Story at a glance
- Several coronavirus vaccines are going through trials, although none are available to the public.
- 'Anti-vaxxers' have turned out at several demonstrations to protest against vaccines.
- Vaccination is one of the most effective ways to prevent diseases, according to the World Health Organization.
In the days since George Floyd’s death, photos of protests have dominated both social and traditional media. But a demonstration outside the Iowa statehouse, where police had used tear gas to disperse protesters the night before, was not like the others.
Dozens had gathered to protest mandatory vaccination, a public health policy that has been floated as a potential response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even before a coronavirus vaccine has been developed.
There is still a lot scientists don’t know about immunity against the novel coronavirus and any potential effects of a vaccine. While some potential vaccines are currently in clinical trials, they are still months away from being available to the public. The White House has set a goal of developing a vaccine within 12 to 18 months, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has said it could be available in 2021.
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Still, videos posted to Twitter by Iowa Starting Line showed a sizable turnout at the demonstration on June 3.
Anti-Vaxxers gather at the Iowa Statehouse today as the Legislature reconvenes. Republican legislators speaking here are blasting shut-down orders during the pandemic pic.twitter.com/qFBbGlLVcL— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) June 3, 2020
Republican state legislator Jeff Shipley criticized the public health response to the pandemic, mocking lawmakers who wear face shields and saying that ventilators are killing people. He also invoked the Black Lives Matter movement, suggesting that the two could collaborate.
“It's probably impossible to develop a safe vaccine, it's hardly going to work anyway, this virus isn't even killing anybody. They must think you're really stupid," he said during the protest.
Here is video of State Rep. Jeff Shipley, a Republican legislator from the Fairfield-based swing district, saying, “This virus isn’t even killing anybody” to a crowd of Anti-Vaxxers at the Statehouse pic.twitter.com/baKtXivX7Y— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) June 3, 2020
A couple hours later, Shipley walked back the comment in a tweet, saying, "What I meant to say is that the threat of illness is never enough to justify a mandatory vaccine. Thanks for covering the rally. I failed to prepare my remarks and thus spoke poorly, I'll promise to do better in the future.”
"Anti-vaxxers," people who are opposed to vaccines, have joined protests in California and other states calling for stay-at-home orders to be lifted and businesses to reopen. Both groups have questioned recommendations from public health officials and experts and some members go as far as doubting the legitimacy of the coronavirus outbreak and ensuing pandemic. "Plandemic," an anti-COVID-19 propaganda movie, features prominent anti-vaxxer Judy Mikovits, whose work has been discredited.
"Most of the arguments the coronavirus deniers use are very similar to those anti-vaxxers have been pushing for decades," Tara C. Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State University, said in an op-ed for NBC News. "They suggest that scientists and scientific institutions are hopelessly corrupt, that these institutions and individuals are lying to you and only folks like Mikovits are willing to risk it all to tell you ‘the truth’: that the government and specifically public health institutions should have no influence over how ordinary Americans live their lives and protect themselves and their communities from disease, and that natural immunity to infection is preferable to vaccines.”
The anti-vaccination movement, or vaccine hesitancy, has also been tied to the resurgence of measles in the United States and other countries by the World Health Organization (WHO), which listed it as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019.
Other countries, including Australia, have seen increased activity from the anti-vaccination movement in recent weeks. A BuzzFeed News analysis using social media analytics tool CrowdTangle found that posting, engagement and follower counts on Australia's top anti-vaxxer Facebook pages and Instagram accounts had increased since February.
In the United States, 51 percent of registered voters said they plan on getting a COVID-19 vaccine when one is widely available, while 22 percent said they will not be getting a vaccine and 27 percent are unsure, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll on June 1.
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