This is the second installment of a five-part series exploring the growth of the anti-vaccine political movement.
The Covid-19 outbreak caused a decline in faith towards scientific research. Public health experts are concerned that the 2024 election may exacerbate this issue.
Several candidates for president from both political parties are embracing a rising trend that combines traditional doubts about vaccinations with a more general lack of trust in major institutions, including the government, the pharmaceutical industry, and the scientific community.
This is a loosely organized movement that opposes vaccines and scientific beliefs while advocating for medical freedom and alternative medicine. The increasing number of supporters has caused concern among both government officials and the public that this movement will gain momentum during the current election cycle and solidify its position in the political landscape.
Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general during the Trump administration, stated that things will deteriorate before they improve. He expressed concern about the lack of trust in government and health organizations, as well as the political discourse where candidates advocate for ignoring the guidance of health professionals. These actions could have long-lasting negative effects regardless of the election outcome.
According to a survey by Morning Consult and POLITICO, around 80% of Democrats plan to obtain the revised vaccine.
Doubt and mistrust towards vaccines are now extending to other preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, and rubella. According to Dr. Umair Shah, the secretary of health for Washington state, it may require the death of a prominent individual from a vaccine-preventable disease to remind the public of the importance of immunizations.
Shah expressed deep worry, as did many individuals in public health and healthcare, that this may be the start of a difficult and challenging period. Sadly, there will likely be cases of illness and fatalities.
In the past, expressing doubt about vaccines often resulted in being ostracized from most political groups except for the smallest ones. Both major parties generally agreed that modern science had made significant advancements in healthcare, so questioning them was seen as unconventional. However, public health experts are concerned that this attitude is changing.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who notched 15 percent support in a Harvard-Harris poll of the Democratic presidential primary field earlier this month, is running on his anti-vaccine bona fides. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is campaigning on his work to promote “medical freedom” and has said he would put Kennedy on a task force to investigate government overreach in medicine if elected president. Vivek Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur also running for the Republican nomination, has touted his plans to “expose and ultimately gut” the FDA and floated Kennedy as a running mate.
Although these individuals may be behind in the polls, their supporters will likely remain even after the campaign is over. Lingering anger towards COVID-19 restrictions is causing increased doubt in public health measures, potentially resulting in lower vaccination rates, more widespread illness, and a lack of preparedness for future pandemics.
Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health and former White House Covid-19 response coordinator under the Biden administration, expressed concern about the significant number of American fatalities resulting from incorrect information regarding vaccines and treatments during the pandemic. He stated his worry for the future and potential consequences in the next three to five years.
According to the data, most Americans continue to have faith in science, follow advice from medical professionals, and immunize their children. However, the increasing number of individuals who do not do so poses a risk of reversing the progress made in eradicating dangerous and debilitating illnesses that have been largely contained for several decades.
Opposition to the Covid-19 vaccine has also impacted regular childhood vaccinations. According to recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a decline in vaccination rates among kindergarteners for the second year in a row.
Skipping vaccinations helps prevent many illnesses such as measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliovirus, and chickenpox. According to the CDC, these vaccines for children save approximately 4 million lives globally each year.
The decrease in vaccination rates could lead to an increase in the spread of diseases and, consequently, more deaths that could have been prevented by vaccines. Last year, there were over 1,200 instances of measles in 31 states, marking the biggest outbreak in the country since 1992.
In a recent occurrence, an outbreak in Ohio that started in November affected 85 kids ranging from 6 months to 15 years old. None of them had received all of their vaccinations and almost half needed to be hospitalized.
Recently, health authorities in Kentucky and New York have discovered instances of whooping cough. Additionally, a young adult in New York was diagnosed with paralytic polio last autumn, and testing of wastewater confirmed ongoing spread of the virus within the community.
Jha expressed concern about the potential resurgence of diseases that have not been seen for a significant period of time. He found it alarming to be discussing the possibility of polio in the year 2023.
According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, parents who have children under 18 are less inclined to trust in the advantages of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine outweighing any associated risks. They also tend to perceive a higher likelihood of negative side effects compared to parents without children. Interestingly, mothers expressed greater concerns about potential risks than fathers.
The level of belief in science has reached a record low. In 2022, only 39% of Americans expressed strong confidence in the scientific community, which is a 9% decrease from the previous year. This data comes from a study conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and shows a decrease after two decades of stability.
Rupali Limaye, deputy director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, expressed her lack of optimism about the situation. She believes that the messaging surrounding it implies that supporting science and measures that may limit personal freedoms is synonymous with being “woke.”