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Amelia Jamison Discusses Collision of Anti-Vaccine Movement, Racism And COVID-19

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Amelia Jamison, faculty research assistant of School of Public Health from the University of Maryland
Amelia Jamison is a Faculty Research Assistant at the Maryland Center for Health Equity in the School of Public Health. She studies vaccine hesitancy and online communication.

While Colorado lawmakers have passed a bill that would make it harder to get a vaccine exemption for school children (6/16/20), at a hearing in advance of the vote on the bill, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. the well-known anti-vaccine activist, testified against the bill using racialized arguments based on retracted studies on the impact of vaccination on African American boys and historical references to the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment, a decades-long study in which government researchers withheld treatment from Black men with syphilis, to stir fears about distrust in the medical establishment. 

These tactics are something that Amelia Jamison, a faculty research assistant with the Maryland Center for Health Equity, knows about. Her research focuses on the anti-vaccine movement on social media.

“Within the anti-vaccine movement itself, you'll find that they're embracing the language of civil rights and claiming that vaccination and vaccine freedom is the next civil rights battle, essentially,” said Jamison. “I don't publicize this, but I went to their rally at the National Mall in November. They were quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela. And if you follow their Twitter accounts right now, they're very active on the subject of race, particularly after the protests. And although I feel like most of the leaders of this movement are white, I do know that there's a specific online profile targeting African Americans.”

Two years ago, Jamison and her colleagues published a study showing that on Twitter, Russian trolls were polarizing the vaccine debate.

“Subsequent research has revealed that within the Russian trolls, there are different personas that they had created,” said Jamison. “And one of the particular personas that they had created was a Black Lives Matter, African American persona.”

As ABC News reported in the fall, Kennedy and other “anti-vaccine leaders have their sights focused on a new target: they’re infiltrating minority groups with existing skepticism of the medical establishment and exploiting the historically fraught relationships those groups have with doctors.” 

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