Peter Jamison and Ellie Silverman at WP:
As anti-vaccine activists from across the country prepare to gather on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, they are hoping their rally will mark a once-fringe movement’s arrival as a lasting force in American society.
That hope, some public health experts fear, is justified.
Almost two years into the coronavirus pandemic, the movement to challenge vaccines’ safety — and reject vaccine mandates — has never been stronger. An ideology whose most notable adherents were once religious fundamentalists and minor celebrities is now firmly entrenched among tens of millions of Americans.
Baseless fears of vaccines have been a driving force among the approximately 20 percent of U.S. adults who have refused some of the most effective medicines in human history: the mRNA vaccines developed against the coronavirus by Pfizer, with German partner BioNTech, and Moderna. The nation that produced Jonas Salk has exported anti-vaccine propaganda around the globe, wreaking havoc on public health campaigns from Germany to Kenya.
The scientific case for the full range of vaccines recommended by public health authorities in the United States remains as solid as ever. Research has shown that those vaccines — which have all but eliminated diseases that once sickened, debilitated or killed millions every year — to be safe for the vast majority of those who receive them. The 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield that claimed a link between a common childhood vaccine and autism, launching the modern anti-vaccination movement, was exposed as fraudulent.
Organizers estimate that 20,000 people will attend the rally, marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, according to a permit issued by the National Park Service. D.C. police were fully activated from Friday Jan. 21, during the annual March for Life, through today for the anti-vaccine mandate rally, spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said.
The march is billed as a protest of mandates, rather than the medicines themselves. But similar rhetoric — emphasizing individual autonomy rather than untenable scientific ideas — has long characterized the broader anti-vaccine movement, and the march’s speakers include movement veterans such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Del Bigtree, founder of the anti-vaccine group Informed Consent Action Network.
Other speakers include physician Robert Malone, a prominent critic of the coronavirus mRNA vaccines, and former CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, who in a November appearance on Fox News compared White House chief medical adviser Anthony S. Fauci to the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. Public employee associations that have formed to protest their employers’ vaccine mandates, such as Feds for Medical Freedom and D.C. Firefighters Bodily Autonomy Affirmation Group, are also participating.