Monday, May 11, 2020




          Many of the same demonstrators wanting California to end all aspects of its COVID-19 lockdown immediately have also been front-line protesters against recent California laws making it slightly more difficult for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated.

          And some of the new protests are at least partly organized by anti-vaxx groups like the Freedom Angels Foundation.

This can seem surprising: after all, what could be more of an affirmation for vaccines than a disease rampaging precisely because there is no vaccine to stop it? We no longer see once-dreaded scourges like polio and smallpox today – anywhere in the world – only because scientists created vaccines to immunize almost every person against them.

          If anything should convince rational minds of the good vaccines do, it should be an out-of-control plague loosed upon the world chiefly because we lack either a preventive vaccine or an effective treatment for it, despite President Trump’s many “helpful” suggestions about consuming unproven drugs and even bleach to kill it.

          The very small but very loud anti-vaccination community has trouble following this logic. Some of its folks march on the state Capitol and other sites these days bearing signs proclaiming “COVID-19 is a Lie,” “Social
Distancing = Communism” and the like.

          So far, the California protestors have not trumpeted some of the more outlandish claims made about the coronavirus in other parts of the world and nation. One widely-disseminated contention is that 5G cellphone towers caused the crisis. It’s easier for such baseless junk theories to go viral and gain acceptance if they are furthered by celebrities.

That happens when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. propounds unproven calumnies about vaccinations. And it happened with the 5G charge about the coronavirus when actor Woody Harrelson posted it on Instagram, even though he noted the idea wasn’t “fully vetted.”

          But the basic idea behind both the anti-vaccination movement and demonstrations against the coronavirus-related lockdown is the same: In both cases, protesters insist their individual rights trump any societal needs for safety and survival.

          It’s part of the longtime American debate over whether there is such a thing as a “social contract,” an implicit agreement that government and society have some obligations to aid their people. For many years, this has been a major difference between Democrats and Republicans, the political pendulum swinging back and forth between them for generations.

          Democrats created Social Security over Republican opposition in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s, essentially saying society is entitled to take some income from younger people to help their elders survive. Decades later, Democrats created the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, in effect saying society is entitled to tax its members to provide health care for those who don’t have it. Most Republican politicians opposed this from the start; they still do.

          When challenged, anti-vaxx activists often say or write things like “I’ll do what I want with my children and government should have nothing to say about it.” Never mind the health and lives of millions of other kids their unvaccinated children could infect. Now the anti-lockdown protesters clamor for complete freedom of movement, association and assembly even while medical experts say this would lead to far more infections and deaths from the virus.

          Try to stop them and some label the virus a hoax. Or say it’s no worse than the common cold. Ask the 80,000-plus Americans whose lives it has already taken about that one.

As in many earlier arguments over the social contract, Democratic officials take the lead in plumping for greater adherence to social distancing while many Republicans are reluctant. GOP governors were among the last to enforce the anti-virus tactics that now hold down California’s caseload, while Democrats like California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer were among the first. Republican governors have been first to reopen their states, while Democrats are doing it much more slowly.

          The bottom line: Viewed as part of a very long argument over what government should or should not do for masses of Americans, today’s demonstrations and the irrational claims they sometimes purvey should be no surprise. Logic has rarely been central to this very emotional debate.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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