COVID-19 infections have dropped thanks to effective vaccines, with 62% of U.S. adults having received at least one dose. But some people aren’t very happy about that. Scratch that—some people are very unhappy about it. On Monday, a vaccine protester endangered the lives of vaccination workers in Tennessee when she sped her SUV through a tented vaccination site, nearly hitting the people inside. But it’s not just a question of individual dangerous individuals. There’s also an anti-vaccine industry.
In the Tennessee case, “I had several victims tell me she almost hit them as she fled through the tent at high speeds,” according to an incident report. “I was advised that they were within inches and feet of the vehicle as it came through the tent. Several victims stated that they thought the driver was going to kill them.”
Virginia Christine Lewis Brown faces seven charges of felony reckless endangerment, each of which potentially carries a one- to 15-year prison sentence and $10,000 fine. While she’s the most violent anti-vaccination protester (so far), she’s not alone. Many of the people who are hesitant about getting vaccinated against COVID-19 aren’t hostile to the vaccine—they’re waiting and watching, or are worried about costs. But for others, opposition to the vaccine is part of a larger distrust in the healthcare system, or comes from skepticism that COVID-19 is really a threat at all. The latter message is spread by Republican leaders, and Republican voters are refusing vaccination in large numbers.
Brown isn’t the only person who’s damaged the effort to get as many people as possible protected by coronavirus vaccines. Back in February, in the early days of the vaccination effort when the most vulnerable people were getting vaccinated, vaccine doses were scarce and concern about wasting them was high. When it was absolutely essential to get as many shots in arms as possible every single day, protesters temporarily shut down a major vaccination site in Los Angeles. Earlier in May, an anti-vaccination group burned a syringe in effigy at a Utah event.
This Wednesday, two days after Brown endangered the lives of vaccination workers, a group of protesters gathered outside a high school vaccination clinic. Even though any minor being vaccinated needs parental permission, one of these fine people said, “A bunch of parents got together and we just wanted to come out here and let our voices be known.” Let their voices be known intimidating other people’s kids, apparently. They were met by a group of nurses counterprotesting in support of vaccination because in addition to their brutal, life-saving work throughout the pandemic, nurses are still out there fighting for the public to do better on public health.
While some of this vaccine opposition is coming from individuals, there are also organized forces at play. The guy who burned the syringe in Utah is a former police officer on the anti-vaccine grift, with a tour promoting a documentary. A New York law firm is specializing in efforts to block vaccine mandates in workplaces or elsewhere. That law firm has ties to the Texas-based Informed Consent Action Network (could they have come up with a more vague name?), which makes liberal use of falsehoods in its anti-vaccination campaigns. That organization advertises on the website of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense, saying: “If you or anyone you know is being required by an employer or school to receive a covid-19 vaccine, ICAN is offering to support legal action on your behalf to challenge the requirement.” In short, there is an entire anti-vaccine industry—and several of the organizations that make it up got Paycheck Protection Program money. (Disclosure: Kos Media received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.)
Some Republicans are content just not getting vaccinated themselves. That’s not great since the more people get vaccinated, the safer we all are—in particular children too young to be vaccinated now or people for whom the vaccines are less effective due to immunosuppressant medications. But what’s really dangerous is the organized opposition to taking COVID-19 seriously, from masks to vaccines, which comes from Republican leaders, from longtime anti-vaxxers, and from the unholy collaboration of the two. That doesn’t have to involve nearly running over the workers giving the shots to be dangerous, and everyone who promotes vaccine resistance is guilty of active harm to public health and to individuals.