Vax is Oxford Dictionaries’ 2017 Word of the Year. The British publisher first announced that the social science-based vaccine-preventable infection was one of its 12 semifinalists last month. The final four were announced Tuesday night at the U.K.’s Science Museum, in London.
The nomination wasn’t particularly surprising. It will feature as a text entry in the dictionary’s first online dictionary, and, because it is sufficiently popular, Vax could also spur the editorial team to establish a more traditional linguistic association. (The Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year is selected from its lexicographers’ year-end lists.)
But given that so many Americans—and non-Americans—are now paying an ever-increasing amount of attention to the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine as a result of the now-completed “Vax vs. Opioid” debate, the Vax debate may indeed result in the emergence of a term meaning “vaccine” and “anti-vaccine” in the English language.
(Of course, an Oxford Dictionaries disclaimer about the selection process reads, “The competition invites readers to nominate words for inclusion into the dictionary based on usage, citation and translation, but does not select and commission word submissions or editorials.”)
Over at Fast Company, which called the Vax-versus-Vaccine debate “the most dangerous argument in modern American politics,” blogger and writer Christa Robinson compared it to the anti-whaling movement of the early 20th century. “Pro-vaccine activists,” she wrote, “would set up checkpoints along the shores of northern Norway at the same time as the vessel’s anchored, all loaded with kids, who would pray that the vessel would crash against a solid object before coming ashore and spilling the grisly ‘thousand children’ story on the world.”
Much like anti-whaling, Robinson says that she believes the Vax debate has a “voice” powerful enough to inspire a new chapter in the history of the English language, albeit a bookish one.
Of course, the Vax and Vaxxers theory has its flaws, not least of which is that it fails to acknowledge that the vast majority of anti-vaccine sentiment—which has been driven largely by parents who have grown increasingly vocal in public about their doubts about the vaccine—is not coming from a “voice.”
It’s yet another way the anti-vaccine movement’s arguments are largely driven by sensational misinformation. Indeed, on its website, www.edparent.com, a group called Family Voices for Vaccines asks: “Why in 2015 did the CDC remove its own evidence that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine is 100% effective?” The response? The CDC removed its own evidence, not because it was falsified—the agency’s data remains consistent with published papers from over 40 years—but because it was showing a “a link” to autism, a hypothesis debunked by many in medical and public health circles, including the prestigious scientific journal, Lancet.
Over at The Daily Beast, the non-poison correspondent Olga Khazan notes that Vax has long been synonymous with anti-vax, given its authorship by anti-vaccine activists, who have been caught tricking newspapers and their readers into publishing false, unverified stories, as well as staging paparazzi shots of parents away from their kids so they’re allegedly out somewhere else when their kids are sick. The ultimate goal of the activists, Khazan adds, is to undermine parent trust in the vaccine system by inciting public panic—“[a]t a time when sick kids are dying of communicable diseases” in the United States.