The No-Vax Movement: A Complex Global Phenomenon

The seventh wave of COVID-19[feminine] leaves Europe and the United States with a very high death toll in terms of illness and death. Currently in the northern country, despite sufficient vaccines, only 67% of the population have received a full regimen and less than half have had access to booster doses. Thus, more than four hundred deaths are recorded every day. How was this possible? The answer is complex, but undoubtedly one of the causes is the existence of a vigorous anti-vaccine movement that opposes the use of this effective health tool.

Although the invention of vaccines is credited to Dr. Edward Jenner, Asians had developed “variolation” centuries earlier. This technique involved inoculating healthy individuals with fresh material obtained from the lesions of a person with smallpox. Jenner himself was reportedly favored by her. It is important to remember that at the end of the 18th century, approximately 400,000 people died of this cause in Europe alone, and almost a third of the survivors were left blind and with horrible scars. Using the experience gained from vaccinating the son of one of his employees, Jenner in 1797 sent a report to the Royal Society of Sciences in England, which was rejected, then published and circulated another report at his expense. This time the result is different and a few years later, at the beginning of the 19th century, vaccination spread throughout Europe, to become global a decade later, giving its creator universal fame.

However, opposition to the new discovery was also strong. For some people, the method was “unhealthy” and “unChristian” because it used material from “lower creatures”. Others opposed it, not just being told “what was best for them”. Throughout the 20th century, vaccines had to come under attack from those who opposed their use. These received a strong impetus in 1998, with the publication of a controversial article in The Lancet journal, in which a causal relationship was established between the triple viral vaccine — in Cuba it was known as PRS — and certain autistic behaviors and severe intestinal inflammation in children. It was later learned that the conclusions were false and concealed conflicts of interest, since the author intended to promote his own vaccines. However, part of society received these assumptions as absolute truths, triggering a drop in vaccination rates around the world and the reappearance of measles outbreaks in England, where it had been eradicated for years.

The arrival of COVID-19 has reignited the debate and boosted the No Vax movement around the world. However, the virus is indifferent to the opinions of its victims and several prominent spokespersons who have suffered the consequences of their own ideas. Such is the case of Johann Biasiscs, the leader of this movement in Austria, or that of the evangelical preacher Marcus Lamb, a well-known televangelist, owner of more than seventy television channels, who claimed that the coronavirus vaccine “n ‘wasn’t really a vaccine’ and that people have died or had neurological damage because of it, in addition to calling the mandatory vaccination mandate a ‘sin against the Holy Word of God’. to claim that his father’s COVID-19 diagnosis had been a “spiritual attack from the enemy”.

As contradictory as it may seem, the success of these people against vaccines is also the result of the tremendous effectiveness of these, which save up to three million children each year. The eradication of smallpox, for example, avoided 350 million people infected and 40 million deaths in forty years, nearly four times the population of Cuba. It also meant significant economic savings estimated at billions of dollars. However, the perception of risk fell to zero, which made many people fear the disease less than the vaccination itself.

The adverse effects argument is another argument used by individuals such as Dick Farrell, a radio host who suffered from COVID-19, who used to say that vaccines were “poison”, referring to their adverse effects. It is scientifically unfounded. If we take the example of measles, for every million unvaccinated and infected children, we would have 300,000 cases of complications, including 2,000 deaths. While for every million children vaccinated, 34 major adverse effects would be expected, the majority of which would be the occurrence of thrombocytopenia, which is the transient decrease in the number of platelets with only one case of significant allergic reaction and less than one cases of encephalitis or inflammation of the brain.

Another “argument” of the No Vax movement is one that argues that pharmaceutical companies and governments put economic and political interests ahead of human safety. Although all is not rosy, the production of vaccines requires investments of several million dollars and they are administered to healthy people. Therefore, the benefit must outweigh the risk of producing adverse reactions, otherwise the economic and political damage could be irreparable.

Now, why are individuals like Biasiscs, Land or Farrer able to sway public opinion over far more qualified voices? This is due to “scientific discredit”, which is reinforced by two interesting social phenomena: “motivated reasoning” and the “Dunning-Kruger effect”. Reasoned reasoning is that a group of people with a mistaken belief — say, that vaccines cause more harm than good — tend to view the facts — and the voices — that support their ideas as more reliable. On the other hand, the Dunning-Kruger effect describes how people with less knowledge believe that they are better able to evaluate scientific information than the experts themselves. To give an idea of ​​the scale of the problem, in some studies they reach 30% of the respondents.

Finally, new communication technologies have been an important ally of the No-Vax movement, serving as platforms for the amplification of these ideas. A close example was that of Cuban vaccines against COVID-19, which suffered all kinds of questions on internet social networks. The above leads me to believe that although vaccine refusal is not yet a problem in our environment, the continued increase in access to new communication technologies and the changes taking place in society Cuban, in the future, this phenomenon could become a problem, as in Ukraine, where the arrest of one of the movement’s leaders provoked massive protests, or in peaceful Costa Rica, where an individual named Marcos Morales Albertazzi burst into a vaccination center in January this year accompanied by several people.

But it’s not all unreason and fanaticism, the leader of the No Vax movement in Italy, Lorenzo Damiano, after being saved from the disease last December, said he regretted not having been vaccinated and asked people to “follow the science”, and a friend of Dick Farrell, who confirmed his death, said he had changed his mind. Examples like these are valuable in combating this movement. Moreover, the dissemination of quality scientific information is vital, in accessible language, with full transparency by politicians, pharmaceutical companies and healthcare personnel, which includes reliable and auditable databases by third parties. Anything created by human beings, even something that brings such wonderful benefits as vaccines, will always generate opposition, but reason must prevail.

Carlos Alberto Gonzalez

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