“West’s Anti-Vaxxers” and Pakistan’s “Anti-Polio Mullahs”?

West's Anti-vaxxers and Pakistan's Anti-Polio Mullahs share interesting similarities in beliefs - a GVS story analyses. Anti-Vaxxers argue that vaccines inject electronic chips as part of Big Brother's conspiracy; Pakistani Mullahs believe that vaccines are West's conspiracy to sterilise Muslim children. Both are ignorant of science but West has been slow in identifying its own Mullahs

anti-vaxxers fool millions

West’s Anti-vaxxers — a small but vocal group of people across western countries – who don’t believe in vaccinations — have taken advantage of the corona pandemic to multiply disinformation on social media. Anti-vaxxers fool millions via their far fetched conspiracy theories packaged as facts.

West’s Anti-Vaxxers & Pakistan’s Anti-Polio Mullahs? 

GVS team finds interesting similarities between West’s Anti-Vaxxers’ and Pakistan’s “Anti-Polio Campaigners” – many of who are part of religious lobbies. Educated middle classes often clubs these together as Mullahs. In reality such Anti-Polio agitators are far more diverse. Both these groups – West’s Anti-Vaxxers and Pakistan’s Anti-Polio Mullahs- the rely upon ignorance of science, popular myths and distrust of governments to produce vitriolic propaganda against the concept of vaccination.

West’s Anti-Vaxxers argue that the vaccine will inject you with an electronic chip from the Big Brother, poison you and will make you sick. Pakistani Anti-Polio campaigners argue that polio vaccine is West’s conspiracy to sterilise Muslim children and thus reduce the Muslim rate of growth. It is not difficult to see that West’s Anti-Vaxxers concept of “Big Brother” is similar to Pakistani Mullahs fear of over bearing dominant West.

The video “Plandemic,” created by Anti-Vaxxer groups that claims the COVID-19 crisis was a government setup has already been viewed millions of times on YouTube and other streaming platforms. Pakistan’s Anti-Polio campaigners point out that Pakistani government health bodies are paid by western governments and are part of the nefarious plans.

Several  Polio workers have been killed or seriously injured across Pakistan over the past several years. This phenomenon has been much documented. Here is a NYT story that mentions this continuing problem.

Pakistan’s War on Polio Falters Amid Attacks on Health Workers and Mistrust

NYT story had reminded the world that the local campaign to eradicate polio remains a source of deep-seated suspicions and fears. Hard-line Islamists believe the vaccination drive is part of a Western effort to sterilize Muslims.

The fact that the C.I.A. used a vaccination team to track down Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani town in 2011 has helped fuel the resistance to vaccination campaigns in the country. Militants have frequently attacked health workers, accusing them of being spies, and the police have been deployed to provide security to anti-polio teams.

A list of substances with scary-sounding names — phenoxyethanol, potassium chloride — said to be found in toxic quantities in vaccines (which is not true) has been shared thousands of times on Facebook since the end of April.

There’s no vaccine yet for treating the novel coronavirus, and scientists are multiplying efforts to find one. The anti-vax rhetoric, in the west, is not new, but has gained huge visibility during the pandemic, according to experts.

Anti-vaxxers fool exploit social media ‘echo chamber’

The Anti-vaxxer movement predates both the internet and the COVID-19 crisis, but social media has created a highly-efficient “echo chamber” for anti-vaxxers, according to Sylvain Delouvee, a researcher in social psychology at the University of Rennes, in France.

Pakistani governments over the past 10 years have to introduce laws to curb Anti-Polio vaccination on Facebook and internet. Most Pakistani complaints to Facebook to ban pages and groups relate to such groups. Several people have been arrested and charged.

Similar is the situation across western countries where Anti-Vaxxers have successfully used Facebook, Youtube and other internet platforms and despite these social media platforms’ claims that they will limit viral anti-vax content, the false headlines have nonetheless proliferated, Sylvain Delouvee points out.

Read more: Bill Gates a “vaccine criminal”: Italian Anti-Vax MP

Anti-vax rhetoric, Sylvain Delouvee adds is “continuously-evolving, without a clear definition,” meaning it can reach people across the political divide.

Some misleading claims — like one article claiming that vaccines contain the same toxic chemicals as the substances used for lethal injections — have seemed to reappear online without direct reference to COVID-19.

Volatile pandemic climate allows Anti-vaxxers to fool millions

The extent to which the pandemic has altered the misinformation landscape is not yet clear, according to David Broniatowski, from George Washington University in DC.

“We are still investigating the question of whether vaccine opponents are more active because of the pandemic, or whether they are just more visible because of the increased attention given to the pandemic,” he said.

Read more: China’s search for virus vaccine fast-tracked

The attention given to COVID-19 has allowed anti-vaxxers to fold the news into their existing narrative, according to Amelia Jamison, at the University of Maryland.

“There’s this kind of small but very vocal group online,” she said. “This has just re-energised them.”

She noted that in the US in particular, the anti-vax, anti-mask and anti-quarantine movements have come together ostensibly in the name of preserving individual liberties.

Research cedes space to misinformation

Anti-vaxxers are “taking up more and more space online,” Delouvee noted, comparing the current wave of anti-vax activity to a “groundswell”.

But Jamison cautioned that things online aren’t always what they seem.

“If you look at polarised content on vaccines, it tends to break out like 50-50 [online],” she said.

“We know in real life it’s not at all close to 50-50.”

Read more: UK-Italy team hopes to synthesize coronavirus vaccine till September

The vast majority of people worldwide — about 80 percent — somewhat or strongly agree that vaccines are safe, according to the 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor, an annual survey on science and health. Seven percent of people said that they “somewhat or strongly disagree,” while 11 percent did not have an opinion.

Still, the anti-vax movement “could amplify outbreaks” of COVID-19, as was the case for the 2019 measles outbreak, according to researchers who published a study in the scientific journal Nature.

There was a belief that diseases were disappearing due to better sanitation and hygiene, not vaccines. This has been proven false by the resurgence of previously eradicated infectious diseases.

It was also believed that a vaccine wouldn’t protect you.Those who are vaccinated can still get sick, but they will experience mild symptoms.

The World Health Organization, for its part, classified “vaccine hesitancy” as one of its 10 threats to global health in 2019.

GVS News Desk with input from AFP, and other sources. 

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