By the time Stevie Nicks wrote ‘Dreams’, the rumors were flying. It was 1976 and the band was falling apart. Fleetwood Mac’s five members had fragmented relationships with divorce, separation, betrayal, and distrust. In the midst of their crisis, they recorded their album, Rumours, which told the “ruthlessly clear-eyed” truth behind what everyone was talking about. “Rumors have a story to tell,” is also what Dr. Heidi Larson argues, an anthropologist, professor, and author of ‘Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start – and Why they Don’t Go Away’. In her book, Dr. Larson explains how vaccine rumors “almost always stem from legitimate concerns.” Although an entirely different kind of rumor from Fleetwood Mac’s, her message is the same; rumors are a “public cry to say ‘is anyone listening?’” Dr. Larson argues that rumors hold valuable information about vaccine hesitancy, how misinformation spreads, and why we should be listening.
Side 1, Track 1: Second Hand News
“When times go rough” is when the rumors start. For the band, that was when Mick Fleetwood was divorcing his wife and Christine and John McVie were calling it quits after almost a decade of marriage. In the story of vaccine hesitancy, Dr. Larson believes it is the rough times of the social and political climate that give rise to vaccine rumors. From an article published in Nature Human Behavior, Dr. Larson explains how vaccine hesitancy is strongly rooted in distrust in government, perceived ulterior motives of the pharmaceutical industry, and wariness of stiff, jargon-filled science. Development and dissemination of vaccines relies heavily on regulatory bodies and when trust in these institutions is breached, the rumors surface. In 2016, distrust in science and mainstream media were heightened by the polarized political climate during the Trump Administration. In addition, the ongoing opioid epidemic sparked rumors about the pharmaceutical industry profiting from the public health crisis. These social and political issues created the perfect synergy for distrust and dissent amongst the public leading into the Covid-19 pandemic.
Side 1, Track 2: Dreams
Following the breakup of her 8-year long relationship with fellow band member Lindsey Buckingham, Nicks wrote in her solo song ‘Dreams’, “Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom. Well who am I to keep you down?” Later Buckingham responded with his song “Go Your Own Way”. Together, these songs were their anthem of autonomy and the lyrics were their pledge to pursue their own personal freedoms. Around the same time Rumours was released, the United Kingdom’s smallpox vaccine mandate was discontinued after 118 years in effect. Since the passing of the Vaccination Act in 1853, many had fought against the government mandate in favor of their personal freedoms. One such group, who believed the vaccine mandate was unnatural and against God’s will, was the Anti-Compulsory Vaccine League. Although they disfavored the vaccine, the ignition to organize was sparked by the government’s mandate, not necessarily vaccination itself. The same fight for bodily autonomy is mirrored in the current Covid-19 pandemic and is a theme Dr. Larson discusses in her book. Dr. Larson details how rumors arise from government mandates because they are rooted in deep-seeded fears like mass sterilization, being counted, and government oversight and control. She argues that a lot of the anti-vaccine rumors revolve around the feeling of not being heard. She also urges scientists, politicians, and community stakeholders to not brush these rumors aside. Through her work, she has found that rumors can reveal deeper issues and lead to insights that can build needed trust and relationships between the public and the government.
Side 2, Track 1: The Chain
‘The Chain’ was the only song of the Rumours album that was written by all five band members. In a 2014 memoir Fleetwood wrote, “We refused to let our feelings derail our commitment to the music, no matter how complicated or intertwined they became.” Although seemingly falling apart, they came together to create one of the top 10 best-selling albums of all time. Dr. Larson’s work shares the same sentiment that coming together is the best solution out of the current pandemic. In 2010, she formed the Vaccine Confidence Project (VCP), which is a group that “seeks to address these unmet needs and monitor public confidence in immunization programs by listening for early signals of public distrust”. Their work is the first to systematically assess vaccine confidence, through a metric called the Vaccine Confidence Index. Together, Dr. Larson believes that there are many ways to mitigate rumors and build trust between the public, the government, and scientific and healthcare communities. Working together, building vaccine confidence, empathetic listening, open and effective science communication, and inclusion of public concerns into decision making processes are just a few of the many ways to end the rumors and end the current pandemic.
Peer Editor: Priya Stepp Hibshman