Anti-vaccine activism, not autism activism

Remember how I said that I was trying to take it easy this week? I still am, but there’s something bugging me enough to draw me out of my grant-induced cocoon for a little while in order to pontificate on it in the not-so-Respectfully Insolent way that I am so often wont to do. True, it’s something that’s been annoying me for a time now, but it’s becoming acute as the end of the year approaches. The reason is simple. The anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism is starting to announce its 2009 awards. Regular readers may remember when AoA announced its 2008 awards. Truly, that was a hoot, although I must admit that I was disappointed that I didn’t win “Worst Blogger Ever” or “Nastiest Blogger to AoA,” or “Most Vicious Attack on Jenny McCarthy.” I doubt that AoA’ll give it to me in 2009 either, because they know that I’d be proud of the “honor,” although they did do me other “honors” in 2009, namely two–count ’em, two–full frontal assaults on me by J.B. Handley himself, once in February and once in November. I suppose that will have to be enough.

My bruised ego notwithstanding, however, the very first choice of AoA for its awards serves an excellent purpose and an excellent excuse for a year end lesson. Remember how the anti-vaccine movement really, really hates it when you call them what they are, namely anti-vaccine? Remember how its members will inevitably say something along the lines of “I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-safe vaccine,” usually in an offended tone? Remember how, for example, Generation Rescue and AoA insist that they are about “autism advocacy” rather than against vaccines. Yet, the very first choice of AoA for its 2009 “Person of the Year” belies that claim, right from the very introduction:

It’s been a rough year for people concerned about the relentless onslaught of autism in America’s children. First, the U.S. vaccine court ruled against three brave families who were fighting to establish a link to their children’s disorders, dismissing the parents as dupes and their lawyers and scientists as worse. Then a slew of negative and know-nothing articles tried to make anyone concerned about the issue look not just dumb but downright dangerous.

First, what does the U.S. Vaccine Court’s ruling against the test cases for the Autism Omnibus have to do with the “relentless onslaught of autism in America’s children”? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That decision was simply an acknowledgement of the mind-staggeringly poor science behind the claims that vaccines somehow cause autism. Under conditions that were as complainant-friendly as can be imagined short of just ceding the case to the Omnibus complainants, in which the court, throwing aside Daubert rules, allowed the lawyers for the test cases to introduce extreme pseudoscience to support their cases, the Vaccine Court rejected the claims of the very best cases that the lawyers for the Omnibus complainants could come up without of the nearly 5,000 taking part in the Omnibus. These were cases believed to be the strongest of all, and their arguments failed–and failed miserably.

So who is AoA’s Person of the Year and why? Let’s find out:

But amid the doom and gloom, there were bright spots — none brighter, ironically, than New Jersey, the place with an autism rate so high the CDC “disappeared” the entire state in its latest calculation; not coincidentally, it’s also the home of rivers of toxic waste, an armada of pharmaceutical companies, and a torrent of legislated vaccine mandates taken to extremes never before witnessed in America.

But New Jersey is home, too, to Louise Kuo Habakus, who did something quite amazing this year – rallying vaccine advocates and concerned citizens in numbers that made the difference in the New Jersey governor’s race, defeating Jon Corzine and carrying Chris Christie, the first candidate to go on record for vaccine choice, to victory.

First off, it’s a huge exaggeration that “vaccine choice” was somehow a major deciding factor in why Christie beat Corzine. Corzine was a lousy governor in many, many ways. Republicans could have run Bozo the Clown against Corzine and have had a better than 50-50 chance of winning. More importantly, once again, the anti-vaccine crank blog conflates resistance to mandatory vaccination and the broadening of vaccine exemptions with some sort of autism advocacy when the science simply does not support a link between vaccines and autism, no matter how much anti-vaccine advocates claim that there is one.

And, make no mistake, resistance to the requirement that children be vaccinated before they can attend school is exactly what Louise Kuo Habakus is about. Her website, Life Health Choices, is chock full of links to anti-vaccine sites, such as Generation Rescue, National Vaccine Information Center, NaturalNews.com, Mercola.com, Mothering Magazine, Inside Vaccines, Think Twice, and Medical Voices. Just a brief perusal of these sites, such as Think Twice, demonstrates some serious misinformation. For instance, here is Think Twice answering a question about unvaccinated children spreading disease:

Some doctors will say anything to get parents to vaccinate, even if it doesn’t make sense or is an outright lie. They spread this incredible baloney to make parents like you feel guilty, and to create tension between parents of vaccinated and non-vaccinated children. It is a ploy to coerce you into vaccinating your child.

First of all, how could your non-vaccinated child be a danger to the vaccinated child? If the vaccines are effective, then the baby should be protected. Actually, it’s the vaccinated children who spread disease. Many of the disease outbreaks that we are warned about today, are caused by, and occur in, recently vaccinated children.

And some anti-vaccine websites will say anything to scare parents out of vaccinating or to make them feel that their decision not to vaccinate has no ill consequences, even if it doesn’t make sense or is an outright lie. They spread incredible baloney to make parents like the one here feel good about leaving their children unprotected and potentially exposing other children to vaccine-preventable disease, and to ridicule the anger parents who vaccinate their children feel whe faced with unvaccinated children. Mroeover, as has been pointed out time and time again, vaccines are not 100% effective. Think Twice’s idiotic answer above would only make sense if vaccines were 100% effective.

And in response to parents who say that they don’t want their children to get shots but don’t want their children to get sick, either, this is what this site said:

Parents must educate themselves prior to making a decision regarding vaccines so that they may sleep comfortably at night. If you are unsure, I recommend further investigation into this subject. Some of your options are to vaccinate, to consider homeopathic alternatives, or to do nothing and contend with disease if and when it occurs. (Many intelligent people do not think every childhood ailment is a grave cause of concern. They wonder why a child’s immune system needs special treatment. Breastfeeding and natural foods work for many families. And besides, there are no guarantees that your children will not contract diseases after they are vaccinated.)

Homeopathy is quackery, pure and simple. I don’t know how many times I have to repeat this, but it is. Just search on this blog for “homeopathy,” as I’ve written time and time again why homeopathy is nothing more than water and sympathetic magic. Yet this website recommends it as a means of treating and/or preventing vaccine-preventable diseases, which is incredibly irresponsible and dangerous advice. Yet Habakus describes the Think Twice website as “clean, clear and thoughtful” and suggests that readers start with its FAQ, which, by the way, is exactly from where I pulled the frightening tidbits of misinformation listed above. In other words, Habakus’ understanding of vaccine science is on par with that of the bloggers at AoA: Either nonexistent or so wrong that it’s not even wrong. Meanwhile, on her website is a nonsensical letter to President Obama that consists mainly of fear mongering regarding the H1N1 vaccine. I’ll just pick a tidbit from it that encapsulates the misinformation and ignorance embodied in the letter:

Effective alternatives to vaccination exist. There are scientifically-proven techniques and treatments from multiple medical systems that might help our patients to support and strengthen our immune systems. We would do well to consider the example of Switzerland which recently adopted complementary and alternative medicine into its national healthcare system.

Uh, in a word, no. CAM does not substitute for vaccination.

There’s also the usual antivaccine misinformation about squalene (never mind that squalene is not used in H1N1 vaccines used in the United States). Overall, I conclude from the content of Habakus’ website and speeches that she is anti-vaccine, through and through. She talks the talk and walks the walk. She uses the same pseudoscience, bad science, and talking points, parroting them credulously. Heck, like J.B. Handley, she falls for the story of a Robert Wanek, the student who claimed that he was unjustly treated for passing out anti-H1N1 vaccine fliers, apparently not noticing that the kid is actually a 9/11 Truther (something someone from New Jersey should find particularly despicable but apparently Habakus doesn’t mind) and all-around New World Order conspiracy theorist as well as poorly informed about science, school policy, and the law. In the end, Habakus’ activism for “vaccine choice” appears to be no more than a front for anti-vaccine activism.

AoA apparently agrees, as Dan Olmsted concludes:

A new Age of Activism has begun in the autism community that will come to fruition over the next few years, and in 2009 Lousie Kuo Habakus helped show us all the way forward.

Note the conflation between autism activism and anti-vaccine advocacy. To Louise Kuo Habakus, Handley, and the rest of the crew at AoA, the two are the same. To those with an understanding of science, they are not, and the push for “vaccine choice” on the part of people like Habakus or Handley is nothing more than a thinly veiled activism against vaccination. Sadly, this equating of autism advocacy with anti-vaccine (excuse me, “vaccine choice”) activism by anti-vaccine advocates like Louise Kuo Habakus and the denizens of the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism will not only harm autistic children but endanger all children by discouraging vaccination against vaccine-preventable diseases.