Anti-science and ‘freedom’ messaging shifts from masks to COVID-19 vaccines

As vaccine rollout begins across Canada, CityNews reporter Mark McAllister looks at how the anti-science and anti-vaccination movements are gaining momentum.

By Mark McAllister

Groups fighting government regulations and mask policies during the COVID-19 pandemic are now also emphasizing anti-vaccine messages, as the first doses become available in Canada.

Rallies put together by those considered to be anti-maskers, are also featuring speakers who have long fought against the use of vaccines. The group Hugs Over Masks are being supported by Vaccine Choice Canada, an organization downplaying the need for a vaccine to help fight COVID-19.

“We know the kind of arguments that will come out,” said Maya Goldenberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. “There is a tendency to minimize the risk associated with COVID. Both groups will do that.”

Mandatory mask policies have been at the forefront of the argument until now. Claims that face coverings to protect against COVID-19 are ineffective and can negatively impact a person’s health by depriving them of oxygen have been disproven by medical experts.

Those opposed to vaccines often campaign on the false notion that they can cause autism and injecting a foreign substance into the human body does more harm than good. They say the science is wrong.

“If you’re in denial, the mask doesn’t make sense,” said epidemiologist Colin Furness. “The vaccine also doesn’t make sense. As a matter of fact, the vaccine can look like a conspiracy.”

Despite the number of cases throughout the country continuing to set new records, the president of Vaccine Choice Canada told CityNews he believes the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low.

“They’re under the mistaken notion, in my view, that they’re up against something that is incredibly more lethal and dangerous,” said Ted Kuntz. “They’re not at risk of mortality from this condition.”

Lockdowns and limitations put in place by government at different stages of the pandemic have also driven the issues of personal choice and trust. References to individual freedom and rights can also be seen on signs during protests where there is no physical distancing.

“Medical intervention requires informed consent, said Kuntz. “Consumers ought to be able to evaluate the information and then make their own choice.”

In July, Vaccine Choice Canada and a number of individual plaintiffs filed a statement of claim against the federal government, the province of Ontario, along with the City of Toronto, health officials and various politicians. The lawsuit claims that COVID-19 response measures, including lockdowns, physical distancing and mandatory mask policies violate constitutional rights.

“It really was a response against government,” said Goldenberg. “This sort of general feeling that the leadership was not acting in the interest of the people.”

Those opposing vaccines are also trying to make the point that they’ve been developed too quickly, despite trials from multiple companies, including Pfizer-BioNTech, which received approval from Health Canada to begin distribution.

The first doses were administered in Ontario on Monday afternoon, with personal support worker Anita Quidangen receiving the first, along with four others.

Medical experts say there’s no convincing those who are opposed to masks or vaccines at this point.

“I’m not sure we can make headway there,” said Furness. “I’m far more concerned with providing clear education, clear communication to people who are anxious and undecided.”

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