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I Lost My Friend to the Anti-Vaccination Movement

Many parents have been forced to cut ties with friends or family members who preach anti-vaxxer logic. We spoke to five people who did.

As of April 24 2019, there have been 667 confirmed cases of measles in the United States. This makes 2019 the worst year for the disease since 1994. Measles was effectively eliminated in the United States in 2000. But it has stormed back because unprotected international travelers are spreading the virus among anti-vax parents who refuse a vaccine that decades of research prove safe and effective. Their actions erode the non-immunological benefits of a vaccine that provides community immunity, protecting people who are too old, too sick or too young to be vaccinated.

Anti-vaxxer parents are many things: conspiracy theorists, stubborn, dangerous. They are also friends and family members. And their refusal to vaccinate their children puts those relationships at odds. Many pro-vaccine parents who are — and have every right to be — scared by the possibility that their young children and others in their community might contract a deadly illness caused by the willful negligence of others, have been forced to cut ties with friends and family members who follow anti-vaxxer logic and haven’t vaccinated their children.

Fatherly spoke to five people who ended relationships with friends and family members who refused to vaccinate their children or simply preached anti-vaxxer rhetoric. Some did so because they were worried about the health of their children; others simply found their line of thinking too ignorant and dangerous. Here’s what they said.

The Friend Who Went Too Far

Last year, two friends and I started building a company that would become the From Marty App. We were all friends that had known each other from the San Francisco Startup scene and all worked together at the same co-working spot on our own projects. Swapping war stories, bitching about this or that, and helping each other debug stuff.

We got to be tight friends over the years and decided to build something together: A high-end discount store that lives on your phone, and gives away free items daily. We started getting good traction, and even some real sales. But then it started to get a bit weird.

So this friend — let’s call him Brad — started talking about autistic programmers and vaccines and the like. Dropping just little hints here and there. Then he found out that another mutual friend was having kids and was going to have the kid vaccinated. He got furious. Like angry angry. I chalked it up to work stress. But stuff kept happening about it. Until I had to tell him: Being Anti-vaxx is like advocating drunk driving in school zones. It’s an asshole move that can get innocent kids killed.

It got heated there, not physical but close. He resigned over email and I haven’t seen him since February. Other friends say he’s still pissed. I miss the guy. He was a solid buddy and a great engineer. But hell man, you can’t put up with that shit. — Armen, San Francisco 

The Friends Who Understood

When it comes to being friends with anti-vaxxers it is hard. I do my best to keep up the friendship but it is difficult if there is an outbreak in measles and I am trying to keep my children safe from being around kids who haven’t been vaccinated and could possibly pass it on. This puts a strain on the friendship and eventually you end up losing that friend.

I don’t purposely cut ties with anti-vaxxers. I just don’t let my children run around with their kids, which limits the amount of time I can spend in upkeeping that friendship. When you’re a parent, your social life and friendships tend to slide into your parenting role.

I have lost a few good friends because our friendships didn’t have the time invested in it as I limited my children’s interactions. They have asked me about it and I was just honest with them. I told them that I was worried about my children’s welfare and that, although I don’t agree with their decision not to vaccinate, I will respect it. I think the fact that I was so honest with them allowed them to respect my decisions and actions in regard to limiting interactions. Although it impacts relationships, my children are safe and that’s what is important to me as a parent. — Lucy H., New York. Founder of Hello Baby Bump

The Dad Friend Who Came Clean

There was a guy I became friends with when I first became a dad. We’d see one another in the park with our kids regularly struck up a conversation one day. Shared lifestyles and all that. Occasionally, we’d find time to grab a beer or dinner together. I didn’t have too many friends that were at the same stage of life as me, so, yeah, it was really nice to have someone that could understand what I was going through.

About a year or so into our friendship, coverage of the measles outbreak started appearing on the news. I expressed my frustration and anger about the whole thing to him. How these parents are putting other people at risk, how it’s based on bunk science and all that. I was just bitching. But he said I was crazy to think like that and how could I put my kids at risk by getting them vaccinated? It really took me off guard. After that conversation, there was this glass-breaking moment: do I really know this guy?  We never spoke of it again, but we also only saw one another briefly after. He was a decent dude and I miss hanging out with him. Maybe I was just a bit too angry about it. But that type of thinking is so dangerous. I just think it drew this line between us and we both knew it. — Chris K.*, Oakland, CA

The Friend Who Couldn’t Breastfeed

My friend, whom we shall call Michelle, and I got pregnant at roughly the same time. Our pregnancies proceeded smoothly, hitting nary a medical pothole. We were both expecting boys, and we were due one month apart. Together, we chugged the occasional glass of wine (don’t @ me, haters). We debated the merits of co-sleepers versus cribs, and other scintillating topics only parents-to-be find intriguing.

Her son arrived first, and was born sans drugs, in a birthing pool, a distinction that she donned like the crown of Daenerys Stormborn. She went home within 24 hours of pushing her infant out, and proceeded to turn into some weird urban goddess of fertility and motherhood. Only issue was, she wasn’t producing milk, so her kid could either starve, or, in her mind the worse option, guzzle formula. 

I suppose everyone has a breaking point, and this was hers. If her child had to be raised on shady chemicals produced by faceless, vile corporations, then, at the very least, she’d protect him from the evils of modern medicine. He came down with a hacking cough? She had him breathe in steam instead of taking him to see a legit doctor. Pediatrician visits? She opted for a local homeopath instead. As for vaccinations, you might as well have told her to inject him with heroin. In fact, given her coke-snorting history, that would have been more palatable.

Meanwhile, our son arrived, weeks past his due date. We vaccinated on schedule, sometimes spacing out the shots because he just seemed so fragile and tiny, even at nine pounds. But he got jabbed nonetheless. All would have proceeded apace in our parallel yet vastly different lives if we hadn’t decided to meet for dinner. My husband, livid that she was putting our child in danger by bringing over her unvaccinated son, called her an ignorant murderer and kicked her out of our house. As you might guess, we haven’t spoken much since. It’s now been years. My child is thriving, eating a sometimes shitty, but mostly balanced diet of Z Bars and fruit, chicken and gummy bears. Her kid’s diet is like something of a GOOP cleanse: gluten-free everything, no carbs, no sugars, no dairy, nothing fun or kid-like or remotely appetizing, especially since there’s nothing medically wrong with him. Oddly enough, she still hits me up for the random playdate. You can guess my response. — Theresa M.*, New York, NY

The Sister-in-Law With a Degree from Google

“My sister-in-law is an anti-vaxxer. I finally cut ties with her recently, as she took offense when I commented that she got her medical degree from the University of Google. She honestly talked as if she was qualified in the medical world and will not listen to anyone. I couldn’t take anymore so I opted out. We no longer speak.” — Natalie Harrington, London, UK

* some names have been changed.