A nun and a doctor, he is one of Europe’s longest vaccine skeptics

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MONTSERRAT, Spain – Sister Teresa Forcades notices people many years ago for her outspoken liberal views: an outspoken Roman Catholic nun whose accents ran counter to same-sex marriage and abortion in church positions.

She became a fixture on Spanish television, introducing her nun’s habit of advocating independence for her native region of Catalonia and debating other hot-button topics, including vaccines. He had trained as a doctor, partly in the United States, and argued that vaccination might one day pose a threat to a free society.

Now a decade later, the coronovirus swept into the world, she believes that the day is here. She is warning against the use of coronovirus vaccines, even as scientists and elected leaders worry that anti-vaccine sentiment may threaten Europe’s recovery from the epidemic.

“It’s always important that criticism is possible, to make disgruntled voices,” she said of her thoughts, which focus as much on her suspicions about the vaccine as her right to question them publicly. . “The answer cannot be that in times of crisis, society cannot allow criticism – that’s fine then we need it.”

However, criticism is viewed by many in the scientific community as spreading misinformation. From her perch at Hilltop Convent, Sister Teresa now finds herself alongside governments, medical experts, and even Pope Francis, who says the vaccination campaign is the only escape route from an epidemic that has killed more than three people Have killed and devastated global economies.

In a world of vaccine suspicion, Sister Teresa, born in 1966 as a nurse and a commercial agent, is difficult to classify. She acknowledges that some vaccines are beneficial, but opposes making them mandatory. Her misconception about coronavirus stems largely from her view that pharmaceutical companies are not to be trusted, and clinical trials were conducted.

She draws credibility from her nun’s habit and medical training, which has particularly appealed to conspiracy theorists and far-right groups who try to undermine public confidence in vaccines by spreading half-truths. -Never mixed with facts, which are delivered by reliable and credible people. To give his voice the impression of authority.

Jose M., a professor of preventive medicine and public health in Spain. Martin-Moreno, who has been a critic of Sister Teresa, said that she accepts her challenges under the guise of scientific knowledge and her right to criticism under the guise of scientific debate.

“I never doubted his good intentions,” Dr. Martin-Moreno said. “But the most dangerous people are those who have half-truths, because they have an element of truth somewhere.”

This battle for public opinion could not come at a more important time.

The world, for example, is in the midst of an experiment – the rapid development and rollout of the coronovirus vaccine, which has not yet stood the test of time for the global population. Relatively less severe side effects have occurred, and vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in preventing serious illness and death. There are also suggestions that they are likely to slow transmission, to prevent infection.

But the rare detection, although sometimes fatal, of a small number of blood people who receive AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines has led some governments to both stop and limit shots and to increase vaccines has prompted.

Officials said that in the Spanish capital of Madrid, in the days after the age limit was raised for AstraZeneca, only about a third of people showed up for their vaccine appointments, due to concerns about its effectiveness. The country appears as the fourth wave of infection.

Sister Teresa’s message continues to reach people throughout Spain, despite her relative isolation at the convent.

A 120,000-member group in Spain known for far-flung conspiracies often offers its controversial advice about coronovirus treatment on the Telegram messaging app. Another popular group that even denies the existence of the epidemic recently praised a Facebook video in which it questioned the safety of coronavirus vaccines.

Sister Teresa, although a radical leftist, does not distance herself from right-wing followers, calling her mistrust of some vaccines “a question capable of reaching a broad spectrum of people”.

Sitting in her convent on a recent day, she offered a window into her argument. She argued with the data, some of it derived from clinical trials, but often came to the conclusion that some in the medical world accept: that corporations, driven by profits, did not trust to deliver safe vaccines can go.

She said that her thoughts were shaped well before becoming a nun during her medical residency in the US from 1992 to 1995. He recalled a patient at his Buffalo, NY, hospital who needed an amputation. After his limb was removed and he needed a prosthesis, the insurance company refused to pay for it.

April 23, 2021, 8:08 pm ET

“It was an example of cruelty because it outlined a mix of economic interests and basic human needs of health care,” she said.

In 1997, she returned to Spain and took a room at the convent of Sant Bennett Montserrat. The stone building sits in a pine grove below the Montserrat massif, rising above a valley outside Barcelona in the northeastern region of Catalonia.

There, with time to think, she realized that her calling would be in a Benedictine order as a nun. He did not practice medicine.

Soon, she was pushing the boundaries of religious scholarship. She helped develop Christianity that demanded an equal role for women in Christianity and questioned interpretations of the Bible that favored men.

But health care remained in his thoughts.

In 2006, he wrote a 45-page manifesto titled “The Crime of Big Pharma”. Stating that pharmaceutical companies were enemies of public health, this was used as an example of a patent dispute between African governments and drug makers over the drug of AIDS.

“I was shocked,” she said in the interview, as she believed that pharmaceutical companies work for the good of humanity.

His distrust of Big Pharma deepened as did other drugmaker scandals, and he concluded that the push for profits was irreparable with public health.

Then in 2009, the outbreak of the H1N1 “swine flu” virus became an epidemic. Governments began discussing mass vaccination campaigns, and which corporations they could work with.

Sister Teresa spoke out against the effort in an online video that received 1.2 million views and translated it into eight languages ​​before the video-streaming platform Vimeo removed the channel where it was posted.

In the 55-minute telecast, she appeared in the habit of a nun and introduced herself as a physician. First, he established science by saying that the virus was no less deadly than previous flu outbreaks. Then he took a turn into a conspiracy theory.

He recounted an incident that year, in which health care company Baxter said Accidentally mixed Two strains of the flu in a laboratory, resulting in the death of test animals. Baxter, who later Produced a swine flu vaccineSaid that no one was hurt, but experts said at the time that they were Disturbed by mistake.

But in his mind, a lab mistake turned out to be something more sinister and suspicious: Sister Teresa, in the video, alleges without evidence that Baxter was trying to create a new virus aimed at benefiting from potential vaccines, especially if Their use was mandatory.

“How is it possible that they can force me to take the vaccine that I don’t want?” he said.

As the coronovirus began to spread worldwide last year, Sister Teresa said she felt history was repeating itself.

“They have a series of secret contracts, many times what they should be at prices,” she said of companies producing the coronavirus virus vaccine.

Dr. Martin-Moreno, who has worked with the World Health Organization, shares his concerns about the contracts. He said some frustration about the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trials – the results of which have been widely questioned for using outdated information, among other issues – was merged.

But he said that Sister Teresa has gone too far and her fame has become dangerous.

Sister Teresa argues that she poses no threat, and that her questions about vaccines, planted long before the epidemic, came before her time.

The idea frustrated her at times, she said in an email. “But then I miss Jesus and some of the saints I love and I feel in good company.”

Lear Arées Sarasceta contributed reporting from Madrid.

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