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Antivaccine Activism in the U.S. Threatens Public Health: Viewpoint

In the post-COVID era in the U.S., antivaccine messaging and political activism are “franchised with health-freedom communities established in each state to rapidly activate for legislative or protest purposes,” write authors of a Viewpoint article, representing a threat to U.S. public health and security. “Despite being distinct entities, these groups or individuals amplify each other’s social media content and calls-to-action, sharing unified messaging and their views that vaccine mandates violate liberty, nationally. In contrast, public health networks and communications can be minimally coordinated because they remain largely siloed by their state and institution. Even public health professionals active in communicating on social media individually are often doing so in an ad hoc, grassroots manner, with public officials often having limited ability to speak out (eg, due to institutional restrictions).”

To counter antivaccine activism, the authors call for a “whole of society” approach, in which public health agencies collaborate with diverse (eg, academic, civic, and private sector) stakeholders.” Three measures are recommended:

• Development of networked communities “capable of reaching the public at the right time, at the right place, and with the right messenger about vaccine-related information—especially to pre-empt and pre-bunk well funded and amplified messages disseminated by the anti-vaccine movement.”

• Solicit input from outside the “usual public health agencies” and shift the public health communication model “from the use of one credible messenger (that is vulnerable to discrediting attacks), to a broad, diverse, and coordinated network of expert messengers and influencers.”

• These “networked and coordinated communities [should be] leveraged to counter relevant trends in anti-vaccine efforts. This action will include separating narratives about liberty from anti-vaccine attitudes and mitigating anti-vaccine activist harassment of public health communicators.” 

“Building networked, coordinated initiatives will be challenging, but the stakes are too high to ignore,” conclude the authors. “Without concerted efforts to counter the anti-vaccine movement, the USA faces an ever-growing burden of morbidity and mortality from an increasingly undervaccinated, vaccine-hesitant society.”