The Skeptics Society & Skeptic magazine


Red Alert: Anti-Vaccination in the Age of COVID-19

“Governments love pandemics for the same reason they love wars. It gives them the ability to control the population that the population would otherwise never accept.” —Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaking to an audience of thousands in Berlin on August 28, 2020

Today’s leaders of the anti-vaccination movement, including Dr. Andrew Wakefield in England and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the United States, have been alleging over the past two decades that vaccination is injurious to human health. Now the movement has a new target: vaccines for COVID-19. The development of these vaccines, Kennedy claims, has been driven not by concern for health but by corporations seeking profit and “government totalitarian elites.” On Kennedy’s anti-vaccination website, “herd immunity” is dismissed as a “dishonest marketing gimmick.”1 This anti-vaccination messaging has not yet had much impact, since demand for COVID-19 vaccination so far this year has been outrunning supply. But that could change when the amount of available vaccine increases to the point that vaccination becomes available to everyone.

When that happens, the path to herd immunity may encounter a major obstacle: large numbers of people who decline to be inoculated. In early March of this year, an NPR/PBS/Marist poll2 found that 38% of unvaccinated adults in the U.S. answered “No” to the question: “If a vaccine for the coronavirus is made available to you, will you choose to be vaccinated or not?” And in late March a Kaiser Family Foundation poll reported that nearly 30% of Republicans and 30% of white evangelical Christians are saying they will “definitely not” get the vaccination.3 It’s true that public opinion may change as more people get vaccinated, and if over time vaccination becomes a less politically polarizing issue. On the other hand, at least in some states, vaccination rejection is likely to remain substantial.

Resistance to COVID-19 vaccination is also strong internationally: low rates of vaccine acceptance have been reported in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa, and European countries that include France and Italy.4 Regions of sparse or absent vaccination may host new COVID-19 variants that disseminate globally, thereby slowing or halting progress toward herd immunity.

Vaccination is today standard medical practice, and globally 80% of infants are vaccinated during the first year of their lives against some disease. Yet vaccination has always faced resistance based on fear. Edward Jenner pioneered smallpox vaccine in England in 1796 and worked tirelessly to communicate its value to the public. But half a century later in that country, the Anti Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League were still trying to convince people that vaccination was dangerous. Despite its manifest benefit, smallpox vaccination had to overcome substantial popular opposition worldwide, and it took nearly two centuries to eliminate the disease.

The Anti-Vaccination Movement in California

Here in the United States repudiation of vaccination is well-funded, encouraged by print, television, and social media, and common in every state in the union. Anti-vaccination protesters in California shut down the COVID-19 inoculation center at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on the last Saturday in January 2021. Hundreds of people in their cars, lined up in a queue at one of the largest vaccination sites in the U.S., had to wait longer to get their shot. But such opposition to vaccination isn’t confined to Southern California. It remains vigorous as well in alternative medicine enclaves like Marin County and left enclaves like Berkeley, which for decades have been centers of vaccination skepticism.

That skepticism became politically influential during the debate in California about vaccinations that took place in 2015. An outbreak of measles in Southern California had attracted public attention to the fact that vaccination rates had dropped well below herd immunity level in some areas of the state. A group of parents joined with legislators to advocate for legislation strengthening California’s vaccination requirements. They drafted a bill, SB 277, mandating that school children be vaccinated against diseases that included measles, mumps, and pertussis. The bill disallowed exemption from vaccination on religious or philosophical grounds or because of belief that vaccination is unsafe, although it continued to permit exemption for a medical reason, such as a child’s immune-compromised condition or allergy to a vaccine.

The legislative debate about SB 277 lasted for four months, during which the bill was subjected to libertarian, religious, and legal assaults. Anti-vaccination activists organized statewide to spread the word that vaccination is dangerous, and they traveled to the state capitol in Sacramento to hold rallies and press their representatives to defeat the bill. But pro-vaccination families were also well organized, and passionately made a science-based case for tightening up the state’s vaccination requirements. (We published an article on this debate in Skeptic, entitled “Winning the Vaccination War in California.”6) SB 277 was signed into law in June 2015 and its passage has improved statewide herd immunity for measles and other diseases.

Yet there remain pockets of low vaccination rates throughout the state. At the Berkeley Rose School, for instance, only 29% of the 2017–18 kindergarten class enrolled were vaccinated, and at the Marin Waldorf school the figure was 22%, according to state immunization data.7 In violation of California law, parents find physicians who are willing to exempt their children on the grounds of contrived medical conditions.8

Parents who withhold their children from vaccination replace reliance on public health authority with reliance on vaccination skeptics whom they find more persuasive. The dynamic here is based on an essential method humans use to learn about the world — reliance upon the judgment of people whom we trust. That begins with children’s dependence on adults for information and guidance, and extends through years of schooling when teachers assume this instructive role. The consequence is that we enter adulthood prepared to believe what those whom we accept as “authorities” tell us is true. Of course, adults have some choice in determining which sources of information they deem credible. But in an age of widespread mistrust of public institutions, corrupt leaders, and a medical system that is dysfunctional in many ways, a charismatic individual can readily capture the attention of many and win a credibility contest against scientists, public health officials, and fact-oriented political leaders.

Charismatic Leaders

Candidates for political office aren’t the only ones exploiting this human weakness. In the world of vaccination resistance, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is famous not only because of his family name but also for finding fault with vaccination. And his voice is amplified by other vaccination challengers, past and present, with whom many parents have a trusting relation. In the case of California Waldorf school communities mentioned above, respected opinion leaders warn parents that vaccination poses a danger to their children. To begin with, there is Rudolf Steiner himself, the founder of the Waldorf school tradition, who is still looked upon today as an esteemed mentor.9 Steiner’s worldview, “anthroposophy,” postulates a spirit world accessible through clairvoyant insight. And that “insight” leads Steiner to pronounce:

Smallpox vaccination has very much to do with the psyche…. If we were to replace this belief with something else, if we were to educate people in a way that is in accord with nature, so that they would be impressed by something other than that we are vaccinating them, let us say by taking them closer to the spirit again, then it would certainly be possible for us to be as effective …”10

Thus vaccination, for Steiner, represents secular civilization’s impoverished substitute for spiritual enlightenment. This message is conveyed in Waldorf schools by teachers and other school community members whom parents trust. Among them in Northern California where we live is Jennifer Schmid, a nurse who sells food-supplements online and whose three children attended Waldorf school in Silicon Valley. Her podcasts and blog reach a nationwide audience that is much larger, however, than just Waldorf school parents. One of her anti-vaccination postings, she writes, “has gotten over 21,000 hits and 5000 Facebook likes in 3 days…. The feedback for the blog has been overwhelmingly positive.” Vaccination science is not credible, Schmid states, because “all the studies are industry-funded.” She writes that the pharmaceutical industry “is going to make billions of dollars on a coronavirus vaccine that will sacrifice safety and effectiveness.”11

Sources of Doubt

Vaccination hesitancy has various rationales and reflects diverse cultural perspectives and values. Someone who is persuaded by the baseless claim of Dr. Andrew Wakefield that “messenger RNA vaccine is actually genetic engineering” repudiates COVID-19 inoculation for a different reason than does a member of the Church of Christian Science or a Muslim who perceives in vaccination a challenge to the will of Allah.

This variety of reasons notwithstanding, we believe that rejection of COVID-19 vaccination has three main sources — two of them pseudo-scientific — while the third makes a legitimate critique of health care priorities in the United States and worldwide. (We will not consider here unhinged conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccination, e.g. that it is a manipulative plot devised by the CDC, Big Pharma, or Bill Gates, although such ideas circulate on social media and may dissuade some people from vaccination.)

1. Safety and Effectiveness. Charismatic leaders of the anti-vaccination movement such as Robert Kennedy Jr. allege that vaccination is dangerous and ineffective. Just about every claim that they make in this regard is false.12 Kennedy has said that the Moderna vaccine against Covid-19 is “extremely reactogenic.” But the statistics show that it is not; yes, people “react” to the vaccine, but almost always in harmless ways that just show that it is working as it should. Kennedy argues that vaccine safety has not been confirmed by placebo studies, but this standard scientific protocol was followed in testing the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, both of which showed a high degree of efficacy against placebos. “There’s no evidence that it [the Moderna vaccine] prevents death,” Kennedy has claimed. On the contrary, testing of the vaccine has shown that it greatly reduces death rates as well as severe COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization, and the need for ICU care.

Despite the absence of evidence for his claims, Kennedy remains a guiding light of the anti-vaccination movement, with more than half a million followers on social media. Their respect for the man, whose tireless advocacy for environmental causes is indeed admirable, contributes to their willingness to accept what he says about vaccination at face value.

2. Does COVID-19 Vaccination Weaken “Natural” Resistance to Disease? Some vaccination critics allege that vaccination interferes with the “natural immunity” of the human body to strengthen and heal itself. The idea here is that a vaccine is like a crutch or pill that substitutes for the body’s inherent reparative capacity. The trouble with this analogy is that vaccination does not substitute for the ability of the human body to heal itself. On the contrary, vaccination grows that ability, by educating and strengthening the immune system, helping it to recognize disease antigens and mobilize its own resources — T cells, B cells, antibodies — to meet future challenges. Vaccination does not work like a crutch or a pill, but more like an exercise machine: use of a treadmill or elliptical trainer does not dispense with or replace one’s physical capacities, but instead builds them.

3. Underlying Causes of Illness. Vaccination, however effective, is no substitute for attention to the underlying social conditions that contribute to human illness, including lack of access to high-quality health care. Many people suffer and die from infectious diseases because of their life circumstances. Risk factors include economic poverty and stress, structural racism, and air pollution, all of which increase vulnerability to COVID-19.

Because of point 3 above, responsible public health advocacy must address social and environmental contributions to ill health, including the current pandemic. At the same time, though, vaccination remains essential, given that our most effective remedy to COVID-19 will be advance toward herd immunity, which only vaccination can achieve without massive and unacceptable loss of life.13

Countering Vaccine Misinformation

What can be done to counter vaccine misinformation? Currently the manifest effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination is the most persuasive argument for its value. And sometimes it is possible to strengthen that argument by directly challenging those who make false or misleading claims. In December 2020, Robert F. Kennedy’s grand-daughter, Dr. Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, an internal medicine physician, wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “His [RFK’s] concern—that the Covid vaccine is potentially unsafe, and hasn’t been properly tested—is widespread, and dangerously wrong.”14 Others in the Kennedy family have been similarly critical of his anti-vaccination views. There is a risk, though, that even negative attention given to vaccination skeptics may help them gain an audience.15 Here in California, pro-vaccination advocates have focused attention not on countering the false messaging of these critics but on communicating accurate vaccination information to the public. For example, when legislation mandating vaccination of school children was under consideration in California, parents allied with respected authorities to make their case.

California Senator Richard Pan (photo)

California Senator Richard Pan, accompanied by family advocates for vaccination, supports pro-vaccination legislation at a press conference. Credit: Senate Office of Richard Pan

Such grassroots support for vaccination is especially important today. In the past, vaccination acceptance has relied on the trust that people have in physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. But recently that re-assuring face-to-face contact between health care providers and the public has been attenuated, partly because so much medicine is practiced virtually, as a safeguard against exposure to the virus. That places more responsibility on everyone else. We can counter misinformation not only by electing political representatives who favor pro-vaccination health policies but also by communicating with people in our local communities, where much of the discussion about health matters takes place. Available sources of evidence-based information about COVID-19 vaccination include the CDC16 and the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.17

In the race between the mutating virus and the vaccines, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, says that “It’s going to be a close call. We are vaccinating really well, that’s the good news. These variants are spreading pretty quickly across the country, that’s the bad news.”18 Our collective advocacy may determine the outcome of this competition. END

About the Authors

Raymond Barglow majored in physics at Caltech and received a doctorate in philosophy at UC Berkeley. He has taught at UC Berkeley and Trinity College and writes on science, ethics, and public policy issues.

Margret Schaefer received a doctorate in English at UC Berkeley, and has taught at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is a cultural and literary critic, journalist, and translator.

References
  1. https://bit.ly/3ddu72s
  2. https://bit.ly/3cOXWrv
  3. https://bit.ly/2PMJ83w. Republican leaders are mounting opposition to a Biden administration initiative to provide guidelines for coronavirus vaccination certificates (“passports”). https://wapo.st/3sPuk2M
  4. Malik, Sallam. 2021. “COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Worldwide: A Concise Systematic Review of Vaccine Acceptance Rates.” Vaccines 9(2) February 16. https://bit.ly/3fpuzxz
  5. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and medical advisor to the president, points out that “You blunt that negative effect [of the mutations] …by vaccinating as many people as you can as quickly as you can…. Viruses that love to mutate don’t mutate unless they replicate. If you can prevent them from replicating either by vaccination or public health measures, then you will diminish the potential of their mutating.” https://bit.ly/3cGkJ8w
  6. https://bit.ly/31xBigz
  7. Pogash, Carol. 2019. “As Anti-vaxx Dispute Rages, Attention Turns to California’s Waldorf Schools.” The Guardian. May 28, 2019. https://bit.ly/2QOu6up Figures from 2017 are the most recent to be released by the California Public Health Department.
  8. https://bit.ly/3fpAu5G
  9. There are nearly two thousand Waldorf schools in more than 70 countries, and the education they offer is for the most part an effective alternative to more orthodox pedagogy.
  10. Adams, David. 2018. “Rudolf Steiner on Traditional Childhood Illnesses and Vaccines.” Our Spirit. March 1. https://bit.ly/3sE0dv0
  11. Pogash, op. cit. and Schmid, Jennifer. 2020. Oasis Wellness Blog, March 21. https://bit.ly/3rL2h3b
  12. Brill, Steven, et al. 2012. “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Vaccines, COVID and Dr. Fauci: ‘I Read the Science’.” Newsweek, March 1. https://bit.ly/3fqgqQv
  13. Sweden’s experiment with approaching herd immunity by de-emphasizing quarantine and mask wearing, allowing people to catch the disease and recover, had disastrous results: the death rate in Sweden as of October 13, 2020 was five times higher than the rate in neighboring Norway and ten times higher than in Denmark or in Germany.
  14. https://nyti.ms/3fukf7d
  15. When we respond to critics of vaccination by saying, for example, that the evidence shows conclusively that “vaccination does not cause autism,” that response may actually strengthen the psychological association made in vaccination-skeptical minds: “vaccination-autism,” although our statement explicitly denies such a connection.
  16. https://bit.ly/3sCEQKD
  17. https://bit.ly/39sxy4t and https://bit.ly/3cCLCdO
  18. Maxouris, Christina. 2021. “The race between variants and vaccines in US will be a close call, expert warns, and eased restrictions aren’t helping.” CNN Health, March 18. https://cnn.it/2Po1hVp

This article was published on April 3, 2021.

 

35 responses to “Red Alert: Anti-Vaccination in the Age of COVID-19”

  1. Paul says:

    A Philosophy and an English graduate think they are the experts on immunology, biology, and virology? If you listen to the true experts, and look at the facts, you will see that many are not anti-vaccine, but have serious concern about novel mRNA and DNA vector technologies. Now that serious unexpected adverse effects, including a high number of deaths are being reported on the vaccines (including permanent blindness, which is otherwise extremely rare for any medication), it seems these experts might indeed have point. Time to listen to them. Fact is these technologies have not been proven to be safe on the long term. It’s unheard of that such information is not given to patients, that’s a direct violation of patient rights.

    • Rome says:

      Chances are, both authors have taken the vax—yet write for a pub.called ‘Skeptic(?).’ Akin to trusting political fact-checkers to be anything but partisan.

      They are so absolute in their defense of Moderna & Pfizer…Why..???

      Fast forward to yesterday…both of these their concoctions are riddled & connected with serious health problems.

      This article had the faintest dose of healthy skepticism. WOW, disappointing….

    • Rome says:

      This Raymond author is chiming in on the comments & appears to be TOTALLY behind Big Pharma. Completely trashes the VAERS site and anti-vaxxers in general.

      He questions the numbers of the former…and yet we are to believe the COVID death count??? The same death count proven to be faulty, fraudulent & considerably inflated??

      • Raymond Barglow says:

        I comment below, in the reply to Laurie, on the relevance of VAERS data. That data, in agreement with the other studies on this subject, actually confirms the safety of the mRNA vaccines.

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      I would say that the most important part of my background, in addition to physics and microbiology, is education in evaluating scientific studies. In both the article below and in the comments below, we cite the statistical evidence, which establishes the safety of the mRNA vaccines. You allege that the “technologies have not been proven to be safe on the long term.” There is no reason to believe that any of the ingredients in the vaccines – taken individual or combined — would have long term effects beyond the somewhat enduring presence of B cells, T cells, and antibodies. Yes, there is a rare allergic reaction to the vaccines, but that is short-term.

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      This from today’s New York Times (May 3, 2021): Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.
      Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.
      … the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.

  2. Andrew Sharo says:

    This is an excellent article. It is also important to realize the influence that we each have over our friends and family. I bet if you looked at a chart of families or friend groups, you would see that most groups are either largely vaccinated or largely unvaccinated. Just like Covid-19, vaccination attitudes are socially contagious. So if there is someone that you are close with who is against vaccinations, don’t be afraid to discuss your concern for their safety with them. You’d be surprised the influence that you can have on even a distant friend, and the worst you can do is come away at the same place you started.

  3. Marty Schiffenbauer says:

    I wonder how many anti-vaxxers are just being selfish. They figure they and/or their kids will be protected by everyone else being vaccinated without risking any potential vaccine side effects.

    • Karl says:

      Shh Marty, you’re saying the quiet part out loud.

      I wonder how many thinking, analytical, *skeptical* people (who are for the most part NOT “anti-vaxxers”) have determined that the well-being of their own families is more important than risking unknown potential vaccine side effects for little or no benefit, especially when the downside risk is so small, the unknown “Trust Me” upside risk so potentially high (ADE, ITP, etc) and the so-called “experts” who are pushing the vaccines so hard have been dead wrong on so many counts with Covid and other similar assurances in the past:
      Past Vaccine Disasters Show Why Rushing a Covid-19 Vaccine Now Would Be “Colossally Stupid”

      Could it be that some “pro-vaxxers” might be being self-centered in their own way?

      Personally, I’m waiting for results from these studies before taking any action: On BCG Vaccine Protection from COVID-19: A Review. They should be forthcoming soon.

      Call me selfish if you wish; I prefer to think of this as being prudent, wise, *skeptical* and unhurried.

  4. Bruce Danckwerts says:

    One way that we could perhaps more people to accept the vaccine is if we made it a pre-condition for all travel, even from one state to the next, within the US. I know this would lead to howls of complaint about the infringement of freedoms, but those freedoms ought to come with responsibilities, and we ARE responsible for ensuring that we are not agents in the spread of this virus. Another way would be to make Health Insurance to cover Covid treatment only available to people who have been vaccinated. Those people who believe in the alternatives of Jenifer Schmidt or Joseph Mercola should put their money where their mouth is, and be confident enough to forego their health insurance cover for any subsequent Covid attacks.
    Bruce Danckwerts, CHOMA, Zamba

  5. Laurie says:

    Thank you for the fine article which clarifies many important issues. However, I am concerned about the difficulty some people might have deconstructing data given in articles found on anti- vaccination websites, particularly at Children’s Defense. Its articles conflate government statistics in such a way as to induce great fear, especially if one does not know how to put that data into perspective. Perhaps you can write an addendum which demonstrates how to unpack those alarming statistics of injury and death related to Covid vaccines that these articles cite as evidence of harm.

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      What you say is telling, Laurie. A lot of the doubt about the safety of vaccination derives from “information” presented on social media such as Robert Kennedy Jr. website: https://childrenshealthdefense.org/.

      Because of the good work Kennedy has done on environmental issues, many people trust him to provide vaccination guidance also. Indeed the statistics reported on his website do seem alarming. Two days ago the website proclaimed in a headline that “VAERS data released today showed 50,861 reports of adverse events following COVID vaccines, including 2,249 deaths … between Dec. 14, 2020 and March 26, 2021.”
       
      During this time period, about 145 million vaccination doses were administered. So the death rate according to this data is about .0000155, which is just under 1.6 fatalities in 100 thousand. However, the actual number of fatalities caused by the vaccination is much lower than that. The website reports that the average age of those who died was 77.7 years old. So a good number of the people who died following vaccination might have died of other causes anyway.

      The VAERS (Vaccination Adverse Event Reporting System) reports only how many people have died, not whether they died as a result of vaccination. Careful research into this question finds that the fraction of deaths that can be attributed to vaccination is in fact very small. Hence Factcheck.org points out that:

      “websites and social media posts improperly cite unverified raw data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, an alert system managed by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration to detect possible safety issues in vaccines, as evidence that the approved COVID-19 vaccines cause deaths and serious events.” (https://www.factcheck.org/2021/03/scicheck-viral-posts-misuse-vaers-data-to-make-false-claims-about-covid-19-vaccines/)

      Factcheck.org goes on to say that:

      “… anyone can submit a report of an event to VAERS, even if it’s not clear that a vaccine caused the problem. All reports are accepted into the database without determining whether the event was caused by a particular vaccine.… So when VAERS says it has received 2,509 reports of death among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine as of March 29, that does not mean that those deaths were caused by the vaccine. In fact, after reviewing medical records, autopsies and death certificates for all of those cases, physicians from both the CDC and the FDA determined that there was ‘no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths.’”

      For more evidence-based consideration of this subject, see this CDC information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html

      See as well this report about vaccination adverse events in Europe and worldwide: https://www.dw.com/en/fact-check-no-links-found-between-vaccination-and-deaths/a-56458746

      Another fact-based analysis is provided here: https://www.vice.com/en/article/qjpmp7/anti-vaxxers-misuse-federal-data-to-falsely-claim-covid-vaccines-are-dangerous

      The CDC reports:
      “Over 145 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United States from December 14, 2020, through March 29, 2021. During this time, VAERS received 2,509 reports of death (0.0017%) among people who received a COVID-19 vaccine. CDC and FDA physicians review each case report of death as soon as notified and CDC requests medical records to further assess reports. A review of available clinical information including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records revealed no evidence that vaccination contributed to patient deaths. CDC and FDA will continue to investigate reports of adverse events, including deaths, reported to VAERS.” https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/safety/adverse-events.html

      A note about the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention): This federal agency is staffed by doctors, public health experts, and scientists. Although the CDC is by no means infallible, it is usually a reliable source of fact-based information. And its evaluation of the safety of Covid-19 vaccines is shared by many other institutions. 

      At John Hopkins, for example, public health doctors report that “research to date indicates the vaccines for COVID-19 have a very good safety profile.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/is-the-covid19-vaccine-safe

      Stanford Health Care reports on the safety of Covid-19 vaccination here: https://med.stanford.edu/content/dam/sm/CME/documents/nursing/staff-COVID-19-vaccine-education-STAFF.pdf

      Doctors and scientists at Harvard Medical School weigh in here: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/covid-19-vaccines-safety-side-effects-and-coincidence-2021020821906

      Safety information about Covid-19 vaccination is reported also by the Mayo Clinic: “The safety of these vaccines has been studied extensively…. the incidence of adverse effects is very, very low.”  https://www.mayoclinic.org/are-new-covid-19-vaccines-safe/vid-20506602

      There are dozens of additional reliable sources that similarly attest to vaccination safety. One of the best that I’ve found is the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  See for example: https://www.chop.edu/news/long-term-side-effects-covid-19-vaccine. Scroll down the page to find information about the safety of mRNA vaccines.

  6. Raymond Barglow says:

    In further response to Paul Braterman’s comment below, I do have a hypothesis about anti-vaccination believers who do not gain materially from their anti-vaccination views. In the article I suggest that they are listening to others: “In an age of widespread mistrust of public institutions, corrupt leaders, and a medical system that is dysfunctional in many ways, a charismatic individual can readily capture the attention of many and win a credibility contest against scientists, public health officials, and fact-oriented political leaders.” I.e. many people arrive at anti-vaccination convictions not because they’re weighing the evidence or because they’re reading anti-vax texts, but because of the influence of particular persons in their lives, who might be famous like RFK Jr., or just someone they respect like their next-door neighbor.

  7. Paul Braterman says:

    You say that the anti-vaccination campaign is well funded. I fear that you are right, and would like to know more about who funds it and why

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      The misleadingly titled “National Vaccine Information Center,” which is an Internet anchor of the anti-vaccination movement,
      is funded by a donor who makes money from sales of his vaccination “alternatives,” as has been pointed out in a Washington Post article: “over the past decade a single donor has contributed more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center, accounting for about 40 percent of the organization’s funding, according to the most recent available tax records. That donor, osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, has amassed a fortune selling natural health products, court records show, including vitamin supplements, some of which he claims are alternatives to vaccines.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/2019/10/15/fdc01078-c29c-11e9-b5e4-54aa56d5b7ce_story.html

      Here in California, leading disbelievers in vaccination also have economic motives. In the eSkeptic article I have mentioned just one example: Jenifer Shmid, who sells food supplements that she suggests are more effective and safer than vaccination.

      All of that being said, a lot of people advocate for anti-vaccination without earning a penny for their efforts. One part of the explanation is their distrust — sometimes warranted — of the companies that sell us medical products that make profits for them but don’t benefit the consuming public.

  8. Peter Barglow, MD says:

    The just published article, “Red Alert: Anti-Vaccination in the Age of COVID-19” captures all important social, scientific, and political aspects of vaccination reluctance. I wish to emphasize a
    purely psychological factor – the magical meaning of a needle penetrating the skin boundary of the human body. In the odd but widespread therapeutic use of Acupuncture needle puncture the disappearing needle tip imaginatively stimulates a meridian string energy system, supposedly connected to an organ system. Any pseudo treatment that heals can just as well signify
    potential harm associated with violation of the shoulder surface by a previously unknown fluid. Frightening is it not?

  9. Karl says:

    A number of different immediate or short-term side effects and/or adverse reactions to the current vaccines have been identified. Most are not life threatening but a significant number of them are. However, by far the most worrisome and potentially deadly effect of these vaccines is one that will not materialize immediately and could take months or even years to show itself: antibody dependent enhancement (ADE).

    Yes, I know, there are some scientists telling us that these mRNA vaccines will not cause ADE, but these are the same guys who flip-flopped (and were often proven dead wrong) on many issues that have arisen in the past year.

    In a recent MedPage Today article on this subject (Why ADE Hasn’t Been a Problem With COVID Vaccines — Even with new variants, it’s unlikely antibody-dependent enhancement will be an issue; March 16, 2021 at https://www.medpagetoday.com/special-reports/exclusives/91648) the experts state that ADE has not been a problem vis-à-vis the original SARS-CoV2 variant but that it is unknown what the potential is for ADE to develop with other variants and with future repetitive multiple booster shots configured for evolving variants. “It’s all theoretical” says Brian Lichty, PhD, an associate professor in pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster University in Toronto, the expert quoted in the article.

    Call me an idiot, a lizard person or an anti-vaxxer, but in my book “it’s all theoretical” isn’t a good enough assurance coming from these guys. Especially when the “oops” outcome if they are proven wrong again is so much worse than the (still as yet unknown) long-term risks of the vaccines. Aren’t these “experts” the same guys who have advised the public about a constant barrage of issues with this virus, only to later do complete 180’s?

    When the effectiveness of the vaccines is much less than the weakly supported trial efficacy; when the protection afforded against some variants is nil; when the sales pitch is that if you get Covid it might not be as bad as if you were unvaccinated (*if* you are in the positive effectiveness group); when the effects of the mRNA vaccines are irreversible; when long-term effects haven’t been tested (*you* are the animal test guinea pig); and when the risk of ADE is still hotly debated among respected, credible experts, is it really being that unreasonable to exhibit “vaccine hesitancy,” especially when there are studies due to be released imminently regarding an alternative vaccine that has been around for more than 100 years (Bacillus Calmette Guérin) that may confer the same degree (or more) of protection with little or no known downside risks?

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      Karl, your response merits a longer reply than I have time to give right now, but consider: Tens of thousands of people received mRNA vaccinations during clinical trials and disease side effects were carefully monitored. Cases of ADE were not observed. In 2021 to date about 168 million Americans have received their shots. If ADE was a consequence, it would have shown up by now in the statistics.

      A good, science-based source of information on the subject of vaccination is Dr. Paul Offit and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, according to which “Neither COVID-19 disease nor the new COVID-19 vaccines have shown evidence of causing ADE…. This is true of other coronaviruses as well. Likewise, studies of vaccines in the laboratory with animals or in the clinical trials in people have not found evidence of ADE.” (https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-safety/antibody-dependent-enhancement-and-vaccines)

      As you note, the new variants haven’t been studied much. But for reasons given in the article you cite, they are highly unlikely to cause ADE. The article quotes Dr. Barry Bloom, from the Harvard School of Public Health: “…not only is the new technology [mRNA vaccines] faster to respond to a new viral pandemic, but so much safer and much more clearly scientifically designed … The S protein vaccines are so much cleaner, so much more carefully defined, and so much lower risk. All you’re seeing is one protein from that virus. So the chances for ADE are much slimmer than with any of the older ways for making virus vaccines.”

  10. makart says:

    I expected more skepticism on skeptic.com

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      Hello Makart, Can you say more? Skepticism sometimes calls for questioning even of the views of those who deem themselves skeptics, no?

  11. L Mayes says:

    “Dr. Andrew Wakefield” – surely he has been declared unfit to practise and no longer can use the title “Dr”?

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      Point well taken. I should have said “former Dr. Andrew Wakefield.” What’s interesting is that credentials do not — not by a long shot — establish credibility.
      But what induces people who presumably are knowledgeable and scientifically minded to leap over the edge into a pseudo-scientific abyss? I guess there are rewards of notoriety, and you might sell some of your own products, like the infamous Dr. Mercola. Wakefield at one point planned to market his own “safe” alternative to the MMR vaccine.

  12. Leyla says:

    As a Waldorf school parent and a student of anthroposophy I find it disappointing that you portray Waldorf education as antivaxers. We also live in North California and at our school most of the teachers are all vaccinated ( covid) and children can’t attend without having the required vaccination.

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      Good morning Leyla. Please note footnote 9 of the article:

      “There are nearly two thousand Waldorf schools in more than 70 countries, and the education they offer is for the most part an effective alternative to more orthodox pedagogy.”

      I live in Berkeley, and I can attest that anti-vaccination sentiment is strong here, including in the local Waldorf school. The state-complied statistics do indicate that Waldorf schools are locations of vaccination resistance. Do you believe those statistics are mistaken? The statistics are a few years old, since that was all the information I could find. Maybe there has been some recent change in Waldorf schools in regard to vaccination.

      I have a great deal of respect for the Waldorf concept of education. It works wonderfully for so many children, encouraging their creativity and emotional as well as intellectual growth.

      Some anthroposophical ideas are very valuable too! I realize that.

  13. Raymond Barglow says:

    Good morning, Joe. The use of mRNA to stimulate a human immune system response that will protect the body is indeed an innovation! You’re right about that.
    If you look at dictionary definitions of “vaccine” that are up to date, you will find that they permit calling this new inoculation method a “vaccine.” It stimulates the immunes system to generate antibodies, T-cells and B-cells, and that is all that is required.
    There’s been quite a lot of testing of the mRNA vaccines, although it has been compressed into a shorter time period than usual.
    Does the worldwide incidence of Covid-19 merit calling this a “pandemic”? It is an infectious disease, more than 128 million people have come down with it, and nearly 2.8 million have died from it. If you consult dictionary definitions of “pandemic,” I believe you find that Covid-19 qualifies.

  14. Joe W says:

    This is NOT a vaccine…this is mRNA being injected to create proteins. There was no “testing”, it’s new technology. There is also no real world, hard evidence this “pandemic” exists.

    You are being disingenuous.

    • Tim Skene says:

      Do you also believe the earth is flat?

    • makart says:

      I expected more skepticism on skeptic.com

      • Steve Lavoie says:

        Skepticism involves reviewing the facts and then forming an opinion based upon those facts. This is regardless of weather we like the outcome of what we learned during that investigation or not. You see the truth matters.

        Just what additional evidence or questions do you believe that we should be asking that would disprove the reality of the pandemic or the effectiveness of the Covid 19 vaccines?

    • Anne says:

      “New” technology? I learned about mRNA applications in vaccination when I was in college 30 years ago.

    • Raymond Barglow says:

      Joe, I posted a response to your message, but I don’t know that it will reach you. Please see the reply immediately above your message.

    • Steve Lavoie says:

      Joe,
      What do you consider as evidence for a pandemic? Here is a couple items I think confirm it.
      Infected people by the same viral and or bacterial disease. World wide death rates from that same disease? Independent world wide medical investigations that arrive at the same conclusion.

      Just what is your definition of a pandemic? Personally I think your just a spammer unless you can provide a cogent argument.

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