Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. American Studies Program


Benjamin Lisle

Second Advisor

Judy Stone


While vaccination has proven to be an incredibly effective method of disease prevention, the growing ‘anti-vax’ movement threatens the population-level benefits conferred by widespread immunization. Recent findings indicate that anti-vax beliefs are not, as had been previously assumed, necessarily the result of scientific illiteracy but rather, are likely produced by intertwining social and situational contexts. With these considerations in mind, the goal of this study was to identify potential motivations underlying anti-vax behavior by performing a deep examination of anti-vax rhetoric, coupled with demographic and situational analyses. I focused specifically on the anti-vax community in Maine, with a special interest in the group’s recent campaign to reject new measures calling for stricter immunization policy. Demographic analysis of anti-vax campaigners suggested that the movement was led predominantly by residential women, while close-readings of select Facebook profiles indicated that group members relied primarily on themes of choice, parenthood, ‘Big Pharma,’ and Maine to effectively ‘sell’ their message. Situating these concepts within the framework of modern neoliberalism proved fruitful: Anti-vaxxers’ emphasis on ‘choice’ and control in the home could be seen to reflect both neoliberal/conservative principles and economic anxieties, made all the more acute by Maine’s tumultuous history with opiates. I took a second look at the anti-vax movement amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, finding that followers generally stood firm to their convictions regarding individuality and ‘choice’ in the face of community crisis. This pointed towards a larger takeaway, suggesting that anti-vax behavior is more related to feelings of powerlessness than to immunization itself.


Vaccination, Anti-Vax, Maine, Neoliberalism, COVID-19 Pandemic, Public Health