World Events

Anti-vax groups rack up victories against Covid-19 push

Many of the latest laws and executive orders focus on preventing public agencies from denying jobs or services to people based on their immunization status. But Florida went even further, preventing businesses — along with government agencies and schools — from requiring customers to prove they’re vaccinated against, or have recovered from, Covid-19.

Hundreds of vaccine-related bills are usually introduced in state houses each legislative session, said Tahra Johnson, program director for public health and maternal and child health at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many focus on creating or expanding exemptions to school inoculation requirements or eliminating such exemptions.

This year there are even more bills “due to the additional Covid-19 vaccine bills and a focus on adults,” she said.

Mary Holland, president and general counsel at Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group founded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., said the bills that have advanced this year “hold the line” against new mandates for shots that have yet to receive full FDA licensure, rather than emergency authorization. The three vaccines in use in the United States have all been cleared on an emergency basis, though the FDA is expected to soon give full approval to the shot from Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.

“Saying that freedom is conditional on vaccine status is obviously unprecedented,” she said.

The anti-vaccine movement was historically split between factions of the political left and right. But former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric downplaying Covid’s severity, claims of government overreach by mask and lockdown protesters, and the varied arguments vaccine opponents deploy all “plugged it very directly into the very polarized political discourse we have now,” said Jonathan Berman, a scientist who’s written a book on the anti-vaccine movement.

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