Vaccine Rejectionism and the Left

For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; we have believed that rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality (both natural and social) are incisive tools for combating the mystifications promoted by the powerful. … Theorizing about “the social construction of reality” won't help us find an effective treatment for AIDS or devise strategies for preventing global warming. Nor can we combat false ideas in history, sociology, economics, and politics if we reject the notions of truth and falsity.

~Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, “Fashionable Nonsense” (1987)

Nowhere is the politicization of science more evident than in the pernicious absurdity of the anti-vaccination movement, which has received fresh impetus during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The internet and social media (not to mention malevolent bots and trolls) have enabled the rapid spread of vaccine misinformation. But what role do broader political beliefs play in fueling anti-vax sentiment and suspicions about science in general?

We know this is happening on the Right, especially in the United States, where resistance to COVID vaccines has become a marker of political and ideological identity among Trump supporters, even though their leader was among the first politicians to avail himself of the shots. Vaccine rejectionism fits comfortably with traditional right-wing opposition to certain types of science (such as evolution and the reality of anthropogenic climate change), but in a fiercely polarized political climate, it has been inflamed by suspicion of liberals who endorse vaccination. For some conservatives, a childishly contrarian resistance to the “progressive establishment” constitutes a kind of principled libertarianism.

But before the Left allows itself to become too smug about this particular right-wing rejection of science, a little history is in order. Seldom discussed, let alone acknowledged, is that right-wing vaccine rejectionism has its roots in mainstream left-wing doctrines. Twenty-five years after Alan Sokal’s celebrated hoax, anti-scientific nonsense from the Left continues to inspire and inform anti-vaxxers’ absurd abuse of science. Consequently, vaccine rejectionism in the US is now endemic. In the decade preceding the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States saw a 10 percent overall decline in the number of parents who believe that it’s extremely or very important to vaccinate their children (from 94 percent in 2001 to 84 percent in 2019). An astonishing 11 percent say that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. In 2015, almost two-in-five respondents to a Canadian survey stated that “the science on vaccinations isn’t quite clear.”

Before the pandemic, resistance to vaccinations in the US was fairly evenly divided between Left and Right, at least according to polling data. But the reasons were different, and telling. Conservatives were more likely to believe that vaccination should be the choice of a patient or parent, while leftists were more likely to embrace conspiracy nonsense. Many of the movement’s most ardent conspiracy-mongers were progressives and the largest pockets of anti-vaccine sentiment were in liberal US counties. The 2015 California measles outbreak, for instance, began in the wealthy, liberal enclave of Marin County, and the progressive San Francisco collar counties were the hotbed of opposition to the California law—passed in 2016 as measles cases soared—banning personal belief exemptions for children entering kindergarten.

As the left-wing publication Mother Jones noted last year:

The loudest [anti-vax] voices came from politically liberal, mostly white, and affluent enclaves—think famously hippie places like Marin County, California, or Boulder, Colorado—where parents worried about the side effects of what they perceive as toxins in vaccines. Anti-vaxxers in these places tended to pride themselves on the purity of their lifestyles—they bought organic groceries, railed against genetically modified food, and were suspicious of the electromagnetic waves emitted by cell phones.

Celebrity anti-vaxxers

In 2016, the feminist publication Jezebel published a list of high-profile anti-vax celebrities, many of whom have since fallen silent as vaccine denialism has become associated with Trumpism. Among the most outspoken is Jenny McCarthy, who has an autistic son, and who laid down the blueprint that conservatives are now following with public statements like these:

The reason why [parents] are not vaccinating is because the vaccines are not safe. Make a better product and then parents will vaccinate.

and

If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the fucking measles.

These actors and television personalities have offered various justifications for their stance, including concerns about autism, opposition to “Big Pharma,” and a belief that vaccines are “unnatural” and that protection is safely achievable by following homeopathy and sundry “wellness” doctrines.

The modern anti-vaccine movement has always had a media celebrity component. In 1982, reporter Lea Thompson sparked controversy in the US with her television documentary, DPT: Vaccine Roulette, which linked a vast range of childhood disabilities to the DTaP vaccine, leading to numerous lawsuits against the vaccine's manufacturers. Thompson’s campaign prompted the formation of the anti-vax group, Distraught Parents Together, which later became the still-influential National Vaccine Information Center.

Syndicated TV talk shows like Sally Jessy Rafael, the Maury Povich Show, and Real Time with Bill Maher provided celebrity anti-vaxxers with an uncritical platform. In 1990, The Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet appeared on the Phil Donahue Show and compared vaccinations to "alien microorganisms" that could cause “cancer, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, and sudden infant death syndrome” (none of which is true).

The modern anti-vax movement exploded in the late 1990s after British activist and physician Andrew Wakefeld and 12 colleagues published an article in the Lancet falsely claiming that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine may predispose recipients to behavioral regression and pervasive developmental disorder in children—autism. Their study was later retracted and Wakefield was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council for serious professional misconduct. Nevertheless, by then his fraudulent research had become a sensation, capturing the imagination of credulous celebrities, journalists, and a left-naturalist cultural movement already sympathetic to a wide range of anti-science nostrums.

During the COVID pandemic, some of these leftist groups remained anti-vaccine, although some twisted their views to distance themselves from the right-wing strain of rejectionism. Many wellness influencers believe that vaccines are unnatural substances that poison human bodies, and the anti-vax movement continues to grow on various “natural-focused” Facebook groups, freely spreading discredited theories that shots are dangerous. As the Washington Post reported in September:

There’s a whole genre of accounts of prominent social media figures that mix in vaccine skepticism with general healthy living posts. Evie Kevish, a CrossFitter and “certified juice therapist,” who frequently posts on Instagram about which vegetables and fruits she’s juicing, posted a video recently with her wearing a shirt emblazoned with “VACCINES ARE POISON” in a video she posted on June 27.

These groups’ websites are full of paranoid anti-vax misinformation promoted in the name of “natural health.” One site claims that “the [COVID] jab kills at least five times more than COVID”; another claims that “SARS-CoV-2 is, in effect, a US and Chinese-funded and engineered bioweapon, accidentally or deliberately released from a so-called ‘dual-use’ military and biomedical lab in Wuhan, China.” (These claims appear alongside articles about the “18 Medicinal Properties of Cucumbers” and how the best defense against “the flu, cancer, heart disease, and even engineered viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, is to cultivate a strong immune system, optimum Vitamin D levels, adequate Omega 6 intake, and a healthy microbiome.”)

Anti-GMO leftists and the Right

The Left’s suspicion of vaccines is linked to other strains of science denialism among progressives, most notably anti-GMO and anti-CRISPR activists. For more than two decades before the COVID pandemic, the most influential anti-vax organizations were organic advocates who fiercely rejected agricultural biotechnology. Over the past two years, many of these groups, ostensibly concerned with lifestyle fads like natural medicine, have morphed into COVID anti-vaxxers.

For example, the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is a longstanding hub for granola-munchers, and its promotion of organic food and “natural” and “alternative” medicines is frequently cited in media foodie circles. The OCA has been one of the most influential demonizers of GMOs, CRISPR crops, and other sustainable agricultural tools, and positions itself as “not ‘anti-vax,’ but rather pro-vaccine safety,” disingenuously promoting what it calls “freedom of choice” while diligently working to undermine trust in vaccine efficacy and safety.

The OCA is by no means alone in its alliance of pro-organic and anti-vaccine claims. Anti-vaxxers, such as the “experts” featured in the notorious “docu-series” Vaccines Revealed, have littered the websites of anti-GMO activists for years. And who are these experts? Well, Andrew Wakefield, of course, but also Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has made millions from his legal work challenging GMOs and the herbicide glyphosate as part of a partnership with the Church of Scientology and the OCA anti-GMO attack dog, US Right to Know.

RFK, Jr. is the founder of the notorious anti-vax organization, Children’s Health Defense, the website of which is an internet rabbit hole of conspiracy and distortion featuring an “Exposing the Truth” section detailing the supposed lies of vaccination proponents. Earlier this year, Kennedy released a documentary entitled Medical Racism: The New Apartheid, which attempts to link vaccines to a history of racist medicine, including the Tuskegee syphilis study. Just last month, YouTube joined other social media sites in banning him for his promotion of vaccine disinformation.

“Natural health” promoter Joe Mercola, meanwhile, is an RFK, Jr. ally who has contributed more than $2.9 million to the pseudoscientific National Vaccine Information Center. Mercola’s eponymous website attacks fluoridation and mammography; claims that amalgam fillings are toxic; urges his followers to avoid “dangerous” electro-magnetic fields; is pro-organic and anti-crop biotechnology; and (of course) warns about the “dangers” of vaccinations, including shots to protect against COVID-19.

Mercola claims that many of the supplements he sells can boost immunity to COVID-19, and the New York Times has called him “the most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online.” He recently co-authored a book with OCA co-founder Ronnie Cummins which claims that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was a genetic engineering experiment gone awry and that the “effectiveness of the vaccines has been wildly exaggerated and major safety questions have gone unanswered.” RFK, Jr. wrote the foreword.

Recently, left-wing vaccine rejectionists have embraced a new celebrity endorser, Mercola’s girlfriend Erin Elizabeth Finn, the founder of the website Health Nut News. The Center for Countering Digital Hate has named Finn, along with Mercola and RFK, Jr. as part of the Disinformation Dozen—12 public figures it says are responsible for the majority of social media coronavirus vaccine misinformation. They dress their rejectionism in claims that the COVID pandemic is “a global power grab by Big Tech, Big Pharma, and big business billionaires, aided and abetted by indentured politicians, scientists, and the military-industrial complex”—anti-capitalist twists on the far-Right’s conspiracy playbook.

Green hypocrisy

How did anti-biotechnology activists come to embrace COVID vaccine denialism? British environmentalist George Monbiot, an influential columnist for the progressive Guardian newspaper in the UK, has attempted to explain this phenomenon. Monbiot acknowledges that “there has long been an overlap between certain new age and far-right ideas” and that “for several years, anti-vax has straddled the green left and the far right.” He is also open about the “shocking” and “uncomfortable” fact that so many of his fellow left-wingers are falling prey to lunatic ideas.

Every few days I hear of another acquaintance who has become seriously ill with Covid, after proudly proclaiming the benefits of “natural immunity”, denouncing vaccines and refusing to take the precautions that apply to lesser mortals. … I hear right-on people mouthing the claims of white supremacists, apparently in total ignorance of their origins. I encounter hippies who once sought to build communities sharing the memes of extreme individualism. Something has gone badly wrong in parts of the alternative scene.

Yet Monbiot is nothing if not a hypocrite on this issue. Like many on the Left, he has been consistently and deeply critical of agricultural biotechnology, often uncritically embracing the rejectionist tropes of the same groups now fanning suspicion of vaccines. Like many of the left-wing vaccine critics he abhors, Monbiot believes that biotech innovations are dangerous products peddled by corporations forcing GM food on reluctant populations and polluting the global food supply.

And while he is honest enough to acknowledge the Left’s current slide into irrationality, he blames this development on the sinister machinations of conservatives. Naïve progressives, he claims, have been “lured to the far right by conspiracy theories” that accuse corporations of profiting from COVID and the booming vaccine market. George Santayana’s aphorism that “Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it” may be a cliché, but here it is apropos. Monbiot, like many Green progressives, is watching the dismal consequences of his own anti-corporate fear-mongering playing out in real time.

The environmentalist bind

When advocating for action on climate change, environmentalist organizations like Greenpeace are fond of intoning that “We should listen to science.” But when it comes to biotechnology and genetic science, it has been a different story. Indeed, the Greens’ well-documented distortion and misrepresentation of biotechnology—for instance, the panic over genetically modified “Frankenfoods”—has laid the ideological groundwork for resistance to COVID vaccines among any group reflexively skeptical of “Big Corporations” or “Big Government.”

Vehement and longstanding opposition to genetic modification has left Green political parties in Europe and NGOs everywhere in a bind. They rely on the votes and donations of supporters conditioned to distrust biotechnology and biotech companies. Yet now, due to a global health disaster, they are presented with bioengineered vaccines, created by hated biotech corporations, that can provide for the wellbeing of billions. How can these parties justify the embrace of life-saving vaccines made by the very corporations they have persuaded millions of people to distrust?

Greenpeace’s conversion was slow. Even at the height of the pandemic, the organization was still arguing that GE techniques “could effectively turn both nature and ourselves ... into a gigantic genetic engineering experiment with unknown, potentially irrevocable outcomes.” Other NGOs employed a particularly cynical strategy: they fell silent on the GE nature of the COVID vaccines for fear it would legitimize other uses of biotechnology (such as developing disease-resistant and nutrition-enhanced crops and food) while spin-doctoring support for mass immunization as a social justice cause. And here Green organizations have turned to a familiar anti-capitalist script, dodging the science while raising doubts about the nefarious intentions of profit-making corporations.

Search Green organizations’ websites for information on COVID vaccines and you’ll find nothing about the scientific miracle of bioengineering, which they have spent decades denigrating as unsafe and paternalistic. There is, however, plenty of material that links the COVID crisis to genetically modified crops. Vandana Shiva, an Indian environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate known as the “rock star” of the anti-GMO movement, is one of many anti-crop biotech campaigners who has circulated the conspiracy theory that “We are feeding all our animals GMO soya and it could so easily be that this horizontal gene transfer is happening and the animals are developing super-viruses which are then jumping from animals to humans.”

The example Down Under

New Zealand’s environmentalist lobby offers a revealing case study. It’s small but hugely influential—especially since the election of charismatic progressive Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, in 2017—and provides a microcosm of the attitudes emerging in other Western democracies. The country’s Green Party is an ally and former coalition partner of the current left-leaning government, and it has (like its fellow Greens the world over) consistently opposed genetic biotechnology while steadfastly supporting draconian GMO restrictions first drafted in the 1990s.

This has resulted in a staggering irony: biotech research that could help mitigate the climate impact of New Zealand’s agricultural industry and protect the country’s endangered native fauna from introduced predators is being stymied by the very party that claims to prioritise the natural environment. The NZ Greens’ official policy demands that “Public funding should focus on fundamental and applied scientific research”—so long, of course, as genetic engineering never leaves the lab. As an example of inconsistency and scientific incoherence, this is hard to beat.

This goes beyond mere irony. Given the confusion and fear encouraged by environmental activists, openly backing genetic technology is seen as a vote-loser by New Zealand’s two major political parties. Thus, neither party is willing to officially endorse biotech innovation despite its widely acknowledged sustainability benefits in lowering the use of harmful chemicals, reducing natural inputs such as water, curtailing greenhouse gas emissions, and increasing agricultural yields (which in turn limits the need to clear carbon-sucking, oxygen-generating forests).

The rationale offered by the right-leaning National Party’s “cautious approach” is revealing. “We need to be mindful of market perceptions as well as the science,” it said in 2017, arguing that it has to protect New Zealand’s global reputation as an exporter of non-GMO products. “We will continue to monitor global rules around the regulation of GMOs and adapt our system over time in line with international developments,” it claimed, even as almost every region in the world, outside of precautionary-obsessed Europe, embraced GMOs and in many cases enthusiastically encouraged CRISPR crop innovation. That puts political expediency over science.

New Zealand’s anti-biotechnology views are so entrenched that when COVID struck, vaccine proponents were forced to walk a political tightrope, fearful that bioengineered vaccines might fall foul of the country’s strict GMO legislation. In the end, the sheer magnitude of the crisis overwhelmed political correctness, at least in part, and key influencers downplayed the contradiction for fear of fueling latent anti-vaccination sentiment. Playing the anti-capitalism card, the environmentalist Left ignored the biotechnology angle altogether, and focussed instead on the need for a “People’s Vaccine” that, in the words of the New Zealand Green Party, “put[s] human lives before the interests of multi-billion dollar pharma companies.” This is boilerplate anti-GMO activist rhetoric.

This is a farcical state of affairs, and it highlights the selective absurdity of restrictions targeting crops but not medicine. After all, if the process of bioengineering makes crops dangerous to our health—as Green propaganda claims—it ought to wreak havoc when used to craft treatments in which human life hangs in the balance. Among those who conscientiously refused to make political capital from this tragic irony were members of The Opportunities Party (TOP), the country’s only party with a coherent policy on genetic engineering. Its policy position is that GE is “designed to help New Zealanders lead healthier lives, develop healthier crops, protect our precious environment, and benefit from leading international scientific developments.”

Sowing (GE-free) seeds

Like many high-profile anti-GMO activist organizations, Greenpeace has been adept at muddying the waters over the science of modern biotechnology. This is most obvious in its decades-long opposition to Golden Rice, a strain of rice genetically modified to make beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A approved in the Philippines last summer. According to the World Health Organization, “250,000–500,000 children who are vitamin A-deficient become blind every year, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight.” Golden Rice has the potential to prevent millions of needless deaths and ensure improved health and wellbeing for many millions more. And yet, 20 years after it was developed, this life-saving food is still opposed by Greenpeace and many other left-wing groups even after its approval.

As with Green political parties, Greenpeace’s “especially persistent, vocal, and extreme” opposition to GM crops like Golden Rice (which a former Greenpeace director describes as “morally unacceptable”) has put it in an awkward spot with regard to bioengineered COVID vaccines. Unwilling to concede that its anti-biotechnology stance is ideological and unscientific, the NGO has (in keeping with other Greens) simply repositioned itself as supporting mass immunization for the sake of the world’s poor. This is egregious hypocrisy—where is the concern for the millions of the undernourished poor suffering from Vitamin A deficiency who could be helped by GM Golden Rice? Greenpeace and its allies in the affluent West are preventing the developing world from realizing the huge potential of biotechnology—except when the ideological opposition, as in the case of vaccines, is too obviously absurd.

Fear-mongering about GMOs and its associated technologies is a longstanding tactic of politicians in the wealthy developed world, particularly in Europe. The precautionary principle is routinely invoked to block GE crops and many synthetic chemicals, but then simply ignored in relation to other technologies. The most popular, and dangerous, pesticide in use on the continent, for instance, is organic copper sulfate—a human carcinogen known to smother beneficial insects.

But biomedically derived vaccines are getting a political pass. As COVID raged across Europe, politicians found themselves in the same bind faced by liberal Greens worldwide. If they’d stuck to their principles, they would have openly opposed the new vaccines while applying the same unscientific regulatory approach used to block approval of GE crops. Instead, like the Greens and the environmentalist NGOs, they chose spin and hypocrisy, furiously obfuscating their existing anti-GE stance to fast-track vaccine approvals while reassuring the public that they were safe.

Assigning responsibility

Exaggerated safety concerns, suspicion of new technology, and distrust of profit-making corporations have been features of leftist opposition to modern genetic and genomic technology for decades. Consequently, biotechnophobia has certainly played a part in the public’s sometimes ambivalent attitudes towards the new bioengineered COVID vaccines.

There is deadly precedent here. In the late 1990s, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic raged through sub-Saharan Africa, then-President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, openly rejected the evidence-based battle against the disease. Influenced by “AIDS denialists,” Mbeki believed that the disease “was brought about by the collapse of the immune system … not because of a virus.” So he turned his back on modern pharmaceutical drugs, opting instead for “natural” alternatives. As a result, more than a third-of-a-million people are thought to have died. Those lethal beliefs and motivations match those of today’s anti-vaxxers—different disease, same life-threatening message.

The mass take-up of COVID vaccines in many parts of the world demonstrates ongoing trust in science and public health bodies—after all, vaccines do work and biotechnology is the reason. As a result, opposition to GE techniques will undoubtedly soften, if only incrementally. Nevertheless, the politicization of science has strengthened the core of anti-vax sentiment. The result is untold thousands of unnecessary deaths, and many more to come in what has been described as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

The finger of blame for this is most often pointed at the Right and its crackpot extremes—an accusation for which there is ample justification. But the progressive Left must shoulder its share of responsibility for enabling the anti-scientific hostility to biotechnology that sustains the anti-vaccination movement. The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive backtracking and spin-doctoring among progressive parties over bioengineered vaccines. It remains to be seen whether or not this expediency will produce a rethink about biotechnology and its benefits once the COVID crisis recedes.

In the words of exasperated leftist Alan Sokal, “rational thought and the fearless analysis of objective reality”—the very hallmarks of science—are the best means to achieve the progressive goals of greater social justice and equality. They will also provide us with the tools we need to finally slay the beast of COVID-19.

Jon Entine is the founding executive director of the Genetic Literacy Project, and winner of 19 major journalism awards. He has written extensively in the popular and academic press on agricultural and population genetics. You can follow him on Twitter @JonEntine.

Patrick Whittle has a PhD in philosophy and is a New Zealand-based freelance writer with a particular interest in the social and political implications of biological science. You can find him at his website: patrickmichaelwhittle.com or follow him on Twitter @WhittlePM.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://quillette.com/2021/10/21/vaccine-rejectionism-and-the-left/
5 Likes

“Rejectionism”?? So now scientific scepticism of the new-technology vaccines has its very own “-ism”. Nice!

Meanwhile, the situation is developing rapidly and not for the better. From my comment below Quillette’s previous vaccine article:

More interesting analysis from the bad cat. Take home messages:

  • if you are under 60 and healthy, the risk reward for these vaccines looks extremely poor.
  • if you have had covid and recovered, the risk reward for these vaccines looks extremely poor.
  • if you are both, the risk reward is outright absurd. there is no meaningful risk to mitigate in the first place.

boriquagato.substack.com

properly measuring vaccine efficacy and risk reward

a look at the UK vaccine surveillance data


And it gets even more “interesting” - the new-technology vaccines seem to be operating through a previously unknown mechanism whereby small particles emitted by cells called “exosomes” are found circulating in mRNA-vaccinated people FOUR MONTHS after vaccination. Perplexingly, the anti-spike antibodies appear to fade away at a similar rate to the spike-bearing exosomes - i.e. the antibody response may somehow be dependent on them/restricted by them:

https://www.jimmunol.org/content/early/2021/10/11/jimmunol.2100637

Remember also that the spike protein binds to fibrinogen to act as a pro-coagulation factor

bioRxiv – 13 Oct 21

SARS-CoV-2 spike protein induces abnormal inflammatory blood clots…

Blood clots are a central feature of coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) and can culminate in pulmonary embolism, stroke, and sudden death. However, it is not known how abnormal blood clots form in COVID-19 or why they occur even in asymptomatic and…


so presumably each mRNA vaccination gives you FOUR MONTHS or more of pro-coagulation pressure in your blood circulation.

And now we see that the state of being vaccinated inhibits building of the more complete (and more effective, and more long-lasting) immune response after natural infection:

Don’t take it from me, I don’t even get to tweet anymore. Take it from a little place I call the British government. Which admitted today, in it…


“Clusterf___” seems too kind a word to describe this developing situation.

6 Likes

I can tell you didn’t read the article, because you started typing your comment literally 30 seconds after it was published. It’s a 4000 word article, mostly not about COVID vaccines, just FYI. And no, it’s not possible to read a 4000 word article and write a thoughtful response in 30 seconds.

10 Likes

But reading the title, then copy/paste, one can do in 30sec. He’s pretty quick that way.

4 Likes

Maybe “left” or “right” is simply not the proper prism for viewing the constellation of folks who are anti-vaxxers. Or, as the article even suggests, those who are anti-vax come at it via multiple different axes, and those axes do not map conveniently onto political left or right (however defined).

For instance, it might be suggested that “righties” are generally gung-ho on the Patriot Act, and are all for the curbing of some personal and societal freedoms in the name of safety and the greater good. And yet one can debate whether the Patriot Act has actually delivered on any of those supposed goods. But some righties are not so keen on vaccine because of those same infringements, in the name of the same promoted benefits. Assuming it’s not all due to cognitive dissonance, and a rightie can hold both the aforementioned positions, then it seems “rightie” is not telling the whole story.

4 Likes

I love this article. It’s the first I’ve seen that confirms what I’m seeing at work.

Per our governor’s edict, as of October 18 unvaccinated workers at my hospital were terminated. As best I can tell the terminated can (mainly) be categorized into one of these three groups (I’m repeating what I posted earlier):

  • Granola-eater / yoga types
  • First-generation immigrants
  • Blacks

These groups all lean strongly Left. I assume we also lost some conservatives, but I’ve heard nothing about this, since no one runs around asking people about their politics when they fire them.

12 Likes

But Claire, With your track record in the vaccine debate, the main import of the article is in the “Vaccine Rejectionism” title itself.

Here is text from private correspondence with someone actually centrally involved in vaccine development. I have anonymised it for privacy reasons of course, but it is a fairly good, and very insightful, overview of the current situation:

".…close to a trillion dollars dollars have changed hands or been created in just the last 18 months, all into the control of just a few individuals, namely the CEO’s of the key mRNA vaccine companies, Pfizer and Moderna together to a lesser extent with the adenovirus vector companies J&J, and AZ - CSL - Serum Institute of India.

This has made the recipients immensely rich and powerful (Pfizer for example have made 35 billion extra cash flow out of this already plus their market cap has increased by 100 B from its low point last year ). Similarly Moderna has increased their share market capitalisation by 130 billion dollars in 12 months making those who control Moderna 130 billion richer and they have made tens of billions in sales.

Clearly a decent amount of these massive profits are now being fed by these companies and their investors and advisers etc into buying lobbyists and indeed governments globally, and into controlling conventional and social media via massive advertising through Facebook, LinkedIn etc. all to drive a single narrative, mRNA is good and you can’t get enough of it.

At the same time the national regulators have been neutralised by govt pressure and alongside this ex-heads of FDA have been appointed to Pfizer and Moderna boards to give them major indirect influence over regulatory decisions.

The singular message is govts must buy more and more vaccine and create more and more demand, by imposing mandates, forcing every one including those who have been previously infected to be unnecessarily vaccinated, forcing vaccination of pregnant women and young children so no-one escapes and then on top of this progressively mandating 3rd doses (as Israel has done) and then 4th boosters doses etc so that this revenue generation never ends.

As a vaccine developer even I can see this is insanity, and this avalanche of money to a few mRNA vaccine companies can now effectively buy anything including the media and governments, and this has become close to unstoppable. Normally, a few sane and insightful people would start to rally together and share information to try and make others see what is happening, either through the formal media or the social media, but both these outlets have been censoring any commentary that goes against this central narrative.

Believe it or not I have now had it confirmed by reporters from two of Australia’s TV networks that their channels have received threats from the Federal govt that if they run an adverse stories to the vaccine narrative then all govt advertising with them will be immediately terminated - conversely, in return for running positive stories they have been promised multimillion dollar new advertising contracts. Networks ultimately are driven by advertising revenue, so not surprisingly they are all toeing the line and in return are all getting to run no doubt lucrative govt vaccine advertising campaigns.

The same is clearly happening at the level of social media, with LinkedIn etc instantly censoring any posts raising vaccine issues and suspending accounts of people like Rob Malone who have spoken out.

The question now is how we get out of this rabbit hole…."

14 Likes

The essay was great, but this comment is even better. :rofl:

7 Likes

You’re still not replying to the article.

4 Likes

Really good article - hadn’t considered the hypocrisy of the anti-GE crowd with regard to the vaccines, but it fits their MO. Similar to fight climate change, but we can’t use nuclear etc……

7 Likes

From the article:

right-wing vaccine rejectionism has its roots in mainstream left-wing doctrines.
and
anti-scientific nonsense from the Left continues to inspire and inform anti-vaxxers’ absurd abuse of science.
That's a pretty serious indictment of The Left.

I’m no social scientist, but it seems to me that people’s political attitudes generally get “set” at a certain age. Just as a person’s musical tastes get set, typically in their early teen years, more or less for life.

The article touches on, how The Left once was anti-vax; now The Right is. True enough, I guess. But this could be because of factors other than, The Left being a bunch of loonies.

I don’t know the ages of the people opposing vaccination, but I do recall a time when skepticism of and toward vaccination, was not completely unwarranted. And was not simply explained by being stupidly anti-science.

I would like it if we could try to get away from accusations of being “pro-science” and “anti-science”. These terms seem to be thrown around, and feel more like insults, than considered conclusions. On the other hand, the author seems clearly to feel that it’s OK to go on the attack with all guns blazing, freely using terms such as “rejectionists”, “demonizers”, “granola-munchers”; and “a left-naturalist cultural movement … sympathetic to a wide range of anti-science nostrums.” Ouch. That’s painting with a pretty broad brush. Not to mention pugnacious and mean.

The author dates the modern anti-vax movement to the Lancet article of the late 1990s. Perhaps this is a good assignment or definition of a starting point. But it makes sense also to look at the reasons for (“pre-modern”?) vaccine skepticism, say, from the 1970s and 1980s.

In those days, there really was a dominant medical establishment, with strong patriarchal elements, and with doctors who really did behave like gods. To a great extent, when confronted with concerns, they simply dismissed both the concerns and the persons, of anyone outside their club. In this particular matter of vaccination, public health officials and departments also played a part.

These folks, generally for reasons well-meant, would fairly often lay down protocols, regimes, vaccination schedules, that might not be advantageous for individuals. But were considered to be “good for people as a whole.”

Now, to some extent, this is inherent in all vaccination. It’s axiomatic, that any medical intervention, carries with it side effects. (Even a “non-invasive” procedure like a mammogram, can and from time to time does carry with it the side-effect of further medical intervention, which harms the woman; not to mention fear, anxiety. But I digress.) If you skip the vaccination, you avoid incurring the side effects; if nearly all others do vaccinate, you get the benefits without the side effects, making you a free rider. Obviously this is a case where the health department is instructing every individual to do something, for the good of the public, and, the health department is right.

However sometimes there were gray areas. For example the “establishment” for a time, put out the line that straight males were liable to get AIDS from unprotected penile-vaginal sex with straight females. Knowing, meanwhile, that this was either untrue at the time, or at least, that there was insufficient evidence to make this claim, again, at the time. The rationale for the deception was, that men would continue to have unprotected sex with women, if all you told them was, “Don’t have unprotected sex with women 'cause if you’re HIV-positive, you might give it to your (female) partner”. It was thought that this recommendation, statement, or prescript would not be effective, since many men would deny that they were HIV-positive, or simply, not know it. So, basically, the establishment lied and/or deceived, in order to protect women from getting AIDS.

I’m glad I wasn’t “in the room” when that decision got made, because the idea of scaring men from having unprotected sex, even with a “little white lie”, actually has some merit to it. The problem of course is that once such deceptions come to light, a certain percentage of people come to distrust those who deceived. It’s kind of natural.

In those days, conservatives tended to accede to authority anyway, frequently denying that any deception had occurred, and/or considering it OK to do what one is told, since “one should obey authority.”

Those on the left, the “granola munchers” as the author says, had a different point of view.

Let’s digress a bit and take a look at that very phrase, “granola munchers”. Back in that day there was a nutritional establishment, with a lot in common with the public health establishment. For example the USDA. These folks pushed the line that processed foods, including highly sugared breakfast cereals, were every bit as nutritious as granola, whole grains, unsweetened or naturally sweet foods. I heard it many times back then. Now of course that’s known to be false. Some of those breakfast cereals back in the 1970s consisted of more than 50% added sucrose (measured by weight or calories - I don’t recall). The epidemic of obesity makes it clear that those old statements, largely motivated by the U.S. agribusiness lobby, were, if not outright lies, then egregiously and harmfully inaccurate. The fact is, that the granola-munchers’ granola, being higher in fiber and lower in sucrose, was actually better food. And still is.

Back to vaccines. The medical establishment, being conservative, just seemed to constitutionally resist sensible suggestions or solutions, or even the idea of compromise, or taking a different tack or path. Responding instead authoritatively. For example, some folks back then objected to the mercury-containing preservative in certain vaccines. This was added only to multi-dose vials; single-dose vials did not need to contain this particular preservative. So why not just discontinue use of the multi-dose vials and distribute single-dose vials nationwide? And eliminate the disagreement completely? Because “shut up and do what we say”, was the apparent answer. Or perhaps there were funding and/or logistical issues, or for all I know, maybe a behind-the-scenes competition between rival manufacturers? I have no idea. What I do know is, that a simple way of ameliorating a contentious situation, that could have worked, was rejected.

When a certain kind of person learns of this, and that the establishment is basically saying “shut up and behave like we tell you”, their natural reaction is to reject both the message and the establishment. I don’t need to quote here, the language that typically gets used in such situations - we all know the swear words.

The author derides those who maintain that amalgam fillings are toxic. Well, they contain mercury, which is toxic. One can make the case (as the dental establishment did, for a long time) that the amount of mercury you would get from your fillings, was too small to matter. Finally they stopped trying to make that case and now, it’s rather unusual to see shiny “mercury shine” in a person’s mouth when they open it wide.

And, what is one to make of the following story? I knew a woman who emigrated from Eastern Europe and had a “head full of” mercury amalgam fillings. She also ate a lot of processed foods, and lived a fairly “unnatural” lifestyle. She got a lot of bad headaches, and had been prescribe barbiturates for same. Once arriving in the United States, she, advised by her granola-munching new friends, had all her amalgam fillings drilled out and replaced by composites, started eating health foods, and lived a healthier lifestyle. She never had a headache again, nor ever ingested another barbiturate. What cured her? Getting rid of all that mercury? It’s impossible to say, of course. What’s not impossible to say is that she turned her whole life around and increased her well-being tremendously, by adopting the “natural” lifestyle the author derides. (By the way she got all recommended vaccinations.)

There are many more examples of vaccinations recommended, or even required in certain contexts, on grounds which make sense from a public health perspective, but in a particular case, don’t. I’ll skip the details but general HBV vaccination of children, is one example. It is possible to look at the risk groups/factors for that disease and conclude, it doesn’t make sense for my child to get that particular vaccine.

I mentioned age, and having one’s attitudes set more or less firmly. Folks who came to be skeptical of, and/or actually rebellious against, vaccination protocols handed down from on high, may well tend to continue to be skeptical, rebellious, defiant. Chickens come home to roost and that may be happening now.

Back in the day, The Left was skeptical of Big Government, and also Big Business. Nowadays The Right seems to be more skeptical of Big Government. This could be a much simpler explanation for the current and prior distributions of anti-vax feelings, the article’s.

Quillette specializes in puncturing orthodoxies held and promulgated by The Left, and good for Quillette. But we all need to be wary of just being anti-Left, reflexively and in general. If we do that we just turn into fighty Rightists. That’s been done, it’s old hat, a waste of time and energy, an impediment to both understanding and progress.

9 Likes

….and there’s obviously been pushback from the left calling mandates racist?

2 Likes

So the underlying assumption of the article seems to be that the current scepticism over the genetic technology vaccines is really just an extension of the decades-long irrational anti-vax and anti-GMO sentiment promoted by the left, but now that so many on the left have become COVID-19 vaccine fundamentalists they need to abandon their hypocrisy and learn to love biotech?

What a shame the author’s made this assertion,

"The mass take-up of COVID vaccines in many parts of the world demonstrates ongoing trust in science and public health bodies—after all, vaccines do work and biotechnology is the reason. As a result, opposition to GE techniques will undoubtedly soften, if only incrementally. Nevertheless, the politicization of science has strengthened the core of anti-vax sentiment. The result is untold thousands of unnecessary deaths, and many more to come in what has been described as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

It is now obvious from the UK data that it is the vaccinated who are showing greater rates of infection (so “pandemic of the vaccinated” would be more accurate) and that “ongoing trust in science and public health bodies” is rapidly being eroded by the illogical/unscientific imposition of vaccine mandates and the failure to recognise natural immunity as equivalent (actually far superior) to that from vaccination. When the current crisis has played out, and the reality and longer term consequences of the genetic technology vaccines have become completely apparent, I fear that attitudes to GE techniques will be far more negative than these authors assume.

11 Likes

It’s about a month since I wrote on Nazi Carl Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political.

The political, he writes, comes down to friend vs. enemy. Thus it is not surprising that with any issue that has been taken up by politics – including by our friends the “activists” – it becomes a fight between Us and Them.

So it makes complete sense that liberals would distrust the mRNA vaccines when Trump was pushing them and that Trump Car Parade veterans would distrust the vaccine mandates of the Biden administration. Don’t trust the “enemy” dontcha know.

Then there is the little maxim that when you mix honey and ordure the result is ordure. Applying this to politics we could say that if you mix science and politics the result is politics. Imagine!

So, if we take the notion of the Nazi Carl Schmitt we could say that it is a bad idea to do anything with politics unless there is a real enemy in there somewheres.

But what did Carl Schmitt know? He was a Nazi.

3 Likes

The reality is that the best predictor of vaccine uptake is education and income. (Notwithstanding that study that collected its sample on Facebook, and got trolled by “”PhDs””who were also Hispanic attack helicopters).

In Australia, our capital city, Canberra, has an uptake rate of 99%. Where I live on the North Shore in Sydney has a similar uptake rate. So all the government workers and rich people are getting vaxxed, but it’s meant to be a conspiracy by the government/ Big Pharma to enslave “the people”. Or something.

The people in Australia most susceptible to the anti-vax conspiracy theories have been Aboriginal communities and new migrants. Which is really sad, because these communities are the most vulnerable to begin with.

11 Likes

The article’s basic point is well taken. However, there are a number of false or misleading statements. The Sokal hoax and subsequent article were published in, I believe, 1997, not 1987. In 1987, no one was worried about global warming, but about nuclear war.

Trump has never been an anti-vaxxer and is hardly a vaccine hypocrite. He signed the legislation and executive orders to speed both vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 and to pay for a gigantic order of hundreds of millions of doses. He has also more recently said publicly, on record for the camera, that people should get vaccinated if there’s no medical reason for them not to. After all, they’re Trump Vaccines (R).

The advice on:

how the best defense against “the flu, cancer, heart disease, and even engineered viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, is to cultivate a strong immune system, optimum Vitamin D levels, adequate Omega 6 intake, and a healthy microbiome.”

is not in any way bad advice and the sort of thing more and more doctors agree with. It’s just no substitute for getting vaccinated.

The business about it’s more middle- and upper-class people, more white than black, more middle-aged and older than younger, etc., getting vaccinated is all true. How is it then a conspiracy to enslave ordinary people? Like elements of conspiracy theories generally, this makes no sense. But conspiracism never makes sense. It uses emotionalistic stringing-together of vaguely similar concepts and words to express, stimulate, and spread fear, which fear is fundamentally coming from somewhere else. The vaccines are merely the talisman. Follow that talisman to find out what’s really going on peoples’ heads.

6 Likes

Similar here in the US. Rural communities where the pandemic arrived later grew complacent in 2020 and delayed getting vaccinated when vaccines become available. That’s one place limited medical facilities are being overloaded by a surge of cases this year.

Obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and asthma – all excellent predictors of more severe cases of COVID – are higher among urban black and Hispanic populations. (But not smaller cities or towns – it’s really not about race, but about where you live and what sort of food you can find, see?) The vaccination rates there are lower, sadly. The granola crunchers have a point: all of these populations need, at a deeper level, better overall living and eating, no doubt.

But it’s still not an excuse to not get vaccinated.

6 Likes

Re: the 99% uptake stat: Commonwealth says over 100 per cent vaccination possible due to anomalies, as ACT stops at 99 per cent | The Canberra Times | Canberra, ACT

Will fix that typo re: the Sokal Hoax date. Thanks for pointing it out!!

1 Like