Vaccine Hucksterism: VAERS and the War on Medical Science

Image by Ivan Diaz.

If 2020 was the year that broke America’s brain with QAnon, “Big Lie” election propaganda, and Covid-19 misinformation, 2021 to 2022 have shown little signs of a return to sanity. On Covid-19, anti-vaxxer misinformation permeates political discourse. Twenty-seven percent of Americans had yet to be “fully” vaccinated by receiving at least two shots by January 2022, and the vast majority of these holdouts – more than 80 percent – said they didn’t plan on getting vaccinated. The pandemic continues, despite many Americans talking about it as if it’s in the past. Approximately three-in-ten Americans in mid-2021 falsely believed the pandemic was over. Forty-five percent acted as if the pandemic was over, saying in late 2021 that they felt “safe enough to carry out everyday life largely the way it was before the pandemic.” This was up from 36 percent in late August to early September.

Anti-vaxxer disinformation activists are intensifying their attacks on medical efforts to combat the pandemic, utilizing pseudoscience to manipulate public opinion. One example is the perversion of the VAERS database, which is used to drum up opposition to vaccination against Covid-19. VAERS – the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System – is a data tool run by both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. It was created in 1990 to provide citizens with one central location to report their experiences with potential side effects of vaccines. This database has become a key piece of “evidence” used by anti-vaxxers to cultivate public distrust of vaccines.

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Anthony DiMaggio is Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He is the author of Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here (Routledge, 2022), in addition to Rebellion in America (Routledge, 2020), and Unequal America (Routledge, 2021). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com. A digital copy of Rebellion in America can be read for free here.

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