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The COVID-19 Vaccine and the “Anti-Vaxx" Movement

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

By Isabel Pulgarin

The anti-vaccine movement has been a worldwide controversy for over two centuries but now that a modern global pandemic has hit Americans where it hurts, there are polarized views about the new COVID-19 vaccine, including from students in our own Barry University community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are currently battling both misinformation and conspiracy theories spread by radical anti-vaxxers. Conspiracies range from a vaccine laced with a microchip for tracking to a side effect of paralysis.

As for the four patients who developed Bell’s Palsy from the trial of the Pfizer vaccine, it was found to be a coincidence that the patients developed the rare disease which couldn’t have been foreseen, according to PolitiFact, a fact-checking group.

Similarly, Thomas Hope, professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Chicago Tribune that there is no technology in existence that could create microchips small enough to be inserted through the needles used for the vaccine. Even if the technology did exist, said Hope, they would have to somehow be universal to work for the multiple vaccines created by separate companies.

Photo Credit to Pexels

Most recently, the National Vaccine Information Center found that a handful of deaths in Europe were directly caused by COVID-19 vaccinations, despite evidence resulting the cause of death due to pre-existing conditions.

Willima Nguyen, a freshman studying adverting and public relations, is wary about it.

“When [the vaccine] becomes available, I’m not going to get it right away. Probably a couple of months later because I’m skeptical. I want to see how things play out,” said Nguyen. “It’s new. Of course, we all have questions about it, but it is mostly about the symptoms.”

On the other side of the spectrum is Andrew Martinez, a junior transfer Photography student who is one of 30,000 participants in the Novavax Phase 3 Trial.

Martinez has gotten three out of the 12 shots for the trial, having started in late December at the Veterans Affairs in Miami.

“I feel good,” he said.

He is going to get his fourth shot sometime in late March but he is not wary of any side effects due to his military background which he believes prepared him for his decision.

Photo Credit to Pexels

“I did 20 years in the Navy and I deployed six times, so I gave my life to the government since the age of 25 to 44,” he said.

Now, at the age of 49, Martinez has pre-existing conditions and grandchildren to think about along with the rest of the world. Thirteen members of his family have gotten COVID-19 at least once, he said.

“I wasn’t raised to be selfish,” he said. “Being fearful wasn’t a part of my decision...being in the military I took a lot of chances and this was an easier choice to make to help the world instead of thinking of myself.”

Many Barry students view the COVID vaccine as a step forward to herd immunity and prevent others from getting infected but some are still skeptical.

In a Buccaneer poll of 45 Barry University students, 22 say they will get the vaccine, while 23 say they will not. When asked about their concerns, the two that were rated the highest were that the vaccine was created “too quickly” and the side effects are “too worrisome.”

It turns out that these worries stem from historical evidence.

Since the 1700s, many physicians have accredited negative neurological and fatal consequences due to malpractice or “the lack of sterile cleaning” in vaccine distribution, according to The Conversation.

As a result, in the 1790s, the anti-vaccine movement started even before the first smallpox vaccine was created, according to Verywell Health.

The smallpox plagued Europe for centuries and it wasn’t until Edward Jenner began his efforts into a vaccine that the movement gained some ground. Then, in the 1850s, the British government made vaccination mandatory for children which resulted in the creation of the Anti-Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League. Today in the U.K., most common vaccines are only recommended and not required by law.

By 1885, Dr. Alexander M. Ross had widely circulated his anti-“Russian Tyranny” pamphlet around Montreal while mortality rates from smallpox were between 30 and 40 percent according to The Conversation. It was later revealed that he was vaccinated during the epidemic and only wanted to gain authority.

The movement was in full effect as more vaccines were created right before the 21st century. Then, the movement started to go mainstream with the support of popular culture figures like Lea Thompson. She created the documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette in 1982 which linked the DTaP vaccine – that prevents against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus that is required of all Barry students – to childhood disabilities.

Photo Credit to Wikimedia Commons

The “anti-vaxx” group Distraught Parents Together (DPT) was then created which evolved into the National Vaccine Information Center. Then, in 1998, British physician Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed in a journal called The Lancet that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine – another required immunization at Barry – “predisposed children to neurological conditions, including autism,” according to Verywell Health. It was found about 12 years later that his study was fraudulent, leading to the suspension of his license.

One recent work from 2007 is the most influential of the anti-vaccine movement — Bob Sears’ The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for your Child. It states that vaccines work, but that there needs to be a cautious approach to them by delaying or avoiding certain vaccines.

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