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Religion, magic, and slavery: Rhetoric about masks and vaccines

If one wants to see how much alike antimaskers and antivaxxers are, just look at their rhetoric about vaccines and masks as religion, slavery, and magic.

Since the pandemic hit two years ago, I’ve been documenting increasing commonalities between antivaxxers of your (i.e., before and during the pandemic) and antimaskers, admittedly, a catch-all term that describes those opposed to masks and mask mandates, as well as pretty much every other nonpharmacological intervention (NPI) to slow the spread of COVID-19, particularly in terms of rhetoric. A while back, I was perusing the website of the Brownstone Institute, the right wing libertarian “free market” institute that its founder Jeffery Tucker described as the “spiritual child of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), that famous document from fall 2020 that, in essence, advocated a “let ‘er rip” strategy for COVID-19 among “low risk” young and healthy people, all in order to achieve what it viewed as the “inevitable”—”natural herd immunity”—more rapidly, while advocating a vaguely defined “focused protection” to prevent mass death among the elderly and those vulnerable to severe disease and death. Given that the GBD was published before there were safe and effective vaccines available and that as a practical matter it’s impossible to protect such a large portion of the population from a respiratory virus that’s spreading unchecked through the rest of the population, it was a dangerous proposition.

I’ve argued before that one reason that an alliance between antimaskers and antivaxxers formed so early in the pandemic has been because both groups are not just against one intervention (or, in the case of antimaskers, one general kind of intervention) against COVID-19, but because they are in general opposed to collective action by governments and society for public health, preferring instead to rely on gauzy concepts of “personal responsibility,” all with an attitude towards those who die of COVID-19 not too much different from that of a certain Russian boxer in a certain 1980s movie. Moreover, as I’ve documented, the rhetoric of “freedom vs. tyranny” is old rhetoric that the antivaccine movement has long used to portray vaccine mandates as an unacceptable assault on “freedom.” It’s rhetoric that has been quickly applied to masks. Antivaxxers have long compared vaccines and especially vaccine mandates to fascism, slavery, religion, and magical thinking. So it shouldn’t be surprising that those who detest masks as much as antivaxxers detest vaccines would adopt similar language.

As I perused the Brownstone Institution website, particularly its section on masks, these parallels became clearer and clearer to me; so I thought I’d discuss them a bit. Before I do, I will point out that, like COVID-19 vaccines, masks work, contrary to what antivaxxers and antimaskers claim about them. However, dichotomous thinking in the form of the Nirvana fallacy is a powerful obstacle in human nature to overcome. Our brains tend to think in terms of dichotomies like “works/doesn’t work” and “is/isn’t harmful,” rather than in the more real world and realistic manner of considering relative probabilities. Through this fallacy, an intervention that is not 100% effective is portrayed as “not working” and an intervention that is not 100% safe all the time is portrayed as downright dangerous. Thus, when, for example, the first “breakthrough cases” of COVID-19 after vaccination started appearing, antivaxxers pointed to them (and continue to do so) as evidence that the vaccines “don’t work,” even though even a 95% effective vaccine would be expected to result in a lot of breakthrough cases in the middle of a pandemic in which millions are being exposed to a virus. Antivaxxers have, of course, been doing this since time immemorial about many vaccines, particularly pertussis and measles vaccines.

Escrava Anastácia misused against masks
Escrava Anastácia.

Let’s take a look at one example, an article by Roberto Strongman, Associate Professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, entitled The Mask of Your Enslavement: The Image, History, and Meaning of Escrava Anastácia. Of course, I’ve long pointed to how antivaxxers like to compare vaccine mandates to slavery and themselves to abolitionists (and how seeing very rich elderly white rockers like Eric Clapton and Van Morrison liken vaccines and masks to slavery is beyond risible), but this was one of the more explicit uses of the analogy that I’ve seen for masks, cleverly couched as an analysis of the co-optation of a specific mask by antimaskers to use as way of representing masking as “slavery”:

The image of Escrava Anastácia has been making many appearances in several recent anti-lockdown protests around the world. The way in which the likeness of this muzzled female Brazilian slave has been used to illustrate the various forms of pandemic population restrictions, particularly the mandatory wearing of face masks, has been criticized by various media outlets for its perceived cultural appropriation and irreverence to the historical suffering of black people.

This article represents an opportunity to address this claim of cooptation and to explain the merits of illuminating the current health-driven limitations as indeed a form of enslavement.

In case you doubt whether Strongman is down with the imagery of masks as “slavery,” he “co-opts” a Brazilian prayer to Anastácia, a folk saint (i.e., never officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church but nonetheless venerated as a saint by many Brazilian Catholics, particularly Blacks, as well as by members of the Umbanda religion) to recast it as an antimask prayer about being “muzzled” for opposing masks:

Blessed Anastácia, How do free speech and academic freedom protect me from institutional retaliation as a result of questioning the mask mandates? You who come swiftly to the aid of all who speak courageously in the face of censorship and silencing, cover me!


Blessed Anastácia, my co-workers, faculty and staff have reported me to the department Chair for sighting me in the building’s common areas without wearing a mask! Yeah, being good Pavlik Molozovs (Catriona 2005)! I haven’t experienced such a snitch culture since communist Cuba! Their concern for the “the lives of others”(Henckel 2006) is just too reminiscent of Eastern Bloc techniques of social control for me to continue to interact with them. You who were turned in by an informant at the plantation, have mercy on us!

You get the idea. In addition to being like slavery, apparently masks are also like Communism, which echoes another Brownstone article risibly likening public health interventions against COVID-19 to the Chinese Cultural Revolution. (Or is it fascism? Antivaxxers and antimaskers can never seem to make up their minds!) In any event, there are a number of stories about Anastácia and her martyrdom, but Strongman emphasizes the commonality in all the stories:

In all of these narratives the muzzling seeks to silence her cries against injustice and a voice that leads to liberation. As a form of public shaming, it serves as a deterrent for those slaves in the plantation who could be inspired by Anastásia. Her martyrdom comes about either through starvation or from the tetanus produced by the metal as it rusted in her mouth. Her ability to perform miracles, even while muzzled, included healing her oppressors. 

This presents an idealized martyrdom, an admirable resilience as well as a moral impermeability to and an ultimate victory over the downpressure of slavery. Her compassion towards her persecutors as well as her alleged mixed-race background is seen by many devotees as a hopeful sign of racial reconciliation in Brazil and in all lands affected by the slave trade. 

Lest you miss the point, Strongman makes it inescapable:

The apparition of Anastásia at anti-lockdown rallies represents an opportunity to understand the current medical tyranny as a form of enslavement and to forge links of solidarity between communities whose freedom is threatened across all racial groups. The claim of cooptation deserves to be unpacked for a valid claim of cultural usurpation could easily work towards severing important alliances in a divide-and-conquer model. 

While there are clear specificities between the suffering of Africans under the system of chattel slavery and the deprivation of civil liberties endured by most citizens around the world during the current pandemic panic, Anastásia reminds us of certain transhistorical constants in the process of dehumanization and subjugation of populations through the gagging and muzzling of their bodies to quell their protestations. 

In particular, I like the part where Strongman states that “it is outside the scope of this piece to discuss in detail the effectiveness of masks to prevent infection by airborne pathogens.” I can’t help but note that being “beyond the scope of this piece” doesn’t stop Strongman from listing a bunch of bullet points against masks, including the false claim that they “deprive us of oxygen.” He also lists a number of historical features of mask use for purposes other than to slow the spread of disease that I will get to later in the context of another article. More annoyingly, he dismisses criticism of cultural appropriation, in which images of the muzzled Anastácia have been used in Brazil primarily by white antimaskers, antivaxxers, and anti-“lockdown” protesters thusly:

For articles that claim to care deeply about the misuses of Afro-diasporic lives, these omissions are nothing short of problematic. Instead of using these instances to probe into the curious appearance of images of Brazilian folk Catholicism in the industrialized world and to inquire into the various forms that slavery might take, the authors essentialistically present the protesters as racists in order to avoid making the obvious correspondences between chattel slavery punishments and lockdown sanctions manifest. 

Shouldn’t those who see the analogy as hyperbolic at the very least concede that the strategies of silencing in these two systems of oppression are uncannily similar? In order to circumvent the inconvenient presentation of the current medical tyranny as a revisitation of earlier generally condemned systems of control and to steer clear of the unflattering reflection of ourselves as slaves under this new system, the articles resort to a curious rhetorical strategy: they use an ad hominem attack that discredits the source of the argument by focusing on the ethnicity of the protester while at the same time never confronting the core of the argument presented. 

Contrary to refuting the criticism of cultural appropriation, Strongman seems in the passage above to have rather effectively argued that they are cultural appropriation but that he’s OK with it as long as the cultural appropriation is in the service of advancing a narrative that mask mandates are akin to slavery. He even goes on from there to portray those in favor of mask mandates and other public health interventions to a religion, using the favorite term “covidian”—note the play on the Branch Davidian cult headed by David Koresh that got into a violent fight with federal agents after a famous standoff in Waco, TX in 1993—that has become a favorite term among antivaxxers and antimaskers to liken COVID-19 public health interventions to a cult, as Brownstoners Martin Kuldorff and Jay Bhattacharya did when they likened Anthony Fauci and public health officials to a “covidian high priesthood.”

After recounting an incident in which a female protester apologized for co-opting Anastácia and saying that “pressure experienced by the protester to apologize is analogous to the mandate to wear the covid mask and the slave muzzle,” Strongman makes the point explicit:

Indeed, there is a “Covidian Cult” (Hopkins 2020). I would like to add to the conversation instantiated by his provocative phrase by questioning the presumed negativity associated with this kind of religiosity. Within the study of religion, “cults” have been euphemistically rebranded “new religions” in order to be more relativistic and less judgmental, bowing perhaps to the exigencies of political correctness.

Regardless of the term we choose to use, the role of ritual, dogma and the inquisitions and pillorying of those who, questioning covid orthodoxies, commit the sin of blasphemy, all display a drive that is concomitant with the most brutal aspects of religions across the centuries. Yet, realizing the power of religious discourse, could we harness it to productive ends? Could we employ our judgement to become more cognizant of our own uses and abilities to deploy religious iconography towards the ideal of freedom?

Can the cult of Anastásia overcome the Covidian cult?

This has long been, of course, a common tactic of antivaxxers, to use similes and metaphors in which vaccination and vaccine mandates are a religion or cult and thereby elevate their ideas to being rational alternatives to “religious control.” I could recount many, many examples, but I’ll stick with one, the time when Ginger Taylor noted how antivaxxer Kim Stagliano had coined the term “Vaccinianity” to refer to vaccines, defining it thusly:

Vaccinianity – ( n. The worship of Vaccination. The belief that Vaccine is inherently Good and therefore cannot cause damage. If damage does occur, it is not because Vaccine was bad, but because the injured party was a poor receptacle for the inherently Good Vaccine. (ie. hanna poling was hurt when she came into contact with Vaccine, not because the Vaccine was harmful, but because her DNA was not to par or because her mitochondrial disorder was to blame.) Vaccine is presumed to have rights that supersede the rights of the individual, while the human person’s rights must defer to Vaccine.

I left Taylor with some friendly advice about how bad this term looks, based on some other even more disreputable denialists who like to coin terms like this based on fusing part of the word “Christianity” to the term whose science or evidence they deny. Even so, Staglian seemed very pleased with the term, saying “Yanno, I toiled to dream up that word. Vaccinapalians didn’t seem write (sic). Vaccinists was too simple. Church of the Shattered Young Saints, Vaccinaism. Whatever you call it, Paul Offit is waging jihad on parents.” Meanwhile, another Brownstone contributor, Laura Rosen Cohen, mines the same vein, falsely accusing advocates of masks in schools of “sadism towards children” with masks as “the evil talisman of the Religion of Covid” that “must be destroyed,” adding that the “masking of children must be recognized for the pureness of its evil, and defeated by all civilized persons.”

How’s that for “nuanced” discussion?

There’s another Brownstone contributor named Rachel Fulton Brown. She’s an Associate Professor of History at the institution where I did my fellowship, the University of Chicago, and she’s very much antimask as well. (This depressed me to learn, given that Brown is also a scholar and huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’ve been a major fan of Tolkien’s work since I was around 12 or 13.) Somehow, I came across her personal blog and a post from December entitled Mask Addiction, in which, as antivaxxers do with vaccines, tries to portray masks as a form of addiction and magical thinking:

Admit it. You never want to take it off. Sure, sure, you have thought about it logically. You’ve read all the studies about how ineffective masks are at preventing the spread of COVID (and anything else). You have even read some studies about how masks are positively harmful (yes, it’s the same link—go, look; I’ll wait). You have had headaches for over a year; you notice that you can’t remember things as well as you (think you) used to—it’s hard to tell, memory being what it is. You’ve noticed yourself falling asleep from lack of oxygen, and you have a cough that you just can’t shake. Your friends call it “long COVID,” but you never got COVID, as far as you know.

You have, however, had a bacterial infection that left festering sores around your mouth, but that wasn’t COVID; just think how bad things might have been if you had gotten COVID, too! You notice that you have a hard time interacting with people in public—everyone seems so distant and confused—but, again, it’s logical. They are afraid of getting sick; of course they can’t take time to read each other’s facial expressions from behind a mask. There was that time you nearly got into a car accident when a driver in front of you passed out and swerved into ongoing traffic, but that was just one incident, nothing to be concerned about.

Much worse was that other time you caught a glimpse of someone not wearing a mask! The recklessness! Much better never to see a human mouth again than to be caught maskless and—gasp!—breathing! Or even worse—eating! Plus, you have come to like the way you look in a mask, not to mention having them in so many colors. The Unelected President—sorry, His Healthiness Dr. Anthony Fauci—could declare the pandemic over today, and you would keep wearing your mask simply to be stylish. See? Masks are not just for hygiene; they are a fashion accessory. Particularly the rainbow ones.

I can’t help but be reminded of an article by antivaxxer Kent Heckenlively dating back to early in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines that tried to liken reactions to getting vaccinated to orgasms and religion. Heckenlively even coined a ridiculous term for it, “v-gasm.” Let’s just look at a brief excerpt:

That’s why I’ve coined this new expression, “the v-gasm.”

It’s like your traditional orgasm and also involves a prick entering your body, but it’s not the pleasurable kind. And yet, it is the sacred sacrament of the church of science.

And yet, they’re all now scheduled to get their shot this week and experience the inevitable “v-gasm,” which comes when you believe that you’ve been saved as if the Big Pharma gods are Jesus Christ, Himself.

I noted at the time a rather dark undertone to this analogy and asked: Could it be that, the “v-gasm” analogy in which a “v-gasm” in response to the COVID-19 vaccine is like an orgasm, only “not the pleasurable kind,” is a not-so-subtle metaphor likening COVID-19 vaccination to rape? In retrospect, I think that the answer is yes (which shouldn’t be surprising given that likening vaccine mandates and vaccines to rape has long been a common theme in antivaccine rhetoric), and that it’s an analogy made all the more creepy by likening Pfizer, Moderna, and other companies making COVID-19 vaccines to “gods” and ” Jesus Christ, Himself.”

Brown goes on to liken masks to magical thinking akin to religion, invoking New Age thinking, complete with nonsense about “vibrations”and “energy”:

You feel so beautiful and empowered wearing your rainbow, as if the whole energy of the universe were flowing through you. It is a small thing not being able to breathe when you are vibrating with the frequency of every color in the electromagnetic spectrum. You have started dying your hair to match the colors of your mask; you have even found yourself dressing in more vibrant colors so as to resonate more fully with the spectrum. You feel energized, even as you feel drained; empowered by your absorption into the waves.

How to explain this new energy? It feels like becoming one with the universe. As if you have ascended to a new level of understanding by wearing your rainbow mask. You sit in lotus now for hours on end—it’s easier, not being able to breathe much—and feel your consciousness lifted up into the aether. (You have been reading about aether—it is the medium for carrying the electromagnetic waves.) Whereas previously you felt yourself cut off and alone, now it is as if you have joined in the harmony of the cosmos. You feel “with it” in a way you have not felt since you danced the Time Warp in the movie theater and sang along with Dr. Frank-n-Furter in anticipation! How could people be against masks, when they channel such erotic and empowering energy?!

I’m kidding, of course. Except I’m not, either. Masks, as I have been saying for ages, long before everyone masked up out of fear, are powerful magic, not to be taken lightly. They are trance-inducing, meaning-making, self-defining—and self-eradicating—magic. They are powerful vehicles of transformation, which is why they are used in both theater and BDSM. They make of their wearers both gods—and slaves. They can also make human beings into animals. Or worse. Demons.

Notice how Brown snuck references to sex and pain in her analogy, just as Heckenlively did with his analogy to the “v-gasm.” I did. She even goes on to blame our susceptibility to masks on social media and the light of the smartphone, because people supposedly “were so willing to put on the masks in spring 2020 because they have spent the past decade-plus staring into the light of their smartphones” and because everything “in our human nature is geared toward mirroring what we see in those rectangles of light, so much so that we experience physical symptoms of withdrawal if we look away for any length of time.” There’s the addiction angle again. As we are “addicted” to our phones, Brown claims, similarly we continue to wear masks because we are “addicted” to them.

It is, of course, true that humans have used masks for purposes of religion, ritual, group identification, muzzling, and any number of purposes other than slowing the spread of a respiratory virus, all going back as far into history as you would care to go (and probably as far back as you would care to go into human prehistory as well). That’s what makes it easier for antimaskers to deny the public health uses of masks in favor of portraying them primarily as tools of control—slavery, even—as well as of religion, ritual, and magic than it was for antivaxxers to do the same with vaccines. Not that that stopped antivaxxers, whom I documented years ago referring to the “occult archetype called vaccination,” casting vaccination as a “rite of passage through danger, into the tribe and village, conferring a moral righteousness, presided over by a shaman” in which “viruses which might be harmful are transmuted into protective spirits in the body,” adding:

The psychological and occult and archetypal impact of vaccination is key: modern parents are given the opportunity to feel, on a subconscious level, a return to older times, when life was more bracing and immediate and vital. That is the mythology. Modern life, for basic consumers, has fewer dimensions—but vaccination awakens sleeping memories of an age when ritual and ceremony were essential to the future of the group. No one would defect from these moments. Refusal was unthinkable. Survival was All. The mandate was powerful. On a deep level, parents today can experience that power. It is satisfying.

As you can see, the analogy with vaccines is more strained than the analogy with masks, but both are deceptions designed to frame public health interventions not as science, but rather as tools of societal control—at the extreme, slavery—and cohesion and/or of religion and magical thinking. It just goes to show that it is the rhetorical techniques that are red flags for denialism more than anything else. Just as all science denialism is conspiracy theory, all science denialism also tends to use similar rhetorical devices, such as minimizing science and evidence by likening them to religion and magical thinking and portraying science-based conclusions as mechanisms of “control.” I could go on and on and find many similar examples from a common form of denialism other than the public health science denial, but I rather suspect that Strongman and Brown would not like that very much at all.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

92 replies on “Religion, magic, and slavery: Rhetoric about masks and vaccines”

“The psychological and occult and archetypal impact of vaccination is key: modern parents are given the opportunity to feel, on a subconscious level, a return to older times, when life was more bracing and immediate and vital. That is the mythology.”

That’s the best example of projection I’ve seen lately.

It’s antivaxers who believe in an older, simpler time, when children contracted a myriad of diseases for which there were no vaccines, all recovering promptly with the help of nurturing parents, acquiring “naturally” enhanced immune systems. None ever suffered permanent complications or died (except a trifling few who were doomed anyway by pre-existing conditions); there were no cases of diabetes, allergies or autism. It was a magical, mythological time indeed.

The problem here is that anti-vaxxers keep dragging everybody like the Jonestown Mass Murder was going to happen again. Andrew Wakefield, Del Bigtree and RFK Jr caused this to be political.

@ labargy

What the heck did you smoke to come to such a statement/conclusion? I think you need a better health care provider or spiritualist. It’s getting easier to just dismiss you when you comment like this. Perhaps someday you won’t be so confused between lie and truth.

Fauci is not science — he does know what exists empirically in his field – seems to me and works from latest information.

Guess Orac doesn’t tickle you at all and might as well just be working out on the roadway somewhere putting out stripped lines.

I am indebted to your comment that you don’t know what a lie is.

There is science outside of US, you know. Fauci’s interviews irritate you, it seems. Check the origiunal data.

Expecting either 100% or 0% efficacy- a la the Nirvana fallacy- itself is a form of early childhood/ primitive thought observed before kids learn to make finer discriminations about the value of a person, object or event. ‘All good’/ ‘all bad’ are themes often seen on fairy tales, films and stories for younger children where black and white characteristics akin to cosmology- gods and demons- emerge.

Similarly, anti-vaxxers/ alties paint a lurid picture of SBM advocates portraying them as criminal** perhaps because more esoteric depictions of evil might turn off their few reality-based followers ( although Mike Adams calls vaccine supporters and liberals DEMON INFESTED frequently.)
Heckenlively, Stagliano ( Rossi) and Wright play the rape card without stopping to think that no one is actually forced to be vaccinated with violence or physical restriction although not being vaccinated might diminish one’s ability
to partake fully in society as part of the social contract. You can be unvaccinated and live, often within society: none of these writers, mother warriors or Orac’s commenters AFAIK is living on the land in a cabin miles away from civilisation.

In short, magical thinking usually is an aspect of altie thought.

** I’ve suspected that the demonisation of Dr Fauci may be partly ethnocentric relying upon tired stereotypes about people with Italian names. And to make matters even worse ( actually better), he’s from the People’s Republic of Brooklyn.

Vaccinianity – ( n. The worship of Vaccination. The belief that Vaccine is inherently Good and therefore cannot cause damage. If damage does occur, it is not because Vaccine was bad, but because the injured party was a poor receptacle for the inherently Good Vaccine. (ie. hanna poling was hurt when she came into contact with Vaccine, not because the Vaccine was harmful, but because her DNA was not to par or because her mitochondrial disorder was to blame.)

Wait, are these the same people who argue Covid-19 is not worse than the flu and if someone dies or suffer nasty consequences from this disease, or any other vaccine preventable disease, they were just having some weaknesses in their immunesystem and didn’t do the right things to keep their immunesystem in perfect working order, to fight of any diseases?
So the disease worshippers (or people belonging to the church of diseasianity) are fine with victim-blaming if someone suffers nasty consequences from a vaccine preventable disease, but anyone who has some suffering after getting a vaccine (wether it is caused by the vaccine or not), is some kind of martyr?

I have duly noted a parallelism between religious thought and a sacro-sanct belief in the idea that medicine is inherently good. I have witnessed it and been beaten to the ground, in a very literal sense, because of it. I’ll never forgive it.

But addressing the issue of what I perceive to be medicine overreach, dogmatism and callousness towards patients cannot be achieved by a bunch of wankers making the wildest of claims.

I followed the link to the Brownstone site and took a quick look around. Orac’s only skimming the surface of the WTF over there. It would be a full-time job deconstructing all of it. It does really go way beyond the GBD. Collectively, it is implicitly antivax, but I’d say more importantly implicitly COVID-denialist, and to a degree that can only devolve into implicit conspiracy theory. The masks and the shots are just tools THEY use to CONTROL you. It’s the same as how Indians were treated by Brits under the Raj, or the same as the Culturakl Revolution, or slavery, or the Holocaust… imagine a social evil and they’ll find some academic somewhere willing to connect it to pandemic mitigation.

One thing that strikes me about the Brownstone collection is an apparent attempt to address a variety of audiences, not limited to the political right. It’s fitting Orac leads the post above with a contrarian Black Studies Professor. The blurb for another article suggest progressives have actually abandoned proper progressive politics, “If progressives were still progressives they would be fighting bio-fascism with every cell in their body.”

OTOH, Rachel Fulton Brown is notorious as a right-wing troll, academic division. She’s especially tight with Milo Yiannopoloulos, approvingly cites Vox Day, “and promoted a conspiracy theory that the Christchurch mosque shootings may have been a false flag operation.” She’s at least white-supremacist adjacent, and refers to her enemies as “spineless cunts”. Her latest endeavor is leading a Telegram group that writes neo-classical poetry “rhyming in heroic couplets” to attack people who support abortion rights, and other “wokeisms”.

The whole enterprise seems to be wrapped in the intellectualist trappings of 80’s era cultural conservative academia — an alternative, or complement, to the red meat tossed out by ‘populist’ demagogues. So though Orac might be dismayed, I wasn’t surprised to find another reference to Tolkien in the blurb for an essay titled “Why Academia Is Drawn to Fascism”:
“As illustrated poignantly in The Hobbit, the lure of fascism – even to the morally upright person – is the delusion that he can both hold absolute power and continue to be a morally good person.”

It’s one thing for academics in the humanities to espouse “contrarian” views, and to express themselves in hyperbolic terms that push both envelopes and buttons. Lightning rods can draw energy, and actually advance debate in an ultimately useful way. But it’s another thing for people who consider themselves to be serious, dispassionate science researchers to hang out with this crowd. It’s just a tonier version of John Ioannidis going on Fox with Mark Levin. Yet, there rubbing elbows with Rachel Fulton Brown’s provocations are multiple offerings from (did you guess?) Vinay Prasad.

Oh, yes. I’m aware that Vinay Prasad is now frequently featured on Brownstone Institute, which often republishes his Substack articles on its website. In addition to the GBD authors, so are a rather amazing assortment of the usual right wing COVID-19 denying/antimask/antivax characters, such as Aaron Kheriaty, Thomas Harrington, Paul Alexander, Harvey Risch, Pierre Kory, Toby Rogers, Jenin Younes, America’s Frontline Doctors-affiliated cranks, etc. As an aside, I looked at the list of Brownstoners again and was amazed to see that David Stockman (!), Reagan’s OMB Director, is also listed. I immediately had acid flashbacks to my college days.

I’m also aware that Brownstone goes far beyond the GBD, which is rather the whole point of my harping on it. The GBD was obviously never about a serious strategy to deal with the pandemic. It was always about right wing/libertarian/free market resistance to government collective action and mandates that used resistance to “lockdowns” and mask and vaccine mandates as a pretext for the larger political aims of the group. That’s why I keep coming back to writing about the Brownstone Institute. Although AIER birthed the GBD, right now, the Brownstone Institute, more than anywhere else, appears to be its home and its primary support.

I guess I’m just fortunate, though, that I’ve never encountered Rachel Fulton Brown before seeing her Brownstone Institute article (she thus far seems to have contributed only one) that led me back to her blog, which in turn led me to that mask article. If you click around her blog you will find some rather…interesting…things, including a photo of her with Milo. In any event, I see what you mean about different messages for more than just right wingers, although I’m not sure how effective those messages will when they are basically claiming that the left is failing to live up to its ideals by supporting public health interventions to save lives. That doesn’t strike me as a winning message.

Still, I predict that before the end of the year we’ll see an article or two by RFK Jr. on Brownstone. Outreach, you know…

Every so often Vinay says something that makes me think he’s worth listening to…then he immediately says something else that changes my mind.

And these days the times that he says anything that sounds even momentarily worth listening to are getting more and more infrequent.

“… an apparent attempt to address a variety of audiences..” Yes!!

I’ve been observing a similar evolution amongst alties who used to sound rather left-ish or progressive, but sometime around the financial crisis of ’08, rightist ideas appeared increasingly to slip into their rants: before it was more about ‘nature’, now more Christian-adjacent moralism appeared. More venom against central governments’ power/ the Fed/ globalists over sovereign individuals, more nostalgia for traditional family life on the farm away from the corruption of the cities, universities and careerists. Of all the alties I read/ hear regularly ( prn, NN, Del, AoA, CHD) Adams seems to have crossed over the most: he sounds like an evangelical, red state ( now former) Trumpite entrepreneur,

I’ve wondered- was it because of the Great Recession when customers spent less so they sought larger audience/ customer base and had to be more inclusive OR
were they always righties: small government, low tax wealthy AF who catered to naturalistas only because they thought that they bought the most vitamins/ pure foods?

An easy transition because the Nature they worshipped was created by G-d so….

@ Prof. Reiss;

When I wrote “The masks and the shots are just tools THEY use to CONTROL you.” I was extrapolating what I found implicit in the quick overview I did of titles and blurbs on the Brownstone site. Some of the essays may go there more explicitly, I didn’t have the time or courage to read beyond the surface skim. There’s so much there.

So, since all I have is a subjective impression, I might even be pushing the chutzpah needle with “implicit conspiracy theory”. I was trying to get at several things: 1) there’s a certain level of academic/intellectual sophistication to the Brownstone pieces that distinguishes them from the offerings of popular right-wing media, old-school antivax sites like AoA or the Thinking Moms, and the trolls that show up here and SBM. They’re just not going to go toward Alex Jones territory and rant about the Illuminati or how Tony Fauci is just a sock puppet for Bill Gates 5G scheme. They’re all trying to sound reasonable. 2) As such, like the two essays Orac discusses above, the majority of Brownstone pieces seem directed at perceived effect, outside of intent. 3) It was only when all the different individual claims about so many different aspects of the pandemic collided in my head that I reached some conclusions about the nature of the project. a) It articulates a totalistic ‘alternate reality’ of COVID; b) the baseline factual premise, which may be stated directly but doesn’t need to be, is that COVID is no big deal, c) in which case, the restrictions on ‘personal freedom’ governments have imposed are so irrational that there’s just no explanation for them other than… well, you do the math.

Again, just my impression based on a quick overview… The details of any individual contribution there might be ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Of course, a valid critique of the site’s ideology as a whole — e.g. for an academic journal or conference — would have to go into more detail. I probably would have been interested in doing something on those lines 20 years ago, but I’m not up to it now.

Some of the Brownstoners aren’t above repeating Fauci conspiracy theories. There are, of course, several articles attacking Fauci and the CDC on Brownstone, but Kulldorff and Bhattacharya have written for the Hoover Institution that referred to the “covidian high priesthood” with Anthony Fauci.

This one cracked me up in particular:


Indeed, think about how the share prices of any public company are calculated by market analysts. They’re valued based on expectations about all the dollars a company will earn in the future. It’s a reminder that stock markets never price the present; they’re always a best-estimate look at what’s ahead.

Which is why for-private businesses have zero incentive to lie to their customers, and zero incentive to not overreact. Indeed, imagine again if Fauci worked for one of the companies mentioned, only to purposely downplay the virus to avoid scaring customers in March of 2020. After which, imagine if the virus had turned out to be intensely lethal, or the cause of violent illness, and easily spreadable in crowded locales. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that under such a scenario, all three private companies would have suffered a difficult-to-recover-from black eye. As a consequence, their share prices would have plummeted to reflect market pessimism about their ability to win back the trust of customers. Under the scenario described, Fauci would have been out of a job. With good reason.

I laughed out loud at the part about private businesses having “zero incentive to lie to their customers.” Really loud.

Seriously, though. This has to be the purest distillation of Brownstone, the idea that the free market should take care of everything, including public health.

They think they’re so clever. They’re mighty pleased with themselves and their imaginary brilliance, although, I suppose it might impress some people. They best be careful with all them big and fancy words, though; people might start thinking they’re book-learnt dummies and elitists.

True story: when I told family members that I wanted to go to college, they replied, “Ah, you wanna be one o’them book-learnt dummies, do ya?”. Of course, I took it literally and was confused, so they had to explain why people smart enough to be accepted into college and pass all those classes were actually stupid, especially when they wanted me to get good grades and liked to praise me as being smart. They didn’t like my question, and I’ve heard that having to explain it ruins the ‘joke.’. They always said I asked too many questions… They didn’t like little kids making them actually think about their words.

A good example of this kind of thing can be found in the British contrarian publication Spiked. The article which I am linking to points to every case of rich/powerful people not wearing masks being served by people wearing masks is one of a series they’ve done in an attempt to claim that the ‘Left’ (as they define it.) has deserted ‘the people’ (as they define them.) and joined up with the rich/powerful. It’s quite a clever tactic since it allows them to present their consistent opposition to wearing masks as supporting the poor. They are deploying a similar tactic with the whole mess in Canada.

The link which will allow people to see what they are claiming is below.

Oh, definitely. A similar tactic has been used for a long time now in which antivaxxers point to vaccine “passports” as discriminatory against the poor, who have more difficulty accessing the vaccines, and Blacks and people of color (for the same reason). In the latter case, they risibly take it to another level by proclaiming the antivaccine movement to be a civil rights movement on par with MLK Jr. and Selma.

One would think that if you were trying to write a respectably- and scholarly-looking articles, you would at least check your references. It was Pavlik MOROZOV, not Molozov, jeez. (Yeah, I know, I’m nit-picking on the poor, poor anti-masker and possibly the mistake was made by Catriona, whom he quotes, but still).

Tangentially, I detest when some goddamn cold war brainwashed Americanite uses comparisons with the Eastern Bloc without knowing what they are talking about. No, having read Animal Farm at secondary school doesn’t give anyone any sort of expertise.

“The only freedom that deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental or spiritual.” – John Stuart Mill

In a collectivist society under totalitarian rule, when individual rights are transgressed under the pretext of public safety or the greater good, the individual turns into mere political property that any government can oppress.

“The common good before the individual good.” – Adolf Hitler

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one”


“so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it”

If you can see a way in which obstructing public health measures doesn’t impede the public’s efforts to obtain health……

I guess we need to arrest and punish people who spread COVID then, because they oppress individuals. Or maybe we can bypass government tyranny and just use vigilante tactics.

Yup, and that’s why Commie Czechoslovakia was the first polio free country in the world. Oh my, it hurt the folks there oh-so-much, not to see their children crippled.

In other anti-vax news…

AoA complains that they are “unreadable” and no longer listed on Google ** which is interfering with their dissemination of “valuable information to and from autism parents”.
AoA has a 15 year history of providing misinformation and inciting hatred for SBM and its advocates. They mislead parents about the causation and treatment of ASDs on a near daily basis.

Amongst the g-d awful websites/ outlets I survey, they are probably the worst because “teach” readers how to become bold rebel leaders themselves rather than only following the latest ne plus ultra guru. AoA serves as a template for disgruntled parents ( mothers mostly) to declare war on reality and SB meaningful programmes and legislature as well as an avenue for social rallying, fund raising and lobbying efforts.

** I have Bing- they’re there

Magical thinking and politics aside, I’ve been unable to find any decent peer-reviewed scientific studies that demonstrate any material, statistically-significant benefit to wearing surgical masks, and there’s overwhelming evidence that cloth masks do nothing at best. This is despite wearing one religiously for a long time, and very much wanting to believe that they offer some benefit, even if minor. Based on the pore sizes and electrostatic properties of the material of surgical masks, I can appreciate that maybe they offer a 15% reduction in infection, maybe. Of course, genuine N95 and N98 masks offer excellent, nearly perfect protection, but that’s not the public health requirement/recommendation. I would very much like to proven wrong on this–please pleasantly surprise me.

You’re thinking too precisely. The virus will be contained in the moisture and mucus that is expelled when you cough or sneeze. I suggest that you cough or sneeze into a mask and then take it off and see if the inside of the mask is damp. If it’s damp than you have stopped some of the virus escaping.

There’s a saying. Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves. Same thing. Use lots of methods to reduce the impact of the virus. Some are more effective than others but all help.

You should be more worried by the people who are so selfish that they flat out lie about mask dangers. There’s often an anti-vax tenet that the drug company’s and the government are colluding to harm the public by lying about the effectiveness of various drugs and vaccines. Yet they are quite happy to do exactly the same to further their own political ends.

I suppose this is a friendly blog if the worst you get accused of is “thinking too precisely.” There are several issues with this line of thinking:

There is overwhelming evidence that COVID is spread primarily by aerosols rather than by larger droplets. In fact, there was never evidence for the opposite, despite the WHO’s bizarre declarations for which they were correctly reprimanded by hundreds of leading researchers in an open letter. Surgical masks barely block aerosols in either direction.
Nevertheless, even if wearing a surgical mask reduces the likelihood that I will infect somebody else, I still have not seen any real evidence (not just modeling based on numerous unproven assumptions, like in the nice paper cited above) that a surgical mask meaningfully reduces the wearer’s chances of getting infected, given that aerosols are much smaller than the pore size of surgical masks. I wear a mask as a courtesy to others, not because of wishful thinking that it protects me.
Putting aside conspiracy theories regarding possible mask harm, a very real potential harm that we can all appreciate is that if I incorrectly assume that a surgical mask provides meaningful protection, I may decide to engage in the risky behavior of spending time in a small, crowded, poorly ventilated space. If I correctly appreciated that a surgical mask offer maximum maybe a 15% reduction in risk, I would not enter such a space, or instead I would immediately focus on a useful intervention, such as opening two windows to increase ventilation.

All of the above relates to surgical masks. Genuine N95 and N98 masks certainly provide a very high level of protection to the wearer and others.

Also, I am worried about anti-vaxxer who lie about mask dangers. But I am also worried when the “good guys” make blanket statement like “masks work,” without any evidence, when the topic is hotly contested among mainstream scientists without agendas. Just because the wackos make unsubstantiated claims doesn’t mean that the good guys have blanket permission to do so.

@Mark, I’d very much like to see that research that shows SARS-CoV-2 is “spread primarily by aerosols rather than by larger droplets”.

The starting point early in the outbreak was that it could be a mix of small water particles (aerosols) that could spread throughout a room, larger water particles that would only travel a modest distance and stay in the air for about 15 minutes before settling on surfaces as fomites, and surface transmission from fomites or being touched by a contagious person.

The early guesses after some contact tracing data began to be available was for about 45% aerosol, 45% droplet, and 10% surface transmission. I know on TWiV they mentioned a study last year that showed only maybe 5% surface transmission. Simple cloth masks will only catch and absorb the droplets. Surgical masks and the 3 layer design recommended by WHO include an electrostatic layer that helps catch the aerosol sized particles.

We have example cases that show the benefit of masks like the salon where both workers were infected and served about 60-70 customers. Everyone wore masks and none of the customers caught Covid-19. And there was the recent case of a teacher who took off her mask to read a story to her class and infected most of the students in the front rows.

Here are a couple of informative published studies.

Results: After eligibility assessment, four articles with a total of 7688 participants were included in this meta-analysis. The result of this meta-analysis has shown significant reduction in infection with face mask use; the pooled RR (95%CI) was 0.12 [0.06, 0.27] (P < 0.001).

Conclusion: In conclusion, this meta-analysis suggests that there is association between face mask use and reduction of COVID-19. However, COVID-19 spreads primarily with contact routes and respiratory droplets, but its transmissibility has many mysteries yet and there is controversy about airborne transmission of COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 is spread primarily via respiratory droplets during close face-to-face contact. Infection can be spread by asymptomatic, presymptomatic, and symptomatic carriers. The average time from exposure to symptom onset is 5 days, and 97.5% of people who develop symptoms do so within 11.5 days. The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Radiographic and laboratory abnormalities, such as lymphopenia and elevated lactate dehydrogenase, are common, but nonspecific.

Guidelines from the CDC and the WHO recommend the wearing of face masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus (CoV) disease 2019 (COVID-19); however, the protective efficiency of such masks against airborne transmission of infectious severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2) droplets/aerosols is unknown. Here, we developed an airborne transmission simulator of infectious SARS-CoV-2-containing droplets/aerosols produced by human respiration and coughs and assessed the transmissibility of the infectious droplets/aerosols and the ability of various types of face masks to block the transmission. We found that cotton masks, surgical masks, and N95 masks all have a protective effect with respect to the transmission of infective droplets/aerosols of SARS-CoV-2 and that the protective efficiency was higher when masks were worn by a virus spreader. Importantly, medical masks (surgical masks and even N95 masks) were not able to completely block the transmission of virus droplets/aerosols even when completely sealed. Our data will help medical workers understand the proper use and performance of masks and determine whether they need additional equipment to protect themselves from infected patients.

I also suggest reading this article for more information.

Have you considered looking at the rates of other respiratory viruses? Influenza was way, way, way down 2020/2021, which is an indicator that even cloth and surgical masks reduce the transmission of respiratory viruses.

@ Nick


“[i]t is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right…. Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice . . . Paying taxes is one way in which otherwise well-meaning people collaborate in injustice . . .Thoreau said he was willing to pay the highway tax, which went to pay for something of benefit to his neighbors, but that he was opposed to taxes that went to support the government itself—even if he could not tell if his particular contribution would eventually be spent on an unjust project or a beneficial one. “I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually.”

So, a quote from Thoreau, ignoring others. So, do you drink alcohol and drive? According to Thoreau, it is your right. Do you pour toxic substances down drains, etc.? Oh, by the way, he also criticizes those who focus on commerce rather than their fellow human beings.
Thoreau was strongly against slavery and the American war on Mexico, two positions I think were great; but you fail to understand that individual rights DON’T exist outside of society/communities. I wonder what Thoreau would have thought if while living in a town an outbreak of smallpox occurred. What would he have said if the authorities required those with smallpox to either stay at home or be forcibly isolated? What would he have thought if the authorities required either vaccinations or staying at home? While there is a delicate balance between rights and society, would we have rights without publicly funded fire departments, police departments, safe/clean water, without publicly funded roads, highways, street lights, without publicly-funded courts, etc.?

And, as several others who post comments on this blog, a world of extremes in black and white. Yep, any laws, anything that may protect third parties, etc are “collectivist society under totalitarian rule.”

Yep, HItler was for the “common good”, which is why he campaigned as a peace candidate while already plotting war and which is why when it was obvious Germany was going to lose the war, he actually said the German people had failed him, so he ordered destruction of the remaining infrastructure, not to hurt the allies; but for the destruction of the German people.
Yep, one can find quotes that support any position, many taken out-of-context.

“The only freedom that deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of their own health, whether bodily or mental and spiritual.” – John Stuart Mill

When a totalitarian takes draconian measures with an emphasis on collectivist morality, individual rights can be transgressed under a pretext of public safety and the individual becomes mere political property that can be oppressed.

“The common good before the individual good.” – Adolf Hitler

I know the above is exactly the kind of rhetoric that drives Orac crazy. I am double-vaxxed and wear a mask whenever it’s required, but many simply do not trust the authorities in power today. Just being a contrarian here … go ahead with your nasty comments.

“… contrarian”

You didn’t spell “someone who can’t make a logical point” the right way.

Given your comment and hitler reference (which, as has been pointed out, you don’t understand) the comments are well deserved.

“I am double-vaxxed”

Do you support Covid19 vaccines and recommend that others get them? Do you think adult and childhood vaccination schedules have value and should be followed?

It’s been like pulling teeth to get the I-was-vaccinated-but-am-spouting-the-antivax-line crowd to address these questions. Only one such poster here has bothered responding, confirming that he does not support any vaccine.

Does Nick realize that Hitler actually had a policy of avoiding vaccine mandates in Germany, and that the Nazis discouraged the idea of vaccinating conquered peoples since protecting their health was bad policy?

@ Nick

I love you Nick, I just don’t think you are right in your assessment.

Vaccination continues to keep people healthy and alive a little longer (at a much higher rate than quoting Hitler). There is much literature proving that vaccines work. If you can point me to a study that rhetoric works to heal — please provide it.

You are, of course, welcome to take actions augmenting your own health (and encouraged actually) — yet the same applies to employers and society when there is a threat to systems relied on for performance and well being. Some would hate to have to pick you off the street because it costs money and just makes everyone look bad.

0 dollar investment or 50,000 dollar cost? The choice is so simple.

For me though, if you died from COVID, I wouldn’t care. Please don’t waste resources that should be available at any time to help those with other health situations. That’s all.

You support depriving others their health? Sickness reduces your freedom and death takes it totally away, Some other guy mentioned life libery and pursuit of happiness,

@ Nick

You write: “go ahead with your nasty comments.”

By simply giving additional quotes from Thoreau and some explanations, you call these “nasty comments”. Well, obviously you have similar mentality to several other “contrarians”, that is, illogical, irrational, etc. Oh well.

@ Mark

Jeremy Howard et al (2021 Jan 26). An evidence review of face masks against COVID-19. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science; 118(4)

I have quite a few more

More anti-vax for your entertainment….

Del ( Thursday’s @ high wire talk) featured a LONG interview with performer and announcer ( Mighty, Mighty Bosstones; Jimmy Kimmel Show) , Dicky Barrett, who because of the vaccine policy of the television show’s parent company and at concert venues, is leaving both positions and his home, escaping to Sedona because…. he has children to consider. He is listed as producer on an RFK jr film ( AV Club; Rolling Stone)

I was initially skeptical of these vaccines and I am admittedly still not sure if Covid is a completely natural phenomenon. However, I think this blog has been a very valuable resource to fight misinformation that I have heard or read before. I also believe it is very difficult to change minds of people who are ideologically opposed to the government mandates and coercion tactics appear futile.

I hope Orac eventually acknowledges that there is a legitimate middle ground in this battle between antivaxxers and public health experts. In the end, I don’t think anyone wants to die because they were too stupid, stubborn, or selfish. Most people don’t know anything about virology or immunology.

I generally support vaccines but we should acknowledge that no medical intervention is completely free of risk. Polio vaccines were considered a miracle of modern medicine, but many were contaminated with SV40. What if there are unknown side effects to repeated doses of lipid nanoparticles? Or what if the the spike protein from a Covid vaccine inhibits DNA damage repair in someone who is naturally immune?

Nick, your comment is a bunch of antivaccine tropes.

I hope Orac eventually acknowledges that there is a legitimate middle ground in this battle between antivaxxers and public health experts.

Middle ground? There is no middle ground. There are scientists and experts on one side, and ignorant, loudmouth, and frequently violent, antivaxxers, who have no clue what they’re talking about.

In the end, I don’t think anyone wants to die because they were too stupid, stubborn, or selfish.

There is a website It has the stories of antivaxxers who refused vaccination, caught COVID, and bitterly regretted not getting vaccinated. Many of them died. The fact that nobody wants to die “because they were too stupid, stubborn, or selfish” doesn’t mean they won’t.

Polio vaccines were considered a miracle of modern medicine, but many were contaminated with SV40.

Orac has addressed this before. Put SV40 into the search box up top and read the articles that are returned.

What if…

Nope. Not acceptable. You can argue hypotheticals as an exercise for the mind, but you can’t base decisions on them unless they are plausible. Your “what if”s are not.
The bottom line is, the risks of catching COVID far outweigh the hypothetical harms and circumstantial claims of injuries caused by vaccination. You want to argue otherwise? Bring good evidence.

OK, I will bite….long time reader but non commenter. I am one of Libertarians so frequently maligned by Orac**. I am also a physician and strong advocate of evidence based medicine. Maybe I might have some insight about how “anti-mask” sentiments can frequently lead people down the “anti-vaxx” rabbit hole?

The NPIs rolled out in march 2020 had serious economic and psychologic consequences — something that I really have not seen addressed on this and similar blogs and news articles. That combined with lack of correlation between stringency of NPIs and COVID deaths (not because NPIs do not work — China, NZ, South Korea, japan, etc prove this not to be the case — but that enough people do not listen to the mandates without coercion to allow them to be effective; so they shut down businesses but did not stop home based super spreader events). A perfect example is the Jan 2021 comparison of Florida and California (my home state) — considerably different COVID NPI stringency and very similar COVID death rates (14 vs 15 per 100K residents). A personal example — my brother who lives in Florida kept his job working for Universal Studios (his counterpart in LA did not) and his kids started and stayed in school for the 2020-2021 school year (my children did Zoom school). And say what you will about Desantis, but he did not violate his own mandates by going to the French Laundry (or the more recent football game) and in case you did not know this – Newsom’s kids also went to in person school in 2020-21 (a nice, very expensive private one) while again…mine did not.

So in Jan 2021, the same experts who told everyone to mask and social distance to flatten the curve — and as noted this had variable efficacy in the US and Western Europe and a lot of economic and social consequences plus was publicly flaunted by the very persons in charge telling you to do it — are now telling you to get this “experimental” vaccine

Cannot Orac and others see how this would make previously “pro-vaxx” reasonable people more receptive to the predominate BS spewed by the anti vaxxers?

because somehow we are losing the messaging that: (1) the benefits of the vaccine far, far exceed the risk for essentially everyone and (2) the consequences of “natural immunity” even for a disease as “mild” as COVID, are crushing our hospitals to the point where it is getting hard to deliver care for elective and non covid / non elective care

But now this has become so political and polarized that I do not see anyone will change their mind . But I do see that this distrust will morph into broader support of the anti vaxx movement — for childhood vaccines, COVID boosters, flu shots etc

if we admit where we were wrong .. can we get more to accept where we are right?

** I switched to the Libertarian party in 2004 after watching both sides of the aisle voice support for the invasion of Iraq… and the constitutional argument against the invasion was given by Ron Paul (and again, say what you will about Ron Paul; but go back and watch his and Biden’s speeches from that era to get a sense of the problems with the mainstream parties that persists today).

“ I switched to the Libertarian party”

To avoid having to think or be ethical, because neither of those things are in favor among libertarians — they never have been.

I have to laugh at your reference to Ron Paul — that man doesn’t have a shred of integrity nor honesty, but he did learn how to lie from his father, a master of that. The son will spout something that seems reasonable when he decides he hasn’t been getting enough attention from the media, but his actions show he never means it. He is as terrible as Cruz, gym Jordan, and the rest of the people with tongues stuck in trump’s butt.

@ldw–yeah, I get it. the Libertarian Party is kooky and could never offer a plan for governance. Plus, the general anti vax stand of the party is in odds with evidence based medicine. But I do suggest you review those speeches from 2003 (not 04) just to get sense of who you voted for in 2020.

And in my defense, I was in the military during that time frame and had to watch first hand the devastating effects of the invasion on our servicemen and women.

And in reality, many (most?) who claim to be Libertarian are really libertarian (small l)…fiscal conservatives turned off by the social policies of the Republicans, the taxation policies of the Democrats and the overall acceptance of preventative wars by both parties. I live in California where the winner of the presidential election is a foregone conclusion but I would vote for any party who could produce an acceptable candidate (for me, last one was Obama in 2008)

But this mindset unfortunately has put me in contact with many newly minted anti vaxxers — so turned off by the NPIs that they fail to see the profound benefits of the vaccination and I worry this will translate to push back against vaccination for childhood diseases, etc.

“And in reality, many (most?) who claim to be Libertarian are really libertarian (small l)…”

Sorry, the no true scotsman bs doesn’t fly.

The “philosophy” of libertarianism is simple:

I got mine, screw everyone else
I want to claim to be self made so we need to remove all of the social aids I used to get to my position so nobody from here on can use them

It’s like being a spoiled 5-year old who never grew up.

@ Nick — initially skeptical

Perhaps please can you explain some of your comments? I am unable to associate your concerns (decently) of ‘natural phenomena’ a la COVID. Are you implying that COVID was implanted/spread by some off earth force? I don’t think you are saying this, but your comment comes off implying that COVID is not natural to this world. Realize from another perspective there was media broadcasting that COVID was fake and perpetuated by political forces without any substantiation.

Are you now in favor of vaccines or are you still skeptical? Has something changed your mind to accept existing evidence showing COVID vaccination supports protection from COVID? That’s kind of the point medical professionals with load of experience are providing.

It’s interesting you link to a study that clearly states the danger of the COVID virus spike protein. Just want to provide my man in the street opinion here – vaccination, as I’ve read studies, reduces spike opportunity for damage.

Just hope you come to a place where you can choose a better health option based on known professional science.

2 teenage boys may have died from vaccine-induced myocarditis:

Why can’t we say that among the general public, those who are still hesitant about getting the Covid vaccine are not total antivaxxers? The booster uptake I barely over 50% I believe, even though they have been available for some time now. I think you might agree that the number of those willing to get successive boosters will dwindle too, unless a deadlier variant emerges.

I wouldn’t say it’s “far from clear,” considering there have documented cases of myocarditis linked to vaccines especially in adolescent boys. I know the Covid vaccines have saved countless lives, too. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks, but I do believe in a person’s right to choose in regards to bodily autonomy and I think mandates have the opposite effect for those who are adamantly reluctant to get jabbed. Freezing bank accounts or threatening one’s livelihood over a compulsory vaccine seems a little draconian to me, just my opinion. And comparing it to drunk driving is a logical fallacy.

I don’t always get the flu vaccine but I got all my childhood jabs and I have 2 boys under 5 y/o who are on schedule to get all their vaccines (mmr, tetanus, etc.), but I am slightly concerned about them getting the Covid vaccine when it’ll be ready. My youngest (9 months old) tested positive for Covid and RSV at the same time recently but was fine. So I am not sure how necessary it will be for him to get a 3-jab inoculation just because the pediatrician says so. Time will tell.

So you kinda almost recommend Covid-19 vaccination? Well, that’s further than other I’m-not-antivaccine-but-repeat-standard-antivax-memes posters have gone.

“My kids are on schedule to be vaccinated” is hardly an endorsement of the value of childhood vaccines.

“ My youngest (9 months old) tested positive for Covid and RSV at the same time recently but was fine. So I am not sure how necessary it will be for him to get a 3-jab inoculation just because the pediatrician says so. Time will tell.”

What a strange way to put it. Do you mean that if he becomes really ill with COVID you will say ‘Gee, I suppose we should have got him vaccinated’?

“Freezing bank accounts or threatening one’s livelihood”
Citation needed, please.
Also, almost every state in the US is at-will employment, where an employer can fire and employee at any time for almost any reason (except a very few, small protections that are hard to prove).

So, do you have any specific cases of the government freezing people’s bank accounts for not getting vaccinated?

COVID kills in far greater numbers than vaccination against COVID. That has always been the point. You are welcome to say among the general populous that there are indeed some concerns with the vaccines but please also weigh the risks.

1 get problem from vaccine — 20 get same problem without vaccine. Decisions are made from this analysis.

Empty words don’t change empirical evidence — try as some might.

@Nick…As a layperson…I have no expertise in the areas of virology, immunology or medicine. I have posted only a couple of comments…but that is all. I come here to learn off those that are more qualified than me. I do this because I am intellectually honest enough to be able to say that “I genuinely don’t know”. It comes as no surprise to me the amount of people who fall down the misinformation rabbit hole in the age of multimedia. In my opinion…I would challenge you to explore “Big conspiracy” and “Big wellness”…they are highly organised and deliberately set out to discredit science for profit! To me they are truly the scum of the earth. I would also ask that you explore “search algorithms”, and how they influence what you view and how they mold your search choices and what you view.

@Nick…You can look at websites like The Conversation or Scientific America as a starting point.

It’s far from clear that the two cases cited in the SBM article were myocarditis deaths related to vaccines. Both hearts reportedly showed evidence of scarring; if this was marked, it doesn’t fit with vaccination occurring just a few days before death. One case involved major heart dilatation which suggests an alternate etiology.

Nick: “I generally support vaccines”.

Which ones? Can you name any?

Labeling anybody who is not 100% pro-all-vaccines-all-the-time is neither helpful nor conducive to civil discussion. The U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), the official advisory body for the U.K. government, is currently somewhere between negative and lukewarm about vaccinating healthy 5-11 year-olds. Are they secretly anti-vaxxers because they dare substantively consider the risks vs. benefits in this age group? Are they guilty of undermining the public’s confidence in the vaccines? Only if you think the public is too stupid to appreciate that the benefits of COVID vaccination, unlike traditional childhood vaccinations, may vary by age group.

Well Mark, how else would you “label” those who habitually spout antivax memes and dance around questions of what vaccines they support and recommend others get?

If there’s one constant among antivaxers, it’s their denial of being antivaccine. You’d think they’d be proud of it instead of dodging and ducking all the time.

Also, I think that “Labeling anybody who is not 100% pro-all-vaccines-all-the-time” is a bit of a strawman argument. Nobody that I’ve seen advocates Dengue vaccines for Americans who haven’t already had Dengue and planning a return to the Philippines for instance.

And there is legitimate discussion about whether booster shots are appropriate for healthy adults who are in their 20’s or 30’s for instance. The CDC approved them in part due to the Delta and Omicron surges. But Dr Paul Offit for instance thinks they are unnecessary and some of us agree. My family’s experience (2 data points) indicates there is not much difference.

And should young men get one of the mRNA vaccines or the Janssen vaccine instead?

And should we keep pressing to get more young adults boosted or devote resources to getting vaccines in arms in Latin America and Africa, for instance, where they could delay or prevent the next variant of concern?

But I have yet to find a person who accepts that the Covid-19 vaccines are highly safe and very effective at preventing hospitalization and death but presents an evidence-based argument for not getting as many people as possible vaccinated with them.

@ Nick

You write: “And comparing it to drunk driving is a logical fallacy.”

NOPE, an analogy. The point is that society can make laws to protect third parties. If one owns a ranch, one can drive drunk all day long; but roads are built by communities and, thus, one has rights and responsibilities. In the past, during smallpox outbreaks, those with smallpox were isolated and others required to get the vaccine or stay home. Well, though a lower risk; but a real risk is that asymptomatic people, even children, can infect others with COVID. Research indicates small children transmit at lower rates than older and adults; but still transmit. As I’ve written over and over, we live in communities where rights are balanced with responsibilities. Even several Supreme Court Justices when referring to the Bill of Rights have said: The Constitution is NOT a Suicide Pact.

By now, for anyone open-minded who actually devotes some time and effort, the benefits from the mRNA vaccine far outweigh the minuscule risks. For sake of argument, though evidence doesn’t confirm two kids got myocarditis from the vaccine, let’s assume they did. Compared to what? The number of kids hospitalized with COVID who developed myocarditis and other long term effects or even those who died? The number of vulnerable adults who were infected with COVID from a child and subsequently were hospitalized, developed long COVID, and even died?

People have been injured by seatbelts; e.g., one, perhaps, two documented deaths in 40 years, ruptured bladders, bruised kidneys, bruised ribs; but seatbelts prevent ca 50% of deaths and serious injuries. So, the few seatbelt injuries compared to benefits and a no-brainer.

So, while not certain two kids even got myocarditis from the vaccines, if they did then they probably have some genetic predisposition and if exposed to COVID would have gotten anyway; but the vaccine also protected many more children, including those with genetic predispositions.

And while OMICRON is highly transmissible less virulent there is now a mutation variant of OMICRON that so far has been much more severe. If it and others predominate, then one decides to get the vaccine; but for the vaccine to work one needs to get two shots with a minimum of three weeks between and then another 10 days or so after the last shot for immune system to rev up. Could be way too late.

@ Nick

I always get the flu shot with recognition some years provides only 25% protection. Since severe adverse reactions to flu shot extremely small and having actually been hospitalized at 23 years of age from Hong Kong flu, any reduced risk is better than none. And the low 25% doesn’t mean, either get it or not; but reduced severity, etc.

I got the SHINGRIX two shots several years ago. We were warned they could give us some unpleasant side-effects for a couple of days, not dangerous; but unpleasant. Well, I experienced them. Bearable; but remembering what my maternal grandparents and parents went through with shingles for up to a couple of months, a couple days discomfort well worth getting the vaccine. We don’t live in a world of black and white, either or. We have to look at benefits vs risks, and not only to ourselves; but to others.

@ Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH

I agree with you for the most part, but without proper screening criteria for those who might be genetically predisposed to myocarditis or other rare autoimmune disorders, I am not crazy about boosting people indiscriminately, especially those who were recently infected.

My wife got the J&J vaccine 1 day after delivering. A couple days later she was getting bad migraines, blurry vision, and passed a sizable blood clot (doctors said it was probably remnants from the placenta). She was diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia and although her OB/GYN dismissed any causal relationship from the vaccine, her symptoms persisted for months afterwards. This series of events made me more skeptical of getting vaccinated but I eventually did get 2 mRNA shots of Pfizer over the summer. However, I am not sold on getting a booster yet.

I did not report the incident I described above to VAERS if you’re wondering. I also work for FDA – although in the drug imports compliance branch – nothing directly related to most vaccines per se.

@ Nick

I just looked up pre-eclampsia and everything you described are its symptoms and according to several articles, it can last 4 – 6 weeks. So, the timing of the vaccine more than likely Post Hoc Ergo Prompter Hoc

@ Nick

I’m truly sorry to hear about your wife. I hope she has fully recovered; however, if she reacted to the vaccine, how do you think she would have reacted to the full-blown virus?

How many kids do you have?

Yep, would be nice if we had a way to screen everyone; but, again, if someone reacts to the vaccine, the odds are high they would react to the full-blown virus and probably a much worse reaction.

@ Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH

Appreciate it. I have 2 boys – 4 y/o and 9-month old. My wife and youngest both tested positive for Covid last month, but my 4 y/o and I had no symptoms. We also suspect my wife had Covid in June 2020 because she lost her sense of taste for a week, but she strangely tested negative for Covid.

I don’t know – it’s a strange, unprecedented time in human history and I am trying to make sense of it all as we go along, just as we all are trying to do. I am glad I found this blog, because there is very useful information that combats the terrible misinformation out there.

@Nick Article you cited suggested using Pfizer vaccine, not Moderna’s. Did you know this before taking the shot ?

@ Nick

You write: “We also suspect my wife had Covid in June 2020 because she lost her sense of taste for a week, but she strangely tested negative for Covid.”

Not so strange. First, there could be other causes for a temporary loss of smell; but also, any test has false positives and false negatives. PCRs are considered the best; but if lab not extremely well-run, could be contaminated, given the microscopic quantities involved, and give a false positive. I’m curious, which test did you do?

Two young kids. Well, that will definitely keep you busy and out of mischief for years to come. LOL

I was extremely bonded to my dad; but didn’t understand why until when an adult my mother told me that when I awoke at night crying, my father wouldn’t let her go up; but went up, either changed my diapers or warmed a bottle. My dad was a macho type who didn’t show emotions and had a high pain threshold, so, of course, it was a shock to find out. I’m not an expert on child rearing; but I suggest you take turns with your wife. LOL I also loved my mother. I miss them everyday. Fortunately, I was able to spend time with them on their last days, held their hands as they took their last breaths.

[…] As has been described in detail, “focused protection” was more a rebranding than anything else of some public health interventions that were already being done, while other parts of “focused protection” were wildly impractical. As we like to say about, for example, naturopathy, what was good about the GBD was far from unique to the GBD, and what was unique to the GBD was definitely not good. None of that stopped the GBD and its authors from beoming hugely influential “merchants of doubt” with access to the highest levels of government and massive press coverage amplifying their message of, in essence, doing nothing to slow the spread of COVID-19, while likening COVID-19 public health mitigations to historical atrocities like the Chinese Cultural Revolution and slavery. […]

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