Quest for a coronavirus vaccine ‘reinvigorating’ anti-vax conspiracy theories

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Credit: Andolou Agency

There is no COVID-19 vaccine, but there are already COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies. Even as vaccines for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 are being held up as the last hope for a return to normalcy, misinformation about them is spreading.

“I was initially optimistic that, when people felt the need for a COVID-19 vaccine, the anti-vaccination movement would undergo a period of retreat,” says Peter Hotez, a vaccine scientist at Baylor College of Medicine, who has himself become a frequent target of vaccine skeptics. “It’s actually had the effect of reinvigorating the anti-vaccine movement.”

Hotez points to a number of recent missteps that have given vaccine skeptics ammunition: unrealistically rosy timelines for a vaccine; the appointment of a former pharma executive with $12.4 million worth of vaccine-company stock options to lead the White House’s new vaccine initiative (he is now divesting); even the name of the Trump administration’s vaccine initiative itself, Operation Warp Speed. “A ridiculous metaphor,” Hotez says, “that plays right into the hands of the anti-vaccine lobby” by emphasizing swiftness rather than safety.

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By the time a vaccine is on the market, the worst of the coronavirus crisis may very well be over. The strictest shelter-at-home restrictions will likely be lifted too. All the misinformation aside, a vaccine, instead of being like a savior, may feel like too little, too late.

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