Exaggerated safety concerns, suspicion of new technology, and distrust of profit-making corporations have been features of leftist opposition to modern genetic and genomic technology for decades. Consequently, biotechnophobia has certainly played a part in the public’s sometimes ambivalent attitudes towards the new bioengineered COVID vaccines.
There is deadly precedent here. In the late 1990s, as the HIV/AIDS epidemic raged through sub-Saharan Africa, then-President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, openly rejected the evidence-based battle against the disease. Influenced by “AIDS denialists,” Mbeki believed that the disease “was brought about by the collapse of the immune system … not because of a virus.” So he turned his back on modern pharmaceutical drugs, opting instead for “natural” alternatives. As a result, more than a third-of-a-million people are thought to have died. Those lethal beliefs and motivations match those of today’s anti-vaxxers—different disease, same life-threatening message.
The mass take-up of COVID vaccines in many parts of the world demonstrates ongoing trust in science and public health bodies—after all, vaccines do work and biotechnology is the reason. As a result, opposition to GE techniques will undoubtedly soften, if only incrementally. Nevertheless, the politicization of science has strengthened the core of anti-vax sentiment. The result is untold thousands of unnecessary deaths, and many more to come in what has been described as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”