The controversy surrounding vaccinations, then and now

In the United States—where vaccines are widely available—about 23% of eligible individuals have chosen to not get a jab. The ongoing controversy around vaccination uptake has left many Americans on opposite sides of a fiery debate which has significant implications for public health.

Robert Aronowitz
Robert A. Aronowitz, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences. (Image: OMNIA)

Robert Aronowitz, Walter H. and Leonore C. Annenberg Professor in the Social Sciences, has extensively researched vaccines related to HPV and Lyme disease and says, “Every vaccine has a unique history. How the public reacts to a vaccine is based on the target condition it’s treating, the concerns and fears that are raised, and the era in which it comes up. No vaccine story is the same.”

Aronowitz is a professor in the Department of History and Sociology of Science and co-editor of “Three Shots at Prevention: The HPV Vaccine and the Politics of Medicine’s Simple Solutions.” He compares current vaccine hesitancy with the past.

“The controversies around the MMR vaccine to protect against measles, mumps, and rubella and the erroneous belief that it causes autism is one example. My HPV research looked at, among other points of contention, how the overreach of pharmaceutical companies—in underhanded lobbying of state legislatures, high pricing, and aggressive marketing that created and exploited fear—undermined the trust necessary for many ordinary people to get jabbed,” he says.

“I would say,” he adds, “that the controversy around the COVID-19 vaccines has more of a left-right political quality to the opposition than existed with some of the other vaccines of the past.”

Ongoing vaccine controversies, like Lyme disease and HPV, help Aronowitz understand and interpret COVID-vaccine hesitancy. “My research emphasizes that we have to look closely at the particular circumstances in which vaccines are developed, what the target disease is, and the peculiarities of its preexisting controversies. For example, vaccine hesitancy around Lyme disease had little to do with the kind of concerns or politics that surrounded vaccines like the MMR or others of the time, and everything to do with the problematic nature of what Lyme disease is.”

This story is by Katelyn Silva. Read more at OMNIA.