In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread. And among those diseases could be COVID-19.
Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.
Last spring, a common purpose among far-right activists and the anti-vaccination movement first emerged during armed protests in numerous state capitols against coronavirus lockdown measures. That cross-pollination expanded over time.
On Jan. 6, while rioters advanced on the Capitol, numerous leading figures in the anti-vaccination movement were onstage nearby, holding their own rally to attack both the election results and Covid-19 vaccinations.
Events overshadowed their protest, but at least one outspoken activist, Dr. Simone Gold of Beverly Hills, Calif., was charged with breaching the Capitol. She called her arrest an attack on free speech. She was one of several doctors who appeared in a video last year spreading misleading claims about the coronavirus. Mr. Trump shared a version of the video, which Facebook, YouTube and Twitter removed after millions of viewers watched it.
In the months since inoculations started in December, the alliance grouping extremist organizations with the anti-vaccination movement has grown larger and more vocal, as conspiracy theories about vaccines proliferated while those about the presidential vote count receded.
With their protests continuing, far-right groups deployed many of the same talking points as the vaccination opponents. Prominent voices in both the “Stop the Steal” and the anti-vaccination movements helped to organize scattered rallies on March 20 against vaccines, masks and social distancing in American cities including Portland, Ore., and Raleigh, N.C., as well as in Australia, Canada and other countries around the world.
In April, a conference with the tagline “Learn How to Fight Back for Your Health and Freedom,” is set to bring together Trump allies like Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell along with high-profile members of the anti-vaccination effort.
Maligning the coronavirus vaccines is obviously not limited to extremist groups tied to the Capitol riot. There is deep partisanship over the vaccines generally.
One third of Republicans surveyed in a CBS News poll said that they would avoid getting vaccinated — compared with 10 percent of Democrats — and another 20 percent of Republicans said they were unsure. Other polls found similar trends.
About 100 members of the House of Representatives, roughly one-quarter, had not been vaccinated as of mid-March, according to Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader.
It is unclear where Mr. Trump will fit into the vaccine battle. The former president, who has been vaccinated, endorsed getting the shot recently, provoking some disbelief in QAnon and other chatrooms. “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me frankly,” he said in an interview with Fox News.
Across right-wing channels online, certain constant memes have emerged attacking the vaccine, like a cartoon suggesting that what started with mask mandates will end with concentration camps run by FEMA for those who refuse vaccinations.
Numerous channels link to the government website called VAERS, for Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, to energize followers. It had reported 2,216 deaths among people vaccinated for the three months before March 22, with 126 million doses administered. The Covid-19 vaccines in use, like most vaccinations, are considered overwhelmingly safe, but inevitably a small percentage of recipients suffer adverse reactions, some of them severe. The deaths have not been directly linked to the vaccinations.