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.
Unfortunately, Republican politicians are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers. Recent examples include a member of the House COVID subcommittee and a crackpot who is seeking the party's US Senate nomination in Ohio.
Republicans who refuse the Covid-19 vaccination are actively “working against” efforts to lift the very coronavirus restrictions they insist are an infringement of their civil liberties, Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, said on Sunday.
Fauci’s comments came as the government announced that half of all adults in the US had received at least one Covid-19 shot, marking another milestone in the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign. Almost 130 million people 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4% of the total adult population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.
But Fauci, who was involved in a fiery exchange over the issue with the Republican congressman Jim Jordan on Thursday, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday he was frustrated by recent studies showing that up to 45% of Republicans would not take the vaccine.
“The fact that one may not want to get vaccinated, in this case a disturbingly large proportion of Republicans, only actually works against where they want to be,” he said.
As both a vaccine scientist and a parent of an adult daughter with autism and intellectual disabilities, I have years of experience going up against the antivaccine lobby, which claims vaccines cause autism or other chronic conditions. This prepared me to quickly recognize the outrageous claims made by members of the Trump White House staff, and to connect the dots to label them as antiscience disinformation. Despite my best efforts to sound the alarm and call it out, the antiscience disinformation created mass havoc in the red states. During the summer of 2020, COVID-19 accelerated in states of the South as governors prematurely lifted restrictions to create a second and unnecessary wave of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Then following a large motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.Dak., a third surge unfolded in the fall in the Upper Midwest. A hallmark of both waves were thousands of individuals who tied their identity and political allegiance on the right to defying masks and social distancing. A nadir was a highly publicized ICU nurse who wept as she recounted the dying words of one of her patients who insisted COVID-19 was a hoax.
Now, a new test of defiance and simultaneous allegiance to the Republican Party has emerged in the form of resisting COVID-19 vaccines. At least three surveys from the Kaiser Family Foundation, our study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, and the PBS News Hour/NPR/Marist poll each point to Republicans or white Republicans as a top vaccine-resistant group in America. At least one in four Republican House members will refuse COVID-19 vaccines. Once again, we should anticipate that many of these individuals could lose their lives from COVID-19 in the coming months.
Historically, antiscience was not a major element of the Republican Party. The National Academy of Sciences was founded in the Lincoln administration; NASA in the Eisenhower administration, and PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), PMI (President’s Malaria Initiative) and the NTDs (neglected tropical diseases) program were launched in the George W. Bush Administration. I was a professor and chair of microbiology at George Washington University, based in Washington, D.C., during the 2000s and worked closely with members of the Bush White House to shape these programs.
I trace the adoption of antiscience as a major platform of the GOP to the year 2015 when the antivaccine movement pivoted to political extremism on the right. It first began in Southern California when a measles epidemic erupted following widespread vaccine exemptions. The California legislature shut down these exemptions to protect the public health, but this ignited a “health freedom” rallying cry. Health freedom then gained strength and accelerated in Texas where it formed a political action committee linked to the Tea Party. Protests against vaccines became a major platform of the Tea Party; this then generalized in 2020 to defy masks and social distancing. Further accelerating these trends were right wing think tanks such as the American Institute of Economic Research that sponsored the Great Barrington Declaration, and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, the home of physician Scott Atlas, who became a senior advisor to the Trump White House coronavirus task force.
The full antiscience agenda of the Republican Party has now gone beyond our national borders. In the summer of 2020, the language of the antiscience political right in America was front and center at antimask and antivaccine rallies in Berlin, London and Paris. In the Berlin rally, news outlets reported ties to QAnon and extremist groups. Adding to this toxic mix are emerging reports from U.S. and British intelligence that the Putin-led Russian government is working to destabilize democracies through elaborate programs of COVID-19 antivaccine and antiscience disinformation. Public refusal of COVID-19 vaccines now extends to India, Brazil, South Africa and many low- and middle-income countries.