Almost 5 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, most of the United States is still confined to some sort of socially isolated measures. With an American dying every 80 seconds, social distancing protocols will most likely continue well into 2021. With masks still not nationally mandated, (despite the more than 160,000 deaths), there seems to be no end in sight for the US. Wishy-washy leadership from Washington paired with the disregard of scientific guidelines, the only way the US will be Covid-19 free; is the mass distribution of mandatory (free) vaccines for all. For a country otherwise known for its relationship with Big Pharma, a universal vaccine seems like just another empty promise.
Rise of the anti-vaccine movement
Despite monumental advancements in science and technology in the US, the anti-vaccine movement is gaining traction; a culture designed around blatantly denying scientific fact. Historically, opposition to vaccines have existed since the mid 1850s in parts of the United Kingdom. In the United states, the smallpox outbreak led to initial anti-vaccine campaigns. And gave birth to the Anti Vaccination Society of America. In 1998, British doctor Andrew Wakefield published papers claiming a relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. Ultimately losing his medical license, Wakefield’s fabricated claim set off public fear and mistrust regarding vaccines. And now, years later, deep rooted beliefs (whether political, philosophical or cultural) still feed into anti-vaccination rhetoric.
Root causes of anti-vaccine movement
Given how polarized the US is, politicization regarding vaccines is largely fueled by sanctioned ‘fake news’. It is no secret, Americans pride themselves on freedom of speech and expression. However with that right, comes a largely deregulated approach for monitoring fact and fake news. A Quasi-experimental study identifies the effects of misinformation regarding immunization rates, and how that primarily contributes to vaccine hesitancy. Facebook, having already received strong criticism of its ‘hands off’ approach when it comes to regulating misinformation specific to the 2016 election, is once again a breeding ground for falsity regarding vaccines, most recently the Covid-19 vaccine.
Backlash and public mistrust in Big Pharma is understandable given the US’ history when it comes to drug/medicine availability. As the culture has shifted to a capitalistic driven industry, Big Pharma is thriving at a time where every other major industry is crumbling under Covid-19. It’s no secret, the pharmaceutical industry in this country is flawed, and the public is largely aware of that. An industry that continuously withholds life saving knowledge at the expense of the people it’s supposed to serve. Despite over 5 million US confirmed coronavirus cases, private pharmaceutical interests have squeezed in their interests over the American public. And with the top drug lobbyists as personal advisors for the president amid the Covid-19 discussion, the conflict of interests are disgustingly obvious.
Anti-vaccine groups sliding into the GOP
However, all of the blame does not solely fall on Big Pharma’s shoulders. At a time where science should blindly, the Trump administration continues to ridicule and normalize the anti-science rhetoric. The nation’s top infectious disease expert is regularly undermined despite being the sole individual in the White House without an ulterior agenda. Denying the science at this stage months before a vaccine is even remotely mass distributed, is a dangerous sign for when a Covid-19 vaccine does become available.
Historically speaking, the science deniers, anti-vaxxers, gun rights proponents and otherwise self proclaimed conservatives are the same individuals who reject the science behind climate crisis, the science behind mask wearing and generally downplay the severity of this pandemic. All of which when reinforced by the highest office in the land, fuels the fire in sabotaging public health efforts. Yes, as a whole the majority of lawmakers still do support mandatory vaccination as a whole, however the opposition amongst state republicans is growing. A growing number of anti-vaccination super pacs creeping into the mainstream GOP, further polarizing the conversation on vaccinations.
A vaccine is the only way to ‘get back to normal’ restriction free
Unanimously public health officials (worldwide) agree; the only way to ‘get back to normal’ restriction free, is with a Covid-19 vaccine. However, because in the US special interest dictate public safety, a Covid-19 vaccine is still a ways away. However, science has spoken; masks and social distancing are the best ways to mitigate Covid-19 transmission until a vaccine is available.
Unanimously, everyone agrees; life in a constant state of lockdown is not feasible long term. Following public health guidelines will ease the public into this ‘new normal’ until a Covid-19 vaccine is attainable.
How to enforce a rule that doesn’t exist?
When it comes to public health policy in the US, the problem lies with the principle of ‘medical freedom’. Public health professionals face the continuous problem of protecting and preserving our nation’s health, and complying with ‘freedom of choice’. However, there absolutely needs to be a shared level of responsibility among the professionals and the people. As obviously shown through the pandemic, ‘optional’ public health practices simply will not cut it. Public health only works when the public actively participates. Masks only work when everyone wears one in public places. Social distancing only works when everyone is conscious. And a Covid-19 vaccine will only establish herd immunity if the vast majority get vaccinated in the early stages. Waiting for the Covid-19 vaccine to become available and then refusing vaccination based on some fabricated claim of vaccines being unsafe, is not ‘medical freedom’, it’s ignorance.
Redefine what ‘un-American’ means
Yes, obviously officials cannot ‘force’ anyone to get the Covid-19 vaccine (or any vaccine for that matter). However, what policy makers should do is put a stop to this ludicrous idea that mandatory vaccines are ‘un-American’. That ‘forcing‘ public health guidelines despite the over 160,000 Americans who have died, is a ‘violation of freedom’. Creating disincentives for anti-vaxxers will largely contribute to public health safety. Policy makers should apply the same principle to mandatory vaccines that exist for health insurance. If you fail to comply, you must pay a penalty.
Is it un-American? Falsely claiming life saving public health and safety guidelines as ‘fake news’ is ‘un-American’. Rejecting the science behind vaccines and downplaying 160,000 (many avoidable) deaths in under 6 months is un-American. Redefine what it means to be a ‘patriotic American’. Uphold the science, reinforce public health guidelines that are proven to work. Reluctance to act in either social distancing, mask wearing or vaccinating jeopardizes the safety of everyone. Be a real American and trust the science.