Over the past few years, the anti-vaccination, or anti-vax, movement has gained incredible traction throughout the US. So much so that measles, a disease nearly eradicated by modern medicine, has seen a resurgence, as well as a number of other diseases normally prevented through vaccines. In a global pandemic, with the development of a vaccine as one of the few potential weapons against the disease, the anti-vax movement remains a dangerous force against the tides of life-saving progress.
One would hope, with the death toll and number of cases rising by the day, that a crisis like this would help anti-vaxxers reconsider their views. Yet, for many the anti-vax movement rages on. Many anti-vaxxers are mistrustful of the federal government, citing the Tuskegee syphilis experiment among other examples of unethical human experimentation as reasons not to trust government officials. Here is where the anti-vax movement gains its strength, as truth and fiction are woven together to form a cohesive narrative that anti-vaxxers staunchly defend. Mistrust of the government, coupled with American exceptionalism, has led the anti-vax to reject the idea of vaccinating and testing individuals for the coronavirus, citing such efforts to be an overstep of government jurisdiction.
The anti-vax movement is also part of current movements in the US to open up the country, in some states such as Georgia supported by government officials. Despite experts stating this is too soon, Governor Brian Kemp has decided to move forward with allowing non-essential businesses to operate. A number of other governors hold similar views. In states with shelter-in-place orders, protesters have gathered at state capitals in order to open up the country.
Projections for the course of the coronavirus rely on the assumption that individuals are taking shelter-in-place orders seriously. With obvious signs that anti-vaxxers do not take shelter-in-place seriously, and would not consent to a coronavirus vaccine or test, if available, the impact of individuals who identify with the anti-vax movement could have serious repercussions for the course of this global pandemic. Even when cases diminish, as society heals from the pandemic, a number of policies will need to be in place to prevent future waves of the disease. If the anti-vax movement persists, secondary explosions of the disease could come back with a force if our community is not able to build herd immunity due to unvaccinated individuals. Yet, the anti-vax movement has existed for some time now. With global health now such a prominent topic in everyday life, the pandemic has only amplified the effects of the movement.
Prior to the pandemic, how should the anti-vax movement have been treated? Is there a grain of truth within the web of lies that anti-vaxxers peddle? Can we really trust the federal government with a coronavirus vaccine, given its horrific history with unethical human testing? Should we have tackled the anti-vax movement sooner, before the movement had the potential to worsen a global pandemic?