The Army May Have Developed a Super-Vaccine. Would America’s Right-Wing Libertarian Gun Guys Actually Take It?

Close-up of a man in a camouflage cap wearing aviator sunglasses that show reflections of American flags
A well-immunized militia? Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Peppersmint/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Good news about COVID in December 2021 is hard to find, but Defense One published some of it on Tuesday, writing that scientists at the Army’s Walter Reed Institute of Research in Maryland say they’ve developed a vaccine which proved effective against all strains of the virus, including omicron, in Phase 1 (human) trials. (It still must go through two more trial phases before being approved for widespread use.)

Even before Tuesday’s report, the possibility that the military might be on the verge of concocting a super-vax had begun attracting attention. Its vaccine, like some others in earlier stages of development, is produced by attaching the all-important spike proteins from a variety of coronaviruses, not just the one that causes COVID-19, to a nanoparticle. Preliminary—preliminary!—results suggest that this technique might create antibodies that work against COVID and some seasonal colds and against known coronavirus strains that have not yet even appeared in humans.


If the Army could help Americans prevent COVID, Future COVID, and some common colds at the same time, it would be, in this writer’s opinion, a pretty cool deal. But could it also increase vaccine adoption across the United States? Consider:

• A significant chunk of the country’s anti-vax sentiment is generated in right-wing and libertarian communities by people who frequently identify themselves as “patriots” and position themselves in opposition to what they see as elitist liberal institutions.

• Patriotism is traditionally identified with support for the military.

• The Army is the military.

• The Army is not typically thought of as liberal or elitist.

On the other hand:

• Another pocket of vaccine skepticism exists among people who believe in, to put it simply, healing crystals and so forth.


• These types of individuals typically live in Santa Fe, New Mexico (possibly some other places too, we haven’t done the research), and typically don’t care for gun culture or the Army. [Editor’s note: Los Angeles, Ben. Crystal people live in Los Angeles. Come on.]

What you’d make up in Tom Clancy dads, in other words, you might lose in Marianne Williamson moms. What’s more:

• The crystals culture increasingly overlaps with the right-wing “patriot” culture in some fascinating ways. Podcaster Joe Rogan, for example, is a muscular MMA bro who is also very into alternative medicine.


• The people who attacked police officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 were also “patriots” who theoretically supported “law and order” institutions like the police.

• “Nanoparticle” sounds like something Bill Gates would put in your head to control your thoughts. (It’s not. It’s just a tiny friggin’ particle. But people have freaked out about their use in the mRNA vaccines.)

Ultimately it’s our guess, then, that the cultural concepts of “free thinking” and “rejecting narratives” would be more powerful than the concept of a patriotic vaccine. We’ve reached out to representatives for Rogan and to the Lions Not Sheep apparel company for comment, though (really!), and will update this post if they respond.