‘Anti-Vaxx’ Movement Shifts Focus to Civil Liberties

WEDNESDAY, October 7, 2020 (HealthDay News) – The anti-vaccination movement’s Facebook discussions now frame the issue as one of civil liberties, according to a new study.

As a COVID-19 vaccine draws closer to becoming a reality, opposition from so-called anti-vaxxer groups could turn into a political movement, researchers warn.

For the study, investigators consulted more than 250,000 posts on 204 Facebook pages opposed to vaccines between October 2009 and October 2019.

The opposition has traditionally focused on medical security and government conspiracy theories. But opponents of the vaccine have revised their objections, saying that refusing vaccination is a civil right.

The latest recent spike in the anti-vaxxer movement was a 2019 Facebook campaign with posts that included a US state in their headline, such as “Michigan for Vaccine Choice.” The articles cited vaccine and alternative medicine safety concerns, and encouraged opposition to vaccination mandates.

“Starting in 2019, we’ve seen a sharp increase in these pages at the state level, especially in places where vaccine legislation is being considered,” said study co-author Mark Dredze, associate professor of computer science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

“These pages allow vaccine opponents to know how to vote in their local elections in order to facilitate the vaccination withdrawal,” Dredze added in a press release from Hopkins.

Two previous events have also changed the discourse online, the study authors reported.

The first event was a measles outbreak at Disneyland in 2015. This event led to Facebook pages that presented the denial of vaccination as a civil right and spoke of political mobilization and totalitarianism.

Then, in 2016, the anti-vaccination posts multiplied after the release of “Vaxxed”, a film by a discredited former doctor. Many articles promoting the film have described refusal to be vaccinated as a civil right.

Study co-author David Broniatowski explained that “viewing refusal to get vaccinated as a civil right allows vaccine opponents to bypass science and instead debate values ​​- in particular, the value of freedom of choice. However, this is a case where one person’s exercise of this freedom can hurt everyone. ”

Broniatowski, an associate professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and his colleagues have warned that vaccine opponents are gaining political influence as they organize.

The report was published online on October 1 in the American Journal of Public Health.

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