on vaccinations varies more than you might think, and I find the libertarian case for mandatory vaccinations, based on the clean hands doctrine, to be compelling.

What’s interesting about the Jessica Biel ado isn’t the nuance of doctrine or policy, however, but rather the societal pushback. It may very well signal the beginning of a shift in public attitudes towards anti-vaxxers from “oddity” and “maybe there’s something there” to hostility and “danger.”

This would be a Good Thing. To reiterate, there’s no science that supports any of the anti-vaxxers’ assertions, and mountains to refute them. Additionally, the excuse that “I don’t have to vaccinate my kid because of herd immunity” is being refuted by the re-emergence of diseases that we had all but wiped out from most societies.

Fact is, a whole lot of people are, when all the posturing, veils, and facades are removed, self-absorbed, chicken-shit, and crisis-prone. When something is of mere academic interest and far-removed from their immediate orbit, they are all too happy to hop on board trendy bandwagons. But, when something fear-inducing gob-smacks them, the lizard brain takes over, and the postures get thrown out the door (this, sadly, also holds true for things that are perceived to be far greater threats than they actually are (see: domestic terrorism, illegal immigrants carrying Ebola and plague, airplane crashes), but the improbabilities outweigh the lizard-fear in far too few people).

It’s unfortunate, to grossly understate it, that it took people actually getting sick from vaccine-preventable diseases to (possibly) turn the public against the anti-vaxx movement. But, better late than never, and if this is indeed an inflection point in cultural attitudes, it should be celebrated.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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