Anti-Vaxers: Origins and Beliefs

The anti-vaccination movement has taken social media by storm. From anti-vaccination propaganda, to websites, to support groups, there is a lot of controversy over the topic. The belief that vaccines can cause autism is considered to be an extraordinary belief, but is relatively new. The idea that vaccines are bad in general can be traced back to 19th century England. People began refusing to vaccinate infants against smallpox, and those in positions of power were not ensuring that this was being enforced anyways. Eventually, there was a huge outbreak of smallpox, but this doesn’t discourage anti-vaccination supporters today. This belief is problematic because of a term called herd immunity. Herd immunity happens when a lot of people in one area receive a vaccine, therefore protecting those who cannot receive certain vaccines from life potentially threatening diseases. When people don’t vaccinate their children by choice, they are essentially breaking this herd immunity, which puts the lives of children who are unable to get vaccines at risk. Today, anti-vaccination propaganda claims that vaccines cause autism. Information that supports or deters these claims can be found anywhere on the internet, however it is not all true. Some articles that may seem scientific, are not; and this easy access to misinformation is actually influencing whether or not people are vaccinating their children.

There is a lot of factual evidence surrounding the positive side of vaccinations. Proof of this can be seen when something like herd immunity is compromised. If a preventable disease breaks out in a community, the people who can’t receive vaccinations are the ones who are most likely to get the disease. There has been research that suggests that there is no link between vaccines and autism, which is one of the main concerns of the anti-vaccination movement. The idea that the chemicals in vaccines are what causes autism have also been deterred. When individuals don’t vaccinate their children because they don’t want them to have autism, they are putting their child and the rest of the community at risk for potentially fatal diseases.

On the other hand, many anti-vaccination supporters also provide facts that appear to show vaccines do cause autism. Many supporters of the movement tend to believe that the side effects of vaccines are what cause autism.  Those who support vaccinations commonly assume that anti-vaccination supporters do not understand herd immunity, but they do. They understand that not vaccinating children has its risks, but the side effects are also risky. There have been articles about hiding information in regards to vaccines causing autism. One particular article states that a doctor hid the fact that he found evidence that vaccines cause autism. When a doctor provides information like that, it is hard to ignore, which is why many anti-vaccination supporters have clung to this idea.

So, why do people still believe that vaccines cause autism, even when there is evidence that it is not true? The social and cognitive aspects of this go hand in hand. One of the main reasons is due to the internet, specifically with the prevalence of social media. In today’s society, it is much easier to consult the internet as opposed to a health professional. Because of this, people wholeheartedly believe information that is actually misinforming them. They are viewing data and research that is not entirely accurate and taking it at face value. Some anti-vaccination supporters think that vaccines don’t work, and others believe conspiracy theories that the government is causing illnesses and diseases intentionally through vaccinations. Predatory journals, which can publish any information even if it is not scientifically accurate, can lead people to believe these things about vaccines as well. Regardless of the reason, anti-vaccination supporters will choose this data over advice from medical professionals.

Anti-vaccination supporters find evidence to support their case primarily on the internet. However, the reasons that they believe the information that they read can be different from person to person. Biases help a person maintain the beliefs that they have about a situation. In the case of anti-vaccination supporters, they are looking for evidence to confirm their ideas, rather than deny them. This is called a confirmation bias and can cause people to believe information that they see relevant to their topic, while ignoring counterevidence. There is also a term called the availability error, which refers to retaining information that one sees as significant. When it comes to anti-vaccination supporters, the anti-vaccination propaganda is more appealing, and therefore better remembered and enforced throughout their community.

American Academy of Pediatrics (2018). Vaccine Safety: Examine the Evidence. Retrieved from

Durbach, N. (2004). Bodily Matters: The Anti-Vaccination Movement in England, 1853-1907. Retrieved from

Health Impact News (2014). CDC Whistleblower Emerges: Admits Coverup on Vaccine Link to Autism. Retrieved from

Jameson, C. (2014). Vaccines Cause Autism. Age of Autism. Retrieved from

Kata, A. (2012). Anti-vaccine activists, Web 2.0, and the postmodern paradigm- An overview of Tactics and tropes used online by the anti-vaccination movement. Vaccine, 30(25). Retrieved from

Van Zandt, P. (2019). Cognitive Biases [PowerPoint slides].

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2017). Vaccines Protect Your Community. Retrieved from

22 thoughts on “Anti-Vaxers: Origins and Beliefs

  1. The whole reason we have such a theory that vaccines cause autism is because of a journal article that was published with falsified information. The journal was published by a, now former, accredited British doctor with many accolades. How do you think the reaction or level of influence would change if the conspiracy theory came from the government. Theories are more heavily followed if they were presented by authority. Do you think, even with very little evidence and the retraction of the accusations, more individuals would believe this theory and question the quality and effectiveness of vaccines?

    • I think that if a government organization like the CDC were to come out with claims regarding the unsafe nature of vaccines, more people would definitely believe them, even with very little evidence. Government organizations are seen as a reliable and trustworthy source, as they’re backed by peer-reviewed research and data. With this in mind, even with very little backing on their claims about vaccines, more people in the general public may be swayed due to their credibility in other areas of health and safety.

      • I agree with this, I think if such a powerful organization were to make claims, or even if someone just said that they had made claims (even without evidence) it would cause an uproar and people would start to make even more, crazier claims. The internet has caused some serious problems when it comes to information being thrown around without evidence to back it up.

    • Yes, I do think that even with very little evidence too the people would still question the quality and effectiveness of vaccines. Especially because once exposed to some information, even though it was wrong, our mind doesn’t discredit it completely. And especially after so many claims were made by completely trustworthy parents that their children became autistic after getting vaccinated. They do not consider other possibilities when they have already been predisposed to the idea that vaccines cause autism. Parents usually don’t think rationally when it comes to their children and choose emotions over logic.

  2. One thing that I’ve always found interesting about the anti-vaxxer movement is that, unlike most extraordinary beliefs, the government may actually be legally entitled to force people to to act against their belief and get vaccinated because not getting vaccinated can be seen as infringing on others’ rights. What are your opinions on the government forcing people to get vaccinated?

    • Well, I think even thought he government is right, it is still taking away the right of a mother to choose what they think is best for their blood. Even though the government is only trying to help the people whose thought process have been blocked by false accusations regarding vaccines, they should still have the freedom to decide what they want. You can’t force a person to do the right thing, it has to be their own decision. I don’t know if I am making any sense, but this is my opinion about your question. I am curious to read more comments in support of or against my comment.

      • This is a really interesting point because I have never thought of it this way. You are totally right, that is taking away the right of a mother to make the choice for their child. I also think that the government is right in this case, however your point stretches my thinking further. There is definitely a lot to think about when considering that other people could be affected by one person not being vaccinated, while not wanting to force a mother do to something that they don’t want to do for their own child.

  3. One thing I found really interesting about the original article is that when it was eventually retracted from the journal it was published, it was done very quietly. If I recall correctly, the journal just put in a tiny paragraph explaining that it had been pulled. Today it seems like it is primarily scientists and doctors working to dispel all the false beliefs about vaccines. I wonder if having more governmental institutions come forward to advocate for vaccination would cause more people to vaccinate.

    • This is an interesting point. I want to believe that if more governmental institutions came forward support vaccines that more people would believe it but at the same time, they don’t believe doctors and scientists so why would they believe the government?

  4. I find this an interesting topic because on one side of the argument people will say how science has proven that vaccines do not cause autism, but on the other side anti-vaccination will argue that science only looks at what it wants to look at and it too is biased. I know people on both sides of the argument and I think this is one of those topics that will always have opinions on both sides.

    • I agree with you. I think that there is a lot of omission bias on both sides that makes people choose what they want to ignore and what they want to support. I think that it would take a lot of concrete evidence directed at a particular side to sway their opinions on this matter, since the journal articles and normal evidence alone do not do it. I also think that the evidence would need to be presented in a way that specifically contradicts the beliefs of each side. I definitely think that this would be a hard thing to do, leaving this topic to have split opinions as well.

  5. What scares me the most about the anti-vaccination problem is that that are medical professionals out there who play into this theory that vaccines are bad. They are medical professionals who should know better, there is scientifically proven evidence out there that vaccines for sure provide more good than harm. I have seen a lot on Facebook recently about anti-vaxers, its interesting that it is become such a large topic of conservation today.

    • I have also seen a lot of information about anti-vaxers on Facebook, as well as twitter, instagram and other social media platforms. I think that the support found in these online communities helps to strengthen their beliefs in the positive aspects of anti-vaccination movements. Even when they are presented with evidence from medical professionals as to why their beliefs aren’t correct, the social support that they get from these groups outweighs the evidence.

  6. The anti-vaccination problem is a great example of availability bias because, even though vaccines do not actually cause autism, people believe this is the case because it is so widely covered on the media. Though the idea of the government forcing people to get vaccinated seems like an infringement of rights, the only reason people are not doing it is because of a blatant lack of knowledge. Anti-vaxxers think they are knowledgable due to the circulation of misinformation on the internet. If they knew they were wrong, I think they would reconsider their stance.

  7. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccination movement is perpetuated by a true and wholesome love of parents for their children. The tragedy though is indeed the misinformed belief of what vaccines really do. I believe that this conspiracy has its clenches so deep in the flesh of those who believe it that there is very little hope for a change in belief even in the face of the most blinding evidence one could ever imagine.

  8. Hello!
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post! I remember that we spoke about this topic in class so I was able to connect to that. I remember that website that we were shown on the pros and cons, additionally the videos about their babys turning autistic. After gathering all of the information, I can see a mother’s concern and wanting to protect her child from something like autism, but I think you should also be afraid of your child becoming sick as well. There definitely is trade of in this controversy but the facts mainly lead to the disbelief of this occurrence. I think if there was a cause and effect relationship with Autism, so many more people would be getting that condition. Why are only some babys getting it? There must be some other connection or reason. Overall very nice post!!

  9. I don’t know why these people can make a connection between getting vaccination and autism. Although science has proved that vaccination will not lead to getting autism, the opinion that vaccination is bad for children has deeply taken root on the opponents’ mind. I know they do this is for their child and their aim is right. But they are deceived by the fake belief. They get false knowledge from the website and it causes them to fear the vaccination. I think only after their child get the illness and they can start to think they are wrong.

  10. I don’t know much about medicine to know the side effects of vaccinations. However, I do remember learning that vaccinations have a small dose of the illness so your body can learn how to fight it off and not make you sick. So, I never really understood the whole argument about you getting sick afterwords meant the vaccinations were bad. In lecture we learned, that when you get sick after a vaccination its because you already had the illness in you, it just wasn’t at full affect. The argument towards autism always confused me because if the government wanted this, what are they gaining from it? I get that at the end of the day its up to the parents decision for them not to get vaccinated but when it gets to the point that the child has caught measles and they refuse to take them to the doctor. This is when I feel like someone should interject.

  11. If the anti-vaccination could teach us anything, it’s that some people’s poor decision could impact not only themselves, but the whole society. I am glad that you mentioned the heard immunity, which I think is the reason why anti-vacctionation could be less acceptable than other extraordinary believes. I mean, it’s okay that some would have strange idea or special beliefs toward some controversial topics. But when it has possibility to harm innocent people, especially it’s infants in this case, the beliefs should be seen as a kind of problematic thing must be suppressed.

  12. Your blog post was very interesting. This topic is very controversial and I find it frustrating that people don’t get their kids vaccinated. For those who are worried that a vaccine can cause autism shouldn’t they be more worried about their kid dying from a disease them potentially developing a developmental disability. Also I do not know much about autism, but aren’t children born with autism, so how do people even believe a shot could “give it to them?”

  13. Hey there! I was reading over this blog and I really liked how you brought the term of Herd Immunity into the spotlight. I had never heard of this term before and it was really enlightening to understand this concept of big groups of people acting as a herd when they all receive vaccinations. Knowing the consequences of not vaccinating also proved to be helpful because I also believe that we should in fact vaccinate our children. Most recently there has been cases of mumps. measles, and tuberculosis that were once deterred but have since come back into the lives of humans. It makes me wonder if the idea of not vaccinating has spurred the onset of these once forgotten ailments that we had originally gotten rid of. These are just my thoughts on the matter. Nice post!

  14. This is such an interesting topic you brought up. It is not some extraordinary belief of some myth or creature, it is something that is going on right now. Anti-Vaxers reasoning can be explained by the omission bias. That they rather not vaccine their children because of the risk that comes with it and view this as worse than what diseases the child could get if not vaccinated. I also agree that social media dramatizes and even spreads misinformation to their audience which is not helping in this matter.

Comments are closed.