Why is the ‘anti-vaxxer’ movement growing during a worldwide pandemic?

Concern in the US that Donald Trump will rush to approve a vaccine before the election is playing into wider safety fears

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August 19, 2020

Greer McVay insists she is “not an anti-vaxxer — not at all”. She is up to date with her own immunisations and had her son vaccinated when he was a child. But she fears the development of a vaccine for coronavirus is being dangerously rushed, in part to improve Donald Trump’s prospects ahead of the presidential election in November.

“This situation is different, because of the politics that have been injected into the process and the speed at which they’re developing the vaccines,” says Ms McVay, a communications consultant from California and a supporter of the Democratic party. “Frankly, I don’t trust this president. It just gives me pause.” 

Ms McVay, 53, is one of a growing number of “vaccine hesitant” Americans who have not previously identified with the anti-vaxxer movement, which has traditionally been dominated by libertarian Republicans and those on the left who preach the benefits of alternative medicine over pharmaceuticals. “I don’t fall into either category,” she says.

Prof Neil Johnson recently published a paper in the scientific journal Nature concluding that the anti-vaccination movement was winning the online information war because it was organised around smaller “clusters” that were able to infiltrate groups of undecided people. He says the movement has its roots in the anti-vaccination sentiment towards measles jabs that has surfaced in recent years, and which has been blamed for a spate of outbreaks.

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