I’m working on a new vaccine roundup post for tomorrow – it’s been a couple of weeks, and there’s a lot of news to catch up on. But first off, a comment on vaccines in general. As the prospect of these become more real in the public mind, I’m noticing more and more anti-vaccine takes, from a variety of directions. First, there are the more traditional anti-vaccine activists, who most certainly haven’t gone away. This is the vaccines-harm-our-children faction, the group that’s been associated with (unfounded, unfounded, unfounded) concerns about autism. But it’s worth remembering that they were around long before the Wakefield autism scare, and that even though many of these people are still pushing that (unfounded!) connection, they could drop it tomorrow and still be anti-vaccination. I well recall being ranted at on USENET in 1993 about how vaccines were destroying our children’s immune systems, and this point of view is a lot older still than that – there’s a C. M. Kornbluth science fiction story from the 1950s that has an argumentative crank in a bar going on about how modern medicine is ruining the children, not one of them is healthy like they used to be, etc. At any rate, I certainly did not expect this bunch to be in favor of a coronavirus vaccine, and they are not letting me down.
We have a newer group, though, who combine dislike and fear of vaccines with a dislike and fear of Bill Gates (and the WHO, and the Powers That Be in general). As I mentioned the other day, there’s a strong overlap here with anti-mask sentiments, often phrased in the form of loud statements about personal liberty and pledges never to take the “Gates vaccine”. From there, it branches out into various crazy tributaries: some of these folks are sticking with the good ol’ poisons-in-the-vaccines line, but others seem to be convinced that the coronavirus vaccine will feature “nanochips” of some sort (“I refuse to be ‘chipped’ like someone’s pet!“) which will. . .well, depending which lunatic you listen to, they will track everyone (need I add that the 5G tower conspiracy people are well represented in this bunch), or somehow control their behavior, or (5G towers again) be used to target and kill them if they “get out of line”. There is a long, long history of pathological paranoid ideation about radio waves, TV broadcasts, and wireless transmission in general, and the 5G people are just the latest version. It was too much to expect this not to end up in the blender with the vaccines and the coronavirus. The list of ways in which all of this is nonsense is a long one, but the sorts of people who really believe this stuff are impervious to any such attempts at persuasion.
There are also people getting worked up over the mRNA and DNA vaccines under development, some of them because they believe that this will alter their own germline DNA and engineer them and their children-to-be. Some of these folks are secular, but there’s an overlap with mark-of-the-beast Christian zanies, some of whom have apparently decided that said mark will be written in the genetic code. This stuff is also wrong in a wide and impressive number of ways, for whatever good saying that will do. On the Christian fundamentalist front, there are substantial numbers of anti-vaccine activists who come at it from an anti-abortion direction. The HEK293 embryonic kidney cell line has its origins in aborted human tissue, and any use of it anywhere in a drug development project is grounds enough for anti-abortion activists to reject the end product. To their credit, some of these people are fine with vaccines and other proteins that are produced in bacteria, insect cells, etc., but others will just switch to one of the other anti-vaccine arguments if that one disappears on them.
Just recently, I’ve seen more and more Twitter posts and the like tied to the recent beginning of vaccine trials at sites in South Africa. These are going on about the evil drug companies experimenting on the African population, and some of them tie these sentiments into the recent Black Lives Matter protests. It will do no good to point out that the vaccines in question were dosed first in Europe, China, and the US, nor to mention that not testing any of these vaccines in Africa would probably be much better evidence of racism. Nope, it’s all imperialism, colonialism, and get your horrible capitalist vaccines out of here, etc. I do not recall hearing as much on this topic when the Ebola vaccine was being developed, but I’m sure if I were to look for such stuff I’d find it there, too.
Before concluding this depressing tour, I need to note that this area has long been a playground for propaganda of all sorts. There are a lot of people – who range, in my view, from misinformed through stupid all the way to deranged – who honestly believe the views mentioned above and promote them vigorously. And there are other groups, both inside and outside the countries involved, who don’t give a damn about vaccines one way or another but see this as an excellent (and inexpensive) way to sow fear and confusion for their own benefit. There is evidence of weaponized anti-vaccine propaganda in the last few years, so there are reasonable chances that some of the social media rantings you see about these subjects have been started or exacerbated by such actions.
People have always believed bizarre things, of course, but it seems to be much, much easier to get the craziness in front of the customers now and to rev them up more quickly than ever before. We have a substantial number of people in this country who are becoming increasingly unhinged by this stuff, and it’s a real problem.