What the end of COVID health emergencies means for anti-vaxxers: Collapse

What the end of COVID health emergencies means for anti-vaxxers: Collapse

It’s one thing to know intellectually that anti-vaccination zealots are completely detached from reality, but it’s quite another to be bombarded with their delusions in a very personal way.

“Lucky” for me, such an opportunity was recently inflicted on me – where else? – on Twitter. For no apparent reason, a few weeks ago my replies started to fill with “is that you?” style taunts. Traditionally, “this u?” receipts are digging up a prior public statement that the target should be ashamed of. For example, if a right winger becomes violently ill with COVID-19, he runs the risk of pro-vaccine people hitting him with “that u?” reminders of when they called the disease a hoax.

But what these people kept tweeting at me, clearly thinking I’d be ashamed, wasn’t embarrassing: An opinion column I wrote in August 2021 headlined, “It’s okay to blame the unvaccinated – they’re robbing the rest of us of our freedoms.” None of my hecklers could explain why, exactly, I should feel bad about this. A few medical details are out of date, but in Overall, it’s still a strong argument. It didn’t take long to figure out, though, that the people tweeting vitriol at me were anti-vaxxers. Worse, they’re people who are so caught up in their bubble of misinformation that they convinced themselves that it’s a given that being pro-vaccine in 2021 would cause a person great remorse in 2023.

I had a front row seat to the ongoing collapse of a group of people who have built their entire identities around the pandemic.

It’s never fun being dogpiled on Twitter, but it was one of the most intriguing versions of the experience.

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There was a fascinating pathos about these people — because of their belief that their anti-vaccine views were vindicated — but also in their desperation. They had such a desire for relevance that they resorted to claiming to be victims of a two-year-old title. (Analytical data showed that few bothered to read the essay.) During the few days I was bombarded with tweets, I had a front-row seat to the growing meltdown of a group of people who have built their entire identity around the pandemic. . Without the culture war around COVID-19 to give meaning to their lives, they lose their already fragile grip on reality.

This helps explain why Republican politicians are still obsessed with COVID-19.

In their pre-primary slapfight, Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis became consumed by an argument over who downplayed the virus the most, with DeSantis even going so far as to support a bogus vaccine “investigation.” Meanwhile, newly empowered Speaker Kevin McCarthy says House Republicans are planning more bogus “investigations” into the pandemic response, led by prominent conspiracy theorists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. , who regularly pushes anti-vaccine lies.

Reigniting the COVID-19 culture wars seems like an odd choice, politically, since that’s all yesterday’s news for most of the country. Of course, there is a debate about whether this is still a “pandemic” in the scientific sense, but in the socio-cultural sense, the emergency is over. Mask mandates and social distancing are gone and unlikely to return, and fears of another winter onslaught have largely gone unaddressed. The White House ends the pandemic emergency declaration. For most people, life has returned to relatively normal. In politics, it is generally considered unwise to waste energy fighting past battles.

It all makes sense, however, when you realize that much of the GOP base — the kind of people who donate to campaigns and vote in primaries — have built their entire identities around COVID-19 denial. 19.

For a good two years, the pandemic was the country’s most important story, and for many on the right, denying medical science has become an obsession. Led by Trump’s flippant dismissals of the dangers of the virus as a “hoax,” conservatives have erected a whole mythology about how they were overlooked heroes for resisting public health measures. They threw tantrums over the blockages. They had mask attacks. They refused to be vaccinated. Resisting COVID-19 precautions has become, for many of them, central to who they are. And once something becomes central to your identity, it’s hard to let go. Ask anyone who has left a church or a profession or even just a beloved hobby. Without a rock-like “Christian,” “accountant,” or “D&D enthusiast” to anchor a sense of self, a person can often feel adrift. For those who have made being “anti-vaxxer” a central part of their self-perception, the fact that few people care about it must be a turn off.

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It’s made worse by the fact that conservatives always need a BS story about how they are the “real” victims to justify their adherence to a political ideology of oppressing others. This is why the right-wing media broadcast a steady stream of lies about how white people are the “real” victims of racism, that feminism has gone “too far” or that LGBTQ rights are somehow a threat to conservative families. Anti-vaccination ideology suits this desire for the right to play victim, giving them the ability to pretend to be persecuted by vaccination mandates.

For those who have made being “anti-vaxxer” a central part of their self-perception, the fact that few people care about it must be a turn off.

Alas, the fake cries of oppression, coupled with the GOP’s dominance of the federal courts, have been a little too successful. Vaccine mandates have all but disappeared. For the Republican looking for opportunities to feel sorry for himself, the “prejudice” against the unvaccinated is non-existent. It’s hard to be a victim of bigotry when no one cares enough to discriminate against you. This is why efforts to revive the Covid culture wars are becoming increasingly baroque. Conservatives have tried to grab anything in a feeble attempt to get people to argue about the pandemic again. Unsurprisingly, these efforts have been both vapid at best, mostly coming in the form of exploiting strangers’ health problems by blaming the vaccine.

A rush of right-wing media figures, including popular Fox News personality Tucker Carlson, tried to blame the vaccine on the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin having a heart attack. Perhaps even more troubling, obituaries for anyone under 80 appear to be fair game for right-wing crazies acting like strokes, aneurysms and accidents that never happened before the Covid vaccine . In a particularly sinister grifting, Silk of the Trumpist duo “Diamond and Silk” went going so far as to insinuate that Diamond’s recent death was caused by the vaccine. (The death certificate lists the cause as heart disease.)

Watching conservatives try to keep a zombie culture war alive would be funny if it didn’t have real-world consequences. But now that being anti-vaccine is one of the stations of the Republican cross, there are serious implications for public health. Rates of people receiving COVID-19 reminders, for example, have declined, leading to otherwise preventable deaths. No doubt a lot of the reasons are procrastination and pandemic fatigue, but there’s also reason to believe that a lot of people, not just on the right, justify skipping it because they saw an anti-vaxx meme.” died suddenly” on Facebook. To make matters worse, anti-vaccine ideology is beginning to expand beyond Covid. Ohio is currently experiencing a horrific childhood measles outbreak as newly radicalized anti-vaxxers are not getting the vaccine for their children.

Ultimately, I’m fascinated by what it tells us about politics and identity, to see so many right-wingers clinging to anti-vaccine hysteria long after most Americans have walked away from the pandemic. The escalation of Republican bigotry and culture wars fueled by social media mean that many dumb ideas that would once have been held slightly to the right are instead being incorporated into their very selves. Once an idea stops being what a person thinks and becomes part of who they are, it’s exponentially harder for them to have a sense of rationality or proportion about it. In this sense, being anti-vaccine is no longer just a passing notion, but has morphed into something closer to a religion.

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