Anti-vaccine activism, not autism activism, part 2

You know, when Age of Autism starts announcing its yearly “people of the year” awards, there’s always a lot of blog fodder there to be had. Given that this is the time of year when I ramp the blog down a bit and, trying to relax a little, don’t spend as much time doing detailed deconstructions or analyzing peer-reviewed papers, it’s perfect for some quick observations about the anti-vaccine movement, of which Generation Rescue promotes through its propaganda blog, Age of Autism. This time around, I’m noting how these year end awards reinforce the point that “autism advocacy” of the type that GR promotes is not anything of the sort; rather, it’s anti-vaccine advocacy. GR demonstrated this once again by naming as its “Person of the Year” for 2009 Louise Kuo Habakus, a New Jersey woman who campaigned for more “philosophical” exemptions from vaccines and whose website is chock full of anti-vaccine pseudoscience, particularly in its approved links, which link to any number of anti-vaccine websites, such as Generation Rescue, NVIC, etc. That GR and AoA would choose such a woman as their “Person of the Year” should tell you all you need to know about the relative importance of actual autism activism versus anti-vaccine activism. Between the two, anti-vaccine activism almost always wins, because, first and foremost, it’s all about the vaccines.

The next piece of evidence that this is true comes in AoA’s award to Jenny McCarthy’s boyfriend Jim Carrey for his “Quote of the Year.” What is this quote of the year? Well, it came in early April (which, given that April is Autism Awareness month, is always a time every year when the anti-vaccine stupidity flows freely in the media, in large part thanks to Generation Rescue and its spokes-celebrities Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey). This time, it came on Larry King Live, a frequent source of pseudoscience, where this exchange occurred:

KING: Isn’t the problem here, Jenny, that people sometimes listen with one ear are going to panic. And not vaccine at all?

MCCARTHY: Probably. But guess what? It’s not my fault. The reason why they’re not vaccinating is because the vaccines are not safe. Make a better product and then parents will vaccinate.

CARREY: We’re not the problem. The problem is the problem.

Wow. How Zen. It sounds like Neo in The Matrix, doesn’t it?

Personally, if the choice had been up to me, I’d have chosen Carrey’s girlfriend’s version of this same sentiment for the “quote of the year,” because it perfectly encapsulates how the anti-vaccine movement blames everyone but itself and its members for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. This quote, too, came in early April in a TIME Magazine interview:

TIME: Your collaborator recommends that parents accept only the haemophilus influenzae type B (HIB) and tetanus vaccine for newborns and then think about the rest. Not polio? What about the polio clusters in unvaccinated communities like the Amish in the U.S.? What about the 2004 outbreak that swept across Africa and Southeast Asia after a single province in northern Nigeria banned vaccines?

JM: I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their fucking fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s shit. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

I think that sums up the attitude of the anti-vaccine movement in that (1) it’s all about the vaccines and (2) Jenny and Jim are now starting to realize that their actions have consequences, namely the resurgence of vaccine-preventable disease with the attendant morbidity and mortality that result from it but they are so wedded to the idea that vaccines cause autism that they really don’t care. In Jenny and Jim’s world, your children are acceptable collateral damage in the cause of promoting her unscientific belief that vaccines cause autism. It’s not their fault that vaccination rates are falling to the point that in some areas the are falling below the levels necessary to maintain herd immunity; it’s the evil pharmaceutical companies’ fault! Yeah, that’s the ticket! In any case, my guess is that Jenny’s way of saying exactly the same thing as Jim didn’t win the AoA award because it too baldly states the shifting of blame that anti-vaccine activists do when it’s pointed out that their activities can (and are beginning to) result in the resurgence of diseases once conquered.

Worse, contrary to Jenny and Jim’s assertions, we already do have vaccines that are safe, but no amount of science or evidence will convince anti-vaccine activists to use them on their children. Moreover, the government and pharmaceutical companies are listening to anti-vaccine loons like Jenny and Jim far more than their ignorant pseudoscientific nonsense would deserve based only on science and even though many of them are scientific illiterates. Scientists waste millions of dollars studying over and over again the question of whether vaccines are associated with autism and keep finding the same answer: They aren’t.

The message never sinks in. I fear it never will, at least not until we really return to the bad old days of polio scares, hundreds of thousands of cases of measles per year, and children dying of Haemophilus influenzae type B again.


The comments are, of course, abuzz in the AoA post linked to above, and they’re more evidence than ever that it’s all about the vaccines, rather than actual autism advocacy. If you want the best example of scientific ignorance on display in the service of an anti-vaccine agenda, you can’t go wrong with this comment from Kathy Blanco:

To put it in Jim’s vanacular…There Psychos! (The Grinch). I think the problem is more than a problem, it is an ever reaching ideal to think that you can control the immune system by injecting foregin proteins in children’s bodies, who’s immune systems are not developed, and or not able to detox. I would have rather dealt with the real disease with homeopathy, vitamins and nutrients, than a lifetime of chronic debilitating, life changing unwellness.

Sorry, Kathy. Just because you can’t imagine how immune responses can be primed with vaccines doesn’t mean that scientists and physicians don’t. Moreover, “detox” as The One True Cause of All Disease is a myth; its advocates can’t even define the “toxins” that they’re supposedly “detoxing.” Oh, and homeopathy is the purest form of quackery that I’m aware of, with the possible exception of reiki.