by Matt Corso
Vaccines for COVID-19 have become a highly contested subject in the American culture wars. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10.4% of the adult population claim they will most likely refuse to get vaccinated. Reasonings behind their refusal vary. Some are concerned about side effects, while others do not trust its safety or effectiveness. More colorful excuses often involve a global conspiracy spearheaded by Bill Gates and Dr. Anthony Fauci, who apparently seek world domination. Some people swore off the vaccine since it made their cousin’s friend from Trinidad’s testicles swell up, which ruined their marriage. On the surface, there appears to be a wide range of excuses to refuse the vaccine, but regardless of motivation, something that all anti-vaxxers have in common is that they are now a minority of the American public.
As of late August, about 51.1% of Americans are fully vaccinated. Since January, there has been a widespread campaign to vaccinate all Americans. Anti-vaccine sentiment is not a purely partisan issue, with 88% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans being vaccinated. Undoubtedly, a far majority of anti-vaxxers lean to the right – any of the most fervent anti-vaccine advocates are right-wing darlings, including Tucker Carlson and Rand Paul. Online disinformation and fearmongering, often from conservative radio and television personalities, played a major role in strengthening the anti-vaccination effort.
Still, there is more to the decision behind refusing the vaccine than simply political motivation or even misinformation. The one thing that unifies most anti-vaxxers is that they are contrarians. Contrarianism is as American as apple pie – nothing says freedom like being blatantly wrong about something, just because you can (why do you think libertarians exist?). How else could you refuse a vaccine that is FDA-approved, scientifically-backed, and widely promoted around the nation? You do not have to be a fringe conspiracy theorist to be a contrarian. Going against the grain is a core American ideal; it’s why many Anti-vaxxers cite the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, and vague references to personal liberty as their reasoning behind refusing the vaccine. Obviously, this reasoning is stupid. Ben Franklin and George Washington had no idea what vaccines were and unfortunately we can reach them for comment right now. Regardless, anti-vaxxers consider themselves oppressed rebels and revolutionaries. Unlike actual revolutionaries, anti-vaxxers do not have any principles, values, or legitimate beliefs – the core of their “rebellion” is childishly refusing to get the vaccine, simply because they can.
The idea that the anti-vaccination trend is based on any actual moral principles is bullshit. Red states such as Mississippi and Nebraska established some of the strictest mandates for literally any other shot, beside the COVID-19 vaccine. Despite its embracement of anti-vaccination rhetoric, Fox News has a vaccination mandate. Even former President Donald Trump now promotes the vaccine, albeit in a rather lazy and borderline incoherent manner. The vast majority of anti-vaxxers are Republicans, but the anti-vaccination effort is a new trend that, on the surface, has little relation to the party platform. Still, the strong correlation – some would say direct association – between the unvaccinated and Republicans should not be ignored. There are two reasons why this correlation exists. First, Republicans, right-wing politicians, and conservative influencers simultaneously promote and fall for conspiracies and misinformation. Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity have a history of promoting evil and frankly stupid ideas long before the vaccine culture war began. In a survey from the Science Advocate, conducted by researchers at the Ohio State University last June, more misinformation targets conservatives in comparison to liberals. This means that conservatives are more exposed to unconventional, fringe, and outright false views. The second reason why there is a correlation between the unvaccinated and Republicans is, to put it bluntly, Republicans tend to be more contrarian than others. Ever since Trump’s political rise, a major part of being a conservative is “owning the libs”. It is less about ideological consistency or even standing up for any principles and more about making the people you hate mad or uncomfortable. Despite the development and initial rollout of the vaccine occurring under President Trump’s watch, many of his most supporters still refuse the vaccine. Why? Because Democrats, scientists, and the greater political and media establishment promote it. Opposing the vaccine is a widely rebuked view with mountains of evidence against it, but contrarians love being in the minority! Anti-vaxxers, although generally conservative, are more united by their insistence on being opposed to socially accepted beliefs than an actual concrete ideology.
Despite months of a significant public push to get people vaccinated, a chunk of the population refuse to budge. If public promotion and the battle over misinformation are not working on the remaining unvaccinated, how can we get them to change their tune? It is actually quite simple: force them to. Vaccine mandates are effective. As I previously stated, many famous anti-vaxxers, including Tucker Carlson and Joe Rogan, got the vaccines since their workplaces, Fox News and UFC respectively, require it. Many major companies, such as McDonald’s and Tyson Foods, started mandating the vaccine. Although a few of the most stubborn anti-vaxxers ignore mandates, national mandates will likely close the gap and bring the United States closer to herd immunity.
The cultural debate over vaccines is worthless. The majority of states with the highest transmission rate are red states with minimal health protocols or mandates. The CDC recently reported that the unvaccinated at eleven times more likely to die of COVID-19 than the vaccinated. Arguing with Anti-vaxxers will not solve this problem. Vaccine requirements are the only way to stop anti-vaxxers’ their temper tantrums. Their “rebellion” is completely surface level, and they are only refusing the vaccine because they can get away with it. That is how contrarians work. Put them under real pressure, and the unvaccinated will quickly join the rest of the country.