Guy Asks Internet To Change His Mind That Anti-Vax Doctors Should Lose Their Licenses, Debate Ensues

Reddit’s Change My View isn’t a place for name-calling and aggressive arguments that take place everywhere else on the internet. It’s a place for respectful discourse on opinions you want feedback on. This board is used for Reddit users to freely talk about their views without being attacked. Hopefully, it can encourage people to see both sides of things.  

Recently, a post about vaccines gained popularity on the board and thousands of people shared their thoughts on the issue. The original poster’s opinion is that doctors and nurses who don’t believe in vaccines should lose their license to practice medicine. 

Respondents on both sides replied and shared why they thought this was or wasn’t a good idea. 

Here the OP’s original argument:

In Canada, if you are a nurse and openly promote antivaccination views, you can lose your license.

I think that should be the case in the US (and the world, ideally).

If you are anti-vax, I believe that shows an unacceptable level of ignorance, inability to critically think, and disregard for actual science of medical treatment. I believe this also should include mandatory compliance with all vaccines currently recommended by the medical science at the time

Just by merit of having a license, you are in the position to be able to influence others. This includes young families who are looking for an authority to tell them how to be good parents. Being anti-vax is in direct contraction to everything taught in school (and practice) about how the human body works.

When I was a new mother I was “vaccine-hesitant.”

I was not a nurse or have any medical education at the time. I was a younger mother at 23 with a premature child and not a lot of peers for support. Back then, I was online a lot from when I was on bed rest and I got a lot of support there… and a lot of misinformation. I had a BA, with basic science stuff, but nothing more.

My children received most vaccines. I didn’t do hep B then I don’t think, but I spread them out over a long period. I didn’t think vaccines caused autism exactly, but maybe they triggered something, or that the risks were higher for complications and just not sure these were really in his best interest – and I thought “natural immunity” was better. There were nurses who seemed hesitant too, and Dr. Sears even had an alternate schedule and it seemed like maybe something wasn’t perfect with vaccines then. My doctor just went along with it, probably thinking it was better than me not vaccinating at all and if she pushed, I would go that way.

Then I went back to school after I had my second.

As I learned more in-depth about how the body and immune system worked, as I got better at critically thinking and learned how to evaluate research papers, I realized just how dumb my views were. I made sure my kids got caught up with everything they hadn’t had yet (hep B and chickenpox). Once I understood it well, everything I was reading that made me hesitant now made me realize how flimsy all those justifications were. They are like the dihydrogen monoxide type pages extolling the dangers of water. Or a three-year-old trying to explain how the body works. It’s laughable wrong and at some level also hard to know where to start to contradict – there’s just so much that is bad, how far back in disordered thinking do you really need to go?

Now, I’m all about the vaccinations – with covid, I was very unsure whether they’d be able to make a safe one, but once the research came out, evaluated by other experts, then I’m on board 100%. I got my Pfizer three days after it came out in the US.
I say all this to demonstrate the potential influence of medical professionals on parents (which is when many people become anti-vax) and they have a professional duty to do no harm, and ignoring science about vaccines does harm.

There are lots of hesitant parents that might be like I was, still reachable in reality, and having medical professionals say any of it gives it a lot of weight. If you don’t want to believe in medicine, that’s fine, you don’t get a license to practice it (or associated licenses). People are not entitled to their professional licenses. I think it should include quackery too while we’re at it, but anti-vax is a good place to start.

The short version:

Health care professionals with licenses should lose them if they openly promote anti-vax views. It shows either a grotesque lack of critical thinking, lack of understanding of the body, lack of ability to evaluate research, which is not compatible with a license, or they are having mental health issues and have fallen into conspiracy land from there. Either way, those are not people who should be able to speak to patients from a position of authority.


Here are some fair points from people who responded: 

“It should depend on why you won’t take it.”

Doesn’t this depend on why someone is opposed to vaccines? Sure, there’s the “vaccines cause autism” ignoramus whose position is based entirely on ignorance, but there are other more sensible reasons to oppose a vaccine in some contexts.
I am allergic to the whooping cough vaccine. No one would presume that I am being unreasonable by not taking it.

What if I have a serious, unmanageable phobia of needles and I just can’t get the vaccine because of that?

What if I’m in my early twenties and the risk I get a bad reaction to the Pfizer vaccine is greater than the risk to me from COVID?
Sure, a medical professional who shows medical ignorance should lose their license. At least sometimes under some circumstances it is clearly appropriate to tell people not to get a particular vaccine.
Also in a lot of countries, you’d run into the freedom of speech issues here. You can say what you like in your own time as long as you do your job competently. They can’t fire you for that.

— u/DaisyChained23

“What if a dangerous vaccine comes out and no doctor is willing to speak out on it?”

While I agree that anti-vax doctors shouldn’t be taken seriously as doctors, I also think that actually instilling a license revoking system like this is a bad idea in principle. Striping a doctor of their license just because they have an opposing view is a slippery slope.

I think having any organization oversee what views doctors are allowed to express might lead to corruption and groupthink.
I know that anti-vax doctor don’t know what they are talking about, but where’s the line for who is anti-vax and who isn’t?

My doctor recommends me not to get certain vaccines just because he sees it as unnecessary given my medical history. Would he be considered anti-vax?

Also, consider that this will set a precedent that doctors can’t believe certain things if a larger or more powerful group deems it so. What if years down the line an actually dangerous vaccine comes out and no doctor is willing to speak out on it due to fear of getting their license revoked? Ultimately, I think the market of ideas works best as a free market.

– u/WaterboysWaterboy

“This should require new rules.”

This is more of a challenge to the ‘how’ than the ‘what’. This should not require new rules, by-laws, new processes and regulations.
IMO doctors giving anti-vax advice is malpractice. Which is already defined relatively clearly. So the conversation here should be steered toward that existing legal framework. Some cases of malpractice warrant fines (and that’s why malpractice insurance exists), some are more serious and are grounds to license dismissal.

So we should rather push for ‘anti-vax = malpractice’ than ‘one more way for a physician to lose their license’. There are enough rules already to make this legal space a nightmare.

– u/that_young_man

“There would be significantly less advancement in the medical field.”

So you want a world in which medical professionals toe the line and follow what the accepted treatments are?

If this was the case there would be significantly less advancement in the medical field.

Almost every advancement in medicine started with someone’s unpopular crazy idea. After breaking through barriers and naysayers and getting the theory tested it became the norm.

Penalizing people for having a differing opinions than the majority is a dangerous route to follow.

– u/harley9779

Original poster’s response:

Yes, I do want providers to toe the line. There’s a reason treatments are accepted and why others are discarded. I don’t want to be 23 weeks pregnant and given an alcohol drip while pregnant, causing fetal alcohol syndrome, because my doctor thinks alcohol is better than magnesium, nifedipine or terbutaline. I don’t want medical professionals to be free to anything they want. They aren’t supposed to be.

There’s still plenty of advancement in the medical field, going through trials properly, using IRBs and protecting the patients and not fleecing them. But testing absolutely should be done for new theories and treatments. But it needs to be useful testing that other people can evaluate whether it is actually working or is just confirmation bias.

– u/sapphireminds

“Anti-vax is not always anti-science.”

Pro-Vax here, but did a thesis on anti-vaccine attitudes.
I think one of the things you have to realise here is that people are often anti-vax are not always anti science, and nor are they always uninformed. Many antivax stands are driven by value judgements, which are not a case of “science says”.
Eg. Much of the rhetoric around vaccines is based on the idea that good decisions maximise the outcome for the most amount of people, even if it means hurting a few.

This is not the only ethical position you could take. You could make decisions based on deontological principles, or duties (which may include not using coercion etc) and many other ethical positions. Whatever the science says can’t touch these positions because you’re arguing values at that point. Once you recognise this, then the question becomes “should we be able to impose our values on other people?”. And a lot fewer people are happy with that.

There are a range of ethical stances that can preclude vaccine use, all while accepting the scientific data on their efficacy. Like bodily purity- “vaccines work but it is of prime importance that I don’t willingly introduce foreign substances into my body.” There is also individual autonomy- “vaccines work but it is of prime importance that individuals get to decide what to do with their body”. Etc etc.
So if a medical professional is informed, but has different values, is this a good idea to fire them? Are there any other values we should fire them for?

– u/DigitalDiogenesAus

“This sort of one-way-or-nothing thinking doesn’t leave space for any criticism.”

Doctors have all sorts of opinions about medicine and procedures but they are all professional enough to administer as instructed. A lot of teachers are religious and probably believe in Creation- would you fire them all because they shouldn’t teach science?

Also, I would guess that if someone had tried to change your mind those years ago when you were antivax, I’m sure you’d be just as staunch with your opinion then. You probably had similarly strong feelings about the doctors that gave out those injections. Now, it seems that you are 100% sure of the completely opposite view.

With all due respect, this sort of one-way-or-nothing thinking doesn’t leave space for any criticism which could obviously be very harmful for any progress or improvement in any institution.

– u/sherriffflood

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