Since the pandemic hit, a new generation of antivaxxers has risen to prominence. These “new school” antivaxxers don’t view themselves as antivaccine, at least not in the classic sense. Indeed, many of them view themselves as provaccine, just not pro-COVID-19 vaccines. However, as I’ve discussed many times over the last two years, to demonize COVID-19 vaccines, they have recycled and repurposed every antivaccine trope under the sun. In the two weeks since I wrote my last post, a couple of stories have occurred that emphasized to me that these “new school” antivaxxers are increasingly indistinguishable from old school antivaxxers. In one case, a meetup of new school antivaxxers with an old school antivaxxer produced a rather…interesting…conflict. More generally, however, I am becoming increasingly concerned how radical anti-COVID-19 vaccine sentiment of the new school variety is fusing with more traditional old school antivaccinationism in order to endanger childhood vaccination in a manner we have not seen before. I have written about these two incidents recently at my not-so-secret other blog, but as I thought about what to write over the weekend, it occurred to me that it would be useful to look at these incidents and stories in the context of antivaccine misinformation. That means some of you might have read parts of this before, but such is life. Hopefully, by thinking about them this new way, I’ll be able to show you how the “new school” antivaxxers are rapidly becoming indistinguishable from the old school antivaxxers.
The first incident involves two-thirds of the Great Barrington Declaration authors, Drs. Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, who were confronted by just how antivax the movement that they had associated themselves with truly was and said nothing. The second incident involves Dr. Geert Vanden Bossche being similarly confronted. He pushed back, but ineffectually. Both cases reveal just how much old school antivax beliefs are now entwining themselves with “new school” anti-COVID-19 vaccine beliefs and how formerly reputable (or at least not disreputable) scientists are now becoming more and associated with antivaxxers. The first example shows scientists playing footsie with antivaxxers and then trying to shrug it off. The second shows just how much new school antivaxxers are fusing with old school antivaxxers.
When Drs. Bhattacharya and Kulldorff met Steve Kirsch
Regular readers know that we at SBM are not exactly fans of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), the propaganda document released in October 2020 that advocated a “let ‘er rip” strategy for the pandemic with a strategy of “focused protection” to keep mass numbers of the vulnerable from dying. The idea was that, supposedly, COVID-19 posed so little danger to the young and healthy population without significant comorbidities that the “lockdowns” being implemented to slow its spread were, again supposedly, doing more harm than good. Basically, the GBD was the product of a libertarian free market “think tank”, the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), and three useful idiot scientists who were recruited to draft it, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University (but now the “scientific director” of an AIER spinoff known as the Brownstone Institute), and Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University. The whole thing was a rather obvious astroturf operation designed to get businesses open again, damn the human cost, and was, unfortunately, wildly successful in influencing government policies in the US and Europe. Since then, the spiritual child of the GBD, the Brownstone Institute, has become increasingly antivaccine, although the authors of the GBD assiduously reassure themselves that they are pro-vaccine, even as they promote antivaccine messages.
So it was three weeks ago that two-thirds of the GBD appeared at an event organized by tech bro turned antivaccine and COVID-19 conspiracy theorist Steve Kirsch:
Citation please! (In plain English.) pic.twitter.com/rXmfmswy4z
— The Real Truther (@thereal_truther) May 17, 2022
Helpfully, The Real Truther provided a link to Steve Kirsch and his antivax livestream:
If anyone wants to watch the panels (which also included Robert Malone because of course they did) here's the link:https://t.co/0z9ljYL6fH
— The Real Truther (@thereal_truther) May 17, 2022
Let’s just say that, by agreeing to appear with people promoting the most bonkers conspiracy theories about COVID-19, Kulldorff and Bhattacharya have forfeited any defense against being called “antivax”. Let’s take a look at some of the “highlights” and see why.
I was interested in the claim that COVID-19 vaccines. had killed over 500,000 people. Looking at the slide, I saw that Kirsch linked to what appear to be two of his Substack posts. One of them appears to be this post, titled “Survey shows over 500,000 killed by the COVID vaccines so far“. I laughed as I read the opening paragraphs:
A simple survey of my readers provided some extremely compelling evidence that 1) the US government has killed over 500,000 previously healthy Americans and 2) that the vaccine actually caused the deaths.
It took me around 30 minutes to create the survey and 11 hours to wait for highly statistically significant results.
I was able to accomplish something in less than 12 hours that the CDC has been unable to accomplish in 18 months: prove causality. We see both dose dependency and enormous changes in ACM deaths pre- vs. post-vaccine. We satisfy all five Bradford-Hill criteria applicable to vaccines.
Wow! If only it were so easy to determine adverse reactions up to and including death from vaccines (or any other medication or biological)! Damn! How is it that we stupid egghead scientists, epidemiologists, and clinical trialists didn’t think of something so simple and obvious! Why didn’t we just survey the readers of an antivax Substack?
Let’s take a look at the survey. It consisted of eight questions, basically if the reader knew anyone who had died after COVID-19 vaccination. From this survey, extrapolating from 400 responses, Kirsch estimated that COVID-19 vaccines had killed at least a half a million people and possibly as many as two million. The details of Kirsch’s “methodology” (such as it is) by which he carried out his incredibly innumerate extrapolation are here and here (where he claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed more people than all other vaccines combined over the 30 year history of the VAERS database), and a deconstruction in detail can be found here. Since then, Kirsch has expanded his “methodology” to survey his readers for other COVID-19 adverse reactions, such as miscarriages, with equally innumerate results.
Kirsch is also proudly touting an upcoming interview with Andrew Wakefield, as well. Yet when people started criticizing Dr. Bhattacharya for having helped platform such horrendous antivax disinformation, his responses were…pretty weak sauce:
I do not. I support and have supported the use of the vaccine especially for focused protection of the elderly and other vulnerable people. I belive in engagement with prime of differing views and I lament the use of guilt by association attacks as a tactic in public health.
— Jay Bhattacharya (@DrJBhattacharya) May 17, 2022
My philosophy in chairing sessions is to let panelists talk. I've no idea what you are talking about re: 500k. I chimed in on the Pfizer trial.
If I spent my time correcting misinformation, I'd spend it correcting lockdowners who have caused the world's poor devastating damage.
— Jay Bhattacharya (@DrJBhattacharya) May 18, 2022
At the very least, allowing a platform for such blatant antivaccine propaganda was false balance, & poorly judged, however intentioned. Odious falsehoods do not help discussion, but do embolden cranks. Utility of vaccination is no more debatable than existence of Greenland
— Dr David Robert Grimes (@drg1985) May 18, 2022
And he even pretended that he didn’t know what Kirsch was actually saying:
Notice that, even here, after the fact, Dr. Bhattacharya did not criticize Steve Kirsch or admit that Kirsch was spreading outrageous antivaccine misinformation, even though he had every opportunity. He could have said, “I was duped” or “I had no idea the sort of nonsense this conference was pushing” (even though he should have), but he did not. In this, we see one way that scientists who are not associated with the antivaccine movement react: With shame that leads them to try to deny that that’s what they’re doing.
Now let’s look at the second example.
The Better Way Conference
Like most of the “reasonable” (or so they think) antivaxxers who view themselves as scientific, many new school antivaxxers really, truly, honestly believe that they are not “antivaccine”. Back in the old days, antivaxxers would claim that they are “not antivaccine” but one or more of excuses such as “I’m pro-safe vaccine” or “I’m against mandates/for ‘freedom'”. New antivaxxers, while spewing the same old antivax tropes repurposed for COVID-19 vaccines (and not realizing that they are old), think of themselves as “not antivaccine” but just highly skeptical of the new COVID-19 vaccines. It turns out, though, that the longer these “new school” antivaxxers preach their pseudoscience and intermingle with long-time antivaxxers, the more they start sounding just like the old school antivaxxers they once dismissed. This principle was on display a couple of weeks ago at a panel held during an antivax conference held in Bath, England called the Better Way Conference.
This is as good a place as any to reiterate that, just as it was for “old school” antivaxxers, it is a delusion on the part of “new school” antivaxxers that they are “not antivaccine”, because they have been spewing the hoariest antivaccine tropes, just repurposed for and applied to COVID-19 vaccines, including false claims that these new vaccines:
- Kill lots of people. This trope is based on the VAERS database and anecdotes, of course, just as the old trope was.
- Don’t work. This trope is based on conspiracy theories and innumeracy.
- Are loaded with “toxins” such as the spike protein and lipid nanoparticles.
- Make women infertile and/or cause miscarriages.
- Shed. The old version of this trope was that live attenuated vaccines shed virus, endangering those around them; the new version is that COVID-19 vaccines “shed” the spike protein used as the antigen in the mRNA- and adenovirus-based vaccines. Either way, the vaccinated are not “purebloods“.
- Are unnecessary because the disease is harmless to all but the elderly and those with chronic diseases or is diagnosed with a bogus test that produces lots of false positives.
- Are unnecessary or even harmful because “natural immunity” is superior to vaccine-induced immunity and the disease is (mostly) harmless, which is why we should just let the disease spread, the better to reach “natural herd immunity” faster.
- Permanently alter your DNA. The old-school version said the same thing, although having Andrew Wakefield spew the new version was a nice touch.
- Cause cancer. Anyone remember SV40 and polio vaccines?
- Are immoral to use because “fetal cells” were used to produce them. (Sound familiar?)
- And on and on and on and on…
I tried to access a free copy of the livestream of the Better Way Conference, but unfortunately, the grift is strong and the only option to watch it all would be to pay for it. Fortunately, antivaxxer Del Bigtree couldn’t help but include relevant clips in a segment of a recent episode of his video podcast The Highwire With Del Bigtree. These segments were most illuminating in that they show what happens when a new school antivaxxer is forced to confront how COVID-19 antivaxxers are becoming indistinguishable from old school antivaxxers, making them all just plain antivaxxers.
Here’s the segment:
When old school meets new school
I’m using the Better Way Conference, specifically the panel touted by Del Bigtree in which he “debates” Geert Vanden Bossche, because it demonstrates the tension between old school and new school antivaxxers that, increasingly, is being resolved by new school antivaxxers embracing old school antivax ideas about childhood vaccinations.
Let’s look at who’s on the panel. Besides Del Bigtree, who was the MC of the entire conference and moderator of this panel, there was Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines—not” Malone, Geert Vanden Bossche, Bret Weinstein, Tess Lawrie, Maajid Nawaaz, Jessica Rose (I think), and some other people whom I can’t identify, both on stage and by video conferencing. I note that Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was also in attendance at the conference but apparently not on this panel. Truly, this was, as it has been described, the Davos of COVID conspiracy theorists.
Geert Vanden Bossche, you might recall, rose to prominence in the antivax world last year based on one idea about how COVID-19 vaccines are supposedly harmful. Specifically, he has claimed that it is very dangerous to undertake a mass vaccination program in the middle of a pandemic with a “leaky” vaccine like the COVID-19 vaccine; i.e., a vaccine that still allows some forward transmission of the virus. The reason, if you believe Vanden Bossche, is that such vaccines select for more deadly variants. In reality, this idea, while theoretically possible, is far less likely to produce more transmissible and deadly variants than just letting the virus spread far and wide in a huge population.
You might recall that I discussed why Vanden Bossche was wrong, specifically how letting the virus circulate widely was, from an evolutionary standpoint, a far more dangerous strategy to generate variants than trying to minimize transmission and how the percentage of the population that had been vaccinated where various variants had arisen wasn’t large enough to produce significant selective pressure on the virus anyway. I also noted that Vanden Bossche’s claim that mass vaccination would lead to selective pressures to create a supervirus was a very old antivax trope, one that Andrew Wakefield himself had published a mere few months before the first cases of COVID-19 were multiplying in Wuhan, China. Wakefield had even said that the MMR vaccine could lead to a “mass extinction“.
Interestingly, during his talk, Vanden Bossche stated that, while he thought that mRNA viruses were a selective force that was generating ever more transmissible variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (and that could generate more deadly variants), he thought that live attenuated vaccines could potentially be very important for producing and maintaining herd immunity. This did not go over very well at all with Del Bigtree, who was the MC of the entire Better Way Conference and the moderator of this discussion panel. When the time came for the Q&A session after panelists’ talks, instead of simply asking the questions that were being beamed to his iPad from the audience, Bigtree decided to “go there”, as he put it.
What do I mean by “go there”? He went straight to old antivaccine talking points about the childhood vaccine schedule, including false claims that vaccines cause autism and that the current generation of children is the “sickest generation” (a favorite of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) due mainly to the expansion of the vaccine schedule in the 1990s. He did it even though he knew he would be blindsiding panelists who had been “dancing around” the topic of the childhood vaccine schedule. In this, I think that Bigtree inadvertently did everyone a service, because his “debate” with Vanden Bossche is an excellent tool for me to show unequivocally that most “new school” COVID-19 vaccine “skeptics” are now no different than old school antivaxxers. They are, in fact, antivaccine. Vanden Bossche might be a holdout, but he’s definitely moving in that direction.
Bigtree started by asking the panel how many thought that vaccination has a place combatting the pandemic “in a ‘better way’ moving forward”. Only half of the panel raised their hands, Malone, Vanden Bossche, and Weinstein, all rather shyly. Next, Bigtree asked:
How many of you are aware that, since the increase of vaccinations, when we were giving ten vaccinations—I’ll use the United States of America stats—we were giving ten vaccines in the United States of America by the time you were 18 up until about 1986 when we took all liability away that the vaccine program increased to 54 vaccines
How many of you are aware that in that time we went from a chronic illness rate in the United States of America of 12% to a chronic illness rate of 54% and that data has been given to us since 2012? How many are aware of that increase in chronic illness?
Long-time readers and those who follow the antivaccine movement will immediately recognize these very old talking points. The first one is the claim that “all liability” was taken away from vaccine manufacturers through the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which is just plain false. What the NCVIA did was to mandate that all vaccine injury claims first go through a special Vaccine Court, where complainants, win or lose, are reimbursed for reasonable legal expenses and expenses incurred preparing their case, which is way better than the case for regular civil litigation. Also, the evidentiary standard for the Vaccine Court is, as they say for civil litigation, “50% and a feather”. Moreover, the Vaccine Court has a list of “table injuries” (injuries known to be caused by vaccines based on science) for which compensation is basically automatic. In addition, complainants are free to utilize Federal Courts if they lose in Vaccine Court. To fund the system, there is a tax on every dose of vaccine sold in the US.
As I’ve often noted, antivaxxers hate the NCVIA and the Vaccine Court and frequently attack it based on misinformation and distorted information. Antivax lawyers hate the vaccine court too. I’ve always strongly suspected that trial lawyers hate the Vaccine Court because they want to sue for big fat judgments of millions of dollars on contingency (from which they can extract one-third of the judgment as payment, of course), rather than simple reasonable hourly rates paid by the Vaccine Court, which, while reliable income for representing their clients—win or lose—do not provide the opportunity to win eye-watering court judgments and settlements.
The last two tropes should be familiar also. For example, the second trope was the exaggeration of the number of vaccines, which requires counting every dose of a series individually and counting combination vaccines as their component parts; e.g., the MMR vaccine would count as three vaccines each time it’s administered. The third trope was a direct citation of RFK Jr.’s “sickest generation” claim, right down to the assertion that 54% of children today suffer from a chronic illness of one sort or another, up from 12% in decades past. As I explained in detail, it’s a deceptive narrative that relies on cherry picked and carefully curated studies that ignore context and also the consequences of increased screening and widened definitions of many of the chronic illnesses cited.
So how did the panel respond? To his credit, Geert Vanden Bossche looked very uncomfortable, as though for the first time he was realizing just what he had gotten himself into and was being forced to face it. He responded first by stating that he didn’t like such “blunt statements”, how it was “more complicated than that”, and how Bigtree should be very careful about citing correlations as though they represent causation. Bigtree, seeing that Vanden Bossche had started to fall into his trap, was more than happy to concede that he was “strictly stating correlations”. Bigtree included clips showing how only Vanden Bossche had pushed back against Bigtree’s attacks on the childhood vaccination schedule, although I can’t resist repeating how Vanden Bossche remains apparently unaware that his claims about COVID-19 vaccines had echoed those of one of the big macher of the modern antivaccine movement himself, Andrew Wakefield, about the MMR vaccine.
Unfortunately, Vanden Bossche appears to have been the only panelist who even weakly pushed back against Bigtree’s antivaccine narrative about childhood vaccines. The next clip showed Robert Malone emphasizing that, when he had raised his hand to agree that vaccination should be part of a “better way” going forward to tackle COVID-19, he was not defending our current childhood vaccination schedule, adding:
In raising my hand, I was not in any way endorsing our current vaccine schedule. For me as a vaccinologist who has often assumed—has integrated—a belief system that I was brought up in about the efficacy and utility of childhood vaccines, I had a moment of epiphany when I sat down with Candace Owens and we talked about what the temporal relationship has been with many of these classic pediatric diseases and their quenching in the population, which was more concurrent with implementation of modern public health and sanitation practices than it was with implementation of vaccines. And yet the industry has taught me and many of us that there was a causal relationship when in fact it was correlation, which is one of the big flaws we’ve seen again and again, conflating correlation with causation.
Candace Owens, it turns out, is one of the new school antivaxxers who has completely embraced antivax conspiracies, old school and new school. More importantly, though, how many readers recognize the hoary old antivax trope that Malone repeated? You know, the claim that it was sanitation, not vaccination, that eliminated childhood diseases. It should not surprise anyone that Malone has embraced it, given how deeply he has drunk the antivaccine Kool-Aid and peddled conspiracy theories over the last couple of years.
It’s an easy one to debunk. All you have to do is ask: Was sanitation in the US much different in 1960 than it was in 1970? Why then, did the incidence of measles plummet so dramatically during that decade? Simple. It was the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963. Also, measles is a highly transmissible viral respiratory disease that is primarily transmitted through the air via respiration; improved sanitation would not be expected to have much of an effect on its spread. Similarly, what about polio? Was sanitation in the US so much better in 1960 than it was in 1950? So what happened in the 1950s? The Salk polio vaccine was introduced. The list goes on and on, for example the Haemophilus influenza type B vaccine introduced in the 1990s. The “sanitation, not vaccination” trope is a deeply ahistorical and unscientific bit of misdirection. No one is saying that sanitation was not important for bringing infectious diseases spread by water or feces under control, but the fact is that vaccination was a far greater contributor to the elimination of most childhood diseases than sanitation, particularly those transmitted through respiration.
Next up, Bret Weinstein:
Is it true that a great many vaccinations is bad for you over a lifetime and that we should treat this technology very sparingly, right, that we should be choosing very carefully which few things it makes sense to use it for and what to hold it in reserve for, rather than just imagining that if vaccines are good then more vaccines are better?
Regular readers, can you name that antivaxxer trope? It sounds to me like a variation of “too many too soon” that was very commonly aimed at the childhood vaccination schedule to claim that “too many” vaccines were making our kids sick with autism, autoimmune diseases, etc., etc., etc. (Indeed, that line about “if vaccines are good then more vaccines are better” could have been directly lifted from any number of antivaccine websites 15 years ago.) It’s just not true, and we have known that it’s not true for a long time, no matter how long antivaxxers have been repeating it. Welcome, though, Bret Weinstein, to the antivax camp. I also noticed Malone nodding enthusiastically behind Weinstein. Vanden Bossche looked more and more fidgety and uncomfortable. Good. I want him to feel uncomfortable among the antivaxxers. Maybe it will lead him back from the brink, back from conspiracy theories and pseudoscience, although probably not.
Next up, Tess Lawrie. You might remember that she started out promoting ivermectin as a cure for COVID-19, but, as has been the case with so many ivermectin cultists, she’s now joined the antivaxxers:
My opinion is that our children are not suffering from infections. They’re suffering from chronic diseases, autoimmune diseases, autism, and depression. So it seems we might need to reevaluate health and now we need to look at those things that potentially might be affecting our children’s health.
Gee, are vaccines among those “other things”? Also, why are our children not primarily suffering from infections anymore? It couldn’t be due to vaccines preventing them from getting infections that used to kill so many children in previous centuries before they could grow up, would it? Lawrie has clearly gone antivax, too.
Vanden Bossche interjected that he was “having a tremendous problem here,” because “guys, guys, this is way more complicated than you’re discussing” and noted that if you are just considering safety issues you’re not “considering the impact of losing herd immunity”. And you know what? He was right! Again, referring to Tess Lawrie, the reason we’re not dealing with so many children with infections is because those infections are prevented by vaccines and the herd immunity they provide! He further noted that public health interventions not involving vaccines don’t work very well if there is asymptomatic spread, such as with COVID-19, the flu, and measles, concluding by asking how without vaccinations you can maintain herd immunity against these diseases without having the “next epidemic”.
He even said:
I’m having a huge problem with taking these shortcuts, right, and with saying, “No injections.” OK, guys, then we are not going to vaccinate, and these diseases that we have kept under control for many years through herd immunity, lose that herd immunity, and have your epidemics to reestablish it every single time.
Vanden Bossche was partially correct. Before safe and effective vaccines, there was never any true “natural herd immunity” to any of the childhood diseases for which we routinely vaccinate. The reason was simple. Every year, millions of new susceptible children were born, and, of course, many, if not most, of them got the diseases. I don’t want to be too hard on Vanden Bossche, but on the other hand he did throw in his lot with antivaxxers and has been promoting a narrative about COVID-19 variants that echoes old antivax narratives about measles and, especially, pertussis. Personally, I can’t help but feel a fair amount of schadenfreude watching Vanden Bossche being forced to grapple with his cognitive dissonance over his COVID-19 antivaccine fear mongering and the consequences of it that led him to be on a panel with some major league antivax cranks, particularly Del Bigtree.
There was a lot more there, including Vanden Bossche wondering if Bigtree wants to sacrifice the elderly and those with comorbidities that make them especially susceptible to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Unfortunately, he apparently doesn’t realize that Bigtree has long advocated exactly that, while blaming people for their comorbidities associated with lifestyle. (How, though, can he blame people for their age, which they have no control over?) The point is that anti-COVID-19 vaccination sentiment is now increasingly indistinguishable from old school antivax sentiment, Geert Vanden Bossche’s reaction notwithstanding.
The fusion of old school and new school antivaxxers endangers us all
I’ve long argued that the endgame of the antivaccine movement has always been to eliminate all vaccine mandates of any kind. The rise of the “new school” COVID-19 antivaccine movement has provided antivaxxers with an opportunity to realize that dream (at least in some states) far sooner than antivaxxers would have thought possible.
Moreover, the fusion of new school with old school antivaccine views is fueling a movement that is endangering childhood vaccinations, as described in a recent article in The New York Times:
In 2019, even before the pandemic struck, the World Health Organization listed growing vaccine hesitancy as one of its top 10 threats to global health. W.H.O. officials often refer to the contagion of misinformation that foments vaccine hesitancy as an “infodemic”: mountains of incorrect and sometimes flagrantly conspiratorial information about diseases that leads people to avoid lifesaving medical practices, like the vaccines used to fight them. Now the pandemic has given anti-vaccine advocates an opportunity to field-test a variety of messages and find new recruits. And one message in particular seems to be resonating widely: Vaccines and vaccine mandates are an attack on freedom.
And, thanks to anti-COVID-19 vaccination propaganda:
But instead of feeling confident about vaccines, a growing segment of the population may be primed to feel more anxious and doubtful about them, and that doubt may be seeping into their relationship with medical science — or governmental mandates — in general. Kate Williamson, one of the pediatricians I spoke to in Orange County, told me that because vaccine skepticism has become linked with patients’ political leanings, many doctor-patient conversations are now much harder. Merely bringing up “science” at all can be interpreted as a personal attack. “Politics for a lot of people, it is an identity,” she says. “It is a culture. I feel like if I talk about science, then I’m going against their political identity.”
Perhaps most ominous, from a public-health perspective, is that school mandates have started to come under attack in state legislatures. Numerous states have already passed laws restricting or prohibiting mandates for the Covid-19 vaccine. And in a few, including Ohio and Pennsylvania, bills have been proposed that would weaken school vaccine mandates or even prohibit them altogether. “I’m not sure that the people fighting for these bills truly believe in them, but they’re doing it because it’s politically expedient,” Jason Terk, the pediatrician in Keller, Texas, told me. “It matters not to them that there might be consequences to these bills passing.”
None of these legislative efforts have succeeded in becoming law yet, but they highlight a broader development that’s easy to overlook. “During the pandemic, the antivax movement was able to springboard to the mainstream,” Koltai says. “I don’t think it’s that taboo anymore to be vaccine-hesitant.”
Sean O’Leary, vice chairman of the Committee on Infectious Diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics, suspects that, hesitancy aside, we are probably in for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the near future. Young children are undervaccinated. Polio and measles are already flaring up in some parts of the developing world, where the pandemic has stymied vaccination efforts. He worries that one of those infections will hop to the United States, where it would now find a public-health infrastructure that is stretched very thin and a combustible population of under-vaccinated bodies to burn through.
I like to jokingly (or maybe not-so-jokingly) quote Yoda’s warning to Luke Skywalker from The Empire Strikes Back:
If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.
Antivaccine conspiracy theories and misinformation are a lot like the Dark Side of the Force in this, and antivaxxers who were once scientists are a lot like Jedi corrupted by the Dark Side. Once a formerly reputable scientist starts down the dark path of antivaccine pseudoscience, even if it’s to opportunistically dip his toe in the waters of “skepticism” about a single vaccine, forever will it dominate his destiny. Moreover, those who dip their toe in antivax conspiracy theories tend not to be able to resist going further in. That is what we are grappling with now, how COVID-19 antivaccine conspiracy theories are metastasizing to fuse with old school conspiracy theories about childhood vaccines. Public health is at risk.