Arizonans deserve better than vaccine conspiracies and downright dangerous rhetoric

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As an Arizonan and mother of three, it has been truly sad to witness recent legislative hearings that have been held and the bills that have advanced relating to science and public health. 

The legislative leadership’s mistrust of medical institutions and public health officials is palpable, and one need only tune in to the Ad-Hoc Novel Coronavirus Southwestern Intergovernmental Committee hearings to feel the anti-science sentiment and conspiracy theories seep deep into your bones. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the anti-vaccine movement liked to claim that any number of ailments a child might have were attributable to childhood vaccinations. Since the pandemic, the rhetoric has exploded and anti-vaccine advocates have evolved into blaming nearly any ailment anyone has on vaccines (including routine childhood immunizations), but especially the Covid-19 vaccine. 

I am not saying that adverse reactions to vaccines are not real, whether that be a legacy vaccine or a newer vaccine. But true vaccine injuries are exceedingly rare — fewer than one in a million vaccinated people suffer a serious side effect. 

When you compare that to the number of unvaccinated or vulnerable people who are at risk for harm or death from an outbreak of disease, it’s clear that vaccines save lives against a myriad of diseases. Period. Hard stop. That is the truth. 

Unfortunately, guess who does not care? Many Arizona Republican legislators. 

If you have not been at the state Capitol during public health hearings, let me paint you a picture. You will hear various conspiracy theories stated as fact, and scarily, actual words that “data doesn’t matter” or “the science is on both sides,” accompanied by nods of agreement from GOP legislators. 

Both of those statements are untrue. 

Vaccines are effective at preventing infectious disease not only for those who receive the vaccine, but for our communities. High immunization

rates keep schools open where students can learn and allow parents to stay at work. Community immunity, as it is called, also provides opportunities to immunocompromised children and others who cannot receive a vaccine themselves to participate as active members of society. 

And while individuals have the right to choose to forgo vaccines for themselves or their children, the spread of misinformation from a state legislative body threatens to lower our community’s immunization rates — increasing risk for spread of infectious disease — based on lies. 

Arizonans value individual liberties. And we already have some of the easiest to obtain exemptions from school vaccine requirements in the country. Employees have rights when it comes to potential vaccine requirements from their employers. 

Yet the Legislature and anti-vaccine zealots continue to hold hearings chock-full of lies and advance anti-science bills. 

This is not freedom. This is the deliberate misuse of tax dollars to spread demonstrable lies. 

The average Arizonan might think, “I’m vaccinated, my kids are vaccinated, I don’t have any pre-existing conditions, so what do I care what these people think?” Well, this culture of lies and fear surrounding vaccines and science has an often-overlooked real effect outside of the health of the unvaccinated individual. 

An attack on vaccines is an attack on science, the medical field, innovation, the economy, and ultimately the people. We need to stop being so narrow-minded when it comes to scientific and medical misinformation and think that it doesn’t affect us. 

At some point down the line, you may either be thankful that Arizona created a culture that values innovation because we have a cure for your rare disease, or kicking yourself in the pants wondering why you didn’t fight harder to encourage elected officials to value and invest in medical and scientific advancement, including vaccines. 

I suggest we all truly think about how this culture of fear is going to harm Arizona long-term, and let’s hold our elected officials accountable when they attack research and science, and ultimately how affordable, accessible, and quality our healthcare system and community will be in the future if we continue down this path.

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