Anti-vaxxers were a source of misinformation long before the coronavirus pandemic, but the medical emergency appears to be bringing more of them out of the woodwork. And Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler discusses some of the misinformation that anti-vaccination groups have been posting on social media in an article published on March 24.
“In recent weeks,” Butler explains, “Facebook groups that oppose mandatory vaccination have turned their attention to the coronavirus. Their feeds are full of posts that downplay the risks of the COVID-19, promote discredited conspiracy theories and criticize efforts to control the spread of the virus.”
Butler breaks the misinformation down into several different categories, one of which is “criticizing social-distancing campaigns and warning of ‘police state’ tactics.” Groups that have been critical of social distancing, she notes, include Michigan for Vaccine Choice and Californians for Vaccine Choice (which views social distancing as one of “the government’s power grabs”).
Another category that Butler cites is “claiming the virus might not exist at all.” On March 19, Butler observes, the anti-vaxxer group Oregonians for Healthcare Choice posted, “If you’re still thinking it’s coincidental that a pandemic erupted in the midst of a state by state sweep to REMOVE your right to refuse vaccination, it’s time to get your head out of the sand” — and that same day, the group linked to an article that had been written by Marco Cáceres and published on the Green Med Info site with the headline, “Does the 2019 Coronavirus Exist?”
A third category that Butler points to is “arguing the coronavirus isn’t as bad as the media claims.” Several anti-vaxxer groups, according to Butler, have linked to an article from the website The Vaccine Reaction that was headlined “Mortality Rate for Covid-19 May Be Closer to Influenza.” And some anti-vaxxers, Butler explains, have linked to articles “that argue that Italy’s outbreak would be considered mild were it not for the vulnerability of the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions.”
As of Wednesday morning, March 25, the death toll from coronavirus in Italy had — according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore — passed 6800, which hardly qualifies as a “mild” outbreak. Worldwide, the CSSE was reporting a death toll of 19,784.
Other categories of misinformation cited by Butler include “telling readers to stop washing their hands so much” and “slamming Anthony Fauci and the CDC.” Butler notes that an article published on the website Nourishing Traditions and headlined “How to Protect Yourself from Coronavirus” argues that too much hand washing is going on; real medical experts, however, have been stressing that the more people wash their hands during the pandemic, the better.
The anti-vaxxers who are attacking Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading virologist and part of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, view him as a “fear monger,” Butler observes. On March 16, the Indiana Coalition for Vaccination Choice (another anti-vaxxer group) posted an anti-Fauci rant that claimed his goal was to “stir up even more panic.”
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