Coronavirus: FBI-associated report warned of anti-vaxxers threat months before covid-19 pandemic

'Biggest threat in controlling an outbreak comes from those who categorically reject vaccination' paper claims

Louise Hall
Tuesday 28 April 2020 00:46 BST
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An FBI-connected research group warned last year that the “anti-vaxxer” movement could pose a threat to national security in the event of a pandemic.

The paper, first reported in The Guardian, and published by the non-profit research group which has FBI ties, predicted that “the biggest threat in controlling an outbreak comes from those who categorically reject vaccination”.

The report was posted on InfraGard in June 2019, just months before the coronavirus pandemic began, and notes that in the case of a pandemic resistance to vaccination could “produce gaps in our ability to achieve herd immunity”.

The predictions also suggest that the effects of vaccine hesitancy may be worsened by “conspiracy movements”, “social media misinformation” and “propaganda campaigns by many foreign and domestic actors”.

InfraGard defines itself on its website as an “FBI-affiliated nonprofit organisation dedicated to strengthening national security”.

The paper, titled "The Anti-Vaxxers Movement and National Security" was jointly written by Christine Sublett a Strategic Cyber and Information Security Advisor and Dr Mark Jarrett, Chief Quality Officer and Associate Chief Medical Officer at Northwell Health.

Some anti-vaxxers are reported to be aiding anti-government sentiment that is rising in some states amidst the pandemic, joining with anti-lockdown demonstrators to protest stay-at-home orders.

“This is just a fresh coat of paint for the anti-vaccine movement in America, and an exploitative means for them to try to remain relevant,” Dr Peter Hotez, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston told The Los Angeles Times.

Others have expressed concern over the stark labelling of the group as a “national security threat” and whether this could implicate their own safety in society.

An FBI spokesperson told The Guardian: “InfraGard is a non-profit organisation serving as a public-private partnership among US businesses, individuals, and the FBI.”

“It is important to distinguish among the statements, views, and comments made by official FBI representatives and InfraGard Members,” the spokesperson added, according to the report.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) identified “vaccine hesitancy” as being among the top ten threats to global health last year and experts have continued to assert that people refusing to accept a vaccine could impact the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We need a vaccine. However, the vaccine is only effective in preventing the disease if we have appropriate vaccine uptake,” said Dr Scott Ratzan, founder of the International Working Group on Vaccination and Public Health Solutions.

“If people do not take the vaccine and we do not have exposure to a level that would have overall community ‘immunity’ we could have a resurgence in cases of Covid-19 or the next coronavirus,” he continued.

Some have suggested at least some “on the fence” anti-vaxxers to reconsider their attitudes towards vaccines amidst the pandemic, but that those who are strong in their beliefs may only become more robust in their attitudes.

The WHO says at least 20 coronavirus vaccines are being developed around the world where more than 3,000,000 people have been infected with the novel coronavirus, causing more than 210,000 deaths, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University.

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