This is the final part of my 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 (part 1, part 2 and part 3).
After two previous panels, we were promised that the last panel would finally address the science motivating the book’s participating authors’ and editors’ concerns over vaccination. The themes this panel would be discussing would include herd immunity, epidemiology and questions about causation, trust between physician and patient, and the suppression of science, though I must have nodded off that minute because I don’t recall them really addressing any of that. The panel included Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, who we were told was an international expert on the hazards of vaccines and the author of two books on vaccination; Annemarie Colbin, a Ph.D. who is one of the leaders in the field of natural health as well as founder and CEO of the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts; and Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who was identified as a gastroenterologist and the lead author in the 1998 Lancet paper on the possible link between vaccines, intestinal information, and neurological injury in children who also “published over 140 scientific papers but as a result of his work, he lost his job, his country, his career, and his medical license.” Wakefield received an immense standing ovation from the audience. Also Carol Stott was also supposed to be there but she ran late and never made it.
I was particularly excited about the pairing of Sherri Tenpenny and Andrew Wakefield because Tenpenny is notorious for calling all vaccination a “sacred cow”, whereas at least as recently as last July, in response to being called anti-vaccine, Wakefield couldn’t be more emphatic about his general support of vaccination programs and how strongly “pro-vaccine” he was. Surely, an ideological divide this wide would not go unacknowledged.
A search on PubMed for literature authored by Tenpenny yielded zero results before I even attempted to cross reference her name with search terms such as “vaccine” or “autism.” And according to her website, she hasn’t practiced medicine since at least 2005. Her website also claims she is, “respected as one of the country’s most knowledgeable and outspoken physicians regarding the impact of vaccines on health.” Though I don’t doubt the second part of that statement, I could find no substantiation of the first part outside of her own website. What I did find was a harsh refutation of her credentials from science blogger PalMD.
Like Tenpenny, I found a website touting Annemarie Colbin as “the most respected voices in the field natural health.” This came from a blog entry where a non-medical professional interviewed Colbin. In that short interview, Colbin stated that birth control, poor diets, and too many medications are the biggest causes of infertility. She recommended a 7 to 10-day juice-fruit-vegetable fast as the solution. She also advised:
Don’t take drugs when you’re pregnant, and as little as possible for the baby also – careful with antibiotics, vaccines, over-the-counter drugs – the less the better. Drugs don’t create health, they may keep unpleasant symptoms at bay.
This idea that drugs only fight symptoms and don’t actually treat the root causes is a commonly repeated claim by practitioners of alleged “alternative” therapies such as homeopathy. It’s a claim that is demonstrably false, or at best only partially true. It is true that some medications fight only symptoms, such as cold medicines. But one can find just as many drugs that combat diseases themselves. For instance, consider tamoxifen, a drug that can protect women against breast cancer for a full decade after treatment ends. As for what field Ms. Colbin’s has her Ph.D. in, according to her website, her doctorate is in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus on Wholistic Nutrition from the Union Institute and University. If that doesn’t make her super qualified to discuss the safety and efficacy of vaccines, I don’t know what does.
When researching Carol Stott, Ph.D., I found a number of facts that were curiously absent from Carol Stott, Ph.D.’s introduction:
During the [Andrew Wakefield[ investigation, Carol Stott, a now-terminated, temporary junior researcher in Cambridge University's psychiatry department, became demented over the collapse of the MMR attack, and launched the barrage of sick emails below. Brian Deer had never heard of Stott, and wrote to the British Psychological Society, which, after a disciplinary inquiry, formally warned her. In 2010 she was also ousted from a colonoscopy business called "Thoughtful House" where she was an associate of disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield
The harassing emails can be viewed on the page linked to above (NSFW). And the letter Deer wrote to the British Psychological Society can be viewed here, and an official letter acknowledging the warning Stott received can be viewed here. It's also rather strange of her to use her association with Cambridge University for self-marketing when she blamed these past allegations against her on a conspiracy between Cambridge psychologists and a drug company.
Then there's Andrew Wakefield, who still insists everyone call him Dr. Andrew Wakefield even though he's been struck off the British medical register because, according to him, they can't take away his degree. To this I say, if Wakefield gets to keep being identified as "Doctor" because of his degree, I must insist that all vaccine critics refer to me as "Master" because of my mine. Much has been written about Wakefield's downfall and a brief summary can be found on his Wikipedia page. Though a few relevant details that went unmentioned in his conference introduction were the fact that ten of the paper's thirteen authors withdrew their support for the study's interpretations and that the Lancet ultimately retracted it altogether. Further, after his results failed to be replicated and his actions deemed by the British General Medical Council to show "callous disregard", Brian Deer discovered undisclosed financial conflicts of interest (also here and here). Deer's accusations have been fact-checked and verified by numerous authorities in multiple fields.
Like the previous two panels, Moderator Louise Habakus began with a quote from one of the author's featured in the book that wasn't present at the event. This time around, it was a quote from Dr. Boyd Haley, Professor Emeritus in Biochemistry and former Chairman of Chemistry at University of Kentucky:
"I, and other involved researchers, would gladly debate these issues in public with CDC and other experts—if they had the courage to show up. They don’t."
Maybe if Mr. Boyd spent less time trying to engage in the spectacle of public debates before audiences of laypersons and more time trying to substantiate his beliefs with empirical evidence, more serious experts would be interested in what he had to say. Of course, it doesn't help that Boyd Haley was caught committing five violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because of a bogus autism recovery treatment he was selling that proved to also be quite dangerous. It seems that no matter how often vaccine critics falsely insist that vaccines are not sufficiently safety tested and that their true agenda is keeping children safe from dangerous medicines, they don't mind promoting a former doctor who sold medicine intended for children that had no proven efficacy, wasn't properly safety tested, and in fact was revealed to be dangerous. And to add even greater dramatic irony, despite accusing his critics of cowardice for not debating him on his terms, the L.A. Times reports that it was he who "did not reply to repeated requests for an interview" after the scandal emerged over his "treatment".
With great bravado, Habakus repeated her claim that when organizing this event, they'd invited their critics to participate but were declined, which seems quite dubious for several reasons. First, I regularly follow many of their most outspoken critics on various popular science blogs and never heard anyone mention being invited to such an event. Second, one of this movement's harshest critics who lives no small distance away from New York, didn't seem to even know about this event until I personally told them about it days prior to the event. Third, given that the whole event was intended to market the book, and given that the whole event was structured around the format of their book, a fact stated at the event itself, there doesn't seem to be any plausible spot in the schedule that could have accommodated such a debate. And fourth, the over all hostility exhibited by just the supposedly more academic end of this movement on that very stage as well as Age of Autism's notorious policy of removing all comments critical of their position, this movement has given me no good reason to believe they'd happily surrender half of their time to provide a platform where their critics could undermine their position in front of their faithful followers.
Right off the bat, Habakus began the panel with further poisoning the well by identifying Dr. Paul Offit as an industry spokesperson, an accusation she doesn't even try substantiating even though it's been repeatedly refuted. For instance, here's an example from September, 2009 of Offit himself refuting the accusation. According to Habakus:
"Some say vaccines for diseases against chickenpox and measles, for example, never should have been permitted because these diseases are not dangerous when children get them when they're supposed to at childhood for the vast majority. But now most people do not have natural immunity, which you acquire by contracting and resolving the disease."
I would love to know who specifically is making these claims. Surely not anyone both informed about the science and interested in preventing as many child deaths as possible. I'd be interested in hearing Habakus explain to the families of the seventy people in Zimbabwe who recently died from measles that measles isn't dangerous, or to the family of the thirteen-year-old boy in the UK who died died of measles in 2006 (the first measles death in the UK in fourteen years), or any of the many people who have been hospitalized recently because of measles outbreaks triggered by the unvaccinated (for example: here and here). After his own daughter died of measles, the famous childrens author Roald Dahl urged parents to vaccinate their children. And here's one family's story about the dangers of chickenpox.
They too didn't take it very seriously until their own child's infection had dire consequences. The fact is we know exactly what will happen if we do not vaccinate children against these diseases in childhood, the same thing that happened before the vaccines were introduced in the first place. It will result in the loss of child lives, the very thing Habakus' movement claims to value most of all. It's as if they insist even a single child death is completely unacceptable when it suits their position, but they callously ignore any child deaths that result from the very diseases vaccines prevent.
Moreover, this notion that it's a choice between vaccination or relying on "natural immunity" is a false dichotomy. Vaccination is natural immunity. Vaccines work by introducing dead or weakened versions of a virus to the immune system so that the body can learn to defend against it without having to risk exposure to the virus at full strength. The natural process the body undergoes to develop antibodies is identical either way. The only difference is the choice of whether you want to risk your child being fully exposed to a potentially deadly disease before their immune system learns how to defend against it or if you want their immune system already prepared to defeat the virus prior to infection. The idea that letting the child's immune system fight viruses on its own without any help somehow makes their immunity stronger is complete fiction. It's like the vaccine critics are basing their conclusions off of the old Hanz and Franz sketches from Saturday Night Live, where any battle that isn't won through intense physical exercise and where an individual takes advantage of the best science available to them makes them a "GIRLIE MON!" Just because one may have some romanticized view of how things were done in the past, that doesn't mean it really was better then. Life expectancy today is higher than its ever been in the U.S. The late Carl Sagan wrote in his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark:
In hunter-gatherer, pre-agricultural times, the human life expectancy was about 20 to 30 years. That's also what it was in Western Europe in Late Roman and in Medieval times. It didn't rise to 40 years until around the year 1870. It reached 50 in 1915, 60 in 1930, 70 in 1955, and is today approaching 80 (a little more for women, a little less for men). The rest of the world is retracing the European increment in longevity. What is the cause of this stunning, unprecedented, humanitarian transition? The germ theory of disease, public health measures, medicines and medical technology. Longevity is perhaps the best single measure of the physical quality of life.
Reasonable people might conclude that this is a sign that we're doing something right, not that we should turn back the clock to a time when we lived half as long. And yet this is not just a popular theme among vaccine critics; it's a theme that was repeated several times that night by this panel.
The floor was given to Sherri Tenpenny, who started by saying we are now seeing vaccines created to treat problems caused by vaccines. She cited as her example, the shingles vaccine to treat those who might develop shingles as a result of having gotten the chickenpox vaccine. It's quite surprising that "an international expert on the hazards of vaccines" doesn't know that this is a myth. Chickenpox (varicella) and shingles (herpes zoster) are caused by the same exact virus. It's true that after primary infection with the virus, it stays in the cell bodies of the dorsal root ganglia of your spinal cord. But there are numerous ways in which the decline in immunity that reactivates the dormant virus can be caused such as the natural decline of immunity over time; immune suppression that can come from infection, medication, or even just stress; and the immune system naturally weakening with age. So the chickenpox vaccine no more causes shingles than stress or aging. And science blogger Prometheus even further demolishes this myth:
And before Dr. Mercola or some [sic] else claims that the rise in shingles cases are due to primary infections of adults with the vaccine strain, remember that the primary infection – with the wild-type HHV-3 or the vaccine strain - causes a generalised (over the whole body) rash, not the limited, dermatomal rash of shingles [Note: the rash is very mild to undetectable with the vaccine strain, although in immunosuppressed patients, the vaccine strain can cause an illness identical to wild-type HHV-3]. We also have evidence that the HHV-3 vaccine strain, when it is reactivated, will not cause the nerve damage that makes shingles (wild-type) so debilitating .
So, yes, the chickenpox vaccine is leading to a rise in shingles, but not in the way some people might want you to think. The good news is that the same vaccine that is “causing” the problem (by reducing exposure to wild-type virus – a good thing if you’re immune suppressed) can be used to “cure” it. In addition, if we are diligent about vaccination, it might be possible to eradicate HHV-3 (wild-type) and prevent future generations from having to suffer from shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia.
And unlike Tenpenny, Prometheus provides reputable sources…ten of ‘em. Sadly, however, this one misconception is presented as the foundation for her whole argument that the trade-off between mass vaccination and a small re-occurrence of illnesses is not worth it. This is exactly what celebrity Jenny McCarthy told Time Magazine after being reminded by the interviewer that these diseases are deadly and that what can be called her “no child left behind” campaign will in fact kill children. I’m also reminded of Sanayana’s definition of fanaticism, “redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim.”
Tenpenny never references the fact that, as cited earlier, she has called the very idea of vaccination itself a pseudoscience, but she does go on to point out that the CDC offers numerous suggestions to international travelers, such as hand-washing, for preventing diseases for which there are no vaccines. She asks: why don’t we just do that? I cannot speak for Ms. Tenpenny’s sanity or the degree to which she values her own life. But as someone who does value his own life, and wishes to live to see his niece and nephew grow up, I prefer to use all the reasonable means at my disposal to stay alive rather than merely doing the bare minimum. This argument is no less silly than suggesting people not bother wearing their seat belts if they’re sitting in a vehicle with airbags, or not bother activating a burglar alarm to protect their home if they already lock their doors at night, or not bother taking birth control if both partners are healthy and a condom was used. Though I wouldn’t think I’d have to explain this to someone who was once a practicing physician, some people prefer multiple contingencies to leave as little room for chance as possible. But Sherri Tenpenny is a risk-taker, a maverick. And as a former health professional, she apparently feels it’s appropriate to advise the public to be as callous about protecting their own lives as she is with hers. After all, what’s the worst that can happen with a chickenpox infection? Oh…right. Hard to believe she no longer practices medicine.
Annemarie Colbin spoke next, beginning by reminding the audience that some diseases of the past have disappeared without vaccines such as bubonic plague and scarlet fever. Therefore, she concludes no problem exists if we stop vaccinating. Civilization also managed to survive thousands of years before we developed automobiles; maybe she thinks we should all return to using the horse and buggy. According to Colbin, opting to warn the public that lower vaccination will as a matter of scientific fact result in increased fatalities “doesn’t make any sense” and is “just a threat” that’s “designed to make people scared.” Actually, in her version of reality, the warning is that lower vaccination rates will cause everyone to get sick, not that just far more people will get sick and more people will die as I always remember hearing it. Then again, she’s the Ph.D., so far be it from this reporter to suggest that her childish caricature of the position held by every reputable health organization on planet Earth is less valid. After all, as Colbin says, “We get sick; we get better.” Yup, everyone gets better and nobody ever dies from disease. Never a miscommunication, as Bill O’Reilly would say. Again…oh…right. It’s all just “ridiculous” to Annemarie Colbin because we didn’t need vaccines for bubonic plague and that went away…eventually…after killing two hundred million people. And the methods we used to defeat it were far more effective than vaccines. We didn’t defeat small pox with vaccines until the 1970s, whereas thanks the amazing alternative measures used to defeat bubonic plague, we haven’t seen a single case of that in the U.S. since way back in 2010. Take that, vaccines!
Then came the moment everyone had been waiting for, Andrew Wakefield’s turn to speak. He began by rebutting Dr. “Paul Offit’s point” that without vaccination, diseases would return and cause greater death, stating that this flies in the face of evolutionary biology because we are here on this Earth because of infection, not in spite of it. First, unlike Wakefield, Offit actually warrants the prefix “Dr.” before his name. Second, again, this is not just Paul Offit’s point but the point of every reputable health organization on planet Earth. Third, is it too much to ask for even a little internal consistency? Not two minutes earlier, Annemarie Colbin was saying physicians claim not vaccinating will just up and kill everyone and now Wakefield is referring to a far more accurate version of what the medical consensus is saying without anyone even acknowledge that Colbin and Wakefield are making two mutually exclusive claims. Fourth, using methods that are scientifically proven to save lives who can then grow to pass their genes on in the future hardly flies in the face of evolutionary biology. Wakefield’s black and white view of evolution either demonstrates extraordinary ignorance on the subject or extraordinary mendacity. Viruses certainly influenced human evolution. In fact, there are sequences in the human genome today called endogenous retroviruses that derive from ancient viral infections of germ cells that then were passed on with our genes over generation. Of course, the key factor there was that humans had to live long enough with the infection to procreate in the first place, whereas most of the viruses we’re fighting with vaccines today are designed to kill humans long before they ever get the chance to just get better, let alone procreate. And this is the same false dichotomy discussed earlier. Vaccines are not some alternative to the natural immune system. Rather, they simply better prepare the immune system in advance so it can better defeat the virus. This would be like demanding we fight a war with only untrained civilians instead of trained soldiers because conflict is a necessary part of human development. But let’s see what actual professional evolutionary biologists think about the choice to not vaccinate and Wakefield himself.
Responding to news that Wakefield was caught faking his research, Dr. Paul Zachary Myers said this:
Will this revelation matter? Not one bit. The anti-vaxers have ignored all the evidence that they are wrong so far, so one more demonstration that one of the primary promulgators of this nonsense was an outright fraud won’t change a thing, I’m afraid. This is still a clear-cut case where delusions can kill.
And Dr. Richard Dawkins had this to say:
In the war being fought against reason, even medicine is under attack. Media ’causes célèbres’ – from side effects to superbugs -have bred widespread cynicism about medical progress, so much so that in 1998, the publicizing of one survey of twelve children that wrongly linked MMR vaccine with autism prompted hundreds of thousands of parents to opt their children out of entirely sensible innoculations. A hyped up insinuation that the government and the medical establishment were conspiring to sacrifice our next generation to autism has left up to a fifth of our children entirely unprotected against rubella, mumps, and measles, a disease with complications such as brain injury and deftness. … It’s an acute example of the danger of devaluing evidence.
I guess Wakefield just has a far firmer understanding of evolution than the professional evolutionary biologists.
The moderator then asked the panel if after large numbers stopped vaccinating, would we see more people developing these diseases they prevent and is this a danger for the adults in particular. Sherri Tenpenny seemed to surprisingly agree that there’s a little more danger even though, again, she’s previously called vaccination itself a myth. But then she reiterated a popular saying of hers that, “the 1940′s and 1950′s were the last of the thinking doctors” because back then they observed things and figured out solutions to problems, whereas now apparently, according to her, they just reach for the prescription pad. If Tenpenny knows a doctor who does this, she should probably report it to the authorities as such callous disregard for patient well-being is deemed highly unethical behavior in the medical community and is the sort of thing that gets one’s medical license taken away, something Andrew Wakefield knows a lot about. She then went onto reference very current anonymous research from the 1940′s to make the case that we have overblown the dangers of these illnesses, because even with high infection rates, we have low mortality rates in the U.S., presumably thanks to some magical force field against these diseases that is unrelated to the vaccines. Maybe if Zimbabwe officials prayed to the right volcano gods, they wouldn’t have seen seventy measles deaths.
Tenpenny went on to state that the measles mortality rate in 1963, the year the vaccine was introduced, was three in ten million. It wasn’t. And it’s quite telling that Tenpenny avoids telling the audience the actual total number of measles deaths per year at that time versus the total number of measles deaths per year today as well as the rates of other serious complications from measles. According to the CDC:
An average of 450 measles-associated deaths were reported each year between 1953 and 1963.
In the U.S., up to 20 percent of persons with measles are hospitalized. Seventeen percent of measles cases have had one or more complications, such as ear infections, pneumonia, or diarrhea. Pneumonia is present in about six percent of cases and accounts for most of the measles deaths. Although less common, some persons with measles develop encephalitis (swelling of the lining of the brain), resulting in brain damage.
As many as three of every 1,000 persons with measles will die in the U.S. In the developing world, the rate is much higher, with death occurring in about one of every 100 persons with measles.
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and is frequently imported into the U.S. In the period 1997-2000, most cases were associated with international visitors or U.S. residents who were exposed to the measles virus while traveling abroad. More than 90 percent of people who are not immune will get measles if they are exposed to the virus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 900,000 measles-related deaths occurred among persons in developing countries in 1999. In populations that are not immune to measles, measles spreads rapidly. If vaccinations were stopped, each year about 2.7 million measles deaths worldwide could be expected.
In the U.S., widespread use of measles vaccine has led to a greater than 99 percent reduction in measles compared with the pre-vaccine era. If we stopped immunization, measles would increase to pre-vaccine levels.
So today, the U.S. sees three deaths in every thousands measles infections, which is vastly superior to less vaccinated nations by a factor of ten. Just twelve years ago, this disease that vaccine critics consider no big deal killed 900,000 people in just one year. That’s three hundred times the 9/11 body count. Maybe Tenpenny thinks you should hire Al Qaeda to babysit too. According to Tenpenny, you should be deliberately infecting your child with this mass killer in childhood, the very idea Colbin would later that evening say she finds ridiculous when she misapplies it as her definition of vaccination.
So I believe it’s all about fear. It’s an overblown concern. And I think that–I personally think that if we stopped the vaccines and we got everybody’s Vitamin D level up to between sixty and eighty, that within a generation, most of this chronic illness will go away.
Vitamin D has no impact on measles rates or those of any other chronic disease. This fact doesn’t stop Tenpenny from selling vitamin D as a treatment for whatever ails ya on her website. Nor does the fact that just about everyone gets sufficient vitamin D for free from the sun’s rays. Vitamin D supplements are really mostly used for preventing and treating rickets, a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency, and certain bone disorders. I guess it’s a good thing they put the great conflict of interest catcher in an earlier panel.
Wakefield took over to proclaim that the chickenpox vaccine was not introduced for the public’s benefit but purely “for commercial reasons, to keep mother in the workplace.” He makes no attempt to substantiate this bizarre claim. One would think 400,000 global infections annually prior to the vaccine would be a sufficient reason to develop a vaccine even if the disease were as benign as vaccine critics claim. I surmise that most reputable health organizations would support a vaccine against even the common cold if one survives the clinical trials. One goes through life never expecting to find a doctor who is actually pro-disease, at least not as much as Wakefield, who’d actually decry a cure to the common cold because he thinks illness is a good thing.
It’s not just chickenpox. Wakefield says the mumps vaccine was also introduced for purely commercial reasons, again without providing any evidence for this claim. Global mumps epidemics had occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries, and mumps was the leading cause of French troops missing active duty in World War I. The decision to combine measles, mumps, and rubella in one vaccine rather than charging the public for three separate vaccines flies in the face of Wakefield’s claim that the mumps vaccine only exists because of a profit motive. If so, why don’t manufacturers just save their money and not give the mumps vaccine away with two other vaccines at no extra charge? Much like the Underpants Gnomes from South Park, Wakefield seems to have forgotten that critical Step Two that explains from where the profit is supposed to derive.
He continued, stating that the vaccines make the diseases they prevent more dangerous “because they don’t work.” It suddenly occurred to me that Sherri Tenpenny and Andrew Wakefield have switched bodies ala Freaky Friday. Previously, it was Tenpenny who said the vaccines don’t work at all while just last July, Wakefield insisted he was a huge supporter of vaccines in general. Now it’s Tenpenny who is saying that vaccines work but the dangers they’re said to prevent are overblown, while Wakefield is suddenly announcing that vaccines in general don’t work. But don’t worry because after hilarity ensued, these two figured out how to get back into their original bodies and returned to their previous stances.
Remarkably, Wakefield (or Tenpenny if you buy my Freaky Friday hypothesis) proclaimed that the outbreaks of mumps we’re now seeing are happening in highly vaccinated populations, the exact opposite of what the evidence shows. For instance, the CDC report on the June, 2009 through January, 2010 mumps outbreak of at least 1,521 people in New York and new Jersey found that the percentage of mumps vaccination fell below herd immunity. They concluded that:
Although mumps vaccination alone was not sufficient to prevent this outbreak, maintaining high measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination coverage remains the most effective way to prevent outbreaks and limit their size when they occur.
Wakefield says, “mumps in children is trivial. Mumps in post-adolescent young men is not trivial.” But Wakefield never mentions that before mumps vaccination, mumps was a major cause of childhood deftness and that mumps encephalitis was the leading cause of viral encephalitis in the U.S., which is now rarely seen. I don’t think any parent in that auditorium would consider the risk of permanent deftness in their child a trivial matter. Rather, if Wakefield suddenly started claiming that vaccines were capable of causing such childhood deftness, the audience would likely consider it an outrage. The reason childhood mumps has become such a benign illness is because of mass vaccination, not in spite of it.
When asked what can be done, Tenpenny insisted that “health does not come through a needle; it simply cannot.” And yet, as a matter of fact, it does. And when given an hour and a half, neither Tenpenny nor any other speaker at this conference has been able to articulate a single good reason for why it can’t. Arguing that vaccines don’t work because sometimes they fail even when following the trend over time shows the overall decline of these diseases when populations adopt mass vaccination programs is absurd. It’s no more rational than insisting seat belts don’t work because it’s still possible to die in a car accident even though you’re properly buckled up or that cigarettes don’t really cause health problems because George Burns managed to live to the age of a hundred. Real life is messy. The world doesn’t always operate on simplistic, black and white terms.
After Colbin misrepresented vaccination as deliberate infection with the disease and nobody corrected her by pointing out that vaccines use dead or attenuated viruses, she explained her philosophy of medicine, which I guess she learned at Culinary Arts school. She bases her understanding of medicine not on current research but on that of the Ancient Greeks:
And you know, from about the time of the Greeks, you have two aspects of medicine. You had Hygieia, which is about good food, fresh air, water, enough rest, exercise. And then you had Asclepius, who was drugs and surgery. And I think there’s room for both of them.
Asclepius would be the name of the god of medicine. The most prominent physicians of that era, Galen and Hippocrates, based their medical practices around theory of humorism. The average life expectancy for those living in Ancient Greece was under forty. To Annemarie Colbin, this is “a sensible theoretical model” and science has only gone in the wrong direction in the last few thousand years. I tell ya, these kids today with their rap music and their crazy, newfangled Copernican heliocentric model of the cosmos.
Tenpenny, who again sells the very products she insists is best for improving health, was then asked to address how to fight conflicts of interest. Again, she says there was a time when we only had the smallpox vaccine, so that’s all we ever need because, according to her, we have more chronic diseases and therefore vaccines must be to blame…for some reason. She then chastises the medical community for its one size fits all treatments. Incidentally, Tenpenny will happily sell anyone with a credit card her Opti-Bone Vitamin D bottle for the low, low price of $75.49…unlike those damned, one-size-fits-all doctors with those vaccines that less than an hour ago she considered generally useful but just not as necessary as we’ve been led to believe, but now compares to playing Russian roulette.
The final question to the panel was how do we fire scientific institutions? Wakefield responded by talking revolution, making references to such political disidents of the past and those who gave their lives during the French Revolution. Wakefield said the people have to demand what the scientific agenda is, presumably because laypeople understand science better than the people who do science every day. Applying a slippery slope fallacy, he says that if vaccine critics don’t fight, society will become dependent upon an infinite number of vaccines. He follows this up with an appeal to final consequences, suggesting that because vaccine manufacturers would greatly profit from a world dependent upon vaccines, there must be something sinister going on. Of course, as Cracked.com so superbly illustrates, that’s if you think the plot of the Resident Evil movies is logical, coherent, and devoid of plot holes.
Wakefield declares that the parents must attack the “totalitarian regimes” with metaphorical pitchforks. Whether the pitchforks were metaphorically replacing protest rallies or automatic weapons, I guess that’s left up to the audience to interpret on their own. I’m sure if someone in the audience is inspired enough to save the poor, defenseless children from the evil eugenicist “totalitarian regime” they’ve been told is ruling the world and interprets it as a metaphor for more era-appropriate weapons, Wakefield will deny any responsibility for the consequences of his violent rhetoric.
So what had happened here? Had none of the speakers heard Habaku’s introduction about being respectful of the other side and about recognizing that we’re all motivated by the mutual goal of protecting children? Did they all suffer from mumps-induced deftness? Or is all this talk about mutual respect, intellectual honesty, and not being anti-vaccine but simply for improving vaccine safety just a facade used to get their foot in the door until, like a cult, they gradually peel back the curtain to reveal their true agenda? If you buy enough of their books, will Louise Habakus and Mary Holland start to tell you about how the pharmaceutical companies are minions of Xenu, the galactic overlord? I’ll close by saying that if the goal of this event was civil discourse focused on empirical evidence and devoid of character attacks or name-calling, as Habakus promised from the start, then it’s a complete failure and there’s no meaningful conversation that can be had between the leaders of this movement and those who disagree with them.