“Anti-science” vaccine skepticism rooted in the breakdown of institutional trust – Catholic World Report

Until natural science is again given the respect due to it and is properly distinguished from subversive ideological agendas that compromise its credibility, the crisis of confidence will only worsen.

“Anti-science” vaccine skepticism rooted in the breakdown of institutional trust – Catholic World Report
A protester outside the Department of Education headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York City demonstrates Oct. 4, 2021, against the mandate that teachers and staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19. (CNS photo/Brendan McDermid, Reuters)

America’s media and health establishment are expressing horror and consternation at what has now become a mass resistance movement to the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine, as millions insist they will not receive it despite a relentless and moralistic promotional campaign, legal threats, and a vigorous censorship of the slightest deviations from pro-vaccination orthodoxy. Today, after nine months of wide availability, only 55% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and a full 35% of the U.S. population remains completely unvaccinated. The vast majority of them tell pollsters they intend to stay that way.

The mainstream media, and many health experts, have repeatedly attributed an “anti-science” posture to those who have shown resistance to vaccination. One physician and research scientist writing for USA Today, Dr. Peter Hotez, has even called for a campaign to counteract “the anti-vaccine, anti-science aggression,” by suppressing COVID vaccine dissenters. Hotez wrote a similar article for the prestigious scientific journal Nature, where he frankly advocates that the government “move to dismantle anti-vaccine groups in the United States.” His call is echoed in other mainstream news publications and major scientific journals, which have repeatedly lamented “COVID denial” as contributing to the continuing spread of the disease.

It cannot be denied that some, even much, of vaccine dissent in the United States and worldwide has been based on half-truths, the misreading of statistics, and even outright pseudoscience. However, the rejection of the COVID vaccine on such a scale cannot simply be reduced to poor reasoning and anti-science superstition on the part of the public, which has been saturated with scientistic ideology in public schools for decades. If so many Americans today are skeptical about claims made by institutionally-certified experts, those same institutions might want to begin to address the problem by looking into the proverbial mirror. There, they will find systemic failures that span decades, and have vastly undermined the prestige of the scientific and health establishment.

For decades, Americans have been struck with multiple waves of pseudoscience emanating not from street-preaching cranks, but from the country’s most prestigious universities. These have functioned in tandem with the mainstream media, Hollywood, the corporate elite, and the government itself, to impose social agendas that have been deeply harmful to American society, all in the name of “science.”

The earliest manifestations of this tendency were found in the development of “scientific racism” and eugenics in the early 20th century, which were embraced and promoted the faculty of Harvard University and other Ivy League schools. They were followed by ridiculous and manifestly unscientific political ideologies, particularly socialism and Marxism, which were all the rage for decades in academia while critics were derided as fools and institutionally marginalized.

Since the late 1960s, despite overwhelming and ever-increasing scientific proof of the humanity of the unborn, the medical establishment has totally reversed itself on abortion, moving from firm opposition to a virtually uncritical embrace. In the last two decades, fundamental biological truths and a mountain of peer-reviewed research on the harms of sexual perversion and promiscuity have been brazenly cast aside in favor of homosexualism and gender ideology, leaving a trail of human tragedy in its wake and further undermining the moral integrity of our society.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified all of these trends, blowing them up to grotesque proportions that left little room for irony. Under the name of “science,” questionable policies have been imposed on the public through the influence of celebrity health officials. Millions of Americans were virtually imprisoned in their homes in “lockdowns,” a term used in the control of prison populations, while politically-favored rioters ran through the streets destroying property and murdering police with impunity. Churches and small businesses were ruthlessly shuttered, while large corporations were given a pass to operate. Every possibility of low-cost therapeutics was dismissed and even attacked, which gave the appearance of favoring large pharmaceutical corporations. Not infrequently leading figures of the health establishment have blithely contradicted themselves, or have casually revealed that they have been misleading Americans for months regarding the pandemic. The inevitable result has been to aggravate the already profound loss of institutional trust among average Americans.

The most glaring institutional failure may prove to be the involvement of the most eminent figures in the American health establishment – Drs. Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins, respectively the directors of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institutes of Health – in funding dangerous forms of research that may have contributed to the virus itself. Troublingly, the NIH has been linked, albeit somewhat indirectly, to bat coronavirus “gain of function” research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which may be the original source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adding to the loss of trust for many Catholics and other pro-life religious groups is the use of fetal stem lines derived from aborted babies in the testing and even the production stage of available vaccines. Although it has been argued that cooperation in such moral atrocities is remote in this case, particularly in the case of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, many are understandably concerned about any association with the horror and cruelty of abortion, especially when it is used to generate massive corporate profits. The disregard of the pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government for this serious moral concern only adds to skepticism about the vaccines among large numbers of Americans.

Scientific establishment was once held in esteem

A very telling indication of the calamitous decline in trust in the scientific establishment in the United States is the dramatic contrast between the reaction to the COVID vaccine and the reaction to the polio vaccine in the 1950s. The two epidemics have much in common. Polio was also a viral disease that had little effect on the vast majority of carriers, but in a small percentage of people, particularly children, its effects were devastating, resulting in death or a lifetime of paralysis for about 1 in 1000 victims.

Polio was not as widespread as COVID-19 and the total number of injured and killed were a much smaller percentage of the population than today, but Americans were overjoyed at the news that a vaccine had become available in 1955. Although a very small number of dissenters (often led by chiropractors who at that time rejected the viral theory of disease) refused to take the vaccine, the vast majority sought it eagerly.

Mass acceptance of the polio vaccine continued in spite of a catastrophic error by one manufacturer that accidentally left live virus in the vaccine, which caused an estimated 40,000 cases of polio, paralyzed 200 people and killed ten. Americans shrugged off this tragedy and continued to receive the vaccine; by the end of the 1960s, polio had virtually disappeared from the United States.

The enthusiastic and unquestioning reception of the polio vaccine represented a “high point” for the prestige of natural science in America, according to David Oshinsky, author of Polio: An American Story. “If you had to pick a moment as the high point of respect for scientific discovery, it would have been then,” Oshinsky told National Public Radio in a recent interview. “People believed infectious disease was [being] conquered . . . People couldn’t get [the vaccine] fast enough.”

It shouldn’t be be surprising that Americans were so trusting of the country’s scientific and medical establishment. They saw mostly benefits and little that threatened their religious and moral values, or their personal liberties. Scientific and associated technological advancements were revolutionizing American life and helping millions out of the drudgery associated with poverty, creating new opportunities for leisure and personal development.

All of this occurred in a cultural atmosphere that was deeply receptive to religious values. From the 1930s through the early 1960s, most scientists told pollsters they believed in God, and religious values were so in vogue that “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance, and a new national motto, “In God we trust,” was added to all of the national currency. The Bible was freely referenced and taught in public schools, where Darwinian evolution was yet to be imposed by judicial fiat. The sexual revolution was still in its embryonic stage – the culture of promiscuity and divorce was just beginning to make its entry on the national stage, and the madness of LGBT ideology remained mostly in the closet. The new “waves” of increasingly radical feminism were yet to come. Even Margaret Sanger said she was opposed to abortion.

In recent decades this profound relationship of trust between Americans and their institutions has been lost in the face of a relentless political assault on religious truth and family values, much of it under the banner of “science,” which is a term that has increasingly come to mean not the scientific method, but the technocratic elite that often falsely claims to represent it. The plummeting loss in institutional trust, which appears in repeated opinion polls spanning decades, has been noted often but rarely understood by the elite punditry, which offers little more than worried expressions of incomprehension. The inevitable result has been the politicization of matters that were once merely technical issues of public health.

Calls for repression make the situation worse

In his call for a campaign against “anti-science aggression,” Dr. Hotez frankly recognizes this result, although like most commentators he seems to be blissfully unaware of the cause. He notes that most opposition to vaccination reflects political alignment, and is coming from “conservatives living in deep red states,” adding that “many living in the South and elsewhere now tie their political allegiance to vaccine defiance.” He naively advocates an outreach effort to “conservative communities and news networks (or their leaders)” to “ask for their help and advice,” as if the problem is just a matter of better educational efforts by the same technocratic establishment that has lost the trust of the public.

If the carrot doesn’t work, the nation’s elites have various kinds of sticks. Hotez frankly wants the government to use force. President Biden has already threatened employers with a brutal vaccine mandate that mercifully has yet to materialize. YouTube, Facebook, and other tech companies continue to censor dissenters on their platforms. Now, a new institute has come into being whose purpose seems to be to conflate vaccine resistance with “hate.” Although the Center for Countering Digital Hate, with offices in London and New York, has yet to disclose its sources of funding, it is being cited frequently by the mainstream media for its list of “haters” who reject vaccines. The strategy appears similar to that of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has sought to associate pro-family organizations with racism.

Such approaches will only tend to confirm to millions of alienated Americans that political, not scientific and beneficent motives, underlie pro-vaccination campaigns, and will provoke more, not less resistance to vaccination efforts.

I certainly don’t pooh-pooh the dangers posed by COVID-19. My wife and I, as well as most of my wife’s immediate family, contracted the illness in early January of this year, and it was one of the worst experiences of our lives. In addition to the debilitating weakness, nausea, irritability and pain in various organs, both of us began to experience difficulty breathing; we were blessed to find a doctor who gave us anti-inflammatory injections that may have saved our lives. My wife’s stepfather was barely saved with oxygen treatments, and one of her uncles and various family friends died of it. We experienced weakness for several months following our recovery. COVID is a very dangerous and often deadly disease, and no one should treat it as a “hoax” or as a trivial variant of the flu.

However, like many Americans, I am troubled by the association of the vaccine with the horrific crime of abortion, even if it is somewhat remote. I am troubled by the insistence on applying it to ever-younger age groups, even those whose vulnerability is statistically very low, despite its newness and despite harmful reactions that have been observed in some individuals. Furthermore, I see no reason for me to receive such a new and relatively untested treatment, which is only just receiving regular FDA approval, when I have already contracted and overcome the disease. Like many COVID survivors, I am quite aware of studies that have suggested that previous illness conveys a long-term immunity or at least resistance to COVID-19 infection. I am not opposed to the vaccine, but I am also not interested in receiving it.

One elderly relative of mine has not been infected, and my numerous conversations with her have made it clear to me that she is quite aware of the deadly risks posed by COVID-19, but she is among the millions of Americans who has decided to live with them rather than receive the vaccine. Her reasoning is simple: she doesn’t want to cooperate in any way with medications that have been developed or tested with aborted stem cells. She knows she could ultimately die as a result of her decision, and she’s at peace about it.

I’m worried about my relative’s health, but I’m also worried about a society that has become so morally confused and politically polarized that it can no longer act with coherence and mutual trust in the face of such a serious common threat. If health experts and the elites who support them wish to restore their own prestige and the prestige of “science,” the underlying causes of this problem must be addressed with honesty. Until natural science is again given the respect due to it and is properly distinguished from subversive ideological agendas that compromise its credibility, the crisis of confidence will only worsen. That’s very bad for public health – physically, culturally, and spiritually.

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