Anti-vaccine movement could impact the effectiveness of a COVID-19 vaccine

Posted at 1:27 PM, May 04, 2020

By mid-April, the U.S. saw many Americans' frustrations with lockdown measures boil over. Protests popped up around the country and some Americans let their feelings over quarantine be known.

But among those protesting lock downs were some people who showed up for different reasons; those protesting vaccines. People who are skeptical or opposed to vaccines have been using these protests to voice their opinions.

“The most recent data suggests that as many as 1 in 3 parents are intentionally skipping some vaccines or don’t have their kids fully vaccinated on the schedule recommended by public agencies,” said Jennifer Reich, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, Denver.

For the last 10 years, Reich has been studying why parents may reject vaccines.

“We’ve convinced parents they're entirely responsible for everything that happens to their own children, and at the exact same time, we have messaged to everybody that you are personally responsible for their own health," she explained. "And if you take these two ideologies and you put them together, I think it’s pretty logical that parents now see vaccines as a kind of personal choice and not part of a broader campaign for public health."

Some people like Del Bigtree have serious concerns over a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

“Rushing science, historically, is one of the stupidest things mankind has ever done,” he said.

Bigtree is outspoken in his criticism of vaccines and says he questions if there is a connection between multiple vaccines and autism. The CDC, and numerous other scientific studies, refute those claims.

However, Bigtree says he has several concerns over a coronavirus vaccine, and not all those concerns are related to health.

“I have this belief that where there’s hundreds of billions of dollars to be made, there tends to be people who are willing to try and cut some corners to try and get that money in their pockets,” said Bigtree.

However, if a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 is developed, it could help us achieve what doctors call herd immunity.

“Herd immunity means that most of the people in the population are immune to a particular pathogen, and so that really slows down the spread of that pathogen within the community," said Dr. Heather Young, an infectious disease expert with Denver Health.

For diseases like polio, the percentage of people with immunity needed to achieve herd immunity is between 80 to 85 percent. For more contagious viruses like measles, we need 90 to 95 percent.

We don’t know yet what percentage is needed to achieve herd immunity for COVID-19. Until we develop herd immunity, many of us will be at-risk.

“If more people end up developing the infection, they can then spread it to people who either are also not immune or who’s immunity has weened and really put the whole community at risk,” said Dr. Young.

"I would never take a coronavirus vaccine, because there is no reason for me to," argued Bigtree. "All of science show us, to date, that getting a natural virus is far more a much stronger and thorough immunity than a vaccine has ever been able to create. I say that the natural immunity is the Ferrari of immunity and vaccines give you the Pinto of immunity."

If we develop a vaccine for this coronavirus, Reich says the whole process will be scrutinized.

“We have a vaccine that will likely be eligible for expedited review and will move through the review and testing process faster, and so that’s going to raise questions about what was skipped, what kind of safety measures do we have, and are we trusting that it went through a rigorous review process that can make people feel really safe," Reich said. "And if that process looks corrupt, if that process is not transparent, we run the risk of increasing all vaccine access, all vaccine testing, and all vaccine safety, and I think that could be more detrimental for all of us than we can even imagine."

Reich says creating trust in any potential vaccine may be as important as the vaccine itself.