Last week, I began my 4-part report on the book launch for Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children, held at New York University. In part 1, I covered the ten-minute introduction by the book’s co-authors, Louise Habakus and Mary Holland.
In this second installment, I’ll look at the first of the three panel discussions. I apologize if I seem to editorialize a little more or become snarkier in part 2, but some of the statements made by the panel were quite audacious and difficult to treat as if they reflect a legitimate and rational perspective.
The first to be introduced on the panel by moderator Mary Holland was Vera Sharav, founder and president of the self-described, public interest watchdog group the Alliance for Human Research Protection (AHRP), whose goal is “to unlock the walls of secrecy in biomedical research and to bring accountability to that endeavor.” Next was Michael Belkin, a financial market strategist and president of Belkin Ltd., a financial and economic forecasting firm. The final member of the panel was Bob Krakow, an attorney in private practice representing people allegedly injured by vaccines and environmental toxins.
What immediately stood out was the fact that this vaccine safety panel didn’t include a single medical professional or even a scientist. Considering anyone can establish a public watchdog group against anything they please, this is not a serious qualification on the topic of vaccines. Ms. Sharav’s credentials carry no greater authority than the president of a watchdog group whose stated mission is to protect the public from the dangers of wearing pants. A financial market strategist is about as qualified to discuss medical science as a boxer is to discuss the nuances of the legal system. And an attorney representing clients who have been allegedly injured by vaccines is not only unqualified to discuss medical science, but arguably presents a conflict of interest.
Holland begins with a quote from James Turner, one of the contributors to the book:
“A country that requires all children to receive a product—no matter how beneficial—knowing that some children will die and others’ lives will be destroyed by the use of that product, risks losing all moral authority.”
Does Mr. Turner think parents should not be obligated to feed their children either then, nor provide them with any medical aid should they get sick? And what about shelter? One of the few downsides of living in a capitalist nation is that citizens are beholden to acquire necessary goods and services through a monetary exchange. And one of the downsides of living in a cooperative society is that some liberties are forfeited for the benefit of the whole society. With regard to vaccines, both parties–the individual and the society–are mutually benefited by the transaction. Vaccines are also often provided free of charge. Lastly, given the infant mortality and morbidity rates of our pre-vaccine past compared to today (and here), the risks of vaccines are greatly surpassed by the risks of not vaccinating.
According to Infectious Disease specialist Dr. Mark Crislip:
I will never say that vaccines are 100% safe. Nothing is. Life, as I understand it, is about relative risks. Seat belts and air bags kill people every year. I still want my car equipped with both. Nothing is perfect, and it is an issue of the relative risk. An accident without seat belts is far more likely to cause morbidity and mortality.Life without vaccines is likely to have more potential morbidity and mortality with 250,000 kids injured each year in car accidents, approximately 2,000 die from their injuries. Your best bet, if you really want to prevent vaccine associated injury, is to not let people drive their kids to the doctors.
Now I already addressed the fallacy in analogizing vaccination to child sacrifice in part 1. As for what this libertarian argument against Big Government has to do with the underlying science of vaccine safety is unclear.
First up on the panel was Vera Sharav. Holland says that in Sharav’s chapter in the book she argues that today’s vaccine policies are an inversion of medical ethics and human rights. Sharav elaborated, saying “the cornerstone of medical ethics is the Hippocratic oath,” which promises to do no harm. Sharav, perhaps taking this creed far more literally than possibly anyone in human history, argues that this means that it is never acceptable for any medical procedure to cause injury:
History has demonstrated that when medicine veers away from the Hippocratic tradition and embracing utilitarian ethics favored by government and industry, the values of the entire society can be subverted, doctors lose their moral grounding, and the physician-patient relationship is compromised.
Sharav did not clarify which period, or periods, in history she was referring to. Our current medical establishment does not operate solely on utilitarian ethics. For instance, it is deemed highly unethical for doctors to sacrifice even a terminally ill patient in order to harvest the organs to save more lives. Furthermore, when patients opt out of organ donation, medical professionals are not permitted to take their organs anyway after the patient is deceased. Sharav applies circular reasoning, beginning with the premise that doctors prescribe “harm-producing treatments” even though this is the very claim she’s supposed to be trying to prove. “They even rationalize medical atrocities…” she says. Who specifically “They” are is unclear.
Her main focus was on mandatory vaccine policies. According to the CRS Report for Congress on mandatory vaccination, there’s a long case history in the courts determining the ethics of such policies:
“Historically, the preservation of the public health has been the responsibility of state and local governments, and the authority to enact laws relevant to the protection of the public health derives from the state’s general police powers.”
Despite all the many legal minds who have examined this issue in the courts on countless occasions since 1809, and who have repeatedly found such policies ethical, Sharav feels they violate the human right of voluntary consent to medical treatments, even though such laws rarely apply to adults, while children are not deemed reasonably capable of making such choices themselves. Now, if Sharav wants to argue that it should fall to the parents to make that decision, then the parents become equally guilty of violating the human right of voluntary consent, and really we’re just haggling over which authority is best to make that determination by proxy.
Children are not property. They are entitled to basic, unalienable human rights that supersede parental rights. That’s why child protective services exist in the first place. So I ask Ms. Sharav: Does government have the right to stop a parent from beating their child to death? From withholding live-saving medication? Why? If so, where do you draw the line between one form of life-saving intervention and another?
But Sharav was only getting started:
The rationale given for mandatory vaccination is to protect the herd, in other words, the public. It is the very same that was used by the Nazi doctors…
It’s also the same rationale used by law enforcement, fire departments, EMT’s, surgeons, crossing guards, and everyone speaking at this very event. Oh my god! EVERYONE’S A NAZI!!
Besides Ms. Sharav’s entering Godwin’s Law territory, the argument is almost too preposterous to warrant comment. She is actually suggesting that designing laws around promoting public safety makes you an evil Nazi. So Ms. Sharav’s watchdog group as well as all these alleged “vaccine safety” advocates are openly opposed to public safety because supporting it would make them Nazis. Glad we got that straight. One can’t help but be reminded of Lewis Black’s “Nazi Tourette’s” routine. It’s worth noting that this was less than thirteen minutes into the conference, only about five minutes after that moment I reported in part 1 where Louise Habaku condemned name-calling and insisted they were committed to respectful discourse.
The next question went to Michael Belkin, the market strategist who last year respectfully sang about how the medical establishment were the ‘Gestapo’ and at that same event declared that flu vaccines “don’t work” because you need replacement vaccines every year. Besides suggesting that he doesn’t understand basic biological evolution, one is also forced to wonder what he thought was lighting the auditorium as light bulbs really don’t work according to his model. Come to think of it, food must not really work in providing energy to the body since you need to keep eating. Razors must not work because every morning you have to shave again. The moon must not work in affecting the tides because it keeps having to come back. As Bill O’Reilly would say, never a miscommunication.
Belkin was introduced as a person whose work “followed the money” for many years. Apparently though, he didn’t follow the money that flowed into Andrew Wakefield’s pockets during his “study”, nor to the self-admitted attorney defending alleged vaccine-injured clients sitting to Belkin’s left. Nor does he seem to have followed the money using any compelling empirical evidence because as far as I can tell in my research, his journey to follow the money over the rainbow led to no convictions or legal victories. This leads me to wonder, much like the conflicts of interests typically cited by vaccine critics, if the alleged conflicts are superficial and merely repeated as hearsay to poison the well. Of course, we may never know because he gives no examples.
Belkin claims that his child died less than twenty-four hours after receiving the Hep B vaccine. You can find his testimony to Congress here. According to the testimony, the NY Medical Examiner ruled her death Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This is not a known side effect of the vaccine. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
Allegations have been made that hepatitis B vaccination of infants causes Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Because almost 10 million doses of hepatitis B vaccine are administered to infants each year, some infants will die shortly after vaccination by coincidence alone. Available scientific data do not support any causal role of vaccination in the deaths. In fact, in 1992, the first full year after the hepatitis B vaccine was first recommended universally for infants, there were 4,800 SIDS deaths, and hepatitis B vaccination coverage was 8 percent. In contrast, as shown in figure 2, by 1996 when coverage had risen to 82 percent, the number of SIDS deaths had actually decreased to 3,000 deaths. These data are reassuring because if Hep B vaccine were a major cause of SIDS, we would have expected an increase in SIDS, not a decrease. SIDS deaths have continued to decrease as a result of the effort to change infant sleep position despite a marked increase in hepatitis B vaccination coverage.
So this would make Belkin’s daughter’s case a rare anomaly, contrary to his testimony claims that the VAERS report shows a clear, undeniable pattern. Medical professionals have looked into the possibility that vaccines could cause SIDS and have so far found those claims unfounded. Seemingly trying to get around this, he moved the goalpost in his testimony to Congress, saying:
“Anyone who doubts if hepatitis B vaccine adverse reactions exist should sit down and read the symptoms and text comments of a random selection of VAERS reports.”
Of course, this misrepresents how the VAERS reporting system works. Anyone can report any adverse event on VAERS regardless of whether it’s in any way relevant. If one gets a hang nail, that could be reported to VAERS; that doesn’t mean the vaccine caused it. Then of course, there’s the possibility that the timing correlation between the vaccination and his daughter’s death were a coincidence. Belkin, and other vaccine critics, are falling victim to the Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire Fallacy. Anti-vaxxers manufactured a public controversy, and now that people are falling for it and are concerned vaccines are to blame for all manner of symptoms, vaccine critics use the very panic they created to insist the number of adverse effects reported after vaccination is significant. It’s not the quantity but the quality of the association that matters. If any noticeable symptom is observed in a child shortly after receiving a vaccine, there would likely be no convincing a parent that it wasn’t the vaccine’s fault.
In repeating his testimony, Belkin insinuates conspiracy. He makes a point to say Merck’s name kept popping up, and claims the medical examiner initially thought the vaccine contributed to the death, but later suddenly denied the vaccine had any role. This is one of the most common themes in conspiracy theories. There’s almost always a story of some authority figure initially saying one thing that reinforces the ideology, and then later “mysteriously” changing their mind…because nobody can ever legitimately change their mind after further investigation without there being a cover-up (See: Major Jesse Marcel). Belkin included a similar tall tale to one I’ve heard from Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy, where he had an interaction with a public health official who callously dismissed overwhelming evidence in an over the top way that stretches all credibility:
He came up afterward and said a lady from Merck told me to come down and refute you. His name was Louis Cooper. And Louis Cooper became the Chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics shortly thereafter. And I showed him the adverse reaction reports I had with me and I said, well what about this? Doesn’t this show you there’s a problem there? And he says, oh, that’s garbage. That’s just garbage. And I said, well what would you do to improve it? … He said, “there’s no money to do that!” There’s no money in that. Okay, there’s no money for vaccine safety. This is from the Chairman of American Academy of Pediatrics.
This story seems highly influenced by Belkin’s distrust and hostility for medical authorities. It seems far more plausible that Cooper may have briefly tried to explain, as I have, how the VAERS works and why it is not compelling evidence that the vaccine is not safe. Unfortunately, we only have Belkin’s version of the event to go on.
With no sign of ever discussing the actual science of vaccines, Belkin moved onto pharmaceutical business models…because surely scientific evidence that vaccines aren’t safe will be found there. But no. This just led to more general criticisms of their corporate desire to make money, followed by him reminding the audience that vaccines are among their products.
Their business model is compulsion. They want to make vaccines mandatory…
And grocers want to make food mandatory. And yet I surmise Mr. Belkin is not about to stop eating to prove food is just a racket.
Then came the inevitable Vioxx example, a favorite among vaccine critics who seem to want to poison the well of pharmaceutical companies. Andrew Wakefield used it himself at the last public appearance he made in NYC, which I attended. The way this game works is as such: they think of as many ways to sling mud against pharmaceutical companies as they can in hopes that their audience won’t notice that they failed to ever address the science, that past scandals in no way prove a particular scandal in the present, or that that doesn’t explain why every reputable health organization on Earth endorses vaccination, as opposed to just pharmaceutical companies.
Finally, it was Bob Krakow’s turn. He talked about fighting the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), which incidentally was reaffirmed in the Supreme Court four days after this very event in a 6-2 decision. Krakow began by saying:
There is no debate about vaccine injury. The reason the vaccine injury compensation program was started was because Congress, public health, everyone connected to this problem understands that some children and some adults are injured by vaccines. The only question is how often it occurs. What’s really disturbing is the extent to which our stories are denied, and that happens every day in vaccine court.
Krakow was making a lot of sense up until that last sentence. In fact, many families are compensated in vaccine court. The burden of proof standards are lower in vaccine court than other courts, which use the Daubert standard for scientific testimony and evidence. As a result, compensation from legitimate vaccine injuries actually tend to come faster. But that doesn’t mean plaintiffs are under no responsibility to prove their case. Minutes later he even says, “Over the twenty years, with many people compensated, we’ve also seen many people turned away.” Yes, that’s how it works. It’s a court of law, not a charity. Not everyone who comes in will win their case. Krakow seems to think the vaccine courts should be handing out compensations to plaintiffs indiscriminately, like candy to trick-or-treaters. Though, given he’s a lawyer for such plaintiffs, I understand why he’d prefer the vaccine courts just gave away money to any plaintiff as it would save him a lot of work. Krakow says be began his legal career prosecuting criminals, but after a personal experience, realized he was “prosecuting the wrong drug dealers.” This line won him massive laughter and applause from the audience.
Interestingly, he then went on to explain how further analysis of anecdotes often leads to one’s adversary revising their story and writing history. Though apparently this doesn’t happen to people who share Krakow’s ideology. Also, according to Krakow, medical records are nothing but whatever crazy stuff a doctor wrote down after meeting with a patient for five minutes. And this misrepresentation he defines as one of his main problems with vaccine court…the same court that again, makes it easier for plaintiffs to collect compensation. Krakow added, “The vaccine program gave pharmaceutical industry a high level of immunity from lawsuits.”
This does not mean that vaccine manufacturers cannot be held accountable for the quality of their products. Essentially this means that they cannot be sued for any side effect of vaccines. These are considered unavoidable risks, risks which we accept because they are vastly outweighed by the benefits. The vaccine court compensates those who may have suffered a side effect. Without this avenue vaccine manufacturing in this country would not be viable.
But vaccine manufacturers can still be held accountable for avoidable harm due to a manufacturing defect.
Krakow surprisingly conceded that the vaccine program had its positive qualities and admitted that many families have been directly helped by it. But he argues that on a case-by-case basis, the process breaks down because, according to him, “the program cannot possibly acknowledge that vaccines have caused that much damage.” He never substantiates this assertion other than to say that in individual cases, it’s simply obvious that a particular child has regressed after receiving a specific vaccine. This is a clear indication of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. And his use of the word “regressed” suggests he’s specifically referring to the now thoroughly debunked vaccine-autism hypothesis, which proponents failed to make a compelling case for in no fewer than six legal cases. Even more importantly, the hypothesis never gained much traction in the court of science, where numerous studies have invalidated it. And yet, according to Krakow, “the science has never been done.”
He went on to claim that there’s a public policy to deny that vaccine injury occurs, which seemingly contradicts what he said moments earlier about vaccine court, quoted above. Vaccine court either accepts that vaccine injury can happen or it doesn’t. You can’t have it both ways. And just because you might not agree with a particular outcome or want to believe that autism is a form of vaccine injury when it’s not, that does not mean there is a conspiracy denying all vaccine injury.
The panel was then opened up for questions from the audience. The first question came from a man who asked what’s wrong with our judicial system when a company like Merck can simply pay lawyers to overpower the courts? He wasn’t the only audience member who had a hard time understanding how such a grand conspiracy was possible. Inevitably, when conspiracy theories grow so large that the plot holes have turned into craters, believers struggle to understand how the evil forces they’re fighting can be so powerful. This incredulity isn’t usually enough, however, to get them to realize the conspiracy doesn’t make sense because it’s fictitious, and their confusion is easily overcome with trite cliches. For instance, Krakow responded to the questioner with this pearl of wisdom: “Money is power.” Oh…okay. I guess that explains everything.
Belkin chimed in with a more elaborate conspiracy involving product defense companies who hire themselves out as “scientific prostitutes”…not like Andrew Wakefield, who was paid more than £400,000 by trial lawyers to “investigate” a case against the MMR vaccine with his “research”. Remember, Belkin was the one introduced as the guy who “follows the money.” His unproven conspiracy it turned out also conveniently included such Merck-”sympathetic medical journals” as the British Medical Journal and the Lancet, both of which just happen to recently denounce Andrew Wakefield. Incidentally, if Belkin could verify these unhealthy relationships with Merck that he asserts so confidently, he’d probably be sitting on one the largest medical fraud cases in human history, one that would make him rich given all the regulatory compliance violations he describes.
But perhaps the least intelligible response came from Sharav, who argued that the courts seal records in cases for the express purpose of keeping the public from knowing the horrible truth about drug, vaccine, and device safety. Yes, the courts are in on it too, and sealing records isn’t just to protect people’s private medical information. That’s why vaccine court compensates many families. The government’s in on it too, which is why federal prosecutors have forced Tap, Allergen, and Pfiezer to pay literally billions of dollars in just the last few years, because they’re in cahoots. And the government wants to make more autistic children because they want to pay for all those family’s expensive special needs services. All this elaborate conspiring is much simpler and more profitable than pharmaceutical companies just selling safe and effective products. I hope my readers are keeping track of just how many parties are implicated in the conspiracy. There may be a quiz at the end.
The last questioner for the panel said that he didn’t think the money was true goal, but that it was motivated by a eugenics agenda. No one on the panel told him that was crazy, even though the night began with Louise Habaku acknowledging both sides are mutually seeking a health society. Rather, Vera Sharav, who apparently has a chapter on this in the book, quickly asserted that the eugenics agenda was very much still alive. It’s not. Though even when the eugenics movement was popular in the early 20th century, I don’t recall prominent figures promoting any kind of mass extermination plans. They pretty much just promoted higher reproduction of certain people and traits, and the reduction of reproduction of other people and traits, not at all the Bond-villain-like boogiemen that modern conspiracy theorists would have people believe. The movement actually fell out of favor when its message was co-opted by the Nazis to justify their mass extermination policies. Sharav says this eugenics movement has grown popular in academia, but I never met a single person in undergraduate or graduate school who supported eugenics. NYU has no eugenics clubs. Though perhaps if NYU had more fraternities, eugenics would have been more popular. And I can’t for the life of me figure out what sort of benefit such a mass extermination plot would provide people who we’re already led to believe have all the money and power they could ever want.
In Part 3, I’ll report on the second panel discussion featuring Gay Tate, Richard Rovet, and Lisa Marks Smith.