Editorial: Anti-vaxxers have found a new way to make people unsafe

Freedom Angels co-founders, from left, Denise Aguilar, Heidi Muñoz Gleisner and Tara Thornton as they are detained by California Highway Patrol officers during a demonstration against Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus, at the Capitol in Sacramento on May 1.
(Rich Pedroncelli/ Associated Press)

Protesters plan to gather in Sacramento Thursday for a second time in less than a week to demand that Gov. Gavin Newsom lift pandemic-related restrictions so that people can exercise their God-given right to spread the coronavirus.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s essentially the same message pushed by protesters last year during the legislative battle over SB 276, a bill to make it harder to exempt students from mandatory vaccinations. Protesters framed their position as a defense of personal choice, even though the bill didn’t deny parents the choice to leave their children uninoculated against measles and other easily preventable diseases. It prevented them only from enrolling their uninoculated children in schools, where they might risk the health of other people’s kids.

Vaccination opponents lost that fight, then failed to persuade enough Californians to sign on to their fringey, anti-science crusade to repeal the law through a ballot initiative. Polls show that most people understand that vaccinations are overwhelmingly safe and effective, which has been affirmed in study after study.


Many of the faces at the coronavirus protests are familiar as well. That’s because the three protests at the state Capitol in Sacramento were organized by the Freedom Angels Foundation, which was formed by a trio of women who met during the SB 276 debates. Now, it seems, they have channeled their frustration into a new cause: fomenting dissent about the measures meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Anti-vaxxers, as they are known, have become important players in protests around the country against social-distancing orders, joining other anti-government types at events in Texas, Michigan, Maryland and other states. They have attacked not just pandemic policies but also health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the well-respected head of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases. Along the way they are pushing their signature combination of junk science, misinformation and conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 is a hoax by the government (or maybe Microsoft founder Bill Gates?) to subdue Americans for reasons never made exactly clear.

They say they want “medical freedom,” but to us it sounds more like they want the freedom to do whatever they want, pandemic be damned, even if it means other people might get sick or die because of their actions. People have a right to endanger their own lives, but not those of others.

The pandemic restriction protesters are loud and persistent, but a core group of them are merely rebels in search of a cause, any cause, to push their nutty theories. And they found one with COVID-19.