A confluence of the anti-vaccine and “health freedom” movements at AutismOne in Chicago

One of the biggest examples of either self-delusion or lying that emanates from the anti-vaccine movement is the oh-so-pious and indignant denials that inevitably follow from its members and leaders whenever someone like me has the temerity to point out that they are, in fact, anti-vaccine. The disingenuously angry denials usually take a form something like this, “I’m not anti-vaccine; I’m pro-safe vaccine.” (This is Jenny McCarthy’s favorite variant of this gambit). Another variant is for anti-vaccine activists to claim that they aren’t anti-vaccine at all; they’re just “concerned” that children are getting too many vaccines. What belies their claims, which are seemingly reasonable on the surface to the uninitiated, is what happens if you try to pin them down on just what, exactly, it would take to convince them that vaccines are safe as administered. A good way to approach this is to try to ask them to tell you specifically exactly what it would take to convince them to vaccinate their next child. What evidence would convince them? What you’ll almost inevitably find, if you push them, is that the answer to that question is: Nothing! Nothing will convince them. Ever!

The reason I bring up this topic is the impending arrival of the yearly autism quackfest known as AutismOne. As far as gatherings of the anti-vaccine movement and all manner of autism quacks goes, AutismOne is the 900 lb gorilla; everybody who’s anybody in the anti-vaccine and autism quackery world will be there, with Jenny McCarthy giving the keynote, as she has for the last couple of years and the disgraced anti-vaccine “scientist” Andrew Wakefield being a featured speaker. This year, apparently three days not being enough, the quackfest has expanded to a full week. As if that weren’t bad enough, on Wednesday, May 26, there will be a rally in Grant Park, an “American rally for personal rights.” Perusing the website, you’ll rapidly find out that the manifesto of the rally is about vaccines:

We believe in the rights to life, liberty, and personal security for ourselves and our children.

We demand the universal human rights standard of informed consent for all medical interventions. Compulsory vaccination cannot be legally and morally justified.

We affirm the sanctity of personal space, the right to be left alone, and the freedom to make personal health care decisions guided by the professionals of our choosing.

We invite all people, families and organizations committed to protecting these fundamental rights to stand with us in downtown Chicago on May 26, 2010 at our inaugural rally, and to work with us after the event to support grassroots advocacy, education, and leadership in defense of our personal – individual, parental, legal, moral, religious, civil, and human – rights.

Is it a coincidence that this rally is occurring smack dab in the middle of AutismOne? Of course not! The happy band of anti-vaccine loons at Age of Autism are pimping this rally, but get a load of who’s going to be the keynote speaker there! Come on, guess! Oh, all right, I’ll tell you:

Andrew Wakefield himself!

If you wanted yet more evidence that the “pro-safe vaccine” movement is really the anti-vaccine movement, here it is. But, wait, I hear. It’s an entirely legitimate issue about how much power the government should have to require that children be vaccinated and under what circumstances, but the whole “personal rights” bit is a smokescreen to hide the true nature of the rally: Anti-vaccine to the core. In reality, this “personal freedom” angle is very much the intellectual offspring (I think I just choked on the word “intellectual” in this context) of the “health freedom” movement. As I’ve said more times than I can remember, “health freedom” in reality is nothing more than the freedom of quacks to ply their trade on their marks without any pesky interference from laws, regulation, or the government. “Vaccine freedom” is little different at its core. It’s also profoundly deceptive in that parents already have the freedom to decline vaccines. The only real enforcement point of our vaccination policy is admittance to public schools, virtually all of which require children to be up to date on their vaccines before they can attend. Even with that leverage, in nearly every state, there are mechanisms within the law to claim exemptions from vaccination requirements based on religion or even personal philosophy, the latter of which can be something as simple as saying that the parent has some sort of “philosophical objection” to vaccines. In other words, this is a rally for a right that parents in nearly every state already have.

So why bother? Perhaps some of the literature on the website can tell us. First, let’s take a look at the organizations that are participating in the rally. The participants include a veritable who’s who of anti-vaccine cranks, including Age of Autism, Ginger Taylor, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, Generation Rescue, the Holistic Moms Network, Medical Voices, Mike Adams, TACA, the Australian Vaccination Network, and many others.

Then there are what appears to be the organizers of the rally. First, there’s Louise Kuo Habakus, who’s described as:

…a board-certified health practitioner specializing in homotoxicology and integrative nutrition. A former senior corporate executive for Putnam Investments and The Prudential Insurance Company of America, Louise received dual degrees from Stanford University. From mainstream corporate America to mainstream parenthood, Louise’s world changed when her children showed damage from vaccines. Louise confronted orthodoxy, found answers, and recovered her children. Louise lectures widely on the subjects of wellness, prevention and vaccination choices.

In other words, she’s an practitioner of dubious “alternative” medicine and a die hard believer in the vaccine-autism myth. If you have any doubt just how anti-vaccine Habakus is, consider this. She was named Age of Autism’s Person of the Year for 2009. Also, her website is chock full of links to anti-vaccine sites filled with pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies. Finally, here she is speaking to a “vaccine choice” rally in Albany, NY:

Then there are Mary Holland and Robert J. Krakow, both attorneys and members of the Elizabeth Birt Center for Autism Law and Advocacy, while Krakow runs a law office that advertises its services for parents who want compensation for vaccine injury. He’s also appeared on Lisa Jo Rudy’s site telling parents how to bring legal action in Vaccine Court and has been described by anti-vaccine leaders David Kirby and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as “a leading attorney for vaccine damaged children.” In particular, Krakow seems quite interested in pursuing claims over Gardasil.

Finally, there’s Mia Nitchun, who appears to buy into the myth that vaccines cause autism, and Ginger Taylor, who not only buys into the myth but actively promotes it, attacking anyone who tells her that science does not support her belief that vaccines cause autism and spews anti-vaccine propaganda hither and yon on her blog. The anti-vaccine team is rounded out.

Next, let’s take a look at some of the speakers. Andrew Wakefield, of course, needs no introduction. He’s the British “researcher” who in 1998 published the now infamous study that not only launched a thousand autism quacks but sparked a major scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine that, even now, 12 years later, has not yet abated. Only just this year is Wakefield finally starting to suffer the consequences of his pseudoscience. It’s not for nothing that, more than any single man, Wakefield deserves the blame for the resurgence of measles in the U.K. to endemic levels again. Jenny McCarthy has a long way to go to match his peerless inadvertent promotion of infectious disease and suffering.

Then there’s Michael Belkin, a man who suffered the loss of his daughter to sudden infant death syndrome and attributes it to the hepatitis B vaccine. As sad as this loss is (no parent should have to lose a child, whatever the reason), he has used it to become an anti-vaccine activist whose testimony even appears on Whale. to. Joining Mr. Belkin are Habakus and a coterie of lawyers, all of whom appear to be involved in litigation over vaccines and one of whom, James S. Turner, is described as the “nation’s leading natural health freedom advocate for over 40 years.” He was particularly incensed at John McCain’s ill-fated attempt to tighten up the regulation of dietary supplements. Finally, there’s Boyd Haley, who most recently rose to “prominence” by selling an industrial chelator as a “supplement” with which to treat autism. What more needs to be said?

Finally, let’s take a look at the suggested slogans for rally signs. I’ve selected a few out of the 100 or so slogans there. There’s lots of “freedom” rhetoric, but there are also some signs that can only be described as pure anti-vaccine:

  • 1% US Kids Autistic But Fully Vaccinated
  • Adults Die From Vaccine Reactions, Too
  • CDC Trades Infectious Disease For CHRONIC – Allergies, Autism, ADHD, Asthma, Diabetes…
  • Doctors! Shame On You
  • Doctors! You Took An Oath
  • Greedy Pharma Calling The Shots
  • H1N1 Was a TARP For Pharma
  • I Refuse Forced Vaccines
  • I Trust My Nurse. Why Don’t You?
  • If My Child Is Harmed, You Won’t Pay
  • I’m More Afraid Of The Vaccine Than The Flu
  • My Child Was Murdered By Vaccines
  • No Vaccine Liability! Total Immunity If Vaccine Kills You
  • Schools Are Overrun With Vax-Injured Children
  • Stop Experimenting On Our Kids
  • The Ouch Isn’t What Hurts
  • The Right To Be Left Alone
  • Too Many Shots
  • Too Many Sick Kids
  • Why Does Our Government Want Us Vaccinated So Bad?

And my favorite: “There Are No Safe Vaccines.”

As much as I miss Chicago at times, having lived there for three years in the late 1990s, I’m glad that I won’t be there the week leading up to Memorial Day. I might actually be tempted to wander down to Grant Park on the 26th. I doubt I’d actually say anything much. I’m not stupid. I could picture the reaction of what will probably be a few hundred rabid anti-vaccine loons if they were to learn that Orac was in their midst, and enough of the AoA crowd has seen enough photos of me to know what I look like.

My temptation to do something that not only might lead my brain to suffer massive neuronal apoptosis from flaming waves of stupid but could also potentially lead to physical harm aside, the fact that this anti-vaccine rally is occuring the very week that many the luminaries of the anti-vaccine movement will be in Chicago is definitely no coincidence. It was clearly planned, and the reason is obvious. The “health freedom” movement (i.e., freedom for quacks movement) has always had a strong anti-vaccine component to it that goes far beyond a simple political debate over individual rights to make medical decisions versus a societal interest in preventing the spread of harmful or even deadly vaccine-preventable diseases, and virtually every hard core activist subscribing to the scientifically discredited notion that vaccines cause autism is, his or her self-deluded or disingenuous denials notwithstanding, anti-vaccine to the core. No matter how much the leaders of and foot soldiers in the anti-vaccine movement deny that they are “anti-vaccine” or claim that they are in reality “anti-toxin in vaccines” or “pro-safe vaccine,” in the end to them it comes down to the vaccines and nothing but the vaccines. No amount of scientific evidence will ever sway them that vaccines are safe. Unfortunately, it’s incredibly difficult for someone to reason himself out of a belief he did not come to through reason.

What was that again about Andrew Wakefield and J.B. Handley swearing to high heaven that they aren’t anti-vaccine?