Anti-vaccination protesters have been a visible presence in recent weeks at rallies to end the ongoing blockades in many states. But beyond the rallies and the hand-painted signs, the main organizers of the movement launched a less confrontational but more ambitious information campaign. Incorporating the rhetoric refined over the years to spread fear of childhood vaccines, they argue that mandatory quarantines are further proof of the zeal of government officials to control individual health care choices.
“One of the main principles in the marketing of compulsory vaccination has been fear. And we have never seen fear exploited as we do now with coronavirus infection, “said Andrew Wakefield, former British doctor and founder of the modern anti-vaccine movement, in a three-day teleconference last week. “I think what we have achieved is a situation where – I hope we have reached a situation where – the public is now sufficiently skeptical. ”
As the pandemic kills nearly 2,000 people every day in the United States, Wakefield – whose medical license has been revoked after publishing a study, since identified as fraudulent, linking autism to the measles, mumps, and vaccine rubella – said the coronavirus was “no worse than the seasonal flu.”
“We are witnessing a destruction of the economy, destruction of individuals and families … and unprecedented violations of freedom of health,” said Wakefield, speaking to viewers on a split screen with a poster announcing his new film agitating against vaccines. “And everything is based on an error. ”
The new surge of prominent anti-vaccine activists – including Wakefield and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who also spoke at the conference – worries vaccine promoters, who are already struggling with sharply declining vaccine rates. vaccination, families anxious to contract the stay of the coronavirus far from the pediatricians’ offices.
“I have watched leaders of the anti-vaccine movement scare parents for years. And right now, when parents are more scared than ever, they benefit, ”said Erica DeWald, director of advocacy for the non-profit group Vaccinate Your Family. “Basically, anti-vaccine leaders say to their followers,” It is not real, it is not a concern for you, if you are healthy, if you eat well, if you get enough sleep, everything will be fine good. And it’s once again a gateway for the government to force vaccines on you and your children. “
The range of opinion within the current pandemic movement was exposed last week at the “Freedom of Health Summit”, where Wakefield and Kennedy spoke. The virtual conference, parts of which were viewed by the Washington Post, brought together dozens of speakers and dedicated an entire day to the coronavirus. Limited access to seminars and materials was offered free of charge, with full access for $ 69.
Alana Newman, who hosted the summit online, said in an interview that she organized it with a friend using her savings and that outside groups or donors were not involved. She said she was concerned that the number of coronavirus cases was exaggerated by the media and that the virus could have been designed and released to benefit vaccine manufacturers.
“We’re just trying to do what’s best for our children,” said Newman, who lives in southwestern Louisiana. “We don’t make a billion dollars with this. ”
Some speakers have promoted unproven treatments or preventive measures, such as zinc, vitamin supplements and exposure to the sun. Others have speculated that the symptoms attributed to the virus could have other causes, such as plutonium falling to earth from destroyed satellites. Yet others warned without evidence of forced inoculations of reluctant Americans with a possible coronavirus vaccine.
Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates, who has played a leading role in public health policy during a pandemic, regularly funds efforts to monitor, treat and ultimately cure the disease. Gates has been the target of conspiracy theories that he helped create the pandemic and plans to use it for financial gain and to develop a global human surveillance system.
Kennedy touched on the latter subject in his speech, discussing what he said was Gates’ efforts to develop “an injectable chip” and “biometric subcutaneous tattoos” that would track human movement.
“A health authority, the police, whatever, can read your health records,” he said. “It’s like a barcode. ”
After sharing a story about friends who had surfed in Malibu the night before, when bathers received a police ticket for violating state quarantine restrictions, Kennedy dreamed of a bleak future.
“Are we going to a world where Microsoft will be able to follow us? ” he said. “What if we live in a world where the police don’t have to go to the beach, where they can track on your cell phone or your biometric data, and see that you went to the beach, then take $ 1,000 on your cryptocurrency salary in which your paycheck goes? ”
He concluded by calling on listeners to share their emails with his advocacy group, Advocating for Children’s Health.
In an interview, Kennedy said he was not claiming that Gates had helped design the virus, but that he believed the Seattle billionaire “is using this emergency, this crisis, to promote his interests.” Kennedy said there are legitimate concerns that initiatives such as contact tracing for coronavirus infections could lead to a broader “surveillance state” and that the negative consequences of quarantine measures would not be weighed with their public health benefits.
“People keep saying, ‘We have to listen to science’, but what does that mean? Said Kennedy. “Does this mean that we should listen to virologists and ignore economists? “
Physician Paul Offit, Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said anti-vaccination campaigners’ response to the pandemic and to social distancing measures was consistent with the history of the movement accusing the government tyrannical health initiatives.
“I think this is consistent with their anti-government position,” said Offit, who has written extensively on the movement and the history of immunization policies. “I can promise you that even when this [coronavirus] the vaccine comes out, even if it’s perfect and wonderfully safe, they’ll still say it’s causing things it’s not causing. ”
Louisiana state official Danny McCormick (R), who also spoke at the conference and led a rally in Baton Rouge, demanding the lifting of quarantine restrictions, said people were newly receptive to government intrusion warnings while suffering from the battered economy.
“The government’s over-reach has destroyed the largest economy in world history in a matter of weeks,” said McCormick, who is proposing a bill that would require schools to notify parents of their right to opt out of vaccines. “It is a big concern for people. ”
While it is difficult to determine the extent to which the general public will welcome such messages, one measure can be found in the audience for the Summit on Freedom of Health at which McCormick spoke.
Newman, the conference organizer, said it had over 30,000 registrants.