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Now is the perfect time for anti-vaxxers to learn how imperative vaccines are and how they're hurting a community by not vaccinating. 

The development of a vaccine for COVID-19 is a crucial step in restoring the world to safety and normalcy. However, according to the New York Times, it could take about 12 to 18 months for a vaccine to become available to the public.

Experts have warned that social distancing restrictions may have to remain in place until that day, especially for those at high risk, such as the elderly or immunocompromised. A vaccine could hopefully be the gateway back to “normal” life, or as normal as life can be in the aftermath of a global disaster. Nevertheless, it’d save countless lives and release Americans from the persistent fear of an invisible enemy. 

In the 1950s, Americans faced a similar enemy: poliovirus. Polio ran rampant through the U.S., causing many parents to fear for their children’s lives. Parents kept their children indoors instead of allowing them to swim in pools or go to beaches for fear that poliovirus could be waterborne and gave their children “polio tests” every day, instructing them to bend over and touch their toes to make sure they didn’t display any early warning signs of the disease that caused muscle weakness and paralysis.

In 1955, when Joseph Salk created the polio vaccine, the nation rejoiced. The vaccine was regarded as miraculous and a chance for Americans to live their lives without the fear of polio hanging over them. However, in recent years, vaccines haven’t always been seen in this positive light. 

While suspicion of vaccination has existed in some form or another since its creation, organized opposition didn’t become popular until recently. Anti-vaccine sentiments were quelled in the early 20th century when the Supreme Court ruled that states had the power to make vaccinations mandatory. However, anti-vax activism reared its ugly head in 1982 when a documentary called “DPT: Vaccine Roulette” aired on television, spreading fears that DTaP, the triple vaccine for diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, could have adverse health risks. Doctors criticized the show for being inaccurate, but it had already instilled fear of vaccination in many parents. 

Anti-vax activism was further provoked in 1998, when former doctor Andrew Wakefield published a paper in a British medical journal falsely linking the MMR, a vaccine that prevents measles, rumps and rubella, to the development of autism in children. Although the paper was widely discredited by medical professionals and retracted from the medical journal, the anti-vaccination movement persisted. 

As anti-vax parents neglect to have their children vaccinated, the U.S. has seen new outbreaks of diseases that had previously been eradicated. In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. However, in the years since, measles has experienced a resurgence, with more than 2,216 reported cases since 2000, according to Time Magazine.  

The recent global health crisis has stirred up some skepticism within the anti-vax movement. According to CNN, the pandemic has influenced some anti-vaxxers to change their minds, including one Florida woman who stated she was fully anti-vax before the pandemic, but seeing coronavirus take hold of the nation has shifted her viewpoint to pro-vaccine. 

Yet, some anti-vaxxers have taken the opposite stance. Many have already spoken out in protest against a coronavirus vaccine, according to Business Insider. In fact, some anti-vaxxers have joined forces with lockdown protesters, gathering together in public spaces to protest social distancing guidelines and advocate for the reopening of businesses. These two groups ignore the dangers of COVID-19. 

To stop the spread of coronavirus, the U.S. must reach herd immunity, the term for when an entire community is protected from an illness once a certain percentage of individuals have been immunized, according to National Geographic. For a population to gain herd immunity from the measles, around 95% of people must be vaccinated. If the coronavirus follows a similar pattern, this means almost the entirety of the population must be vaccinated in order to end it.  

In light of the anti-vaccination movement, this may prove to be as much of a challenge as creating the vaccine itself. According to a poll conducted by Emerson Polling, 66% of Americans said they’d get the vaccine for coronavirus. 11% said they wouldn’t get it, and 23% stated they were unsure. 

Experts have expressed fears that the anti-vaccination movements could derail the fight against coronavirus. Hopefully, the challenges and dangers presented by COVID-19 will encourage anti-vaxxers to reassess their views on vaccines and do some research into the true risks and benefits of vaccination. It seems that for hardcore anti-vax activists, the pandemic hasn’t caused a major shift in their views, but for anti-vaxxers who are on the fence, COVID-19 might be a wakeup call. This pandemic has the potential to change their minds and perhaps take away power from the anti-vaccine movement. 

Haley Huchler is a sophomore media arts and design and english double major. Contact Haley at huchleha@dukes.jmu.edu.