Coronavirus offers a tragic history lesson for anti-vaxxers

The phrase Corona virus on a banner with blurred Chinese flag on the background.

People are dying, massive quarantines are in effect and the financial markets are reeling.

Why? Coronavirus.

After infecting tens of thousands in China, the novel coronavirus has reached dozens of other countries — at least 48 in total. Public health officials say it’s almost inevitable the illness will spread more extensively within the U.S. So what do we know about COVID-19, and how can we prepare for a broader outbreak? …”

It’s not easy to prepare when we aren’t familiar with the behavior of the virus. As infectious disease specialist Peter Hotez, MD explains:

Unfortunately, because this is a new virus agent, there’s more we don’t know than we do know. We think it’s highly likely that this virus is transmitted by what we call droplet contact. By that, somebody sneezes or coughs and releases micro -droplets into the air that either land on surfaces that people will touch with their hands and bring to their face, or the droplets will directly contact to the face, and they will rub that into their mucous membranes of their eyes and nose.

There is reason for concern:

However, the World Health Organization, Dr. Bruce Aylward, came out a couple of days ago, and he says he thinks that 2 percent number is real. And that’s a pretty significant mortality rate, because a typical seasonal flu, for instance, which still kills a lot of people in the United States, as the president pointed out last night, will kill around 0.1 to 0.2.

So we’re talking about something that is maybe 10 to 20 times more lethal than typical seasonal influenza. So, that’s really concerning, the fact that it’s so highly transmissible, and it has that high case fatality rate.

So I think we’re going to be — have to be — watch this very closely, especially in the United States in the coming weeks.

While the media is filled with medical experts attempting to get a handle on the virus and prevent transmission, notice who ISN’T being interviewed: no one in a responsible position is consulting anti-vaxxers and their charlatan “experts.”


The anti-vax movement rests on several fundamental premises, premises that its aficiandos can hold because they face no threat from the diseases vaccines are designed to prevent. These premises include:

Vaccine preventable illnesses were prevalent because of poor sanitation.
They weren’t that bad.
Natural immunity to disease is preferable to vaccine induced immunity.
Vaccines cause more health problems than they prevent.
Vaccines exist just to enrich pharmaceutical companies.

The potential coronavirus crisis gives us a window into what the crises of smallpox, diphtheria, polio, rubella and other diseases were all about: devastating diseases, easily transmissible, with no effective treatment and no way to prevent them.

While coronavirus may turn out to be less deadly in the US than it has been in China, no one is suggesting that it isn’t that bad.

There’s no evidence that it can be prevented by sanitation. Sure hand washing can help but the disease is transmitted by droplets sneezed out by those who are ill.

Natural immunity couldn’t save the hundreds who have already died and there’s some evidence that massive natural immune response leads to death in affected individuals.

Doctors and scientists are racing to develop a vaccine because they know that an effective vaccine will save lives on a massive scales.

People are desperate for a vaccine.

Are you afraid of coronavirus as it heads to the US? That’s how people felt about smallpox, diphtheria, polio and even the flu a century ago. They could strike anyone, at any time, and permanently maim or kill.

That’s why scientists developed vaccines.

If a safe vaccine could be developed, would you refuse it and take your chances with coronavirus? Probably not, right?

Do you think that coronavirus is a minor problem being hyped solely for the benefits of the pharmaceutical companies that will ultimately produce a vaccine? No? Then perhaps you can understand why a century ago people didn’t feel that way about smallpox, diphtheria, polio or even flu vaccines.

We are watching a viral scourge unfold in real time. I have no doubt that we will eventually develop a vaccine for coronavirus. We’ve done it many times before; there’s no reason we can’t do it again. And I have no doubt that if vaccination for coronavirus becomes routine in order to protect the health of future generations, there will eventually be anti-vaxxers wailing that the vaccine is unnecessary, that the disease is caused by poor sanitation, that “natural” immunity is better than vaccine induced immunity and that it was a scam developed to benefit pharmaceutical companies.

In the meantime anti-vaxxers might want to consider that their fundamental premises — which obviously don’t apply to coronavirus — don’t apply to other vaccine preventable diseases, either.

20 Responses to “Coronavirus offers a tragic history lesson for anti-vaxxers”

  1. rational thinker
    March 3, 2020 at 5:24 pm #

    That friend I have that I post about sometimes tried to “educate” me about Coronavirus last week. There was a lot of bullshit said but this was my favorite.

    She said the Chinese government has kept the virus in a locker in a lab for the past few years and they just released it a few weeks ago on their own people because they are now fighting back against their communist government. So they had one of their soldiers infected on purpose and put him on a plane to the USA to infect America with the virus because Trump is making them pay money in the trade war. So the virus was created so they could get back at trump for the trade thing. She worships that orange asshole.

    Has anyone heard this crap anywhere else?

    • KeeperOfTheBooks
      March 3, 2020 at 6:47 pm #

      I…say…what now?!
      Haven’t heard this elsewhere, but then, I don’t really peruse Alex Jones. 😉
      What, exactly, are her sources?

      • rational thinker
        March 4, 2020 at 1:29 am #

        I think her sources are mostly other idiots on facebook to be honest. I dont think she watches Alex Jones either. I will be seeing her in a few hours so I expect to be lectured again today on whatever bullshit she read this week.

    • swbarnes2
      March 4, 2020 at 12:28 pm #

      Because releasing a virus is a really good way to tamp down unrest? Because opposition to a government just goes away when it handles a crisis poorly?

      Making America sick will punish us. Because a global economic slowdown can’t be bad for China?

      I think the only possible grain of truth might be that there is a biohazard research center fairly close to where the first cases arose. So it might have been an accidental escape. But the zoonotic transmission hypothesis makes perfect sense too, and is the usual explanation given for other diseases that have gone global.

  2. Wilfred
    March 3, 2020 at 5:02 pm #

    Does anyone know much about copper hand sanitizers? I have several co workers who think they will save them from coronavirus. I am not a scientist. & I briefly skimmed an article on the ncbi website, and it seems that given the contact time required to kill microbes and the fact that we are dealing with human hands, just rubbing a piece of copper probably won’t protect you. (Duh.)

    So, am I right, and does anyone know of any easily understood articles that say so? We all work in Seattle and take public transportation to work.

    • rational thinker
      March 3, 2020 at 5:05 pm #

      I am pretty sure its bullshit. Seattle is woo-central too so there’s that.

      • Wilfred
        March 3, 2020 at 5:13 pm #

        Agreed. But if they get sick, then I am more likely to get sick and I have asthma.

        • rational thinker
          March 3, 2020 at 5:28 pm #

          Shit. Maybe try to keep gloves on when you are on any public transportation and use purell if you cant get to a sink to wash hands.

    • MaineJen
      March 4, 2020 at 8:40 am #

      Unless the copper is coated with alcohol, that will be useless.

  3. MaineJen
    March 3, 2020 at 9:24 am #

    Here’s hoping ballot question 1 is defeated here in Maine today…the anti vaxxers are trying to get their “religious and philosophical exemptions” back. They just won’t quit.

    • MaineJen
      March 4, 2020 at 8:39 am #

      And it was indeed defeated! Hooray for common sense.

  4. Montserrat Blanco
    March 3, 2020 at 7:54 am #

    As much as I agree about vaccines (fully vaccinated here, dtpa and annual fl u included, son fully vaccinated to date, meningitis and flu shots included) I do think the virus will be similar to a bad flu pandemic on the range of the 1950s ones anD not the 1918 one.

    Having said that and consequently with my history vaccination I will Be second in line (a colleague of mine always wins the first place) at my hospital to get the shot when the vaccine is ready.

    And in case someone is wondering I wash my hands/use alcohol gel over 100 times a day, most of them as part of my Job.

    I do not know where this puts me. The antivaxxer wagon seems unfair. The responsable health care worker that tries to not spread infections around seems fair. But I might fall into the cathegorie of covid19 denialists… Well , one thing I Can assure you, that measles your9 year old got? IT was not me who gave it to her. And with such frequent handwashing the covid19 is extremely unlikely.

    I might be wrong about the covid19 stats. The realozation will probably find me washing my hands.

    Any thoughts on this are moré than welcome.

    • MaineJen
      March 3, 2020 at 9:33 am #

      I think that’s a completely rational reaction…a 2% death rate is certainly not nothing, but it’s also not enough to warrant a panic response. My own reaction has been similar to yours…this is not going to be the worst pandemic we’ve ever seen, but it’s very serious and we should prepare accordingly. Flu shot, hand washing etc. are really all we can do.

    • PeggySue
      March 3, 2020 at 2:04 pm #

      I have to say I kind of freaked out about this because I am an old person with asthma and you have to admit that isn’t the best combo, but in general I agree with you folks. I am actually more robust than many people my age, but the lungs… it’s still a little scary. SOAP!!!! To make myself feel better I looked up the stats for mortality for human metapneumovirus, which I have been exposed to probably way more than I know and never gotten pneumonia from, and I think it’s as bad as this one in my group (elder with lung stuff).

    • March 4, 2020 at 3:03 am #

      There’s something I’ve always wondered about the alcohol-based hand sanitizers. I have very dry skin, and frequent washing with soap in enough to generate cracks in my skin, unless I use hand lotions very lavishly. How much more so do hand sanitizers! Wouldn’t microscopically cracked skin be a better portal for infection than whole skin?

      • MaineJen
        March 4, 2020 at 8:44 am #

        Most of them contain some kind of moisturizer now, I think. I am prone to horribly dry skin on my knuckles, and I use hand sanitizer all the time and I don’t seem to be having a problem. So at least the kind my lab uses is good!

      • mabelcruet
        March 6, 2020 at 10:13 am #

        We have to use hibiscrub in the lab, it contains chlorhexidine which gives me horrible dry skin. Thankfully, hand washing in the lab is to protect us, not patients (because the sonly sight of patients in our lab are the various bits of them lopped off by surgeons and put into formalin) so we are allowed to use hand moisturizing cream afterwards-I don’t think its permitted on the wards.

  5. rational thinker
    March 2, 2020 at 6:26 pm #

    My son got the flu really bad when he was 2. The day before he started showing symptoms he was at the doctors office and he got the flu shot. Over the years I have found out that many people I knew used his flu story as an example to say “see the flu shot causes the flu”. Most likely what actually happened was he came in contact with the flu at some point before he got the shot. It could have been the day before or could have got it in the waiting room at the doctors office. I have tried to explain to people that they are giving you a dead virus in the flu shot so the shot cannot give you the flu and correlation does not equal causation.

  6. Gene
    March 2, 2020 at 2:51 pm #

    I have people in my ER constantly freaking out about COVID 19. When I ask if they’ve gotten their annual flu vaccine, most get a distasteful look and at, “ I don’t believe in the flu shot.” Sigh… thanks for the business…

    • Sarah
      March 3, 2020 at 2:46 pm #

      I don’t know whether I’d be more irritated by a refusal or grateful acceptance of the coronavirus vaccine for this cohort, if and when it comes along.

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