The vexing trouble with anti-vaxxers
"Do your own research". "I've done my own research". The two statements most troubling to hear from the mouths of vaccine-hesitants or full-blown, card-carrying, committed anti-vaxxers.
The "research" is usually done on Facebook pages or purpose-designed anti-vaccination propaganda websites, of which a study in the British Medical Journal has identified around a hundred. Further research has narrowed most anti-vaccination propaganda as emanating from just twelve people in the United States - the Disinformation Dozen.
Many of the Dozen, such as Ty Bollinger, Sherri Tenpenny, and Joseph Mercola have lucrative financial interests in "alternative medicine" - a very profitable, core element to the anti-vaccination "movement".
In Aotearoa New Zealand, the anti-vax periodical, "The Real News" - as well as peddling the usual hodge-podge of bizarre hoaxes surrounding vaccines:
-- or equally ludicrous magnetic super powers:
-- also promotes the sale of several alternative "healthcare" products. (See previous blogpost: The funny side of anti-vax conspiracy fantasists) The sale of "natural healthcare" products and the anti-vaccination "movement" appears to go hand in hand.
Some people make a lot of money in the process.
VFF also recently distributed the highly misleading, bogus leaflet below to households around the country:
The leaflet's claims are outright lies and together with the formatting (a disingenuous copy of official Ministry of Health covid19 vaccination stations livery) is designed to deliberately confuse and mislead people.
The leaflet, the magazine "Real News", and social media and internet sources are brazenly deceptive. Information within their propaganda is cherry picked; distorted; and usually mixed in with outright falsehoods. Some, like claims of "magnetising human beings" can be seen as outrightly comical.
Others, such as assertions that the vaccine is harmful to unborn foetuses, is a mixture of manipulative emotionalism; anecdotal "stories" - all wrapped thinly with elements of medical information - but is ultimately false; fear-mongering fantasy from fanatically cultish, anti-vaxxers. Like claims of magnetising people, there is simply no evidence anywhere that vaccination against covid19 is detrimental to pregnant or lactating mothers.
According to John Hopkins Medicine:
COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are recommended for pregnant and lactating individuals as well as those trying or intending to become pregnant. We strongly recommend that women with remaining concerns, talk with their doctor to discuss all factors about the vaccine and their pregnancy. The recommendation is based on the following:
... Symptomatic pregnant women who contract COVID-19 are at more risk of severe illness, complications and death than non-pregnant women. Many pregnant women have medical conditions that put them at further increased risk.
COVID-19, particularly the delta strain, is on the rise in many communities.
Over 200,000 pregnant women have received an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna), without any safety concerns.
... you cannot catch COVID-19 from the currently available vaccines. You may experience mild, temporary side effects, but this is an indication of the immune response to the vaccination, not COVID-19.
Anti-vaxxers have little hesitation in twisting and mis-using any information that suits their cult-like agenda.
The concocted fantasies from anti-vaxxers can be compelling for many, with deadly results:
There is grim irony in that anti-vaxxers - whether one of the Disinformation Dozen, or a badly misinformed individual recklessly sharing anti-vaccination propaganda on social media - are not held accountable for their actions.
Medical professionals, whether nurses, doctors, specialists, et al, are all held to a high standard. The New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal has a full public list (names and details often redacted) of professionals in the health sector who have been disciplined for behaviour ranging from minor to serious.
Their Decisions page makes for eye-brow-raising reading. There are cases involving Physiotherapists, Medical Practitioners, Osteopaths, Pharmacists, Nurses, Psychologists, Medical Laboratory Scientists and Technologists, Podiatrists, Medical Radiation Technologists, Dentists, etc.
All are held accountable for actual or alleged misdemeanors.
Which is to be expected as the public has to be confident that those working intimately with peoples' health, are held to the highest standards.
Even allegations against medical professionals that are ultimately dismissed can have dire financial implications for those charged with wrong-doing. The New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association has issued a Medical Complaint Survival Guide for it's members.
The Guide strongly suggests their members to obtain medical indemnity insurance. They state:
Even the best doctors in the world are only human, and humans make mistakes. Fatigue, sickness, even just a distraction can all spell serious malpractice for any doctor, experienced or not, so it pays to get to know the common causes of medical errors...
... Being a doctor is a calling, but it’s also a job, and missing work can mean no pay. Medical complaints can take weeks or months to conclude fully, time during which you may be unable to work because of the nature of the complaint or simply because you need to be at a hearing.
... The actual range of fines associated with malpractice is large: one medical malpractice claim in 2017 fined a doctor $20,000 for failing to review a patient correctly, while another in 2001 fined $3,000 following the death of a patient.
This is not an attack on health professionals. Quite the converse: they hold themselves to standards far higher than practically any other sector (Police aside) and take alleged infractions to a level most people never have to encounter in their lives.
We can be assured that health sector professionals are 'policed' by their own and we confidently expect good behaviour when dealing with them.
Not so for anti-vaxxers.
These people make all manner of claims under the sun. Some are comical and we roll our eyes collectively at suggestions we can acquire super-human magnetic powers through vaccinations.
Other claims are not so readily identifiable as partial-truths and outright lies. Newshub's highly-skilled reporter, Dan Satherley, has researched the anti-vaccination cult (their behaviours appear cultish by any definition) and has deconstructed seventeen of their mis-information claims:
It makes for damning reading of the duplicitous "Voices for Freedom" and their misguided fellow-travelers.
But it also highlights that anti-vaxxers are not held to the same standard that we hold our health sector medical professionals to.
Whilst doctors, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, et al, can suffer reprimands; financial penalties; and even loss of their ability to work in their professions - anti-vaxxers have no such restrictions.
Anti-vaxxers can make health pronouncements - even advocating for bogus medical "treatments" such as vitamin D, Ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, etc - and are disturbingly free of consequences.
The vaccine-hesitant might pause to think who to believe.
Doctors who are held to account and can suffer harsh consequences for harmful behaviour?
Or anti-vaxxers who can advise you to refuse to be vaccinated? And will never be held to account if things go horribly wrong.
When was the last time an anti-vaxxer lost their practicing certificate to push anti-vax views?
British Medical Journal: Antivaccination activists on the world wide web
McGill Office for Science and Society: A Dozen Misguided Influencers Spread Most of the Anti-Vaccination Content on Social Media
John Hopkins Medicine: The COVID-19 Vaccine and Pregnancy: What You Need to Know
New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal: Home page
New Zealand Health Practitioners Disciplinary Tribunal: Decisions
Stuff media: Bhatia's doctor's registration cancelled by tribunal
New Zealand Resident Doctors’ Association: Medical Complaint Survival Guide
The Standard: Down the rabbit hole
Previous related blogposts
Acknowledgement: Shaun Yeo
Liked what you read? Feel free to share. Have your own thoughts? Leave a comment. (Trolls need not bother.)
= fs =