No coronavirus vaccine can inoculate against anti-vaxxers

As the world ails, the movement against vaccinations is alive and well.

An employee of German biopharmaceutical company CureVac, demonstrates research workflow on a vaccine for the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease at a laboratory in Tuebingen, Germany (photo credit: REUTERS/ANDREAS GEBERT)
An employee of German biopharmaceutical company CureVac, demonstrates research workflow on a vaccine for the coronavirus (COVID-19) disease at a laboratory in Tuebingen, Germany
In a televised address on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued the latest of what have become additional near-daily directives aimed at preventing the contracting and spreading of COVID-19.
“Citizens of Israel, we are still at the height of an international tsunami,” he said. “The coronavirus pandemic is washing powerfully over continents and countries…. All of us are making a gargantuan effort to overcome the virus... but this doesn’t mean that the danger is behind us. We cannot fall into the trap of complacency.”
He added that Israeli is at a crossroads from which it either can progress or regress.
“Over the past day in New York alone, a person died every four minutes. In Spain, the situation is similar…. We are doing everything in our power not to reach that point.
I know that this has caused severe economic damage… but our first priority is to save the lives of thousands and thousands of Israelis.”
Netanyahu then demanded that everyone wear masks in public. Those who don’t possess store-bought ones can improvise with scarves or other face-coverings, he said, “to minimize the spread of the virus to others.”
He also stressed that only family members already sharing a household may celebrate Passover together, even if it means forfeiting the presence at the Seder of daughters, sons, siblings and particularly grandparents, who are in the highest risk group.
Though an Israeli government ban on breaking matzah with one’s closest relatives would appear to be a peculiar form of marking the Jewish people’s freedom from bondage, we grudgingly accept it – along with the rest of the corona-spurred impositions on our civil liberties – as a necessary pill to swallow. Above all, we want to get this trying ordeal over with as soon as possible, each of us doing his or her part to flatten the curve. You know, so we can begin, literally and figuratively, to heal as individuals and as a society with a functioning economy, if not a flourishing one.
YES, WE ARE prepared to suffer temporarily for a long-term benefit. This societal willingness stems both from the Talmudic tenet, “Kol Kisrael arevim zeh bazeh” (“All of Israel is responsible for one another”), and from previous experience with diseases like smallpox, polio and the measles, which the world fought hard to eradicate.
Prior to the advent of vaccines – and herd immunity through mass inoculation - many of those who contracted those contagious and debilitating viruses perished or became disabled due to complications arising from them.
For a region to achieve herd immunity, however, an overwhelming majority of its population needs to be vaccinated. It’s a gradual process, but a blessed one that everyone awaits impatiently in relation to COVID-19.
On this score, Netanyahu received some encouraging news from the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), the Nes Ziona-based bio-defense lab that he tasked in February with researching and developing the vaccine. IIBR director Shmuel Shapira reported on “significant progress” in the endeavor, with a “model for commencing an animal trial” in the works.   
Meanwhile, scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and at MIGAL-Galilee Research Institute in Kiryat Shmona are also engaged in what promises to be fruitful research.
MIGAL biotech group leader Dr. Chen Katz told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that his team is very close to producing an oral vaccine that could be cleared for testing on humans as early as June 1. Similar efforts are underway, as well, in laboratories around the coronavirus-infected globe.
SIMULTANEOUSLY, HOWEVER, as the world ails, the movement against vaccinations is alive and well.
It’s hard to believe that a mere four months ago, in the midst of a worldwide resurgence of the measles, the Israeli anti-vax organization Hisunim-bira muskelet” (“Vaccinations-an educated choice”) hosted an international conference in Tel Aviv.
The ad for the convention – touted as the “first of its kind in Israel” – read in part: “Great forces are keeping us out of the public discourse; they’re afraid for us to make our own decisions about our children, preventing our doctors from a wide range of research and existing facts…. Whatever the system is trying to hide, we will expose, with the help of a variety of the world’s expert researchers and physicians. The pharmaceutical companies employ the largest PR firms in Israel, as well as dozens of lobbyists, and exert pressure on the media. Interest groups are trying to present us as crazy…. Don’t succumb to their powerful propaganda campaign…. Do your own research, read and learn, for the sake of all our children.”
A key speaker at the November 21 event was Del Bigtree, founder and CEO of the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), a US-based organization.
Bigtree wrote and produced the 2016 documentary Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. The film gained lots of attention, spurring the New York City-based Selz Foundation to present Bigtree with a $100,000 grant to set up ICAN, and an additional million dollars the following year.
The director of the movie was Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who lost his license in 2010, after research that he published in the medical journal The Lancet in 1998 – allegedly demonstrating that vaccines cause autism – turned out to be fraudulent.
This revelation did not stop all kinds of strange bedfellows – among them Christian Scientists, members of the Dutch Reformed Church, certain sects of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews, extremist libertarians, junk-science patsies and alternative-medicine cultists – from buying Wakefield’s lies and following the likes of Bigtree.
If this were simply a fringe phenomenon, it wouldn’t be worth mentioning, let alone highlighting. But according to the Vaccine Knowledge Project, herd immunity only works if 19 out of every 20 people in a community possess antibodies. Anti-vaxxers, thus, are to blame for the fact that countries previously free of the measles reverted to the days before a vaccine existed. They are also responsible for putting not only their own families at risk, but jeopardizing the health of everybody else in the process.
THERE IS no evidence to suggest that these people will behave any differently when a coronavirus vaccine is available. Though estimates on when this will happen range from a year to a decade, the anti-vaxxers are putting up their dukes in preparation.
In Texas last month, for example, when Gov. Greg Abbott declared a COVID-19 state of emergency, a member of a Facebook group called “Crunchy Moms” wrote the following post: “If they fast-track some vaccine for coronavirus, how are all of us going to defend ourselves? I’ll let them vaccinate my daughter over my dead body.”
One kindred spirit responded: “Hide in the floors like they hid the Jews from the Nazis.”
There’s that Holocaust imagery again.
Israeli anti-vaxxers have been less vocal these days. Social distancing – not to mention home isolation with kids to feed and entertain all day – is not conducive to social activism. But make no mistake; they’re on the ready to protest any inoculation breakthrough that leads to potentially mandatory shots.
A common question asked these days in Israel and beyond is whether lockdown is a “cure worse than the disease.”
Nobody will know the answer until the immediate crisis is over. But if Netanyahu, of all people, believes that flattening the corona curve is more pressing than injecting energy into the economy, there is reason to trust that it’s so. What we should not have faith in or tolerate, though, is the spread of a dangerous ideology that has proved detrimental to public health.
When a COVID-19 vaccine ultimately is accessible, the anti-vaxxers should be subjected to quarantine, with only masks and surgical gloves to keep them company. That way, maybe the rest of us will be able to resume some semblance of normalcy – to get off the dole and go about our business without having to bathe in Alcogel.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that ICAN uses a yellow Star of David – with the words “No Vax” in a Hebrew-like font – as its campaign logo. This is not true and we apologize for the mistake. ICAN activists have worn yellow stars at a past protest but this has not become the organization's official logo.