Anti-Vaccination in the Age of Covid-19: Dangerous Pseudoscience Doubles Down.

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Date: Summer 2021
From: Skeptic (Altadena, CA)(Vol. 26, Issue 3)
Publisher: Skeptics Society & Skeptic Magazine
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,694 words
Lexile Measure: 1490L

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"Governments love pandemics for the same reason they love wars. It gives them the ability to control the population that the population would otherwise never accept."

--Robert R Kennedy Jr., speaking to an audience of thousands in Berlin on August 28, 2020

TODAY'S LEADERS OF THE ANTI-VACCINATION MOVE-ment, including Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have been alleging over the past two decades that vaccination is injurious to human health. Now the movement has a new target: vaccines for COVID-19. The development of these vaccines, Kennedy claims, has been driven not by concern for health but by corporations seeking profit and "government totalitarian elites." On Kennedy's anti-vaccination website, "herd immunity" is dismissed as a "dishonest marketing gimmick." (1) This anti-vaccination messaging has not yet had much impact, since demand for COVID-19 vaccination so far this year has been outrunning supply. But that could change when the amount of available vaccine increases to the point that vaccination becomes available to everyone.

Should that happen, the path to herd immunity may hit a major obstacle: large numbers of people who decline to be inoculated. In early March of this year, an NPR/PBS/Marist poll (2) found that 32% of adults in the U.S. answered "No" to the question: "If a vaccine for the coronavirus is made available to you, will you choose to be vaccinated or not?" A University of California at Davis survey reported similar results. (3) It's true that public opinion may change as more people get vaccinated, and if over time vaccination becomes a less politically polarizing issue. On the other hand, at least in some states, vaccination rejection is likely to remain substantial.

Resistance to COVID-19 vaccination is also strong internationally: low rates of vaccine acceptance have been reported in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa, and European countries that include France and Italy. (4) Regions of sparse or no vaccination may host new COVID-19 variants that disseminate globally, thereby slowing or halting progress toward herd immunity.

Vaccination is today standard medical practice, and globally 80% of infants are vaccinated during the first year of their lives against some disease. Yet vaccination has always faced resistance based on fear. Edward Jenner pioneered smallpox vaccine in England in 1796 and worked tirelessly to communicate its value to the public. But half a century later in that same country, the Anti Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League were still convincing people of vaccination's dangers. Despite its manifest benefit, smallpox vaccination had to overcome substantial popular opposition worldwide, and it took nearly two centuries to eliminate the disease.

The Anti-Vaccination Movement in California

Here in the United States repudiation of vaccination is well-funded, encouraged by print, television, and social media, and common in every state in the union. Anti-vaccination protesters in California shut down the COVID-19 inoculation center at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in January 2021. Hundreds of people in their cars, lined up in a queue at one of the largest vaccination sites in the U.S., had...

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