Anti-Vaxxers Have Rebranded Themselves To Make Vaccines An Issue Of Civil Rights
Groups dedicated to pushing out anti-vaccination beliefs have been gaining members ever since online messaging boards and social media have been around.
But in an interesting development, it appears their tactics are changing.
An analysis of hundreds of anti-vaxx Facebook groups has found the language has been evolving from 2009 to 2019.
Instead of focusing on the unsubstantiated claims that a vaccine can cause autism or health issues around the injection, these groups are now zeroing in on civil liberties and are trying to make vaccine objection a civil rights issue.
There's no doubt that vaccines save lives. The World Health Organization says around two to three million people are saved every year from preventable diseases and illnesses because of vaccines. These injections have gone through decades of rigorous testing and research to be able to be produced around the world.
David A. Broniatowski and his team have published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health this month and says the civil liberties argument has never been hotter than during the coronavirus pandemic.
With mask mandates, laws requiring people to stay indoors and the mixed messaging from government authorities about the pandemic, people have been protesting and crying out that their civil liberties are at stake. Combine that with the ease of spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories on social media and you have the perfect concoction for disaster.
Anti-vaxx groups have seized on this sentiment and have been able to recruit new followers.
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Mr Broniatowski said: "We could've seen it coming. This was all happening right under our noses, and it's continuing to happen.
"Framing vaccine refusal as a civil right allow vaccine opponents to sidestep the science and instead debate about values - especially the value of freedom of choice. However, this is a case where one person's exercise of that freedom can hurt everyone else.
The researchers highlighted three major moments during the last decade that caused the anti-vaxx messaging to evolve.
The first came in 2015 when 125 people became infected in a measles outbreak at Disneyland. The next came following the release of a film called Vaxxed, which was directed by a discredited former physician. The third arrived last year in the form of state-based Facebook groups that argued against government mandated rules for vaccinations like 'Michigan for Vaccine Choice' or 'Health Freedom Minnesota'.
Interestingly, people who are spouting the 'medical freedom' angle are trying to push their messaging onto Americans who aren't necessarily anti-vaccine.
National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston dean, Dr. Peter Hotez, says the messaging is sticking with people who are not happy with the politicisation of the coronavirus pandemic.
This has caused concern around a potential coronavirus vaccine, with a little more than 30 per cent of Americans polled saying they were worried about the one-way ticket out of the pandemic.
Social media sites like Facebook have been working on limiting the spread of anti-vaxx groups, however they are continuing to find ways around the rules and regulations to push their message.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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