an anti vaccine protest
The first hurdle facing public health experts is finding a vaccine for coronavirus. The second is getting people to take it. Will Facebook's policy make a difference?

Facebook has announced that it is banning ads that discourage users from getting vaccines or that portray vaccines as unsafe or ineffective as part of a larger crackdown on misinformation on its platform.

“We don’t want these ads on our platform,” read the blog post from Facebook officials Kang-Xing Jin and Rob Leathern announcing the new policy. 

The company has long avoided policing speech on its platform, but in recent months began removing posts that spread misinformation, from topics like coronavirus, to Holocaust denial, QAnon conspiracy groups, and ads sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the upcoming U.S. presidential election.

But the topic of vaccines differs in one key area: many of those who reject vaccinations outright claim it is because of their religious convictions. And some are accusing Facebook of trampling on religious freedom by banning ads that question vaccines. 

Religious Exemptions Are Rare

Interestingly, very few religious doctrines actually prohibit vaccines. Instead, researchers have found that vaccine denial is often clustered in religious communities – churches, small towns – where vaccine misinformation spreads like wildfire.

“For many [religious folks] the root cause of their unwillingness to be vaccinated relates to concerns over vaccine safety that drives them to avoid vaccines—and not any real religious doctrine,” writes Dr. Vincent Ianelli, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

an anti vaccine protest
Anti-vaccine protests have actually increased during the pandemic lockdown.

He cites a number of religious communities hit hard by their own unwillingness to get vaccinated, including a group of orthodox Hasidic Jews at the center of an outbreak of measles in New York, outbreaks of polio in Amish communities, and hundreds of rubella cases in a religious community in the Netherlands that resulted in at least one intrauterine death.

Contrary to popular belief, most major religions are in fact pro-vaccine. Catholicism, for example, explicitly supports vaccination, although they caution Catholics to seek out vaccines that are “morally sourced” - that is, not derived from fetal tissue.

But even in the cases where there is no alternative (MMR, Hep A, Varicella), the Catholic Church supports the use of those vaccines, “on a temporary basis.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life explicitly says they can be used “insomuch as is necessary in order to avoid a serious risk not only for one’s own children but also, and perhaps more specifically, for the health conditions of the population as a whole – especially for pregnant women.”

Other faith groups have reached similar conclusions. A number of Islamic leaders have issued fatwas in favor of immunization, arguing that there is no discordance between vaccination and the principles of Islam. 

Jewish leaders have reached the same conclusion, despite the fact that some vaccines are made with porcine. They’ve ruled that “limitations on medications with porcine components are only an issue with oral administration (for those who observe kosher rules), not products given by injection,” so vaccines, even those made with gelatin, are acceptable and encouraged for the health of the community.

The War on Misinformation

So while some genuine religious objections do exist, they are few and far between. Most major faiths explicitly support vaccination.

Critics say that those objecting on religious grounds actually have no religious basis on which to object - it is a personal, philosophical objection, not a genuine religious one. They’re essentially using a “religious exemption” loophole, opponents argue.

With all that in mind, is it possible that the Facebook policy is actually a forward-looking one? As the world continues to grapple with a dangerous pandemic, scientists are working hard to create a vaccine for COVID-19 that will allow us to get back to normal life.

But obviously, this requires that enough people get vaccinated to prevent continued spread of the disease. Such an effort relies on the collective knowledge that vaccines work – a belief could be undermined by misinformation on popular platforms like Facebook. 

What do you think? What's the best way to combat vaccine misinformation?

Do you agree with Facebook's approach?

31 comments

  1. Paul J. Fumero's Avatar Paul J. Fumero

    My doctor advised me not to take any COVID-19 vaccine. I think they are rushing it through for political reasons. People who have taken it have developed serious side effects. No real progress will be done until we get Trump out of power.

    1. Martha Knight's Avatar Martha Knight

      That's just sound medical, scientific advice: don't use a vaccine that has not been proven to be safe and effective. It isn't about religious beliefs. Facebook is following a policy of not allowing its platform to be used to spread harmful, dangerous propaganda including misinformation.

    2. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

      I think it would be best if we all followed yo7r doctor's advice, Paul.

  1. Herbert Moore's Avatar Herbert Moore

    I am inclined to agree - Trump and company are doing their best to obfuscate the situation. Fortunately, being here in Canada and in particular British Columbia things seem considerably better.

  1. Alan S Corr's Avatar Alan S Corr

    I believe when a vaccine is available it will be safe and effective. I think Facebook is taking a forward look at this issue, and is right in the approach they are taking to block vaccine mis-information; and discouragement.

    With all the political drama that’s playing out across our country it’s no surprise that a vaccine that will be helpful would become a political weapon.

    When a vaccine is available I will take it . To the best of my knowledge a vaccine is not available at this time . So I find it hard to believe that any doctor would advise any patient not to take a vaccine .

    1. Antony Karasulas's Avatar Antony Karasulas

      I pray that your belief is matched by the quality of what they put in your children's veins.

      1. Alan S Corr's Avatar Alan S Corr

        Thank you I have faith that god won’t allow a dangerous vaccine on the market .

  1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

    Anti-vaxers, like anti-maskers, are just a gaggle of selfish children searching for their 15 minutes of fame.

    1. David A Griffith's Avatar David A Griffith

      Thank you Mister Mke for being so succinct. With the shortage of beds perhaps those that refused to wear a mask should be refused a bed.

      1. Minister Mike's Avatar Minister Mike

        You are welcome, David. On the bed thing - should we lower ourselves to their level?

  1. Kirk England's Avatar Kirk England

    Facebook bans things mostly related to political views. If a post doesn’t support the leftist narrative, they ban it. The vaccine is political, unfortunately. If a post says Trump is rushing the vaccine to help people quickly, it gets banned. If the post says Trump is rushing it for political reasons, it gets a pass. If a doctor says hold up we need more results - banned. If a doctor says get it as soon as possible - not banned. It really comes down to FB’s ability to determine a poster’s political preference.

    1. David A Griffith's Avatar David A Griffith

      Mr. England-

      I believe that some of your examples are backwards from what you intended. That aside, Facebook is not political, But trying to just only allow the truth on their site. Also, they are a private company and have the right to only post what they feel like posting. This means if they choose to not put a post up or to label it false, they can do that.

      It’s interesting that the conservatives strongly support corporations and businesses to do what they want, whether it is selling cakes, or providing birth control pills. Now, they feel it is against them so they complain, which way do they want it because you cannot have it both ways.

  1. Woodrow's Avatar Woodrow

    Who wrote this article. Religious Exemptions Are Rare? This is misinformation. Should the moneystery ban what we have to say? When all of this ban of free speech is brought into the courts, this will come to a halt.

    1. Master Wolf KSC's Avatar Master Wolf KSC

      Facebook controlling its ad content is not a free-speech issue. Not a 1st Amendment issue. Facebook also bands other types of ads that are deceptive, or market things that are illegal. Anti-VAX ads can and probably have caused hurt and damage to the children of people who believe that kind of stuff.

  1. Lionheart's Avatar Lionheart

    Has anyone yet seen any comments about the fiasco of Hunter Biden and Joe anywhere on CNN? As of 17 October I haven’t seen anything. Twitter and FB even banned articles. We only get to hear what the media wants us to hear. Misinformation, and the lack of information, rules in today’s politics.

    🦁❤️

  1. T Kosse`'s Avatar T Kosse`

    Yeah well Face book still has a lot problems they really need to face up to and address and Mark Zuckerbert need an attitude adjustment and stop thinking that he doesn't have to listen to anyone and that he can do whatever he damn well please.

  1. T Kosse`'s Avatar T Kosse`

    Personally I would love to see face book go away all together, too much of what we do on line is tied into face book it seem if you want to do anything on line you need to have a face book account. I don't have one and I don't want one. People waste too much of their time on face book on nothing but trivial things.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    I started a Facebook àccount a while back, but after seeing what it was about I've never once used it. And what's that goofy crap about all those strangers they pick añd call your friends who they expect you to associate with. It must be for very lonely people, of which I am not one. I'd much rather converse with my fellow Ministers on this blog, all of whom which I atleast know are spiritually minded, even though some of us don't see eye to eye, and some of the articles are totally out in left field.

  1. Clay Serenbetz's Avatar Clay Serenbetz

    How valuable is your life and good health? WHEN AND IF a vaccine is approved by real CDC/FDA scientists, not The Donald's sychophants, then your long-term quality of life may depend on it, if not your life itself. Otherwise, you're basically playing Russian Roulette, which is extremely dangerous. I am not aware of any religion that supports playing Russian Roulette with human life. Are you?

    1. Antony Karasulas's Avatar Antony Karasulas

      Russian Roulette is a good example. Take anything into your body because you have faith that no one ever got it wrong or ever lied, and just see by the results if you were right or not. Proper Russian Roulette.

  1. Carl Bernard Elfstrom's Avatar Carl Bernard Elfstrom

    I think it would be best if we all followed your doctor's advice, Paul.

  1. Daniel Gray's Avatar Daniel Gray

    They should be banned. If they cant prove these vaccinations dont work then they should not be able to claim otherwise. And this isnt a 1st Amendment issue

    1. Antony Karasulas's Avatar Antony Karasulas

      The problem with this level of naivety is that first there has to be a few hundred thousand bad results before we know the vaccine was rushed and is not ready. Better to have a clear discussion about the risks before, don't you think. Rather than finding out later it would have been better to ask some questions after all.faith in the authorities and the 'experts' is all well and good, but both have failed us many, many times before. As a responsible human being for the sake of those you love please find out exactly what is going into your children's blood! And don't simply assume it will ok.

  1. Krystina S.'s Avatar Krystina S.

    Kirk, facts are an interesting thing. Sometimes politicians create a fuss over nonfactual items. Sometimes politicians politicize normally apolitical issues. Sometimes politicians are idiots and their dangerous lies need to be stopped.

  1. Douglas Robert Spindler's Avatar Douglas Robert Spindler

    What mother would not vaccinate their child? Look on YouTube watch the videos of an unvaccinated baby struggles to breath and is near death from a disease that could have been prevented with a vaccine. No vaccine is perfect or without side-effects. We are all going to die at sometime, question is how and when: I’m vaccinated and so are my children. What FB is doing is wrong. Anti-Vaxer posts should be allowed. We need more nominations for the Darwin awards.

  1. Tabitha's Avatar Tabitha

    "Critics say that those objecting on religious grounds actually have no religious basis on which to object - it is a personal, philosophical objection, not a genuine religious one. They’re essentially using a “religious exemption” loophole, opponents argue."

    I love it

    1. CB Cuff's Avatar CB Cuff

      Likely the biggest concern about religious groups refusing any vaccine is that they can speak on behalf of their children, another human being. Many children have died due to this selfishness. Jonestown comes to mind. Recently in Canada parents have been charged with the death of their child for this very reason, religious beliefs. Nothing factual or evidential to take someone's life, your own child's, decided through delusional thinking. In Canada a child must be over the age of twelve before they can independently and legally make decisions affecting their medical state. For example birth control.

  1. Craig's Avatar Craig

    I am all for personal decision making when it comes to vaccines. if you don't believe in it, by all means don't.

    However, using social media to push your own agenda is not acceptable either. If you want to post, then back it up with facts, and if you can't then it should be pulled from the site.

    I am really disgusted these days with all of the misinformation pushed out as fact, and especially when no one is held accountable for misinformation. If you make a claim, you should have to prove it through legitimate sources and not just hearsay or from disreputable sources. And if you do make false claims, you should have to issue an apology and state correct information.

    In the last several years spouting off without checking facts has become commonplace, and not just at the political level. I am ashamed of the media--they used to be a source of fact, but objectivity has disappeared. Social media has become a huge arena for politics, religion and groups trying to bully their ideas into the mainstream.

  1. David A Griffith's Avatar David A Griffith

    I’m tired of hearing about "the liberal media." How about the truthful media and that is why they don’t cover all the proven false stories and other fabrications of the right. It is quite simple to figure out.

  1. Antony Karasulas's Avatar Antony Karasulas

    It is a known fact that vaccines that are rushed kill or seriously harm a lot of people. This is not speculation. And there are billions to be made from this sudden global vaccine market. It is not unreasonable to ask how safe it really is or to question motives. Facebook has decided to take a side in what should be an open public debate, and is exercising censorship to protect their chosen view. In what universe is this even vaguely not just plain wrong!?

    1. Daniel J. Trebas's Avatar Daniel J. Trebas

      Agreed. Unfortunately what many have agreed to (blind faith in a less than adequately tested vaccine) is based on " a greed" of pharmaceutical money chasers. Fact: I've read countless stories about how almost all, if not ALL, of the human test subjects for these rushed covid vaccine tests have developed bad side effects, including at least one death. skipping the usual vetting process for using animals to do vaccine testing makes these vaccines significantly more dangerous. Also keep in mind that the majority of these human Guinea pigs were in relatively good health when they volunteered. And in a seemingly unrelated story,Walgreens announced they were one of the companies contracted to administer the first available vaccines to old folks in nursing homes; who, by the way, are NOT in as robust health as the volunteer Guinea pig test subjects. SOOoooo..... Brace yourself people, because the same elderly demographic that's already been the most heavily hit with coronavirus fatalities will now have even MORE fatalities from the already known side effects of the vaccine. Yep, ole grandma may have survived the covid out break at her nursing home. But will she survive the vaccine that will likely be forced upon her by the "benevolent" banker/politicians ? I mean, yeah, it's not like the government has EVER harmed people while claiming it's for the people's own good, right? Right. Oh, and they'll say its SO unpatriotic to NOT just go along with whatever some paid off doctor tells you. Just IGNORE all the other FACTS and certainly forget about common sense because the doctor/politician/banker is ONLY looking out for your best interest, right? Right. And just to be clear, my above comments regarding blindly following some "authorities" dangerous directives are pure sarcasm. And all the unheard and devalued old folks are next in line for the chopping block of these unproven and dangerous so-called vaccines.

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