Across the United States, anti-vaccine protesters are leveraging anti-government sentiment sparked by the COVID-19 response to advance their cause. The right wing of the anti-vaccine movement is a natural ally for anti-lockdown protesters due to their shared distrust of government authority. These anti-vaccine activists applaud President Trump’s suggestion that COVID-19 is not dangerous enough to justify staying home at the expense of the economic disruption.
The anti-vaccine movement is perhaps taking this opportunity to recover from recent setbacks. Many states have reinforced their immunization laws to combat measles outbreaks triggered by anti-vaccine individuals. In California, these measures were met with aggressive protests–at one event, anti-vaccine protesters threw blood on California state senators and assaulted a bill’s sponsor.
Still, reluctance regarding a future COVID-19 vaccine is not limited to the far right. The left wing of the anti-vaccine movement denounces vaccines’ use of chemical pollutants, support of corporations, and bolstering of “Big Pharma.” Many express hesitancy to accept a COVID-19 vaccine that may be rushed in production and testing. For example, anti-vaccine groups point to the 1976 swine flu vaccine that caused 1 in 100,000 people to develop Guillain-Barre syndrome, a paralyzing immune system disorder.
Although the vast majority of Americans support vaccination and pro-vaccine legislation, the World Health Organization (WHO) considers “vaccine hesitancy” to be a top health threat because, depending on the disease, at least 75% to 95% of the population needs to be vaccinated to guarantee the safety of an entire population.
Nevertheless, 70 candidate COVID-19 vaccines are currently in development, with three in clinical evaluation.
Kaiser Health News, 4/24/20; Reuters 4/11/20; The Guardian, 4/21/20