While most of the world hungers for a vaccine to put an end to the death and economic destruction wrought by COVID-19, some anti-vaccine groups are joining with anti-lockdown demonstrators to challenge restrictions aimed at protecting public health.
Vaccine critics suffered serious setbacks in the last year, as states strengthened immunization laws in response to measles outbreaks sparked by vaccine refusers. California tightened its vaccine requirements last fall despite protests during which anti-vaccine activists threw blood on state senators, assaulted the vaccine bill’s sponsor and shut down the Legislature.
Now, many of these same vaccine critics are joining a fight against stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns intended to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which had killed more than 48,800 Americans as of Thursday afternoon.
“This is just a fresh coat of paint for the anti-vaccine movement in America, and an exploitative means for them to try to remain relevant,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Hotez said anti-vaccine groups are seizing on the anti-government sentiment stoked by conservative-leaning protesters to advance their cause.
“Unfortunately, their strategy may work.”
A group calling itself the Freedom Angels, whose members last year stood on chairs and chanted at public hearings on the California vaccine bill, say governors are abusing their power by shutting down gun shops and other businesses.
Many anti-vaccine activists — who have claimed that diseases such as measles aren’t that serious — now contend the coronavirus isn’t dangerous enough to justify staying home. They agree with President Trump that the “cure” for the pandemic could be worse than the disease itself.
That’s led some vaccine foes to join the protesters — whom Trump has encouraged on Twitter — in staging demonstrations in state capitals to “reopen America.”
“This is the time for people to take notice and really evaluate the freedoms they’re giving up, all in the name of perceived safety,” said Freedom Angels co-founder Heidi Munoz Gleisner in a Facebook video