Today’s anti-vaccine activists, however, enjoy a speed, scale, and reach far greater than those of Dr. Bond’s day. Bottom-up networked activism is driving the spread of anti-vaccine COVID-19 propaganda. Americans are about to see a deluge of tweets, posts, and snarky memes that will attempt to erode trust in the vaccine rollouts. Society’s ability to return to a semblance of normalcy depends on how effectively public-health authorities counter this misinformation and how assiduously media outlets and internet platforms refrain from amplifying it—but also on whether average Americans recognize that the material they click on and share has real-world consequences.
The deliberate campaign against the vaccine has already begun. Within 48 hours of the first people in the U.S. receiving the Pfizer vaccine, anti-vaccine activists were amplifying stories of allergic reactions and sharing claims about friends of friends whom the vaccine had supposedly injured or killed.