Merriam Webster's Definition of "Anti-Vaxxer" Needs to Be Revised

The COVID-19 epidemic is being hampered by political conflict.

After former President Trump dubbed the off-label use of the antimalarial medicine hydroxychloroquine a "game changer" in the fight against COVID-19, political divisiveness may explain why (randomized controlled trials found that is not the case), public health officials and the mainstream press appear uninterested in the off‐​label use of any other drugs as therapeutics against a COVID infection.

For example, impressive data from randomized controlled trials show the off‐​label use of the off‐​patent (therefore cheap) antidepressant fluvoxamine (brand name “Luvox’) appears highly effective in preventing COVID infections from progressing to hospitalization or death. Yet it has garnered little attention from public health officials or the press

A tweet by Andy Swan went viral yesterday informing people that the Merriam‐​Webster online dictionary defines “anti‐​vaxxer” as:

It was later pointed out by Rob Gavagan on the same Twitter thread that Merriam‐​Webster has been using this definition since 2018. Therefore, the definition was not the result of COVID politicization. Nevertheless, it is clearly inaccurate and can only pour more fuel on the political fire.

It is wrong to imply that anyone opposed to the state forcibly vaccinating individuals, or anyone disagreeing with any of the official public health recommendations regarding vaccination is an “anti‐​vaxxer.”

What about the members of the Food and Drug Administration’s Vaccine Advisory Committee who were not in favor of vaccine boosters for everyone over 18 in the general population? Were they “anti‐​vaxxers?” Or what about the many renowned experts—many of whom advise federal and state public health officials—who support vaccination but believe people with infection‐​acquired (“natural”) immunity may not need boosters or may need only one dose of the two‐​dose vaccine regimen? Do they meet Merriam‐​Webster’s definition of “anti‐​vaxxers?”

The New York Times reported there was a debate among members of the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Committee over recommending vaccinating children aged 5–11 against COVID:

During a long debate before the vote, some committee members questioned whether every child in the age group really needed the vaccine or whether it should be limited to those at high risk of severe Covid‐​19 — an easily identifiable group, with underlying conditions such as obesity or other risk factors.

Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, the president and chief executive of Meharry Medical College, said that since many children between 5 and 11 may already have some immunity after contracting the virus, the need to vaccinate broadly in the age group might be less urgent.

“It just seems to me that in some ways we’re vaccinating children to protect the adults, and it should be the other way around,” he said. “I do believe that children at highest risk do need to be vaccinated. But vaccinating all of the children to achieve that just seems a bit much for me.”

And I recently wrote that vaccinations are the most effective harm reduction tool in the COVID pandemic toolbox. I have also written why I believe it is both morally and practically wrong for the state to mandate vaccinations. I am not an “anti‐​vaxxer.”

It is possible to be pro-vaccine while opposing obligatory vaccination. And one can be pro-vaccine while having more nuanced opinions on who should be vaccinated than the regulators.

Science is a method, not a belief system. It necessitates a continual examination of long-held ideas and assumptions. Injecting politics and dogmatism into science jeopardizes its integrity. Merriam Webster may address an accidental harm to science by updating its definition of "antivaxxer."

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