Anti-Vax and the fears of the coronavirus vaccine

Photo taken by Maj. Michael O’Hagan

Most Americans have taken vaccines for all of their lives, and vaccinations have become a routine, particularly annual flu shots. But now, there’s a new shot we need to take: the coronavirus vaccine. Misinformation about the vaccine has caused paranoia and fears of possible side effects, which have discouraged a significant proportion of the population from getting vaccinated.

People opposed to vaccination, or Anti-vaccinators, have existed from when vaccinations first appeared. The first vaccine was made in 1796 when Edward Jenner noticed how milkmaids who were infected with cowpox were protected from smallpox. His theory revealed a way to reach immunity from smallpox through intentional cowpox infection, which included making an incision on the patient’s arm to expose the patient to the disease. Anti-vaccination movements protested the methodology of vaccination soon after his discovery. When the Vaccination Act of 1853—which made vaccination mandatory—was passed, the anti-vaccination movement established itself as the Anti Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League.

The Anti-Vax movement of today spread mostly through online communities, circulating misleading information about vaccines and sometimes encouraging dangerous misconceptions. Mothers are most targeted by anti-vaccination groups who prey on their emotions and protective nature for their children. Mothers who are searching for information about vaccines will run into these groups and will be flooded with danger signs and warnings, accompanied by personal accounts of incidents.

Part of the Anti-Vax concern of coronavirus vaccines today is the relatively new technology. The new coronavirus vaccine utilizes the technology of mRNA vaccines. Although it may be new in practice, mRNA research has been in development for about thirty years. Vaccines in general aim to create an immunity to certain diseases. Traditional vaccines usually introduce a weakened/inactive form of the pathogen or a protein from the antigen, which stimulates the immune system. Instead, mRNA vaccines work by giving your body a set of coded mRNA instructions to produce what is needed for a correct immune response. 

Fears are compounded by the emergence of real unintended long-term effects and side effects. In the first half of April, the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine was postponed after its release due to a rare side effect: dangerous blood clots. There were six cases out of the 7 million issued, all affecting women ages 18-48. The J&J vaccine was resumed later in the month with warnings of the possible side effects, but this incident incited even more hesitance for the vaccine.

It is understandable to be wary, to be conscious of vaccine dangers. The coronavirus vaccine utilizes the new technology of mRNA vaccines, and anything new will bring hesitancy. After all, the purpose of a vaccine is to protect the one receiving it from the harm of contracting the disease. As reassurance, there are many organizations monitoring vaccine safety, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Consumer safety is an important aspect in their eyes—even though the chances were slimmer than one in a million for the side effect, the J&J vaccine was still put on hold. Vaccines are only approved (even emergency approved) to be administered once there is proof that they are safe and effective, as public safety is a number one priority. Protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated. Building a good reputation is difficult, so organizations like the CDC are always on their best behavior to encourage you to build your disease immunity.

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