News Release

The Status of the Anti-Vaccine Movement


As the country faces an increasing number of measles cases, researchers say anti-vaccine narratives reach from Covid to measles to HIV.

    Smith leads the Smith Emerging Infections Laboratory at Kent State University. 

Smith told the Institute for Public Accuracy: “HIV denial narratives [which were in the media in the early 2000s] have become resurgent in the last few years. We’ve seen them come back” especially since the 2021 publication of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book The Real Anthony Fauci, which covers the years that Dr. Fauci worked in HIV research. “That’s where the HIV denial started from. It’s being pushed on different platforms. 

“There are different ideas being promoted by different groups that don’t agree with one another. On the extreme end, there is the Perth Group in Australia. They believe that HIV doesn’t exist and is ‘cellular debris.’ If the virus doesn’t exist, it can’t cause you harm. That’s the extreme end. Most of the denial––like what RFK Jr. pushes––is what was championed by [molecular biologists who worked on retroviruses in the 1980s, like] Peter Duesberg. When HIV was discovered, Duesberg didn’t buy into it. He argued that HIV could be detected and was associated with sexual activity, but was a harmless ‘passenger virus.’ It didn’t do anything. That hypothesis was adopted well beyond AIDS––into Covid and measles. 

“For the anti-vaccine groups I follow, everything has coalesced into a denial of germ theory. [These groups are saying] why are we getting vaccines, or kids should get measles because it prevents cancer. There’s a meta-narrative around infectious disease no longer being considered dangerous.

“We have also seen a lot of the Covid denial and pushback on Covid vaccines and pandemic precautions. People on the right were angry about how Covid was dealt with. It’s easy to believe that if you’re healthy and eat well and exercise, you’ll be okay. They’re taking any piece of science, no matter how dubious, to support those ideas. We’re seeing vaccine mandates start to fall––in Mississippi, in West Virginia. [Recently], it’s starting to move into childhood vaccines” like the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines. 

Smith notes that although infectious disease outbreaks have been covered relatively well by the media, the public is missing stories about people who have been “harmed by these diseases. Twenty percent of kids with measles are hospitalized. That’s getting glossed over in exchange for the controversy about vaccination.”