by Mary Harrington
Monday, 2
August 2021

What anti-vaxxers are really upset about

People want to be governed, not farmed
by Mary Harrington
Anti-vaccine protesters take to the streets. Credit: Getty

In Britain, vaccine uptake overall is now around 88%, and around 68% in adults under 30. Where it’s widely available but often refused because of vaccine hesitancy – notably in the US – uptake is currently more like 48%.

Just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant, a vaccination isn’t really something you can compromise on: you’re either jabbed or you’re not. And like pregnancy, it also has an inescapably social dimension: having kids affects others as well as oneself, and so does declining a medical intervention that reduces the risk of severe illness.

As such, vaccination discourse sits as uneasily as fertility discourse within cultures that especially prize individualism. Predictably, then, the discourse over incentivising vax stragglers has grown louder and stranger.

Like the rollout, vaccine incentives also reflect local conditions. In Romania, getting jabbed gets you a barbecued sausage sandwich; in Moscow you could win a car; in Washington State getting jabbed will score you a free cannabis joint, and the Biden administration is reportedly in talks with McDonalds about discounts for the jabbed. In the Philippines, districts are raffling cows, sacks of rice, new motorcycles and even a house, and in the UK, incentives on offer include discounted taxi rides and pizza, plus – from the end of September – the freedom to go clubbing. In France, citizens are being threatened with effective exclusion from normal life if they demur, triggering a widespread bout of the French national pastime, public rioting.

Meanwhile, the usual voices are lining up to condemn the unvaccinated as idiots and antisocial conspiracy theorists. And to be fair, many of the voices protesting this emerging new politics sound (to put it politely) eccentric. A London protest against vaccine passports triggered a police investigation after one speaker compared medical staff to Nazi war criminals.

Individualism runs deep in the West. Conversely, though, hard pandemic-era lessons on the social coordination (and sometimes authoritarian interventions) that most effectively manage infections have made a practical case for tempering the desire for freedom with a willingness to think socially too.

But even as pandemic politics drives a growing acceptance of more collectivist public health politics, we should reflect on the form taken by the new collective thinking: bodily interventions combined with big data. Where, in that outline, is the human scale, or the scope for individual context and flexibility? I think this is, however inchoately, the question being asked by the rag-tag coalition of protesters.

If we pretend there’s no need for human scale, or scope for individual subjectivity, we may find ourselves signing up to a ‘new normal’ politics that feels more like being farmed than governed.

Join the discussion

  • I was originally quite happy to wait and see how the vaccine roll out went, consider how common and how severe the side effects were, and then compare to whatever risk a 68 year old with no co-morbidities was facing from Covid itself. But now with a the bullying and censorship I wonder just what is going on and feel, well, hesitant!

  • LOL. Hilarious. Just take a look at MRNA and BNTX stocks for the last year. Blackrock and the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation have absolutely killed it! I think BMG might have sold their moderna shares. I don’t see them on the holders list anymore. Blackrock is still there. They are both still on BioNTech though. You are looking at the birth of a new trillion dollar industry. With the “bad news” the stocks are still going up. Get that arm ready baby!!! Booster shots a coming!! Crap… I’m going to quit arguing and go buy more BNTX stock! I’m following BMG.

  • Same for your belief in vaccines I am afraid Alexander.. The science is bogged with opinions and selecting of data and material. Everybody is human and wants to believe in something, even scientists and other opinion makers: it is far from black and white

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