The story is definitely not without a sense of irony. In the distant year of 2019 —Don't you feel that pre-covid life is already part of a remote past? —The World Health Organization (WHO) included the anti-vaccine movements in the list of the ten greatest global threats to public health. The entity did not know that just months later the declaration would become more valid than ever.
The covid-19 pandemic has been the great renaissance for drug denial movements. With the same anti-scientific framework and new anecdotal elements that provide context, in different parts of the world these groups make themselves heard to disseminate information based on conspiracy theories that mix ethics, science, politics and dystopia. And although their influence is limited, they have gradually grown and infiltrated spaces due to their ability to mimic.
Today, with the resource of social networks that give voice without the need for intermediaries, this narrative, like a parallel pandemic, spreads and stands as a real threat against the definitive solution of a disease that already adds almost three million human losses to global level. Let us briefly sail through the obscurantist sea of non-science.
Older than vaccines
It sounds like an oxymoron, but the history of anti-vaccine discourse is older than vaccines themselves. The proof is the French philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778), who did not live to see with his eyes the first vaccine formulated by humanity, but he did write to lash out at those who opposed the scientific logic behind its application.
Let us remember that the first immunization experience as we know it today came with the trials of the Englishman Edward Jenner (1749-1823), who at the end of the XNUMXth century achieved an effective serum to prevent smallpox.
Although this is the first proper vaccine, before, for generations, in different peoples and cultures -especially non-Western-, the artificial inoculation of diseases in recessive version to prevent the fatal effects of the same in aggressive version was a common custom . This custom, when discovered by Europe, had different levels of reception. For some it was a barbarian practice and for others a panacea.
Voltaire (1694-1778), in his eleventh philosophical letter "On the insertion of smallpox", gives an account of the original debate. In the text, the philosopher recounts the dispute between the English, who defend the inoculation from the East, and the French, who despise it. Take into account that as the philosopher himself mentions, it was a time in which a fifth of human beings lost their lives because of it.
The letter points out: “It is said in a low voice, in Christian Europe, that the English are mad rabid: mad, because they give smallpox to their children, to prevent them from having it; rabid because they happily communicate to these children a certain and dreadful disease with a view to preventing an uncertain evil. The English, for their part, say: «Other Europeans are cowards and denatured: they are cowards because they fear doing a little harm to their children; and denatured, because they expose them to die one day of smallpox ”.
And in this context, to his own country, which opposes this recourse, he says: “If any French ambassador had brought that secret from Constantinople to Paris, she would have rendered an eternal service to the nation; (…) Twenty thousand people, who died in Paris of smallpox in 1723, would still live. So what! Don't the French love life? Don't your women care about your beauty? In truth, we are strange people! Perhaps within ten years this English method will be adopted, if the priests and doctors allow it ”.
Decades later, as Jenner's discovery became known and expanded, the debate was photocopied but at a collective level. Committees were set up across Europe to refuse the vaccine, citing theories based on religious beliefs or class prejudice. Fortunately, vaccination was able to expand little by little as it gave irrefutable proof of its effectiveness, and almost two centuries later smallpox, the first disease against which humanity is vaccinated, was also the first officially eradicated disease on the planet.
It is good to underline that Venezuela had its local version of this diatribe, both with opponents of vaccination and with groups that rather than inoculate themselves by doctors preferred to surrender themselves to the hands of healers or scammers.
However, it is recorded both in the medical literature and in the chronicles of the time, that the national population for the most part showed great enthusiasm and interest in the immunization ordered by Spain (the same country that brought the disease in its invasion).
In fact, when in March 1804 the ship with the “vaccine children” made landfall in Puerto Cabello (See the website of Últimas Noticias our previous work 6 Spanish orphans were the "human vaccines" that saved Venezuela from its first pandemic) The local population hastened to make available 28 Venezuelan children who collaborated with the dissemination of the biological material, and in general the campaign was carried out successfully thanks to the enthusiasm and collaboration of the vast majority of the population.
From autism to nanochips
The reluctance to immunizing drugs has been present ever since, perhaps with the same visceral sentiment with which other groups on the opposite side of the sidewalk call on science and government leaders to develop vaccines for diseases that still have no cure.
With modern life and the increasingly fierce onslaught of multinationals, some groups that support this narrative use reasonable doubts about the pharmaceutical industry and the commodification of health on a global level. However, that story that has a lot of truth is mixed with theories that are very fallacious and lack scientific argumentation, which contaminates the entire narrative cocktail.
The late 1998th century saw a great boom for vaccine deniers. The prestigious English medical journal The Lancet published in 2004 a study that questioned the MMR vaccine against measles, rubella and mumps, claiming that it caused autism. The article was quickly refuted by doctors and researchers around the world, its methodology, its small sample of just eight children, and of course its results were questioned, to the point that in XNUMX the publication eliminated the text from its archives and he retract. And the author's medical license was withdrawn.
But evil was done. The theory that this drug, which is administered to practically all children in the world, causes autism, has spread in such a way that even today many people take it as true. In fact, in France, for example, today 33 percent of the population refuse to vaccinate their children, and in Russia 24 percent make the same decision. And the results are palpable: in 2019 the incidence of measles increased by 300 percent compared to the previous year, according to data from the University of California.
The arguments of the anti-vaccine groups take their roots from various hypotheses. Some, as we said before, come from political arguments against Big Pharma — arguments that are not at all fallacious, but they are taken out of context; and other groups give prominence to eventual fatal side effects.
In the case of covid-19, the majority (or at least more mediated) conspiracy theory mixes technology with politics and Machiavellianism, and the worst thing is that its origin comes from far-right groups, including the well-known QAnon (to be exact , the Donald Trump fans who stormed the Capitol in Washington last January).
According to this group, the vaccine against covid-19 (be it Pfizer's, be it Russian, be it Cuban…) will only serve to inoculate each body with a nanochip that will contribute to the control of the population and, therefore, of the planet. And, according to the same sources, behind this great plan would be billionaire Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, by the way, indeed, one of the funders of the controversial Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
It sounds like a dystopian movie, but, just as there are flat-earthers who, in the XNUMXst century, deny that the Earth is round and that gravity exists, there are not a few people in whom that story has penetrated. To prove it, there are thousands of groups on Facebook, on Twitter, on Telegram, on YouTube and on many other platforms, in all languages and of all kinds, that defend and delve into this theory.
We mentioned at the beginning the mimicry capacity of the anti-vaccines. Indeed, themes that are common to many ideologies such as the narrative against the capitalist model of medical practice, the call to return to a more natural life or the theories about world control by the powerful are found in many groups so they do not it is so difficult to achieve empathy.
The problem with anti-vaccines is that promoting non-vaccination not only affects those who make a personal decision but also the entire group around them, which is why many countries throughout the last century imposed the vaccination of children as mandatory, and today They also take similar measures in relation to immunization against the coronavirus.
Regulations such as the "green passport" promoted by the European Union go in that direction. There are even territories that manage to impose the vaccine as an obligation, for example, the Spanish region of Galicia, where it is already a fact. The Xunta de Galicia has published this Friday in its Official Gazette the reform of the Health law by which administrative and economic sanctions are established for those who fail to comply with the home quarantine, do not make good use of the mask or those who refuse to administer the vaccine against Covid-19. These penalties may reach 600.000 euros.
Other entities that have taken action are the large technology companies, which have teamed up to clean their catalogs of anti-vaccine content that can confuse people about the importance of immunization and about the collective responsibility that they imply.
The anti-vaccines can make it clear at first glance that those who oppose them side with the large corporations and the powerful in general, but nothing could be further from the truth. On the contrary, to turn our backs on science is to deny the great advances that have guaranteed human survival and that have increased life expectancy exponentially in the last three centuries.