Marin Vaxxers

NYT, Soumya Karlamangla, posted 2 Oct 2022, in today’s paper: Once Known for Vaccine Skeptics, Marin Now Tells Them ‘You’re Not Welcome’

Subtitled: “The wealthy California county just north of San Francisco has one of the nation’s highest Covid-19 vaccination rates after years of being known for parents who opposed shots for childhood diseases.”

Interesting news article about how Marin County is shedding its infamous anti-vax reputation. The county has been perversely well-known for decades for being not just anti-vax, but given to various kinds of anti-scientific woo that such relatively well-off people generally avoid (you don’t get rich by being dumb). Why would this have been?, I wonder. The article doesn’t address that. My speculation is that the county, with such a strong self-identity and perhaps insularity, simply became culturally ingrown in the way rural small towns often are. When some idea (meme) becomes known, it spreads through social contact, whether or not it makes much sense. Thus conspiracy theories, alternative medicine, and so on.

The article identifies three broad reason for the change, and only one of them is evidence-based.

The first one:

And as the nation has grown more polarized, Marin residents are less comfortable wearing the “anti-vax” label increasingly associated with conservatives. Americans who identify as Democrats are more than twice as likely to be vaccinated and boosted against Covid — and Marin County is one of the bluest enclaves in America.

The second, evidence-based one involved an epidemiologist, Matt Willis, who had been to Haiti after a massive earthquake where access to vaccines was limited.

The following year, he was dispatched to his hometown in Marin County, where he was perplexed by what he found. “In other places I’d been working on vaccines, it was purely just logistical and operational, and here it was a matter of belief, which was a much harder nut to crack.”

Dr. Willis left the C.D.C. and in 2013 took over as Marin County’s health officer, and he was intent on figuring out why relatively few parents were vaccinating their children.

He surveyed the parents of thousands of kindergartners to understand what their vaccine concerns were. On the list were autism, ingredients in vaccines and the speed at which babies are administered dozens of shots. A 1998 study that purported to connect the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine with autism was debunked and retracted — but only after propelling the anti-vaccine movement, particularly among parents skeptical of traditional medicine and pharmaceutical companies.

That he was a hometown boy presumably helped. He “began public health campaigns to specifically address those fears and primed local pediatricians to have those conversations too.” Some “parents who had avoided vaccines hadn’t fully grasped that there could be real consequences for other people.”

And so by the 2019-2020 school year, the county’s childhood vaccination rate was nearly 95%. That was before the pandemic. That made the benefits of vaccines even more obvious.

The third influence is another kind of peer pressure.

The county has also shed its reputation as an anti-vaccine haven in part because of how much vocal resistance has taken root elsewhere. Marin County was once faulted for having a childhood vaccination rate of 78 percent. Now, almost every county in America has a lower Covid vaccination rate among children.


The culture change in Marin has been so dramatic that many new parents struggle to understand how the county earned its infamous reputation.

Dana McRay, a Corte Madera resident who recently took her 3- and 5-year-old daughters to get their Covid vaccines, said she has “never met anyone who was anti-vax, or at least who talks about it.”

This is, the now minority of anti-vaxxers has learned not to advertise themselves.

This could be a case study for David McRaney’s How Minds Change (reviewed here), about how it can only a couple catalysts — like Matt Willis above — to trigger a shift in an entire community’s thinking.


A few more recent items:

Salon, Robert S. McElvaine, 2 Oct 2022: Who’s a “conservative”? Not these folks — the word has become meaningless, subtitled “Describing radical extremists and insurrectionists as “conservative” is an insult to Orwell — and reality”

With photos of Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Paul Gosar.


Washington Post, 3 Oct 2022: As TV doctor, Mehmet Oz provided platform for questionable products and views


Politifact, 29 Sep 2022: “All weather is artificially controlled.”. Rating: Pants On Fire!


Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, 3 Oct 2022: The war on abortion rights meshes perfectly with MAGA authoritarianism

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