Amid the American flags, “Make America Great Again” hats and “freedom is essential” posters appearing at recent protests against coronavirus lockdowns in Sacramento, Calif., another familiar slogan has materialized: “We do not consent.” It’s long been a popular rallying cry among antivaccine activists, who claim without evidence that vaccines cause autism or other conditions. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, those activists have become intertwined with demonstrators who want businesses to reopen despite public health experts’ warnings.
Offline, the “anti-vaxxers” have done little beyond appear at sparsely-attended but widely-publicized rallies. But online, well-known antivaccine activists like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Del Bigtree have been hard at work sowing doubt about the COVID-19 vaccine—a vaccine that does not yet exist, and likely will not exist for many months, if not longer. Yet their efforts seem to be working: approximately one in five Americans have already expressed unwillingness to get an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, according to an April 15 survey undertaken by Matt Motta, an assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, and Kristin Lunz Trujillo, a University of Minnesota graduate student.