Last weekend a group of angry citizens chose to gather at the State Capitol to protest the Stay-at-Home Order issued by Governor Polis. In doing so they disregarded the social distancing safety protocols designed to protect our communities by limiting the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. The protestors asserted that their right to “freedom” to spread infection trumped the rights of their vulnerable neighbors to stay safe and alive.
It should not be surprising to anyone that Colorado’s anti-vaccine groups actively supported, promoted, and participated in the protest. In fact, the protest encapsulates the anti-vaccine movement in a crystal-clear way.
Respecting the social distancing rules requires an acknowledgment of scientific consensus over conspiracy theory. It means that we understand that individual actions can have an impact on the health and safety of others around us. It means that we should care about whether the vulnerable members of our society live or die, even if we ourselves might remain relatively unharmed.
The dangerously misinformed selfishness at the core of what we saw last weekend -- a crowded protest in the midst of a pandemic -- is also what forms the foundation of the anti-vaccine movement. Over the last several years we’ve seen anti-vaccine activists attempt to cloak this core selfishness when talking with legislators or testifying at committee hearings. They try to present themselves simply as having concerns or questions, using euphemisms like “medical freedom” and “parental choice.” Recently they’ve tried to co-opt the term “consumer protection” in an especially disingenuous attempt to appeal to the General Assembly’s Democratic majority.
All of this faux-reasonable posturing is a lie. Right now we are seeing, played out in real time, what happens when we are subject to a deadly contagious disease without the community protection of a vaccine. This is the world that the anti-vaccine activists are lobbying for when they fervently oppose any and all reasonable policies that would improve Colorado’s last-in-the-nation vaccination rates.
As Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” We hope that the image of angry anti-vaccine protestors, actively endangering themselves and their neighbors, remains in the minds of our elected officials whenever they encounter groups with phrases like “Health Choice” or “Medical Freedom” in their names. As parents and citizens who speak up for science-based public health policies to protect our kids and our communities, we will be sure to remind them.