Nearly half of Americans oppose masking and a similar share is against vaccine mandates for schoolchildren, polls show. But what is obscured in those numbers is the intensity with which some parents have embraced these views. While they once described themselves as Republicans or Democrats, they now identify as independents who plan to vote based solely on vaccine policies.
Their transformation injects an unpredictable element into November’s midterm elections. Fueled by a sense of righteousness after Covid vaccine and mask mandates ended, many of these parents have become increasingly dogmatic, convinced that unless they act, new mandates will be passed after the midterms.
To back up their beliefs, some have organized rallies and disrupted local school board meetings. Others are raising money for anti-mask and anti-vaccine candidates like J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio; Reinette Senum, an independent running for governor in California; and Rob Astorino, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York.
Renée DiResta, a research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory who has studied anti-vaccine activism, said the movement had indoctrinated parents into feeling “like they are part of their community, and that community supports specific candidates or policies.”
Activists posted statistics about Covid vaccines in those Facebook groups. Often that information came from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a database maintained by the C.D.C. and the Food and Drug Administration, which allows anyone to submit data. The C.D.C. has warned that the database “cannot prove that a vaccine caused a problem.”
Another post titled “If you want to really know what is going on, read this” linked to an article that falsely claimed vaccines could leave children sterile. The article was originally posted to a Facebook group named Children’s Health Defense, which supports an organization founded and chaired by the anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
That tipped some parents into repudiating every vaccine, from chickenpox to hepatitis, and against vaccine mandates of any kind. A right to self-determination so that parents could decide what vaccines their children took was paramount.