The anonymous French outfit debunking anti-vax theories online

With the world on the cusp of finally beginning to administer a viable Covid-19 vaccine, an anonymous French collective is rooting out ‘the very worst’ anti-vax sentiments on social media.

If you thought anti-vax demonstrations in London and California were bad, France is by definition the most vaccine-sceptical nation on the planet, with as many as 1 in 3 believing immunisation to be dangerous or unsafe.

In 2017, mandatory vaccines were enforced by the French government, demanding that hepatitis, influenza, and measles jabs be raised from ‘recommended’ to obligatory treatments. It’s at this point that anti-vax demonstrations started to gather momentum in the French Capital and beyond, and the general attitude has scarcely changed since. In-fact, France has even seen a resurgence of measles and mumps outbreaks in recent years thanks to growing anti-vax sentiments.

Now, as the country awaits the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency to doll out its 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine, fears that large portions of the country are set to shun the treatment are once again propagating throughout government. Having been battered by a pandemic tallying 59,000 deaths and 2.4 million cases of infection, France is said to be readying the ‘biggest vaccination campaign’ in its history to prevent that from happening.

The role of Les Vaxxeuses

The likelihood is though, currently, that the country will not collectively embrace a widespread vaccine in the immediate future. Any chance of transforming public opinion in a notable way heavily depends on culling the spread of misinformation, and chiefly debunking anti-vax theories spreading on social media. To date, that has been anything but a simple task.

That’s where Les Vaxxeuses come in. Followed by more than 17,000 on Facebook and 7,000 on Twitter, this collective of 15 citizen activists is trawling social media and looking for ‘the very worst’ of what can be found on anti-vax support pages. Comprised of mods aged from 30 to 60, this covert group takes screenshots of anti-vaccine conversations and reposts them, often taking aim at people with satirical memes, and dispelling crazy theories by sharing scientific research.

‘The anti-vax movement is something we think is very dangerous and it has to be fought. No one is doing it, so we are doing it,’ an anonymous spokesperson and Les Vaxxeuses moderator said.

Among this group is said to be four doctoral students of biology, people working in public services, and engineers. The criteria for joining to this day, first and foremost, comes down to a person’s ability to engage in a thoughtful dialogue, as well as bringing relevant arguments to the table.

With their content reaching as many as 150,000 people every week in French speaking countries like France (duh), Belgium, Switzerland, and Canada, each member of the cohort has to be carefully vetted before coming on-board, and all volunteers are expected to dedicate serious time to answering messages and amassing content.

Prior to Covid-19, it was estimated that vaccines saved between 2 to 3 million people every year, and you can bet those numbers will absolutely skyrocket just as soon as Covid-19 vaccines start being distributed throughout the globe. We can only hope that the initial rush of positivity this will bring, paired with the continued efforts of policymakers will eventually bring anti-vaxxers onside.

In the meantime, maybe get brushing up on your French.

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