In general, I try to respect the sincerely held beliefs of others. It’s something I hope most decent human beings can agree upon. Mocking, belittling, or denigrating someone else’s beliefs isn’t just bound to cause conflict. It’s just a dick move.
I say that as someone who has criticized organized religion many times before. Within those criticism, though, I make it a point to say that I try to respect those who are sincere in their beliefs. I’ve no desire to mock them or make them feel lesser for believing what they belief.
All that being said, I draw a clear line when those beliefs get people killed.
This brings me to vaccines and the conspiracy theorists who love whining about them. These are people whose beliefs are hard to respect in any context. They’re not just skeptical about the efficacy of vaccines. They go out of their way to protest their use, even during a global pandemic that has killed millions.
I’m sorry, but I just can’t respect that. I don’t care if it’s for religious or non-religious reasons. This sort of thing is killing people. That’s objectively bad.
Now, I predicted last year that religious zealots would be among those who refuse to take vaccines and go out of their way to denigrate scientists. Unfortunately, that prediction proved distressingly accurate.
However, what I didn’t predict was how many self-professed “skeptics” would protest vaccines for non-religious reasons. I knew it was going to get absurd. I just didn’t know it was going to get “vaccines are making people magnets” absurd.
Seriously, I wish I were making that up. That’s a real testimony from a registered nurse, of all people, during an Ohio public hearing. Here’s the story from the Huffington Post. Be warned, though. Your faith in humanity will be shaken.
An anti-vaccine Ohio nurse attempted on Tuesday to prove that COVID-19 vaccines make people magnetic, but ― to use a gymnastics term ― she failed to stick the landing.
Registered nurse Joanna Overholt, testifying before the Ohio House health committee about what she said were potential coronavirus vaccine dangers, tried to use her own body as proof.
Overholt said she heard during lunch that vaccines cause magnetism in humans, so she decided to prove her point on herself by attempting to show how a bobby pin and a key would stick to her exposed skin.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t go well.
Now, I don’t know this woman’s full story. I have no idea what’s going on in her life or what led her to belief something this absurd. I’m fairly certain she didn’t just wake up one day and decide to believe bullshit conspiracy theories about vaccines.
Whatever her story, it doesn’t change the implications or the consequences. What she’s promoting isn’t just wrong or absurd. It’s legitimately harmful. On top of that, we’re still dealing with a pandemic and rhetoric like this is going to get people killed.
That’s the main takeaway I glean every time I see stories like this. That’s what sets them apart from other absurd conspiracy theories. Believing there are alien bodies in Area 51 or that the moon is made of cheese doesn’t directly harm anyone. Just being ignorant of certain facts is also forgivable. The internet is full of dumb falsehoods these days.
However, there are some facts that just aren’t in dispute. Chief among them is the demonstrable fact that vaccines save lives. The fact that nobody has died from smallpox in five decades is proof enough of that. In fact, few advances have ever saved as many lives as vaccines. The vaccines for COVID-19 are only adding to that total.
Unfortunately, these anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists are only fueling a sense of vaccine hesitancy that was always going to be an issue. Even before the age of the internet or modern religion, there has always been a skepticism about scientific advancements. This is just making it worse and getting people killed.
It’s one thing to make yourself look foolish in public in a manner that’s recorded and spread throughout the internet. That usually doesn’t have major consequences beyond making certain people internet celebrities for all the wrong reasons. It’s quite another to be foolish in a manner that undermines public health and leads to undue suffering.
There’s just no getting around it. Lower vaccination rates mean more disease. More disease means more suffering. In this case, it’s not a minor inconvenience. It’s potentially fatal. I feel like that last detail is worth emphasizing.
The problem is that those pushing anti-vaccine conspiracies don’t see that detail, either by ignorance or by choice. They may, in their heart of hearts, believe they’re saving lives by preventing people from getting vaccines. However, basic biology and math say otherwise. The data is not in dispute.
These beliefs are killing people.
The people who push these beliefs are responsible for propagating that suffering.
These beliefs do not deserve respect.
Consider this both a plea and an angry rant of sorts. If you are pushing these conspiracy theories, you’re not just a misguided fool. You’re going to get people killed. After last year, we dealt with enough death. Please don’t add to it.