Protestors demonstrate against California’s passing a sane vaccination law

September 16, 2019 • 10:00 am

Last week the governor of California signed into law a good vaccination bill, Senate Bill 276, which stipulates a standardized procedure for requesting medical exemptions from childhood vaccination:

Existing law prohibits the governing authority of a school or other institution from admitting for attendance any pupil who fails to obtain required immunizations within the time limits prescribed by the State Department of Public Health. Existing law exempts from those requirements a pupil whose parents have filed with the governing authority a written statement by a licensed physician to the effect that immunization is not considered safe for that child, indicating the specific nature and probable duration of their medical condition or circumstances, including, but not limited to, family medical history.

This bill would instead require the State Department of Public Health, by January 1, 2021, to develop and make available for use by licensed physicians and surgeons an electronic, standardized, statewide medical exemption request that would be transmitted using the California Immunization Registry (CAIR), and which, commencing January 1, 2021, would be the only documentation of a medical exemption that a governing authority may accept. The bill would specify the information to be included in the medical exemption form, including a certification under penalty of perjury that the statements and information contained in the form are true, accurate, and complete. The bill would, commencing January 1, 2021, require a physician and surgeon to inform a parent or guardian of the bill’s requirements and to examine the child and submit a completed medical exemption request form to the department, as specified. By expanding the crime of perjury, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.

Note that the major thrust of this bill is to standardize via an electronic form requests for exemptions that were already allowed. There are no new criteria added for getting such an exemption. There’s also a right of appeal (adjudicated by a panel of physicians and surgeons), and, instead of a one-time filing, the certificate must be re-filed annually. It’s electronic, so it’s not onerous.

You can read the whole bill at the link above, but it seems remarkably tame to me. That is, of course, unless you’re an anti-vaxer or someone who opposes vaccination on religious or philosophical grounds.  And exemptions based on religion or philosophy are allowed in 45 of the fifty states. The site gives a map and says this:

No US federal vaccination laws exist, but all 50 states have laws requiring children attending public school to be vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (generally in a DTaP vaccine); polio (an IPV vaccine); measles and rubella (generally in an MMR vaccine); and varicella (chickenpox). All 50 states allow medical exemptions, 45 states allow religious exemptions, and 15 states allow philosophical (or personal belief) exemptions. DC allows medical and religious exemptions. While reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided, do not rely on this information without first checking with your local school or government. This chart was last updated on June 14, 2019.

Now I’m not sure what a philosophical exemption could consist of, but 15 states allow that. To my mind, the welfare of the child, and of other children who could contract diseases from an unvaccinated child, trumps religion and philosophy. (Of course children who have good medical reasons not to be vaccinated should be exempt.) Only California, Mississippi, West Virginia, New York, and Maine have sane policies on this; the rest bow to either religion or philosophy.

The Washington Post details the objections of Californians to this bill in a story from two days ago (click on screenshot):

The protests include these:

First, protesters blocked the entrance to the state capitol Monday and repeatedly shut down the legislature with their demonstrations as Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed the bill, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Then, a candlelight vigil Wednesday for children allegedly harmed or killed by vaccines included a photo of Ethan Lindenberger, who chose to be vaccinated against his parents’ wishes and has testified before Congress. Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of the anti-vaccine group Conscience Coalition, which organized the vigil, did not immediately respond to a question about why the photo was used.

The state legislative session closed Friday with a dramatic display from the gallery: A woman threw “a feminine hygiene device containing what appeared to be blood” at the senators from a balcony, the California Highway Patrol said.

The protestors and the liquid-throwing woman (I couldn’t ascertain if it really was blood) were arrested. The Post reports that there is a new “wave of hesitancy” about getting children vaccinated, a trend also highlighted by the World Health Organization as one of the ten global threats to health in 2019. WHO notes that “The reasons why people choose not to vaccinate are complex; a vaccines advisory group to WHO identified complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and lack of confidence are key reasons underlying hesitancy.”

But vaccinations should be required for all children, religious or not. Should a two-year-old really go unvaccinated when its parents have philosophical or religious qualms? That’s a form of child endangerment, and the child has no say.  And even for older children (I’m not sure up to what age mandatory vaccinations are given), there’s still the chance of epidemics starting with the unvaccinated. That’s not just a theoretical risk, either; as the Post adds:

The United States is experiencing the greatest number of measles cases in a single year in 27 years. Fueling the outbreaks are anti-vaccine groups that have spread misinformation that lowered vaccination rates in vulnerable communities. New York City’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was hard hit by misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, officials have said.

Religion doesn’t just poison everything; it kills innocent children.

Marianne Williamson’s vaccine woo

August 2, 2019 • 12:45 pm

I have to admit that when I first saw Marianne Williamson in the Democratic debates my jaw dropped. How did this woomeister, who doesn’t hold elective office and never did, manage to get on stage with credible candidates? I did know about her history of anti-vaccination efforts as well as denial of depression and other mental illnesses, as well as her attacks on “Big Pharma,” but I didn’t comport that with her being on the Big Stage with real candidates. And yet some people like her! One of them is the ever-cringeworthy David Brooks, who wrote this editorial in today’s New York Times (click on screenshot). The title alone is astounding!

How does she know how to beat Trump? With a moral uprising! By defeating the dark psychic force of collectivized hatred! Well, Ms. Williamson (and Mr. Brooks), that’s easier said than done. Where would you propose that we begin?

Here’s Brooks:

It is no accident that the Democratic candidate with the best grasp of this election is the one running a spiritual crusade, not an economic redistribution effort. Many of her ideas are wackadoodle, but Marianne Williamson is right about this: “This is part of the dark underbelly of American society: the racism, the bigotry and the entire conversation that we’re having here tonight. If you think any of this wonkiness is going to deal with this dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred that this president is bringing up in this country, then I’m afraid that the Democrats are going to see some very dark days.”

And she is right about this: “We’ve never dealt with a figure like this in American history before. This man, our president, is not just a politician; he’s a phenomenon. And an insider political game will not be able to defeat it. … The only thing that will defeat him is if we have a phenomenon of equal force, and that phenomenon is a moral uprising of the American people.”

A moral uprising of the American people might also include criticizing of those like Williamson whose anti-vaxer views would lead to the death of children.  And this is what the no-punch-pulling Orac (a surgeon) does in this new article at Respectful Insolence (click on screenshot):

In case you’re wondering about Orac’s title, first, he appears to have gotten her name wrong (I’ve made a comment on his site to that effect), though in the rest of the article he gets it right. More important, part of his article is a criticism of a somewhat exculpatory article about Williamson by science writer Faye Flam at (click on screenshot):

Faye is a friend of mine, so this hurts doubly, but I think Orac rightly rakes her over the coals for casting Williamson as a misunderstood “science skeptic” rather as a science denialist. Here’s how Faye gives Williamson a pass:

The accusation of being “anti-science” has become a popular and effective way to discredit people, at least in certain circles. Self-help guru turned presidential candidate Marianne Williamson is learning that after her debate performances.

People often end up accused of being “anti-science” when they question scientific dogma, but questioning dogma is what science is all about. Donald Trump could be more accurately labelled as anti-science for the blatant cutting of funds for important scientific studies – though even he may not be opposed to the scientific enterprise so much as he is trying to protect his friends in industry at the expense of science and people exposed to pollution.

A particularly scathing anti-Williamson critique appeared in the Daily Beast, though the author couldn’t seem to find much fault with anything said in this week’s debate, instead digging up past statements. Indeed, she has dealt with some new-age ideas that are unscientific or even antithetical to science, but not more so than much organized religion is.

Williamson seems likely to disappear from the national conversation soon, and critics are right to go after her lack of policy experience. Criticizing her, or any other candidate, on the basis of ideas and experience makes perfect sense. But trying to discredit skeptics with the label of “anti-science” is not very scientific.

Well, the response to this, especially if you know Williamson’s history as well as her weaving-and-bobbing views now that she’s been called out for her anti-vaxerism and wonky views on mental illness, is this:

Here’s the thing about science (and being “antiscience”). There’s a hierarchy, gradations, if you will, of how unscientific or antiscientific your beliefs are. Believing something for which there is no scientific evidence and, in fact, there is plenty of scientific evidence that refutes that belief is on the extreme end, as is believing such things based on conspiratorial thinking. That’s what Williamson has a long history of doing with respect to vaccines. Remember what she has said on more than one occasion?

And here’s one of MW’s tweets (and a response):

Orac also dismantles Wiliamson’s claim that chronic illnesses in children have risen to 54%, which is simply a lie. When pressed on this, or on her views that mental illness is just reified “sadness”, she tends to revert to her attacks on “Big Pharma”. Now Orac isn’t a huge fan of the pharmaceutical industry, but for Williamson it’s a displacement activity, designed to divert attention from her profoundly antiscientific views when she’s called out for lying:

Yes, it must be conceded that there is a legitimate debate to be had over the treatment of mental health and the issue of regulatory capture in the regulation of pharmaceutical companies and their products, but Williamson’s dismissal of so much depression as “medicalizing normal grief” is a vast oversimplification and exaggeration. Of course, when Melber gets around to the issue of “skepticism” on vaccinations (a horrible horrible, horrible choice of a word for this) and tries to press her on it, we see her lay down this “I’m not antivaccine” antivaccine patter:

I think it’s an overstatement to say that I cast skepticism on vaccination. [Orac note: Actually, it’s an understatement.] On the issue of vaccinations I’m pro-vaccination, I’m pro-medicine, I’m pro-science. On all of these issues, what I’m bringing up that I think is very legitimate and should not be derided and should not be marginalized, particularly in a free society, is questions about the role of predatory Big Pharma.

I’ll take “I’m not antivaccine, I just question big pharma” for $800, Alex.

Orac has a lot to say, but even if you just skim his piece and just listen to Williamson’s flaky lucubrations, you’ll wonder why anyone takes her seriously. Is it because Americans don’t know how settled the question of vaccination safety and efficacy really is? I don’t know.

Here’s one more bit from Orac’s piece, but you should watch this video of her with Anderson Cooper first (this was posted yesterday):

Orac’s take on this:

In this segment, Anderson Cooper focused primarily on Williamson’s past statements about antidepressants and psychiatric drugs. Cooper pressed her on her past statements about antidepressants “numbing” people, pointing out quite reasonably that depression itself numbs people. In responses, Williamson goes full woo, denying that she’d ever said what she’s been documented saying and then going on:

What I’ve talked about is a normal spectrum of human despair, normal human despair, which traditionally was seen as the purview of spirituality and religion, that which gave people comfort. gave people hope and inspiration in their time of pain. And with the advent of modern psychotherapy, a lot of the baton passed from religion and spirituality to modern psychotherapy, which was an interesting transition. Then, over the last few years, very very quickly, the baton was passed again to psychopharmacology, and so a nuanced conversation was lost regarding the nature of human despair.

Holy hell. Marianne Williamson’s entire objection to modern psychopharmacology for depression is that it has pushed aside religion and spirituality as the primary means of dealing with “human despair.” Given that she’s a New Age grifter, one shouldn’t be surprised. She doesn’t like a disease-based model of clinical depression because it cuts into her grift. She even goes on to suggest that the treatment of depression is seeking to keep us from feeling normal sadness after, for instance, the death of a loved one, which is a complete mischaracterization of modern psychotherapy.

If that isn’t antiscience, I don’t know what is.

Williamson, of course, got her start by coddling religion, and has simply leveraged that into her non-goddy but still wooey spirituality.

In this case, I think that Faye’s piece is off the mark, for it does conflate healthy skepticism with bald-faced denialism. There’s a huge difference, and Faye’s conflation of these damages the public understanding of science.

And nobody should view Williamson as a viable Presidential candidate, much less a thoughtful human being.



h/t: Michael

The original anti-vax poster

May 25, 2019 • 12:50 pm

James Gillray (1756 or 1757-1815) was an English artist, caricaturist and satirist who has been called “the father of the political cartoon”. (Hogarth is another candidate.) Gillray also seemed to be anti-science, as judging from the cartoon below, which expressed the public fear of Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccination.

The proud owner of the original cartoon below is my old friend Andrew Berry, a lecturer and advisor at Harvard and spouse of Naomi Pierce, Harvard’s Curator of Lepidoptera. They are kindly putting me up in Cambridge for two days.

As I may have reported earlier, Jenner performed the first smallpox vaccination in the late 18th century, but the practice of inoculation, or variolation, in which matter from a smallpox pustule was injected into people, was practiced much earlier in India, China, and the Ottoman Empire.  (People observed that people who survived smallpox were henceforth immune to further bouts of the disease.)

Jenner had heard that milkmaids, who sometimes got a related virus, causing a milder disease called cowpox, were henceforth immune to smallpox as well. He took matter from the cowpox pustules of an infected dairymaid and injected it into an 8-year-old boy. About two months later he injected fresh smallpox matter into the same boy, who didn’t develop disease. (This sounds like a deeply unethical experiment.)

After several more such trials, Jenner convinced many people that vaccination, which primes the immune system against the virus (he didn’t know that, of course), protects against smallpox. Vaccination became widespread and Jenner became famous.

A short but good description of the history of inoculation and vaccination against smallpox is in the paper below (click on the screenshot):

Despite the success of vaccination, many were still opposed to it right up until the end of the nineteenth century. Among the opponents was evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace, who argued that the practice created more medical problems than it solved and was being unduly promoted by a medical practice that profited from vaccination.

Now, have a look at the print below, taken from the Art Institute of Chicago website. It’s the first anti-vaxer cartoon.

Wikipedia also shows the print and notes this about it:

The Cow-Pock—or—the Wonderful Effects of the New Inoculation! (1802). Produced after Edward Jenner administered the first vaccine, Gillray’s work caricatured the fear patients had being vaccinated from smallpox via cowpox that it would make them sprout cowlike appendages.

The satire below shows the fear that people injected with cowpox matter would produce cows from various orifices in their body, including the nether ones.

Although smallpox has been eradicated on this planet, we still see vociferous anti-vaxers, most recently for measles. The cartoon shows that this kind of unsubstantiated opposition has been around for two centuries.

Anti-vaxer Hasidic Jews, lying about vaccination, intensify measles outbreak in New York

April 11, 2019 • 2:00 pm

On the plane from Brussels back to the U.S., a young Orthodox Jewish couple boarded, the man decked out in his black clothes and tallit, the woman wearing a wig. They had a young child, and when I saw it I thought, “That kid doesn’t have a chance.” It will likely grow up either an uneducated but hyper-religious man, or a subservient and perpetually pregnant woman. It will be brainwashed, its options in life severely limited by religion. At that time I didn’t know it might also have had its health endangered by its parents’ faith.

The latest measles outbreak in the U.S., and it’s a serious one, is in Brooklyn, New York, and is largely spread by unvaccinated ultra-Orthodox Jews—Hasidic ones. According to the NYT article below, the virus was carried by American Jews who visited Israel, where there was an outbreak last fall, back to the U.S. Since then most of the 300 cases in New York City have been among the Hasidim.

The main reason for the lack of vaccination among the Haredim is misinformation, spread by those who may know they’re lying. Here are some bogus excuses for not getting kids vaccinated:

a. The vaccinations may not be kosher:

“The Vaccine Safety Handbook” appears innocuous, a slick magazine for parents who want to raise healthy children. But tucked inside its 40 pages are false warnings that vaccines cause autism and contain cells from aborted human fetuses.

“It is our belief that there is no greater threat to public health than vaccines,” the publication concludes, contradicting the scientific consensus that vaccines are generally safe and highly effective.

The handbook, created by a group called Parents Educating and Advocating for Children’s Health, or Peach, is targeted at ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose expanding and insular communities are at the epicenter of one of the largest measles outbreaks in the United States in decades.

On Tuesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in an effort to contain the spread of measles in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods there. He said unvaccinated individuals would be required to receive the measles vaccine — or be subjected to a fine — as the city escalated its campaign to stem the outbreak.

Peach’s handbook — with letters signed by rabbis and sections like “Halachic Points of Interest” — has become one of the main vehicles for misinformation among ultra-Orthodox groups, including Hasidim. Its message is being shared on hotlines and in group text messages.

“Vaccines contain monkey, rat and pig DNA as well as cow-serum blood, all of which are forbidden for consumption according to kosher dietary law,” Moishe Kahan, a contributing editor for Peach magazine, said in an email.

Vaccines are often grown in a broth of animal cells, but the final product is highly purified. Most prominent ultra-Orthodox rabbis agree that vaccines are kosher, and urge observant Jews to be immunized.

b. The vaccinations may be dangerous:

A Hasidic mother who lives in Rockland County and participated in the call told The New York Times that none of her three children were vaccinated, and all of them recently had measles. The woman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that she did not report the cases to doctors and that the children recovered in a matter of days.

“The body is not a machine,” she said. “The body is something that reacts to toxins in certain ways. I’ve heard firsthand of cases of SIDS after children getting a vaccine,” she added, referring to sudden infant death syndrome. Many studies have concluded that vaccines do not cause SIDS.

b. Seeking answers in religious scripture:

Yosef Rapaport, a Hasidic journalist in Borough Park who has written about the importance of vaccination, said parents who do not want to immunize their children will seek rabbinical counsel that aligns with their views.

“You make up your mind and then try to find the interpretation in the Talmud,” he said. “You can always find some rabbi who will express doubt.”

c. Fear of the authorities.

Some Hasidim have said that longstanding tension between members of the ultra-Orthodox community and the government have made them wary of officials’ efforts to contain the outbreak.

The past persecution of the Jewish people is still a factor, they said. And more recently, quarrels with secular leaders over a circumcision ritual that has transmitted fatal herpes infections to infants and the government’s oversight of ultra-Orthodox Jewish private schools known as yeshivas have only soured relations.

d. Lack of proper science education. Many Hasidim get almost no formal education, and what they get is largely religious in nature. Many of them don’t accept either evolution or vaccination:

“The lack of a comprehensive secular education has raised a generation of some parents who do not appreciate modern science and do not have trust in the health system,” said Dov Bleich, a Hasidic father of two who lives in Monsey and emphasized that most rabbis are supportive of vaccines.

“It’s leaving them vulnerable to the anti-vaccine crusade.”

e. The claim that measles is not dangerous. 

. . .  opponents of vaccination ardently maintain that diseases like measles are not dangerous.

“The adverse events from getting measles, they’re very, very, very low,” Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, a pediatrician in New York, said on the recent conference call. There have been no reported deaths in New York State linked to the recent outbreak. But measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017, according to the World Health Organization.

But these Jews put a much larger (and non-Jewish) population at risk, though the risk is attenuated because Hasidic children don’t mingle much with kids from outside the faith. But it doesn’t take much to spread the virus, and there are now fines mandated for parents who won’t vaccinate their kids. In this case, as in Quebec, the interests of the country as a whole supersede adherence to dogma. And an unvaccinated Hasidic child doesn’t have a choice.

To be fair, most Hasids do accept science and do get their kids vaccinated. But it’s clear that what is causing this outbreak is fear bred by religion.

h/r: József

The Internet plumbs new depths: anti-vaxers harass parents who lose children

March 21, 2019 • 2:00 pm

This article from CNN (click on screenshot below) shows about the worst Internet behavior I’ve seen—behavior that makes the Young Adult Fiction Police look like saints. Read and weep copiously:

What happens here is that parents who lose children from disease, and mourn for them online, are viciously attacked on social media by antivaxers. The reasons are various, but none come from those who favor vaccines. Parents are either accused of killing their children with vaccines, of spreading the “false gospel” of vaccination, or are simply attacked when, if their child died because he/she couldn’t be vaccinated, they campaign for other children to be vaccinated. Those campaigns really get the trolls exercised. Here are a few examples:

On May 6, 2016, Promoli put her toddlers Jude and his twin brother Thomas, down for an afternoon nap in their home. Jude had a low-grade fever, but he was laughing and singing when he went down for his nap.

When his mother went to check on him two hours later, he was dead. Promoli said the next few weeks were “a living hell.”

“Having to go in and plan a funeral and find the ability somehow to even take steps to walk into a funeral home, to make plans and decide whether to bury or cremate your child — it was just all so horrifying,” she said.

When an autopsy came back showing Jude had died of the flu, Promoli started her flu prevention campaign.

That’s when the online attacks began.

Some anti-vaxers told her she’d murdered Jude and made up a story about the flu to cover up her crime. Others said vaccines had killed her son. Some called her the c-word.

The worst ones — the ones that would sometimes make her cry — were the posts that said she was advocating for flu shots so that other children would die from the shots and their parents would be miserable like she was.

“The first time it made me feel really sick because I couldn’t fathom how anybody could even come up with such a terrible claim,” Promoli said. “It caught me off guard in its cruelty. What kind of a person does this?”

Want more?

Serese Marotta lost her 5-year-old son, Joseph, to the flu in 2009, and is now chief operating officer of Families Fighting Flu, a group that encourages flu awareness and prevention, including vaccination.
In 2017, she posted a video on the eighth anniversary of her son’s death to reinforce the importance of getting the flu vaccine.
“SLUT,” one person commented. “PHARMA WHORE.”
“May you rot in hell for all the damages you do!” a Facebook user wrote on another one of her posts.
She says a Facebook user in Australia sent her a death threat”She called me a lot of names I won’t repeat and used the go-to conspiracy theories about government and big pharma, and I responded, ‘I lost a child,’ and questioned where she was coming from, and she continued to attack me,” said Marotta, who lives in Syracuse, New York.

One more:

Grieving mothers aren’t the only targets of anti-vaxer abuse.

Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings School of Law, has received countless vile messages, and as with the mothers, many of the messages are gender-oriented. Over the years, she’s become pretty blasé about it.

“‘Whore’ is pretty normal,” said Reiss, a pro-vaccine advocate who has written extensively about vaccines. “I’ve also been called a [c**t].”

Sometimes Reiss, who is Jewish, receives comments that mention the Holocaust.

One Facebook user made a meme with a photo of her father with “Proud Supporter of the Vaccine Holocaust.” Reiss says her father has nothing to do with vaccines.

Another meme shows a photo of Reiss holding her infant son and it says that Reiss is “FORCE-injecting” her baby with vaccines.Below the photo is written: “Because one holocaust wasn’t enough.”

There are threats on the lives of pro-vaccination doctors like Paul Offit, messages far more hateful than anything I’ve ever gotten. I don’t even want to repeat them here, but you can see them in the article.

Facebook is trying to moderate this debate, and I heard on the news that although they’re not going to ban anti-vaxers, they will “moderate” discussion. I am conflicted about banning, as these morons are urging actions that can cause widespread and near-immediate harm; but on balance I think they should be allowed to speak, for that sparks a debate in which their claims can be refuted. (Harassment of individuals, and the use of threats, however, are not protected speech and can be prosecuted.)  Facebook did say they would give anti-vaxer comments a lower profile on their pages, which I guess is a decent solution. They will, however, try to prevent targeting of individuals like those above.

Finally, there’s some interesting material about “spies” who infiltrate anti-vaxer groups like Stop Mandatory Vaccination and find out that, despite the denials of that group’s officials, the members urge each other to harass parents whose children have died.

This is one reason why I don’t like anonymity on the Internet. Even if we don’t ban anti-vaxer discussions, at least the people involved should be required to give their real names, and thus held accountable for their statements. And their actions are disgusting: this onslaught of harassment of grieving parents is the lowest to which our species can sink. All we can do is educate ourselves about the benefits of vaccination and keep arguing.

The CNN article ends on a sad note: this made me tear up a bit:

When she sees anti-vaxers talking about parents in their closed groups, [Erin] Costello, the online pro-vaccine spy, gets in touch with those parents to warn them they may be getting nasty messages from the anti-vaxers.

When Costello reached out to the mother in the Midwest, she explained why she was contacting her.

“I know you’re likely getting many horrible messages on Facebook right now,” Costello wrote to the mother. “Children such as [yours] are the reason why I do my part to fight for overwhelming acceptance of vaccines as well as fight against the lies and misinformation that are recklessly spread around against vaccines.”

The mother wrote back.

“I appreciate the strong role you take in helping protect families like mine,” she said.

After hundreds of Facebook comments from anti-vaxers, the mother turned off comments on her page, and deleted many of the ones she received.

Some are still in her head, though. She weeps as she remembers the one that was hardest to read.

“The ones that said this was a fake story. That he wasn’t real. That my child didn’t exist,” she said. “Because when your child dies, that’s the biggest fear — that he will be forgotten.”

That’s how low these jerks will sink.


h/t: Diane G.

Anti-vaxer denied visa to Australia because his message is “dangerous”

August 31, 2017 • 12:00 pm

One could, I suppose, make a case that an anti-vaxer speaking in public is more dangerous than a Nazi or white supremacist speaking in public. After all, it’s clear that anti-vaxers have been able to persuade even reasonably intelligent people to stop vaccinating their kids, whereas someone of that ilk hearing a Nazi wouldn’t become another Nazi.  And the danger of antivaxxers accrues not just to those who are converted, but to other kids as well because of the threshold phenomenon of “herd immunity.”

But even though I’d be much more likely to protest an anti-vaxer speaker than a Nazi speaker, I don’t think either should be censored or banned from speaking. After all, anti-vaxers do publish their stuff, where I suspect most people drink that Kool-Aid, and we need the opportunity for counter-speech and protest, which you can get only when someone like this speaks. And in the U.S. it’s not a violation of freedom of speech to talk about the bogus dangers of vaccination. If we ban anti-vaxers, shouldn’t we also ban homeopaths or chiropractors, who themselves could do (and have done) serious damage.

But in Australia it seems to be okay to censor someone like this. Or so reports the Sunshine Coast Daily, which reports that Kent Heckenlively, a prominent American anti-vaxer (see his books here, and Orac’s takedowns here), has been denied a visa to give a lecture tour of Australia:

THE self-prescribed “world’s number one anti-vaxxer”, Kent Heckenlively, has been denied permission to enter Australia.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Heckenlively would not be able to come to Australia for a planned lecture in December.

“Kent has not got any travel plans to Australia because we are not going to allow him to come here, we are not going to issue a visa for this particular individual,” Mr Dutton told Sydney radio station 2GB.

“These people who are telling parents their kids shouldn’t be vaccinated are dangerous people and we have been very clear in having a look right through this particular case and it is clear to me that it is not in our national interest that he should come here.”

The Turnbull government was under pressure from Labor to stop the American science teacher from coming to Australia.

Labor wrote to immigration minister Peter Dutton earlier this month demanding a travel ban on Mr Heckenlively after it was revealed his department had the anti-vaxxer under watch.

Mr Heckenlively was planning a lecture tour of Australia in December to spread his dangerous and incorrect message that vaccines are bad.

As part of his “Dangerous Science” tour he was planning to call for a five-year moratorium on childhood vaccinations.

Here’s the reason (I can’t access the letter referenced):

“Labor is alarmed that Mr Heckenlively may be allowed to promote this dangerous nonsense in Australia,” Ms King said in the letter obtained exclusively by News Corp Australia.

“While our immunisation program has historically been effective, there is growing evidence that anti-vaccination advocates and their political allies like Pauline Hanson are now undermining our success – as shown by the doubling of measles cases between 2013 and 2014.

“I write to urge you to deny entry to Australia to the dangerous anti-vaccination zealot Kent Heckenlively.”

And it worked.  But just as I urge free speech for Nazis, even if they’re promoting mass extermination of Jews, so I urge free speech for anti-vaxers, as well as homeopaths, naturopaths, chiropractors, crystal healers, and other quacks whose nostrums are either ineffective or dangerous.  Without the freedom to combat these ideas, they go underground and remain largely unopposed. Of course Heckenlively’s speech poses possible dangers, but it can also open a dialogue about how dangerous vaccinations are (answer: they’re not). I think it’s a bad move to ban the guy from Australia, and I wonder if they’ll ban other speakers who say things about health that, if followed, pose dangers.

Do you agree with the government, realizing that this is banning speech? And if so, would you prefer to see Heckenlively banned over a Nazi?

Kent Heckenlively

h/t: Steve C.

Only in Brooklyn

August 2, 2017 • 1:45 pm

The headline tells it all, but click on the screenshot if you want more details. The sick thing is, besides the total absence of evidence that vaccines cause autism in humans, that there’s no evidence for autism in nonhuman animals.

From the Raw Story:

“We do see a higher number of clients who don’t want to vaccinate their animals,” Dr. Amy Ford of the Veterinarian Wellness Center in the Boerum Hill neighborhood told the Brooklyn Paper. “This may be stemming from the anti-vaccine movement, which people are now applying to their pets.”

Dr. Ford said that more and more people hailing from hip areas of Brooklyn are refusing to vaccinate their pets for rabies, distemper and hepatitis — all of which are required by law in New York.

“It’s actually much more common in the hipster-y areas,” Ford said. “I really don’t know what the reasoning is, they just feel that injecting chemicals into their pet is going to cause problems.”

I wonder what “chemicals” these Brooklyn hipters take into their own bodies. At any rate, they better not pull this crap with cats.

h/t: Barry


Famous Australian cartoonist deems vaccinations as “fascist”

August 19, 2015 • 9:20 am

Substantive issues—at least of the kind discussed here—are thin on the ground today. But, of course, as Clarence Darrow said at the Scopes trial about creationism: “Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding.” So is fascism, which makes it ironic that, according to Mashable, well-known Australian cartoonist Michael Leunig published the cartoon below in the Melbourne newspaper The Age:


This is clearly Leunig’s ignorant reaction to the state of Victoria’s new “no jab, no play” law that will take into effect next year, a law that mandates, sensibly, that preschoolers can neither go to day care or attend kindergarten without getting their shots. (Whooping cough, for instance, has shown a dramatic rise in the state.)

And this isn’t the first time that Leunig has privileged parents’ rights against the “God of Science”. Here’s a cartoon that he published in The Age in April:

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 7.14.05 AM

Clearly he’s rejecting “what science thinks” in favor of “maternal instincts” and “a mother’s love”. Well, Mr. Leunig, let’s see “a mother’s love” keep somebody from being infected with whooping cough, diphtheria, or polio.  Leunig’s “vaccination = fascism” stand was confirmed in a statement:

In a statement emailed to Mashable Australia, Leunig said his cartoon was not about the value of vaccines. “It is about the punitive deprivation and coercive authoritarian force being increasingly and systematically applied by Federal and State governments to parents who want choice in the matter,” he wrote. “There is a human rights issue here that is deeply disturbing and worth talking about in a clear-headed way that is free of hostility and insult.”

Yes, let’s talk about that “human rights issue.” What about the human right of a young child to be protected from disease, safely, in the face of his parents’ unfounded and ignorant fears? What about the human rights of society as a whole to not allow infected children to mingle with uninfected ones, possibly infecting those whose vaccinations didn’t take or who couldn’t be vaccination for real medical (as opposed to religious or philosophical) reasons? What about the right of society to ward off epidemics by making sure that all children have vaccination, so producing “herd immunity”?

If forced vaccination is a violation of human rights, so are income taxes, driving laws, Social Security, and state-sponsored medical care. Leunig needs to rethink the balance between the rights of individuals and the needs of a liberal democratic society.

Victims of our own success

July 10, 2015 • 10:00 am

by Grania

Not long after Jim Carrey’s misbegotten rant about vaccines came the tragic news from Washington State that a woman had died from measles. USA Today reports that she had been on medication that supressed her immune system and she died of pneumonia – a common complication of measles. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development in Houston had this to say:

[her] death was a preventable, but predictable, consequence of falling vaccination rates

One of the most effective benefits of nation-wide vaccination is the herd immunity effect, where the general population’s resistance to a disease effectively eliminates it and in so-doing protects those individuals who for genuine medical reasons either were unable to get the vaccination or for other reasons live with compromised immune systems. Once vaccinations become a choice made by the uninformed, the herd immunity itself becomes seriously compromised and suddenly diseases that were almost eliminated (the CDC declared Measles eliminated in 2000) are creeping back in again.

By 2007, Measles outbreaks in the US had almost flat-lined.


by 2014 something had gone horribly wrong.

Source: CDC

As I mentioned before, people who choose not to vaccinate usually are not malicious people who hold the well-being of their fellow humans in contempt. Their indifference is rooted in ignorance, and in part it isn’t ignorance of their own making. Those of us that live in countries that have had robust vaccination programs for several decades most likely have no real concept of what it was like to live in a world without vaccines.

Today’s parents almost certainly grew up in neighborhoods during the 1960s to 1980s where everyone was vaccinated and the reality of dreaded, deadly and crippling diseases that every parent of previous generations feared and desperately hoped would not maim or kill their own child didn’t even feature as a cautionary tale. Comfort has bred complacency, and in the complete absence of any childhood horror and suffering, vaccines clearly seem to some to be the equivalent of choosing between organic and non-organic vegetables.

The improved health and well-being of society derived from the implementation of earlier vaccine programs has created a society ignorant of the ravages of disease. Vaccinations have become the victim of its own success stories.

What can you do about it? Keep being the annoying person in your Facebook circle who points out facts.

There are excellent resources on sites such as Sense About Science and also facts about the diseases that people have a tendency to underestimate Or get them to talk to talk to someone older than 50 or 60 who might remember what it was like when these preventable diseases were an all too real and present threat to everyone.

Something and somethinger

July 1, 2015 • 11:05 am

by Grania Spingies

There are a whole lot of reasons why people deny truths, and most of them don’t do it out of malice or contempt for humanity. In many cases they truly believe that they are doing the right thing. It is fairly self-evident that many of the anti-vaccine brigade do this because they truly believe they are saving their children from the harm of a callous conspiracy between the CDC, Big Pharma and your local GP. Ignorance may not be an excuse, but it is their reason.

It is pretty hard to win over hearts and minds on these issues, but the best that the pro science-based medicine side can do is to keep on refuting the worst myths and distortions.

But it really doesn’t help when someone with a disproportionate ratio of influence to actual facts gets up on their high horse and spouts forth.


In text form:

California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped. They say mercury in fish is dangerous but forcing all of our children to be injected with mercury in thimerosol is no risk. Make sense? I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-thimerosal, anti-mercury. They have taken some of the mercury laden thimerosal out of vaccines. NOT ALL! The CDC can’t solve a problem they helped start. It’s too risky to admit they have been wrong about mercury/thimerasol. They are corrupt.



His swipe at the CDC was no doubt in response to people informing him that thimerosal is no longer used in most vaccines any more, and especially not children’s vaccines even though studies have shown to have no evidence of harm at the dosage that was typically used.

The CDC addresses this issue fairly clearly here, and has several papers on the subject available to download and read here. True Believers don’t read papers, of course, because they are all a part of the corrupt fascist conspiracy. But people who are genuinely undecided might. This is what the CDC actually says on the subject.

Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines and other products since the 1930’s. There is no convincing evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site. However, in July 1999, the Public Health Service agencies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and vaccine manufacturers agreed that thimerosal should be reduced or eliminated in vaccines as a precautionary measure.

Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines.

The line of “I am not anti-vaccine, only anti-poison” is a favorite refrain amongst the anti-vax advocates in recent years, but Dave Gorski over at Science Based Medicine has taken this claim apart with his usual attention to minute detail. The dangers of failing to vaccinate children is also comprehensively covered here:

If you see the Carrey rant circulating on your social media platform of choice, maybe help out by adding a useful link to an evidence-based source.