The XX Factor

Why Do Rich People Refuse to Vaccinate Their Kids?

Residents line up for H1N1 vaccinations in Los Angeles County on Oct. 23, 2009.

Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Why is anti-vaccination sentiment associated with the economic elite? Alex Seitz-Wald examines the question in Salon, in light of an uptick in parents refusing to vaccinate their kids.* But not just any parents. As Seitz-Wald explains, the unvaccinated kids are clustered in some of the wealthiest schools and neighborhoods, particularly in California, where some extremely expensive private schools have vaccination compliance rates as low as 20 percent. Anti-vaccination sentiment has been stereotyped as a mindless lefty cause, but in reality, Republicans are slightly more likely to oppose vaccination than Democrats. The real correlation is between having a lot of money and class privilege and opposing vaccination. 

So what’s going on? Seitz-Wald interviews some experts like Nina Shapiro, a professor at UCLA, who notes that anti-vaxx sentiment is “a little bit of a trend.” She describes it as “I’m going to be pure and I want to keep my child pure.” But that doesn’t quite get at why there’s such class differences here, since presumably people of all stripes object to the notion of poisoning their children and therefore are vulnerable to propaganda that paints vaccinations as poisonous. I’d posit that refusing vaccination has become something of a status symbol, a way to distinguish your special snowflake from the herd. It’s in line with other trends of varied inherent value, such as putting your kid in a private school, not allowing him to ever eat trashy “kid” food like hot dogs or macaroni and cheese, or forbidding her from engaging with pop culture.

By design, the vaccination is for everyone. The needles they want to stab into the fancy children of fancy Hollywood celebrities and dot-com billionaires are exactly the same brand and shape as the ones they put into kids who go to public school and whose parents buy their clothes at Target. Next thing you know, they’ll be making everyone ride on public transportation. The line has to be drawn somewhere, folks.

There’s a silver lining here. As Jed Lipinski, writing for Slate, explains, there’s a small but growing interest in the possibility of curbing vaccination noncompliance through lawsuits, presumably by having people whose kids were injured by contracting diseases from nonvaccinated kids suing for damages. When you’re looking to sue, it’s always wise to pick people with deep pockets, and fortunately, the people invested in the trend of nonvaccination are those who have some of the deepest of all. 

Correction, Aug. 14, 2013: This article originally misidentified the author of a Salon article. The author is Alex Seitz-Wald, not Alex Pareene.