Will FDA approval change vaccine skeptics' minds in the U.S.?
Bradley Blankenship
Vials with a displayed Pfizer logo, October 31, 2020. /Reuters

Vials with a displayed Pfizer logo, October 31, 2020. /Reuters

Editor's note: Bradley Blankenship is a Prague-based American journalist, political analyst and freelance reporter. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on August 23 approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, known as the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The two-shot vaccine will be fully authorized for use for the prevention of COVID-19 among people aged 16 and older while also maintaining emergency usage for people aged 12 to 15 and for a third dose in certain immunocompromised people.

According to Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, who was quoted by the agency in a press release, the approval of the vaccine is a major milestone in the pandemic and that it may help win over the confidence of some who had held off on receiving the vaccine.

While the vaccine's approval is sure to spur more vaccination, a nod from the FDA is in no way a silver bullet against the rampant anti-intellectualism and overall polarization that's plaguing the country, as well as the fact that it's also one of the natural consequences of massive divestments in social programs like education and health care.

To be sure, since the federal government, some state and local governments, as well as many employers have begun mandating the vaccine for their employees, the FDA's approval of the Pfizer vaccine will take away a major argument from vaccine skeptics which is that this vaccine had been technically unapproved.

The argument that workers were being forced to take an "experimental" vaccine to do their job has pretty much evaporated as a result, which only emboldens employers in their decision to require vaccination.

For a significant amount of the unvaccinated, however, logical arguments will make no difference in whether or not they choose to get vaccinated. That is, as one truism goes, if someone didn't use logic to arrive at a conclusion then they won't use logic to change that conclusion.

To be clear, much of this so-called "anti-vaxx" crowd is hopelessly illogical, ideologically driven and, perhaps to no surprise, has crossover political support from other extreme ideologies almost exclusively on the far-right of the political spectrum. This is basically the same group that has, from the start of the pandemic, been opposed to public health measures endorsed by medical experts, like mask-wearing and social distancing.



Countless viral social media posts filled with misinformation about vaccination are steeped in the renegade individualist ideology of the far-right, leaning on buzz phrases like "personal choice," "liberty" and "freedom" while conveniently omitting the fact that so-called personal choices (which are nothing of the sort) during a global pandemic have serious and potentially deadly consequences for society.

Of course, not everyone can be strictly lumped into this category. There's a very serious argument to be made that one of the major reasons why some people trust others peddling vaccine misinformation on social media (so-called "Facebook doctors") is that millions of Americans don't have access to a doctor.

Either they don't have health care, can't afford to go to the doctor even with their health care or don't have the time to go to their doctor. And that raises the question of how anyone can expect some Americans to make informed medical decisions when they actually don't have access to an expert. This is a serious problem and only underscores why the country needs systemic change on this issue, namely a universal health care program.

There's also the argument that distrust of experts is a consequence of the country's disinvestments in education, which has resulted in lower education quality and virtually insurmountable costs for attaining higher education. One wonders how many Americans who aren't even taught science at an adequate level are expected to understand it at a time of grave importance.

In either case, whether a vaccine skeptic is an ideologically driven anti-vaxxer or just ignorant of the facts for whatever reason, that it has become such a problem for the U.S. – a problem that is leading to yet another resurgence of infections and deaths – exposes deep systemic flaws within the country.

Yes, the FDA's approval will lead to more vaccinations and will provide support to vaccination mandates by employers, but the unfortunate polarization around vaccines (and in general) is not going anywhere.

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