In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Russian trolls have spread the myth via social media. They are also spreading other vaccine disinformation. Antivaxxers are doing Putin's work for him.
Long before Russia launched its military assault on Ukraine, its citizens had been targeted for years by another Russian campaign — one designed to undermine confidence in Western vaccines and the governments offering them to their citizens.
The anti-vaccine messages were actively encouraged by President Vladimir Putin’s government, broadcast by Russian state television, and amplified on social media by Russian computer bots. The offensive was part of a larger effort to sow division within fledgling democracies and heighten suspicion of the West across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics.
In Ukraine, the seeds of vaccine skepticism fell on particularly fertile ground. Just 35% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and only 1% more are partially vaccinated — among the lowest such rates in Europe, according to data from Oxford University. Childhood immunizations for diseases like measles and polio are among the continent’s lowest as well.
That gives public health officials reason for worry as more than 3.6 million Ukrainian refugees have poured into other countries and millions more are displaced within Ukraine, often hunkered down in crowded, frigid places without clean water or electricity.