In previous article, I explored what it means to be pro- and anti-vaccine. In that article, I said that:

We need to leave room for people to have good faith disagreements and questions without inappropriately smearing them as “anti-vaxxers”.

I stand by this. Someone who questioned the value of pediatric vaccines a year ago wasn’t necessarily anti-vaccine. Though I disagreed with them, reasonable people thought the worst was over and there was scant information on the real-world efficacy of vaccines for children. Today, there are still grey areas. Would a healthy 14 year-old boy who had COVID in the summer of 2021 and then received two vaccine doses benefit from a third dose? I can’t point to any data to say he would, and I wouldn’t call someone an anti-vaxxer who felt this child didn’t need a booster.

Additionally, many lay people have heard from reputable doctors that COVID poses no risks to children and that the vaccine hasn’t been properly tested. We can’t expect the average person to be aware of the many studies showing the vaccine is beneficial for children. Confused parents are not anti-vaxxers, even if they were misled by them.

However, there’s a point at which vaccine-advocates can fail to call a spade a spade in the name of decorum. As I’ve discussed previously, several doctors from prestigious universities have encouraged unvaccinated children to contract COVID, and they’ve been extremely successful in their mission. They steadfastly refuse to acknowledge the robust evidence that COVID vaccines can keep children safe and out of the hospital. Their missives arguing against pediatric vaccination are a toxic blend of misinformation and a fetishization of infection-derived immunity.

Despite this, myself and others have tiptoed around calling them anti-vaccine. To maintain the farce that they are pro-vaccine, we’ve said they are echoing anti-vaccine talking points, even if they might not be anti-vaccine themselves.

These doctors certainly claim that they are extremely pro-vaccine. After all, they support the polio vaccine, and believe that older, vulnerable people should people get vaccinated against COVID. They wield this “reasonableness” as a shield against accusations of being anti-vaccine. “I’m not one of those people who thinks COVID is a 5G hoax by Bill Gates and the lizard people” they signal to their audience.

This may be true, but they’re not that different either. Not only have they helped legitimize such cranks, but they’ve penned articles titled “The Ill-Advised Push to Vaccinate the Young“, which opened by saying,

The idea that everyone must be vaccinated against COVID-19 is as misguided as the anti-vax idea that no one should. The former is more dangerous for public health.

It’s clear, that when it comes to protecting children against COVID, there’s no daylight between these doctors and Dr. Andrew Wakefield. In fact, their ability to seem reasonable allowed them to influence our pandemic response more than the “real anti-vaxxers”. If you think you can tell distinguish these doctors’ screeds from those of “real anti-vaxxers,” I invite you to challenge yourself here.

Of course, spreading misinformation about pediatric COVID is cost-free for these doctors. Sick children are mere abstractions for them. They’ve experienced the pandemic entirely from their laptops, not from a hospital. They are completely shielded from the consequences of their words and had to construct absurd oppression fantasies to mislead their audience into thinking they’ve suffered too. Though, to be fair, YouTube removed a video they made.

Doctors who do nothing but fear monger about the vaccine and advocate for unvaccinated children to contract COVID are anti-vaccine full stop. I’m done pretending otherwise. There is no virtue in pretending naked emperors are actually clothed in fine garments. Similarly, there is no virtue in sugar-coating these doctors’ anti-vaccine statements simply because they have impressive credentials and can speak in measured, scientific jargon. If you feel they can still be called pro-vaccine, ask yourself this: what more would they have to do be labeled anti-vaccine?

Those of us who are familiar with the anti-vaccine movement know the answer is “nothing”.


  • Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist based in New York City who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19.

Posted by Jonathan Howard

Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist based in New York City who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19.