‘Anti-science’ attitudes undermining US efforts as coronavirus cases soar

By Justin Cremer

July 1, 2020

The strong presence of a “general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling” in the United States is undermining the nation’s efforts against the coronavirus, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned this week.

Fauci, a member of the Trump Administration’s coronavirus task force and the country’s top public health expert, told CNN in an interview that an overall skepticism towards vaccines and a pervasive anti-science sentiment in the US are sabotaging the fight to control the virus’s spread.

“There is a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country – an alarmingly large percentage of people, relatively speaking,” Fauci said.

The skeptical views of so many Americans would undercut the efficacy of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine, Fauci said. More than 140 vaccine efforts are currently underway in the global push to stop the pandemic, with a handful emerging as the most likely candidates. Fauci said he hoped an eventual vaccine would be around 70-75 percent effective — enough to bring the population up to herd immunity level. Sometimes referred to as community immunity, herd immunity is when enough of a population becomes immune to an infectious disease, either because they’ve been vaccinated against it or have previously overcome an infection.

Fauci warned that even with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 70-75 percent effective, that strong anti-vaccine sentiment would make it “unlikely” that the US population could reach herd immunity. Recent polls have shown that a large percentage of Americans would avoid an available COVID-19 vaccine. A May poll from the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that only around half of Americans would take a vaccine, while similar polls from CNN and the Washington Post revealed that roughly one-third would not take a vaccine.

Canadian health officials also warned that the potential for a COVID-19 vaccine has  re-energized anti-vaccination groups, who are questioning both the safety and need for a vaccine. They said health leaders must work quickly to establish trust with the populace.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, unfounded conspiracy theories have abounded. Among them is that patently absurd notion that Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates* is somehow behind the virus as part of an intricate plot to implant digital, trackable microchips into the world’s population. The anti-vaccination movement has been so effective at spreading misinformation about the coronavirus on social media that researchers have warned that the anti-vaxxers are currently winning the battle for hearts and minds and that their influence could be enough to scare a significant population away from a vaccine and thus allow the virus to continue spreading.

An AFP report this week said that anti-vax content continues to flourish on social media despite the platforms’ claims that they will limit the spread of coronavirus-related misinformation.

Fauci’s comments in the CNN interview were followed up on Tuesday with testimony before Congress. There, he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the US could begin to see as many as 100,000 new coronavirus cases every day.

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” he warned.

The immunologist lamented the fact that so many Americans are disregarding advice to maintain social distancing and wear masks in public.

“If you look at what’s going on, and just look at some of the film clips that you’ve seen of people congregating, often without masks, of being in crowds and jumping over and avoiding and not paying attention to the guidelines that we very carefully put out, we are going to continue to be in a lot of trouble and there is going to be a lot of hurt if that does not stop,” he testified.

Fauci’s testimony came as more than half of all US states are experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases. The 44,358 confirmed cases that the country recorded on Tuesday marked a record single-day increase, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The US has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country in the world, with over 2.6 million, and more deaths, with nearly 130,000 Americans having succumbed to COVID-19.

* The Cornell Alliance for Science is partly funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Photo: Shoppers and pedestrians in Lima, Peru, wear masks on the street. Myriam B/Shutterstock