A few hundred demonstrators lined the sidewalk Monday outside San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital to rally against California’s impending vaccination warrants for healthcare workers. And to the disappointment of many medical professionals, some of the protesters were nurses wearing hospital gowns.
It was the kind of protest that was common earlier in the pandemic, but has lost steam this year as restrictions have eased. But a resurgence of the coronavirus and slow adoption of vaccines has led to a push for vaccination warrants and masking rules – and new protests.
Vaccination mandates have given new direction to some Covid deniers and anti-vaccination campaigners, helping to align disparate ‘freedom’ groups around a single cause, as lockdowns did earlier in the pandemic. Among them are nurses who have been vocal opponents of various pandemic mitigation efforts, some of which have become adept at gaining attention on social media, primarily on Instagram, Facebook and TikTok.
This is a dynamic that, according to experts, can have a disproportionate impact on the discourse on vaccination, especially since the messages of nurses can go well beyond the demonstrations or their limited audience on social networks and wear a polish of credibility in the medical industry.
“It’s not that the nurses themselves necessarily have a very wide reach, but their videos always seem to be found by anti-vax people, who then either duet them or re-share them and use this professional’s credibility. health to reinforce the argument that they’ve always been right, ”said Rachel Moran, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, which studies Internet disinformation.
The protest in San Diego, where some attendees chanted reused pro-abortion slogans like “our body, our choice,” was one of more than a dozen outside California hospitals in recent days, hosted by a group called America’s Healthcare Workers for Medical Freedom and promoted via a new anonymous Instagram account with 5,500 followers made up of a stable of RNs who are also anti-vaccination influencers on the app.
Other recent protests have received similar impulses on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook. Calling themselves “freedom guards,” at least six individual accounts have spent the past week promoting U.S. healthcare workers’ protests for medical freedom, posting flyers for rallies, and others that feature publicity. vaccination misinformation dressed in a feminine aesthetic well known for wellness and lifestyle influencers, including pastel colors and trendy cursive fonts.
Individual accounts present a mishmash of immunization misinformation, including distorted data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, suggesting that vaccines kill thousands of people.
A Facebook spokesperson said the company is reviewing the accounts and will take action if they violate company policies.
As part of a broad set of mandates across the state, the California Department of Public Health has required its more than 2 million healthcare workers in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, and physician offices be fully vaccinated against Covid by September 30. The pop-up protests come at a time when hospitals across the country are increasingly implementing mandates to tackle stuck vaccination efforts among health workers, even as the delta variant threatens to overload to new intensive care units.
Like other protests against closures, masks and other measures to mitigate the spread of Covid, the events, apparently for healthcare workers, have drawn other participants, some of whom are strictly against all childhood vaccinations and others who are apparently politically motivated to recall California Governor Gavin Newsom. In live broadcasts of this week’s events, protesters’ placards, which included QAnon slogans and the text of the Nuremberg Code (a guideline for ethical medical research), gave clues to the countless motivations of the participants.
The small group of activists behind America’s Healthcare Workers for Medical Freedom includes account newsletter host Lauren Mochizuki, an emergency room nurse and personal finance blogger in Orange County, Calif., Who also manages the nurses4informedconsent Instagram account, a private account with only 1,800 subscribers. Mochizuki, who made the news at the start of the pandemic for drawing attention to the struggle of frontline healthcare workers, did not respond to a request for comment.
Heather Knapp, 35, a registered home nurse in Riverside, Calif., Posted videos of several of the protests on her 33,000-subscriber Instagram account, Nurses4freedom. She said the recent gatherings were an effort to raise awareness of the concerns of medical professionals who, despite scientific consensus, question the safety of vaccines.
“I’m not an anti-vaxxer,” Knapp said. “Our organization is anti-mandate.
Healthcare workers have never been immune to anti-vaccination views. Online groups like Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines were the first participants in the modern anti-vaccination movement and are known to rally around healthcare professionals who refuse annual influenza vaccines. Since the start of the pandemic, disinformation about Covid and vaccines has penetrated mainstream nursing groups and has led professional groups like the American Nurses Association to announce their support for vaccines and to warn against misinformation online. which erodes public confidence.
Moran said the viral anti-vaccination nurses videos “exploit the credibility of medical professionals” to create a false impression that there is considerable debate about Covid vaccines among doctors and nurses when in reality , there is a consensus on their effectiveness and safety.
“There is a hypocritical argument that anti-vaccines have long spread distrust of institutions, science and medicine,” Moran said. “But on the other hand, when there is a doctor or someone with a graduate degree or medical background who says something that aligns with their anti-vax message, suddenly that institutional expertise is in. new credible. “
Knapp said she and others were concerned about unknown “long-term safety effects”, including on fertility in women, and that information about treatments like ivermectin, a drug used to prevent parasites in animals, were “censored”.
Knapp also said his organization was expanding to include firefighters and law enforcement officers.
“We are not giving in,” she said, adding that more rallies in other states are scheduled for next week.
While more than 96 percent of practicing physicians in the United States have been fully immunized, according to an American Medical Association survey, some other healthcare workers are more hesitant. One in 4 hospital workers in direct contact with patients had not received a single dose of the Covid vaccine by the end of May, according to an estimate by WebMD and Medscape Medical News using data collected by the Department of Health and of Social Services.
Some healthcare workers are going online to evade looming mandates. In HealthCare Workers for Freedom, a separate new private Facebook group with 3,000 members, self-identified healthcare workers offer business support and advice for filing religious exemption requests and contacts for attorneys who would represent them. refusal of vaccination. The group was buzzing Wednesday morning over a proposed walkout to protest the mandates, although some members expressed hesitation. “I hope no one is abandoning patients to go out,” said one member.
Facebook and its photo-sharing app Instagram have struggled to curb the spread of vaccine misinformation on both platforms, despite numerous policy updates and other measures to remove anti-content. vaccination.
TikTok has also tried to limit the spread of misinformation, but the app has also become an important outlet for people looking to push back mandates and spread vaccine hesitancy.
Moran said nurses are constantly going viral on TikTok, that anti-vaccination influencers are looking for believable-looking messengers, and are using TikTok’s sharing feature, called “duo,” to grow their audience.
Moran said TikTok creates a vicious cycle of disinformation and debunking on TikTok. Nursing videos are debunked by well-meaning users in duos, which are then refuted by anti-vaccination proponents, creating a false sense of ambiguity and debate about vaccine safety.
“At the end of the day, all it does is push this impression that there’s this 1: 1 argument going on where 50 percent of nurses agree with it and 50 percent don’t. not, and it’s nothing of the sort, “Moran mentioned.