The Rise of the Anti-Vaccine Voter


    A new, potentially destabilizing political movement has been born out of the pandemic: parents who joined the anti-vaccine and anti-mask cause.

    They were once Democrats or Republicans. But fears for their children in the pandemic transformed their thinking, and they now identify as independents who plan to vote based solely on a single-minded obsession.

    My colleague Sheera Frenkel interviewed nearly 30 parents who call themselves new anti-vaccine and anti-mask voters, and she found that they had strikingly similar paths. They said they were alarmed about their children during quarantines. They pushed to reopen schools and craved normalcy. They became angry, blaming lawmakers for the disruption to their children’s lives.

    Many of these parents congregated in Facebook groups that initially focused on in-person schooling. But these groups soon latched on to other issues, such as anti-mask and anti-vaccine messaging.

    While some parents left the online groups when schools reopened, some started questioning vaccines for measles and other diseases, for which inoculations have long proved effective. Activists who oppose all vaccines further enticed them by joining online parent groups and posting inaccurate medical studies and falsehoods.

    To back up their beliefs, some parents have organized rallies and disrupted local school board meetings. Others are raising money for anti-mask and anti-vaccine candidates such as J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for Senate in Ohio; Reinette Senum, an independent running for governor in California; and Rob Astorino, a Republican candidate for governor in New York.

    Sarah Levy, 37, was an independent who believed in social justice causes. She said her autistic 7-year-old son watched TV for hours and stopped speaking in full sentences in 2020, when the coronavirus led to lockdowns.

    “We were seeing real trauma happening because programs for children were shut down,” Levy, who lives in Miami, said. So she joined Facebook groups and discussed how to push the federal government to force schools to reopen.

    “I found my people,” Levy said. She said she found common ground with Republicans “who understood that for us, worse than the virus, was having our kid trapped at home and out of school.”

    The transformation of these parents brings an unpredictable element into November’s midterm elections. It has confounded Republican and Democratic strategists, who worry they are losing voters to candidates willing to take absolute positions on vaccines and masks.

    “So many people, but especially young parents, have come to this cause in the last year,” said Janine Pera, a longtime activist against all vaccines. “It’s been a huge gift to the movement.”

    The rebound can occur four or five days after treatment. Patients develop a sore throat, a runny nose or chills, for instance, and can be contagious to others again. (Biden began isolating again, following medical advice.)

    Initial clinical studies suggested that about only 1 percent to 2 percent of those treated with Paxlovid experienced symptoms again. A study published in June found that about 5 percent tested positive again within 30 days and 6 percent experienced symptoms again.

    But the anecdotal accounts of Paxlovid rebound — including a case involving Dr. Anthony Fauci — have echoed widely, causing many to wonder whether the reported data was accurate, especially as the contagious BA.5 subvariant spreads.

    Either way, experts stressed that Paxlovid had been notably successful in preventing more severe Covid-19 illnesses and hospitalizations. A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in June reported that symptoms from a rebound tended to be milder than during the primary infection and unlikely to lead to hospitalization.

    I am a Covid-19 epidemiologist at a local health department. It became impossible to see any impact of the work we do to contain this disease because we have no power to impose any regulations on business or other establishments. It feels all we do now is counting cases. My husband, daughter and I took all the precautions including wearing masks indoors among the few people who still do. Yet, today I lost my war against Covid-19. My daughter attended summer camp last week where they had zero Covid-19 guidelines except “wear a mask if you want,” so she did. She got sick, my husband got sick and I am sick. This camp praises itself on community involvement. But no one notified us when she was exposed, and they were reluctant to contact the kids who were exposed to my daughter. As I lay in my misery with high fever and tears streaming down my face in almost 100 degree weather, I can’t help to think how much sooner we can be enjoying safer outings and help our kids safely enjoy organized activities if we truly practice community involvement.

    — Dorota Carpenedo, Montana

    Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.

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    Thanks for reading. I’ll be back Wednesday — Jonathan

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