- Antivaxxers and vaccine hesitant beliefs are becoming more widespread and the proponents of both are becoming more vocal.
- Episode 2 of ANTICENTRIC’s podcast series Antivaxxers?!, Vaccines: Fear vs Truth explores the evolution of vaccine hesitancy and antivaxxer movements and the limited or even wrong information that is spurring them onwards.
- ‘Show me the photograph of the virus and the certificate from the electron microscopist where it says that it is a virus,’ one oppoent of vaccines and COVID-19 doubter told ANTICENTRIC.
Antivaxxers and vaccine hesitant people and groups have become louder and more visible. Their warnings about the dangers they perceive in vaccines have grown more urgent.
Episode 2 of ANTICENTRIC’s podcast series Antivaxxers?!, Vaccines: Fear vs Truth, explores the evolution of vaccine hesitancy and antivaxxer movements. In this episode, Alfred Romann and Sergio Held explore how these movements have re-emerged and the problems they could create for the world. At the end of November 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic was surging virtually everywhere. The best hope for a return to normalcy is the multiple vaccines that are almost ready.
Hope of Vaccines
The promise of vaccines is a much-needed light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. But that light was dimmed by vaccine hesitancy and antivaxxers set on avoiding a vaccine, once one is available. These movements are not isolated but present just about everywhere.
By all accounts, there should be multiple vaccines ready for distribution by the end of the year from the U.S., UK, Germany, China and Russia, along with other vaccines under development in other places like Cuba or Indonesia. The multiple successful vaccine programs would mark the fastest a vaccine has ever been developed in history.
But, as the world races towards safe COVID-19 vaccines, the more fanatical of antivaxxers have become increasingly vocal, issuing loud warnings about the dangers they perceive. And it is not just the more dedicated fanatics. There are concerns among more moderate and reasonable voices that some of the vaccines, most notably one developed in Russia, have not been properly tested.
“I hope that the Russians have actually definitively proven that the vaccine is safe and effective. I seriously doubt that they’ve done that but that’s what I think people need to understand when they hear announcements from the Chinese or from the Russians that we have a vaccine,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist in the U.S. speaking earlier this year. The U.S., he said, is taking longer “because we have a way of doing things in this country that we care about safety and we care about efficacy.”
Despite the speed of development in the U.S. and elsewhere, governments have been generally careful to ensure the safety and efficacy of vaccines. They have issued stern denials of conspiracy theories that vaccine and vaccination campaigns cause childhood diseases or are used for population control.
Antivaxxers and Vaccine Hesitant
These denials fall on the same deaf ears as does the enormous volume of data that exists to support the use of vaccines. Antivaxxers ignore both and often choose to pick on a single fact in isolation or make decisions and pronouncements without any context.
Some, like Colombia’s Dr. Harry Brunal, go further to deny the existence of some diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The fact that more than 50 million people have been infected, that people are sick or dying, that hospitals are quickly filling up in Canada and the U.S. means very little to people who deny the virus or the benefits of vaccines as an axiom of faith.
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He goes further to deny the existence of viruses or bacteria. He also claims that the problem is people, not diseases. Brunal is extreme in his beliefs but is not alone.
It is not just antivaxxer movements that are making inroads globally. The ranks of more moderate vaccine-hesitant are also growing in the U.S., Brazil and the rest of Latin America, Europe and elsewhere.
Some antivaxxers and vaccine-hesitant people say they worry about specific ingredients or potential side-effects. On its face, these are reasonable complaints but they are often supported by limited or even wrong information.
One father of two ANTICENTRIC spoke with said he worries that vaccines contain poisonous mercury. The reality is that vaccines do not contain mercury. Rather, some vaccines contain thimerosal or ethylmercury, a preservative. Thimerosal is quite safe in the very small quantities used in vaccines and, even then, it has generally been phased out.
Reaching Herd Immunity Through Vaccines
Ultimately, if enough people refuse to vaccinate against COVID-19, the pandemic could continue for a very long time.
“… (The thing that will get us back to the world that we had before coronavirus is the vaccine and getting that out to all seven billion people,” said Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and now a philanthropist who has used the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support myriad vaccination initiatives.
Despite decades of experience and the unprecedented rapid development of multiple COVID-19 vaccines, hesitancy is on the rise – not falling.
“The views of antivaxxers are once again gaining traction around the world,” explains Alfred Romann in Vaccines: Fear vs Truth. “The solution may be for authorities, intitutions, agencies and the media to disseminate reliable information about vaccines hile fighting fake news and misinformation.”