Every anti-vaccine is a symptom. For some, it is the symptom of an institutional mistrust, built over years or even generations; for some, it’s a fad fueled by misinformation and a loss of connection to reality. There is always a reason.
The problem is what to do about them. Canada’s anti-vaccine population is not large, but it is large enough to cause problems. There have been local incidents across the country: harassment of restaurants, healthcare workers, public health officials, hospitals and, most recently, Chapman’s Ice Cream. It’s a list of things we should value, isn’t it? But it’s not funny.
“I’m worried about the increase in violent rhetoric coming from the anti-vaxx mob lately, and I’m not sure if giving him oxygen is the right idea, but it also makes me feel a little hard. feel comfortable, âsays Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at Queen’s University specializing in the study of extremism. He specifically referred to the radical QAnon who called on his supporters to kill those who vaccinate children.
We haven’t seen any escalation yet. But when I was in Brazil for the Olympics locals were saying violence on the streets in Rio, things are going well until they are not. This is what this movement feels.
“I mean, even ridiculous people, you know, they’ve got fists and can wear baseball bats, right?” Said Amarasingam. âIt doesn’t matter if they’re dumb. The question is, what is their propensity for violence? And how do we secure the environment enough that they can be taken apart if necessary? This is where this whole notion of stochastic terrorism comes in, if you raise the temperature enough for a large part of the population, the chances increase that at least one of them will do something.
The rhetoric has increased as vaccination has spread, widespread vaccination of children five to 11 years old is a big reason. For so many parents, this is a relief; some still have questions, which is OK. They are your children.
But the truly anti-vaccine crowd isn’t just persistent and urgent misinformed; it has a wild element that is antithetical to a civil society. Storming the food court in the No-Mask Mall, or the Eaton Center or a Tim Hortons is like a kid playing on D-Day, with the imaginary heroic goal of a child, refusing to surrender. It can be sad.
But the anger at the root is real, and whether it’s simple propagandist brain poisoning or just someone’s rage in a world they can’t quite assimilate, it’s there. In Windsor, a young man reportedly dropped a homemade bomb at an assembly plant where he worked after being suspended for failing to comply with a workplace vaccination warrant. The failed local People’s Party of Canada candidate, Victor Green – it is only slightly heartwarming that every PPC candidate was a failed People’s Party of Canada candidate – urged his supporters to make an appointment for the vaccines of the children and not to show up. Green claimed it had been hacked. Among other repellent ideas, CPP is driven by anti-vaccine activism. He got 800,000 votes.
Public health had already been the subject of threats and harassment throughout the pandemic. The city of Toronto has created a specific and detailed safety plan for each of its 500 clinics, and other public health units have it: extraction plans, escalation scenarios, safety. But you can’t put a cop in every clinic.
As with PPC voters, it’s like finding zombies among you. Public health officials are wondering if there are any cases of COVID that we are not seeing because of the way anti-vaccine citizens are acting.
âI think everyone has done it and it’s underestimated because of how difficult it is to manage,â said an Ontario public health official. âYou have the variety of the garden an unvaccinated person who is otherwise a normal member of society. They contract COVID and the vaccine keeps it from going anywhere. You get it in a “vaccine is bad” crowd, and not all of their contacts are vaccinated. It’s similar but different from religious communities, like Mennonites, where someone is diagnosed on hospitalization, but then you hit a wall of silence.
Anti-vaccine, they don’t answer the phone, or if they do, they won’t answer contact tracer questions. They lie about dates of onset, symptoms, or contacts, and some tracers look for contacts during the call to see if they can determine if they are real. Some anti-vaccines deny having COVID, even though their breathing becomes difficult, even though the public health nurse on the other end of the phone calls 911 to send an ambulance.
âIt’s a cult thought,â said a contact tracer, a public health nurse who works in the Hamilton area. âThere is no reasoning with some of them. They are victims. It’s the only way to think of them if you want to empathize when you go out on the other side. It’s sad. They are afraid and the emotion you see is anger.
Symptoms. Meanwhile, once again, the province continues to show sympathy for anti-vaccines, starting with Premier Doug Ford. At some point, he should explain, in detail, why.
So what do we do? How do we live with people who are fundamentally anti-society, and who don’t share the same reality? The United States currently has a handbook on what can happen if you can’t. Proper law enforcement and tighter enforcement of public health regulations should be a start.
“I think quietly vaccinating people who want to get vaccinated and get on with our lives is sort of the best way to go about it,” Amarasingam explains. âChange of mindâ¦ I don’t think that’s happening on Twitter. I don’t think it happens by making fun of them. I don’t think this happens through counter-demonstrations. You know, nothing like it has ever worked and will never work here either. It should be done on an interpersonal basis, with you and your doctor. This happens when they see people they trust get vaccinated and nothing happens to them, or their children get vaccinated and nothing happens to them. “
Maybe, but unreality is a stubborn virus in itself. Every anti-vaxxer is a symptom: something broke and they were lost, but they are also part of our society. And it’s hard to know what to do about it.