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Sunday, January 30, 2022

Communicating Science

 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.  

At Trends in Molecular Medicine, Dr. Peter Hotez has an article titled "Communicating science and protecting scientists in a time of political instability."

In its modern form, the antivaccine movement began during the late 1990s and early 2000s following claims that the measles–mumps–rubella (MMR) vaccine caused pervasive developmental disorder, now known as autism spectrum disorder [6]. Ultimately, the lead publication making this claim was retracted by The Lancet (in which the paper was published in 1998), but this did not stop a succession of alternative claims that thimerosal preservative, aluminum, or closely spaced vaccines were responsible [6]. The discovery of dozens of new autism genes involved in early fetal brain development [7] helped to provide a powerful alternative narrative to vaccines; however, claims that vaccines cause autism persist.

As a vaccine scientist with an autistic daughter, I thought my advocacy in countering false vaccine links would be very powerful and began publicly defending vaccines [6]. However, my public stance invited a wave of aggression from antivaccine groups, most notably those identified by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as the ‘disinformation dozen’iv. However, this paled in the face of what followed.

After the retraction of The Lancet article in 2010, the antivaccine movement in the USA re-energized by becoming a political movement and aligning itself with far-right groups or the Republican Tea Party, especially in Texas [8]. Doing so increased the number of people willing to become antivaccine adherents, while affording new opportunities for funding and organization. The rallying cry was ‘health freedom’ and it gained a strong following, even forming political action committees (PACs) to promote vaccine exemptions with state legislatures [8]. With the COVID-19 pandemic, ‘health freedom’ expanded to protest COVID-19 prevention measures, including masks and alternative treatments, such as hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin, both drugs shown in most studies to offer no benefit in COVID-19 cases or that could even be harmful.


Key considerations for communicating science for COVID-19 vaccines and other interventions
  • Antivaccine aggression kills: 200 000 unvaccinated Americans needlessly lost their lives to COVID-19 during the second half of 2021.
  • Those refusing COVID-19 vaccinations are victims to disinformation.
  • While social media is widely touted as the culprit, Facebook and other platforms are not generating the disinformation content.
  • Instead, the disinformation arises from three major sources: (i) The ‘disinformation dozen nongovernmental organizations identified by CCDH; (ii) State actors including the Russian Government; (iii) and political extremism from the far right.
  • In America, the far right has the greatest influence, and originates from the US Congress and other elected officials, conservative news outlets, and think tanks.
  • There are about a dozen major talking points why people refuse to get vaccinated, but these can be easily refuted. The real culprit are political groups and others generating antivaccine content.