Is anti-vaxxer demonic or knucklehead foolhardy?
We live in a bipolar world – pro and anti-vaxxers. Then there are fifty shades of grey. Each individual has a psychological make-up and orientation. Some of these are susceptible to vaccine hesitancy, but not all of them can be bedevilled as anti-vaxxers”. An emerging category of vaccine sceptics who acquiesced in vaccination campaign, now scramble to ‘de-vaccinate’ or ‘undo’ their shots with alternative remedies that they contend would “cleanse” their body of the alleged “metals and toxins”.
Vaccine hesitancy may result in outright refusals to vaccinate, procrastinating scheduled jabs, reluctantly accepting vaccines but remaining uncertain about their use, or preferring certain vaccines over others. The vaccine-hesitant communities rarely interact with pro-vaccine content and simultaneously use primary pro-vaccine content within vaccine-hesitant narratives.
‘Grease’ actor Olivia Newton-John disclosed she would not be receiving the coronavirus vaccine and her daughter labelled them ”unsafe”.
”Not at this point, no.” the star, who is battling stage four cancer, told The Herald Sun. ”I am not an anti-vaxxer, I am anti putting mercury and pesticides in my body, which are in a lot of vaccines.” The four-time Grammy Award winner added, ”To me, real medicine is what comes from the earth”.
Anti-vaxxer is a more diabolic position, which may be prone to conspiracy theories, crossing swords with public authorities, or calling themselves heretics and outliers, and the extreme groups resorting to violence.
The thriving anti-vaxxers spread across social platforms from Facebook to Telegram. They conducted jaw-dropping videos and posts, and even conducted seminars titled ”saazish” (conspiracy) for Indian audiences. One particular Instagram page, ‘Anarchy for freedom’, which has more than 4,000 followers, is a case in point. Tengra’s argument against masks was that their masks had not been established through clinical trials and that they had long-term ‘health detriments’. “Make a video of yourself burning your mask, & nominate others to do the same,” he exhorts.
The Times of India profiled an anti-vaxxer, Sudhir Madan, who spouted his anti-vaccine sentiments ranging from “mRNA vaccines contain aborted babies” to “Covid is a way to profit pharmaceuticals”. Another anti-vaxxer is Rebel ShradhaNandPati with a series of deafeningly yelling videos, which have gone viral under the title “kahaanhai corona?” (Where is Corona?)
Today, what is burning Instagram is many anti-vaxxers screaming postings than the celebrities in swimsuits in Maldives’ blue lagoon. One such is the ”TruthTV”, with over 15000 followers, that snipes at the government for alleged fear-mongering with an embolden message, ”Truth that they don’t want you to know”.
Among the most vociferous rabble-rousing anti-vaxxers in the US is Robert Francis Kennedy Jr., the son of United States former attorney general and senator Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of the former US President John F. Kennedy. Undeniably one would appreciate his planet-saving work as an environmental lawyer and co-hosting Ring of Fire, a nationally syndicated radio program focused on “exposing Wall Street thugs, environmental criminality, corporate media failure, and political back stories that you will rarely find from any other source”. But certainly not his position on vaccines.
In a recent public event he excoriated the US infectious disease doctor, Anthony Fauci, for orchestrating the so-called “fascism” through vaccine mandate. Kennedy has previously invoked the Nazis and the Holocaust when talking about public health measures during the pandemic, such as mask or vaccine mandates.
Kennedy had referenced Anne Frank, a child who died in a Nazi concentration camp, while speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday at an anti-vaccine rally. At this “Defeat the Mandates” march, which was staged by his organization, Children’s Health Defense Fund, he likened government efforts to contain Covid-19 to the Holocaust. “Even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps to Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did,” Kennedy harangued a maskless public on their ignorance, a longtime staunch critic of vaccines who has spread unsupported claims about shots shown to protect against covid-19.
In December 2020, he put out a video that showed Fauci in a Hitler moustache. In an October speech to the Ron Paul Institute, he obliquely compared public health measures to Nazi propaganda meant to scare people into abandoning critical thinking.
Some Indian anti-vaxxers recount Gandhi’s published article in the Indian Opinion: “Vaccination seems to be a savage custom. It is one of the poisonous superstitions of our times the equal of which is not to be found even among so called primitive societies…. is a filthy remedy. Vaccine from an infected cow is introduced into our bodies; more, even vaccines from an infected human being is used…. I personally feel that in taking this vaccine we are guilty of sacrilege.” But it was scripted in a different era, a political message to counter the British, espousing the cause of Indian nationalism.
The anti-vaxxers claim, ‘’Big Pharma’s big profits from the science that has demonstrated that vaccines are necessary and productive,’’ adding ‘’It is more an engagement with commerce than life-saving efforts’’. Their counter positions to vaccines have become more insidious and persuasive, so much so that many erudites cannot differentiate fact from fiction. Sensational and dangerous news travels fast, far and wide.
Anti vaxxer stories breed where there is trust deficit. Perhaps the Indian government did not do enough to build the trust. In the second wave people were dying in parking lots; crematoria ran out of space; corpses were floating on Ganges – all were too apparent to be denied. But the official stance was to squabble, deny and intimidate. This baffled many, thus, misgivings over vaccine safety and efficacy became more deep-rooted.
Then there was massive underreporting of India’s caseload, case positivity, and death. ”If any of this estimate is so small than what is needed for vaccination,” anti-vaxxers cogently reasoned.
A comparative analysis of eight regions around the world published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that conspiracy theories and misinformation might be a result of the increasing occurrence of mis- and disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic on digital media and the conflicting information that originates from politicians, while mainstream news media commonly attempt to “debunk” misinformation and conspiracy theories. Additionally, schemata and other cognitive processes that are associated with a sense of uncertainty and stress might set in motion a never-ending chain reaction in which people seek for more information to reduce uncertainty and stress, but in contrast stumble upon stress-evoking discourses.
At the top of the social pyramid there are celebrity anti-vaxxers. Their reason can be ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’’, as aptly spake the American showman and circus owner Phineas T.Barnum. Indian actress Pooja Bedi shunned vaccines saying ”she prefers attaining immunity through natural infection”.
Wendy Williams did not trust vaccination. ”I have never gotten a flu shot either, though”. Anwar Hadid refused to get a jab, despite being at high risk due to his autoimmune disorder.
The Migos star Cardi B said, “I just don’t wanna be the test dummy.”
Trinidad-born Nicki Minaj denounced vaccine credibility alleging his friend turned impotent after being vaccinated. ”His testicles became swollen…weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding”.
The supermodel DoutzenKroes posted a photo of herself in sepia with a lengthy caption defending her right to forgo the shot. “I will not be forced to take the shot. I will not be forced to prove my health to participate in society. I will not accept the exclusion of people based on their medical status.”
Then there are celebrity athletes such as Novak Djokovic. He brazenly refused vaccine, while infected with Covid 19 went for a photoshoot and mingled with the public. His position did not change even after being snubbed by Australia, and his hopes of retaining the Australia Open awfully dashed.
There are varied narratives about determinants of vaccination acceptance or refusal including: contextual determinants (broad influences such as communication and media, religious values, social norms, health policies, etc.); organisational determinants (factors related to the accessibility and quality of vaccination services) and individual determinants (such as recipients’ or their influencers’ knowledge, attitudes and beliefs or sociodemographic characteristics). Hence, the vaccine promoters need to deliberate how the interrelation between context, politics, science, public health and the media have played a role in fuelling anti-vaccination sentiments. This can be considered the ‘’ground zero’’ position to persuade the anti-vaxxers to join the campaign of mass immunization.
By Sarat C. Das