Objectors range from those hesitant to get vaccinated due to their own state of health and fears of adverse effects, or have doubts about whether vaccines developed against coronavirus actually work – to outright opposition to vaccination per se.
Rather than examine reasons for vaccine hesitancy, this report delves into the murky and dangerous connection between anti-vaccination individuals and groups and the growing toxic influence of the Far Right.
The anti-vax agenda
A plethora of conspiracy theories from anti-vaxxers – most notably, the notion that the vaccine contains microchips injected to control individuals en masse – are blatantly risible. But while it is tempting to ridicule these ideas and the people espousing them, the movement is highly dangerous and is arguably contributing to the further spread of coronavirus in successive versions.
A strong anti-science element is to the fore, along with mistrust of government and authority, but of great concern – disbelief in experts, academics, and basically, people who know what they are talking about.
Convergence with extremism
Following the increasing trend towards extremist forms of expression and rising political, social and economic polarisation, anti-vax protests are often led and followed by people showing extreme rage and threats of violence against ‘outsiders’ and ‘traitors.’
Mixed messages and haphazard responses from governments, the newness and changeability of the virus and the hesitancy, confusion, and delays in measures to deal with it, along with its worldwide grip and lack of international cooperation – means that extremist groups can take advantage of a vast learning curve with regard specifically to vaccination.
Rather than taking on board the possible risks that always accompany a new drug or vaccine, and measuring those risks against the extremely high risk of catching Covid-19 with all its implications –individuals tending toward extremist stances reject all such nuance and oppose vaccination across the board.
Social media spreads the poison
Social media platforms and the Internet as a whole are enabling anti-vaccine messages, conspiracy theories and misinformation. Libertarians from both the Left and Right hold that mass vaccination, including the requirement for vaccine “passports” to travel and enter certain venues, along with repeated lockdowns are a sign of growing authoritarianism and a means to control populations. Others mistrust the pharmaceutical industry.
Major anti-vaccine groups on social media platforms launched anti-vaccine misinformation campaigns weeks before the US government launched its vaccine development programme. This sewed seeds of doubt among many and continue to hamper the rollout of vaccination – including the all-important booster shots – countrywide.
Their virulent anti-government dogmas are spread on growing social media ‘communities’ which amplify their joint poisonous output. This intensified after many governments, following mass vaccination programmes over the past year, initiated vaccination mandates for employment or travel.
Far-Right groups target doctors and other medical professionals with threats and hate way beyond argued opposition to taking the vaccine. The fragmentation of media and messaging and prevalence and power of algorithm-fuelled echo chambers has enhanced this. Propaganda is spread on less regulated platforms.
Anti-vax protests have occurred in many countries. In Canada protesters have targeted schools and hospitals. In late November, street protests against lockdowns and vaccine mandates broke out in several Australian cities.
Connection with the Far Right
The anti-vax movement is increasingly associated with far-Right and white supremacist extremist groups and conspiracy communities in Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand.
In Australia, the anti-vax movement has capitalised on long-standing white racial anxieties that continue to influence Australian immigration policy. As well as being anti-immigration and climate change deniers, Right-wing politicians are aligning with the anti-vax movement.
Especially damaging is the spread of misinformation in remote native Australian (Aboriginal) communities. This includes horror stories spread by Christian groups claiming Covid-19 is a white man’s virus. Such anti-vaccination propaganda spread among already vulnerable communities poses a potential threat to their lives.
Enter QAnon and Co
The anti-vax element is further associating with separatist and White Supremacist movements – such as the increasingly influential QAnon movement in the US and other far-Right groups such as the Proud Boys.
Following former President Donald J. Trump’s election defeat and the January 6 insurrection, the QAnon movement have focused on anti-vax. Videos claiming the pandemic is a hoax have gone viral. Others say vaccines are a means to cull the population.
Although the groups are mostly racist, they are primarily antisemitic. White nationalists and QAnon figures join together in anti-vax protests. According to the London-based Institute for Strategic Dialogue, Far-right extremists and anti-vaxxers are natural allies.
The Stop the Steal movement has moved into anti-vax activity. Rallies involve a toxic cocktail of groups, all of which attract millions to their combined anti-government agendas.
The movement has spread throughout Europe: Greece, Italy, the UK, Austria, and Germany – where the mixing of anti-vaccine protesters with far-Right hate groups led the country’s domestic intelligence agency to put the anti-vax groups under surveillance.
Right and Left
The anti-vax movement is also not exclusive to the Far Right. Groups from the far Left are targeting Covid vaccination and restrictions seeing them as moves towards authoritarianism and medical tyranny.
Combined with opposition to anything genetically modified, including mRNA vaccines, like many who have graduated to the far Right – many left-wing anti-vaxxers espouse a hatred or mistrust of institutions and ‘the Establishment.’
As such the Left are aligning themselves with their natural enemies. This reflects the horseshoe model of extremist politics that asserts that the far Left and the far Right meet at the ends of the horseshoe rather than being on distinctly opposite sides.
The anti-vax movement is a stark reminder that extremism has spread into a worldwide crisis situation that should unite, not divide, populations at equal risk from a protracted pandemic virus spreading and mutating like wildfire over two years.
A public health emergency, being akin to a state of being at war, requires mass measures and restrictions on public activity which are in many countries unprecedented and which many have rejected. This is not least because lockdowns threaten livelihoods, whole economies, and normal public and private associations.
Amidst the lockdowns, the emergence of several Covid-19 vaccines posed the only real way out of the crisis. Vaccination against dozens of diseases has saved billions of lives or prevented serious disease since it was introduced in the late 19th century.
All the more reason why vaccination should be taken up by as many as possible along with mask wearing and social distancing – if the disease caused by successive versions of SARS-CoV-2 is to become less of a danger to everyone.