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On Liberty, Conspiracy, and Vaccination

Now that vaccine hesitancy has emerged as a major threat to achieving herd immunity, public authorities might be tempted to crack down on the conspiracy theories that are fueling it. But before they do, they should revisit John Stuart Mill's famous defense of free speech.

PARIS – Although countries like Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States have done particularly well getting COVID-19 vaccines into arms as fast as possible, vaccine hesitancy remains a serious hurdle. In the US, it has already derailed President Joe Biden’s goal of administering at least one vaccine dose to 70% of the US population by July 4.

In a CNN poll in April, about 26% of US respondents said they do not intend to get vaccinated at all. That is a big problem, given that near-universal vaccination is the only reliable way to end the pandemic. Assuming, for example, that COVID-19 variants as contagious as measles become dominant, achieving herd immunity could require that 94% of the population is immune.

In these circumstances, policymakers might be tempted to try to suppress vaccine hesitancy – much of it fueled by conspiracy theories. To believers, the real danger is not COVID-19, but that Bill Gates is using vaccines to implant microchips in our brains.

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