THEOn Saturday, anti-vaccine activists temporarily cut off access to Los Angeles Dodger Stadium, one of the nation’s largest mass vaccination sites, shouting at healthcare workers and calling out to the many seniors who were patiently waiting for a vaccine in their cars. as “laboratory rats”.
For Dr. Richard Pan, a state senator who has authored one of the toughest pro-vaccination laws in the country, the wrong, unscientific message was nothing new. Over the past decade, Pan has reluctantly become an expert on the anti-vaccine movement, having been the target of protests, death threats, and an assault on himself.
But that didn’t make this weekend’s protest any less worrisome, Pan said. organized on Facebook, yet another sign that the social network is not cracking down on misinformation about vaccines. The anti-vaccine movement has seen links to extremism and militias, and some of the protesters at dodger stadium seemed to have been present at the rallies leading up to the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol, Pan said.
“This is part of an escalation of violence that we are seeing in the anti-vaccine movement,” said Pan. “It is not an isolated incident. Unfortunately, as they have become more and more violent, they have suffered little consequences for it and, without consequences, their extremism and violence will continue to increase ”.
The following questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What was your reaction when you found out what happened at Dodger Stadium this weekend?
He was, no doubt, outraged that people had tried to prevent other people from having access to vaccines. I think that event demonstrated a lie that anti-vaccines often proclaim, that it is about choice and freedom; Yet here they were denying people their choice to get vaccinated and denying our community and our country the opportunity to be free from this terrible disease that has killed more people than World War II at this time.
In your opinion, has the anti-vaccine movement gotten bolder and more dangerous in recent years?
When I first wrote my bill to educate people about vaccines in 2010, they were presenting their myths, but overall, you could have a conversation. When 2015 came [when Pan sought to get rid of personal belief exemptions and allow only medical exemptions for vaccinations – legislation that ultimately passed], participated in death threats. They received death threats not only for me, but also for my staff and other legislators. In fact, some legislators had to close their district offices because they were concerned about the safety of their staff. You had Robert F. Kennedy come and call vaccines the Holocaust and use violent imagery. He apologized for that, but then used that analogy elsewhere.
Then fast forward to 2019, when I introduced Senate Bill 276 (which required the California Department of Public Health to pass medical exemptions and eventually pass). They intensified it. Not only do they come forward in large numbers, which is fine, that’s their right to do so, but then they get involved in things like hitting the walls, basically sounding like they’re trying to break into legislative chambers during debate.
They would try to interfere with the legislature by standing in chairs and yelling, or yelling in the galleries, not just when we are discussing the vaccine bill, but generally just trying to stop the legislature from doing its business. They invited a militia to join them at the state capitol, thus demonstrating an open link with other extremist groups, and the death threats continued. But then one of the anti-vaccines assaulted me on the street and broadcast it live on Facebook.
[The assailant] he didn’t run away from the police when they showed up, and Facebook allowed him to leave that video because they said it wasn’t violent enough [to take down], as I did not suffer serious injuries. So he continued to receive praise and adulation from the anti-vaccine community for getting their hands on me.
And then after that another [anti-vaccine activist] threw blood on the floor of the Senate. Just to put that in context, the California state legislature has been meeting in those legislative houses for 150 years and those public galleries have been there in that same building for the same amount of time. It was the first example I encountered of someone intentionally throwing something from the public gallery at legislators while they were conducting people’s business downstairs.
One hundred and fifty years – Just think of all the different issues that came up in that chamber, from abortion, to gun control, to civil rights. And that’s the group that does it, and the legislature had to go into recess and all the blood-spattered senators had to go get a checkup and biohazard had to do a deep cleaning of the site.
What are the responsibilities of local officials and local law enforcement when faced with situations such as bloodshot at the state legislature or the protest at Dodger Stadium?
Until people look around, there are no consequences. Folks at Dodger Stadium, there were no arrests, no citations, nothing.
They should have been cited for violating public health orders. Someone needs to investigate whether they violated other laws by obstructing entry to the vaccination site and interfering with people trying to get medical care during a pandemic; If there is no law against it, maybe it is time to create a law against it.
Then we talk about violence against vaccines. There was that pharmacist in Wisconsin, someone who was intentionally trying to screw up vaccines, allowing people to get the vaccine intentionally spoiled. That is violence, right?
The lies themselves, which discourage people from getting vaccines, are already putting people’s lives at risk, but they are taking them to the next level where they directly threaten people’s lives. When you go unmasked and yell at older people, you are potentially spreading disease.
The real challenge is this: why don’t we see it that way? People just say, ‘Oh, they just have some crazy beliefs. People can believe what they want. Oh they’re like my crazy uncle or something, I can’t reason with you, you think the earth is flat ‘or whatever. But this is the consequence of the real world and people’s lives are in danger.
This is a public safety issue. We have a public health crisis, but this is a public safety problem. People are dying.
What was your biggest fear when it comes to the anti-vaccine movement, before Covid?
The greatest fear has always been that people who did not need to die will die. We eliminated measles in 2000. In 2019, we almost lost our measles elimination status in the United States because we had a lot of measles cases and that is directly attributed to lower vaccination rates.
We know that anti-vaccine people target particular communities. The measles outbreak that occurred between Somali refugees in Minnesota, we know that Andrew Wakefield [the discredited anti-vax doctor] went and told them vaccines cause autism [they don’t] and reduced the vaccination rate. The vaccine outbreak in Washington state, we know that Larry Cook [the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist who founded the Stop Mandatory Vaccination website and Facebook group] went and bought Facebook ads specifically targeting women who were of childbearing age.
We need to take anti-vaccine propaganda seriously and deal with it because it has real-life consequences, both in terms of people’s lives and preventable diseases, but also as organizational tools to enact violence against people trying to support vaccines. vaccinations
And now, with extremism and Covid? What is your biggest fear when it comes to the anti-vaccine movement?
Despite how tired people are from Covid, I am very concerned that we cannot control this virus due to the movement against vaccines. They are fueling unwarranted anxiety about vaccines through the lies they are telling, but on top of that, the anti-vaccine movement has opposed all public health efforts to stop this disease.
They oppose masking, they oppose testing, they oppose physical distancing and avoiding meetings. They have been opposing all efforts to stop this disease. One of its leaders, Del Bigtree, actually had a video that was taken down, where it basically said, “If you die from Covid it’s your fault because you made poor health decisions and didn’t eat well. This is as mild as a cold and we should spread it as much as possible. “This group is actively trying to make us sick. They are also threatening the lives of those who try to prevent that from happening.
Think about it. We have a pandemic that has killed more people than World War II and in less time. However, we have a movement of people who not only want to spread the disease, but have aligned themselves with other extremist groups to actively stop people trying to stop this disease. And their actions have very little consequence.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism