Deeply informed by an in-depth study of a trove of memes and Russian propaganda on Facebook, Representative Theresa Manzella came to the Legislature determined to protect the rights of parents who can’t read scientific journals to bring their unvaccinated brood to Montana’s daycare providers.
Manzella’s HB 575 and 574 would strip authority from the Department of Public Health and Human Services to require that children in daycare facilities and foster homes be immunized, reasoning that such public health provisions somehow discriminate against the religious beliefs of the congregants of the Church of the Literacy Challenged. Manzella, who has repeatedly noted that she relies on Facebook groups to “inform” her about the scientific merits of vaccination, represents Ravalli County, where almost 12% of the children have received a religious exemption from required vaccines, and her advocacy for reduced vaccination threatens the health of Montana’s citizens.
It would be easy to write off the delusional ramblings of Representative Manzella, whose grasp of basic medicine seems comparable to her understanding of American history and civics, but it’s just not that simple. Manzella, ill-informed as she is, gives credence to the growing number of people who think their home cures for the measles like colloidal silver will protect their children from a disease that can be quite serious. Even if most Montanans know better than to take her pseudo-scientific nonsense seriously, her remarks will almost certainly be used by anti-vaxxers in another state or community to justify an even more absurd bill.
That’s how the game works. Lacking a single credible medical study to support their contentions, the anti-vax mob relies on misplaced appeals to authority, memes generated in St. Petersburg to sow political unrest in the United States, and the gullibility of people who just can’t understand the importance of keeping these diseases at bay and protecting those who truly cannot get vaccinated for health reasons.
In another era, Representative Manzella would be the subject of editorial scorn from newspapers across the state. Instead of the dangerous mindset that every story needs to be treated as if there are two competing truths at question, even when one side has all the science backing it, newspapers would have made sure that readers understood the retrograde thinking of political leaders who were endangering public health. Instead, today, we get the Independent Record offering up a poll question on Facebook about vaccines, as if more uninformed Internet commentary was really the best way to resolve the question.
There’s no question that Theresa Manzella should not be making healthcare policy. There’s no question that vaccinations are a scientifically proven mechanism to improve public safety.
Let’s stop pretending that either is a question for debate.