Reiss, Dorit R


The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on our world cannot be overstated. One of its noticeable features was the prominence of misinformation generally, and anti-vaccine misinformation more specifically. This article provides a breakdown of the five major themes of antivaccine misinformation and the way they were used to create fear, uncertainty, and doubt about COVID- 19 vaccines. Long before the pandemic, anti-vaccine activists argued using a five-part playbook. They argued that (1) vaccine preventable diseases were not really dangerous, (2) vaccines were dangerous and ineffective, (3) there were alternative treatments that were better than (dangerous and ineffective) vaccines, (4) there was a conspiracy to hide this information, and (5) the real issue is one of civil rights, not science. Their claims were based on misinformation before COVID-19, and anti-vaccine activists continued using the same themes, also based on misinformation, in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic created a moment of vulnerability that allowed anti-vaccine activists’ claims to have broader impact.

By setting out the themes and tactics used by anti-vaccine activists and spelling out the factors that led to the moment of vulnerability during the pandemic, this article aims to arm legal actors—judges, lawyers, and scholars—with tools that would help identify anti-vaccine claims and tactics, and hopes to protect them from being misled.

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