In the nation’s most diverse state, protesters opposed to childhood vaccine mandates…co-opted the civil rights mantle from the 1960s, insisting that their plight is comparable to what African Americans have suffered from segregationist policies.

— Politico

Did you realize the right to refuse vaccinations for your child is in the same league as supporting civil rights for blacks? That’s what was being claimed in Sacramento a few days ago during the debate over SB 276, the bill calling for tighter restrictions on granting exemptions for childhood vaccinations. Anti-vaxxers compared themselves to the civil rights movement according to Politico (usually a well-balanced source for political news — that is, it’s regularly accused of having both liberal and conservative biases). “A chorus of mostly white women sang the gospel song We Shall Overcome…Mothers rallied outside the governor’s office and marched through Capitol corridors chanting ‘No segregation, no discrimination, yes on education for all!’”


Civil Rights

The civil rights movement was about the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right to be served without discrimination. It was about challenging Alabama governor George Wallace’s rallying cry at his 1963 inauguration, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.*” Like the late governor, the anti-vaxxers were far from subtle: “Welcome to Calabama, y’all,” read one banner — conflating liberal Gavin Newsom with Wallace; and another: “Welcome to Nazifornia,” complete with swastika.

(* A speech penned, so ironically, by Asa Earl Carter, aka Forrest Carter, author of that lovely paean to equality and required reading in many schools, The Education of Little Tree.)

The movement bitterly opposed by Wallace was all about undoing the decades-long tragedy following what started out as well-meaning post-Civil War Reconstruction. With the institution of literacy tests and poll taxes in all Southern states (starting with Mississippi in 1890), African Americans were effectively denied the rights guaranteed them by the 14th Amendment. You don’t have to be a historian to know that the civil rights movement was about remedying the brutal treatment of blacks in the Southern states, including some 4,000 lynchings of blacks.


The current rise in measles cases more than warrants SB 276, the newly-signed law designed to rein in unscrupulous doctors who have been granting medical exemptions to vaccinations for dubious reasons. According to the CDC, measles cases have skyrocketed this year with (as of June 30) over 2,900 confirmed cases and 36,000 suspected cases in the US. The number of cases jumped 300% in the first three months of the year compared with 2018.

(In case you’ve been living in a cave: measles, a disease spread by a virus, is so contagious that 90% of people around someone with the disease will catch it, and one in four who get it will need hospitalization.)

Number of reported measles cases per year in the US. (Actual cases were probably much higher.) Note the drop in cases after the introduction of the first measles vaccine in the early 1960s. (CDC)

And yes, of course you’ll find doctors who oppose vaccination. That’s the nature of science — it works by consensus, you’ll never get 100% agreement on anything. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the 2% of doctors who don’t believe smoking contributes to lung cancer, or 2% of climate scientists don’t accept that global warming is caused by humans spewing CO2 into the atmosphere. Similarly, a few doctors oppose childhood vaccinations, while the vast majority, plus every relevant professional medical association*, recommend them.

(* Including: the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices)


But even if you do find it in your heart to oppose childhood vaccinations — and you’ll find plenty of online sites that take advantage of your gullibility as you want to do the best for your child — comparing your cause to the civil rights movement? That’s when any sympathy on my part, trying to understand your opposition, flies out the window. You lost me with that.