Destroying the vaccine program in order to save it

Last week, I did three posts about the anti-vaccine movement. (What? Only three? Well, last week was slower than usual on the anti-vaccine craziness front. It happens.) Two of them were variations on a theme, namely how the anti-vaccine movement vehemently, desperately does not want to be seen as “anti-vaccine, even though that’s what many of them are. First, I pointed out how the “health freedom” movement is teaming up with the anti-vaccine movement next week in Chicago to hold an anti-vaccine rally in Grant Park as part of its annual autism quackfest known as AutismOne. My second post asked a simple question: Why, if Age of Autism is about doing better for autistic kids rather than being anti-vaccine, do the the bloggers there spend so much time and verbiage ranting about Gardasil, which, even if the vaccine-autism connection were true, couldn’t possibly cause autism because it’s given a decade after the typical first onset of autistic symptoms?

My answer is that it’s always, first and foremost, about the vaccines, not autism.

Every so often, though, the anti-vaccine crank blog Age of Autism provides me with an insight to how the anti-vaccine movement thinks. This time around, Julie Obradovic serves that purpose with a post entitled How to Actually Save the Vaccine Program. My first impression was that, it’s very, very nice of die hard enemies of the vaccine program to give public health officials advice on how to “save it.” In essence, the post is a list of what Ms. Obradovic thinks public health officials should do before the the anti-vaccine movement will listen to them. In doing so, she demonstrates perfectly exactly why it’s virtually impossible to reason with die-hard anti-vaccine loons. She also demonstrates the utter sense of entitlement that so many of them have, a sense that the world must cater to her. First, she assails the “strategy” used by public health officials:

1. Tell the truth. Stop claiming that science has completely resolved this issue. At best, the limited science thus far (done by those with tremendous conflicts of interest) has shown us that with regard to Thimerosal, it might be good for kids and it might be bad for them, and with regard to the MMR, that for the general population, it doesn’t appear to be a problem. That’s hardly the same thing as the sweeping statement that all vaccines in any child, at any time, with any ingredients, in any amount, in any combination don’t cause Autism. Furthermore, Thimerosal is not gone from vaccines, and the trace amount touted as safe is still far too toxic to flush down a toilet. Plus, according to the Material Safety Data Sheet, it should never be combined with aluminum because of how highly reactive it is, and yet, there are multiple vaccines that combine the two right now. Moving the goal posts? More like clearly identifying the end zone.

Of course, it never occurs to Ms. Obradovic that the scientific community has been telling the truth about vaccines. She just refuses to listen. She’s also good at building up straw men of burning man size and then aiming a flamethrower of burning stupid at them, incinerating them and then high fiving her fellow vaccine rejectionists as though she’s actually scored a victory. No one says that “all vaccines in any child at any time” are completely safe. What science says is that there is no good scientific evidence that vaccines given according to the current vaccine schedule cause autism and that there is a lot of evidence that they are not at all correlated. There is also a huge amount of evidence supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Obradovic claims that mixing mercury with aluminum causes problems because of “high reactivity,” betraying such an ignorance of basic chemistry and pharmacology that it is really, really hard not to be snarkier about it than I’ve been.

The rest of the list is rather long; so I’ll cherry pick the ones that were either the most egregious or amused me the most. For example:

2. Acknowledge your lack of objectivity in this matter. By pretending to be unbiased, you lose credibility.

I call a strawman and raise you a “pot, kettle, black.”

The next one actually rather amuses me:

3. Remove Paul Offit as your spokesperson; he is hurting your cause. You have chosen to give a man who has never treated a single child with Autism the authority to speak for your profession on what doesn’t cause it: the very product that has made him rich. You must realize how poorly that sits with the parent community you serve.

I bet the anti-vaccine movement would like it a lot if Dr. Offit gave up, if he refused to do battle with the anti-vaccine movement anymore. He is arguably the single most tenacious and effective combatter of anti-vaccine nonsense there is. Of course the anti-vaccine movement would like to see him removed from the battle!

This next one demonstrates even more powerfully than I ever could why you can’t reason with the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement:

4. Understand that you are under investigation by the parent community for a crime: medical negligence. Understand that no amount of self-investigation will ever be good enough to convince them of your innocence.

Actually, no amount of investigation, period, will convince someone like Ms. Obradovic that vaccines don’t cause autism. It doesn’t matter who does it. It doesn’t matter who funds the research. It doesn’t matter how bulletproof the research is from a scientific standpoint. It won’t convince Ms. Obradovic. It won’t convince J.B. Handley. It won’t convince Jenny McCarthy. It won’t convince any of the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement. The best way to illustrate this, should you ever get into a discussion with a die-hard vaccine rejectionist, is to ask that person to tell you in very specific terms exactly what evidence would make her change her mind and vaccinate her child. Then follow up on the questions. Inevitably, what you’ll find is that no evidence will. Either that, or the level of evidence will be so unrealistically high that science could never provide that level of certainty.

Here’s perhaps the most difficult one to deal with:

6. Reach out to your loudest critics. Rather than dismiss them, recognize these are the parents who listened to what you told them verbatim and are utterly convinced you completely betrayed them and their children. They have nothing left to lose by speaking out until they believe justice has been served. Your campaign will only make them louder.

Actually, been there, done that. What makes Ms. Obradovic think that the public health community hasn’t reached out to its loudest critics? I once criticized a friend for naïveté for proposing exactly the same thing. In doing so, I pointed out several examples of scientists and public health officials doing just what Ms. Obradovic claims that she wants to see. Not only did it not work, but at every turn representatives of the anti-vaccine movement took advantage of the gullibility of those trying to “reach out” to them in order to cause more trouble.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t reach out to parents. Of course we should! Parents who are confused, parents who keep hearing that vaccines cause autism and are afraid, parents who don’t know the science and don’t know whether they can trust their doctors, these are the people we should reach out to. These are the people whom we should treat with respect. The J.B. Handley, Julie Obradovics, Kim Staglianos, and Jenny McCarthys of the world, not so much. The reason is that they have shown themselves over a long period of time to be about as close to unreachable as can be. In essence, through a combination of the arrogance of ignorance and, in some cases, being far more insulting and dismissive of those supporting vaccination than even Orac can (or would want) to be, they have forfeited a reasonable expectation of civility. If you want evidence of just how hypocritical it is of Obradavic to demand “civility,” simply check out the infamous “baby eating incident,” in which AoA badly Photoshopped the heads of Steve Novella, Amy Wallace, Trine Tsouderos, Paul Offit, and Tom Insel into a picture of people sitting down for a Thanksgiving feast of dead baby.

“Civility” like that only deserves contempt.

The rest of Ms. Obradovic’s post is a bunch of the standard talking points: Tell both sides! (“Teach the controversy!”); the “toxin” gambit; repeating the “measles versus autism” false dichotomy; demanding a “vaccinated versus unvaccinated” study; and this gem:

It is no longer acceptable to inject heavy metals such as mercury or aluminum into a human being, as we continue to learn just how vulnerable we are to amounts we previously thought harmless. To repeatedly pierce the flesh, bypass the natural immune system the body has created in the nose, mouth and digestive tract, and directly inject more and more chemicals, metals, and viruses into it without studying the life long and/or unintended consequences for having done so is no longer a miracle; it is madness.

No, some of the comments after Obradovic’s post are madness. For example:

  • It is impossible to save the vaccine industrial complex. Julie Obradovic is brain-washed. (Media Scholar.)
  • “The term ‘vaccine preventable disease’ is a form of propaganda since most vaccines have a high failure rate and do not prevent the disease they were designed to prevent. And ofcourse additionally they can cause a laundry list of unintended side effects.” (Sylvia.)
  • “I am ANTI-vaccine. I wear my “label” proudly. I make no apologies for my stance either. Until someone (anyone) can give me a clear cut answer as to WHY my son was distroyed by something that was supposed to protect him then I will continue to wear that label. Like a badge. Riley has to wear the ‘label’ (his purple heart) of autism (NOT vaccine injured) because mommy was too stupid to question until it was too late. It is my believe that if more people were willing to wear the ANTI-vaccine label and NOT the green vaccine label, that maybe, just maybe , the government and the pharma industry would stand up and FINALLY take notice. You can’t sell a product to people that are 100% against it. They do not make any money from this household.” (Rileysmom.)
  • “Let the vaccine industry go as did the tobacco industry. Smoking used to be a sign of the sophisticated, educated and higher class. Now, it lurks under the surface of society, while everyone knows, universally, that it is bad for you. No amount of honest studying of vaccines could ever result in supporting a system that accepted even the most conservative “schedule.”” (Cynthia Cournover.)
  • “My basic knowledge about vaccines when I stopped them for my daughter was that they contained Mercury and aborted fetal tissue and that was all I needed to know at that time to be thoroughly convinced of their physical and spiritual danger. Now that I have researched this subject fully in the past few years, the amount of scientific evidence is massive in condemning vaccines, I realize how blessed I was in being forewarned about thier dangerous potential. ALTHOUGH my Christian faith was the primary reason that I discontinued vaccines, with what I have learned now, I would be anti-vaccine even if I was an atheist!!! HOWEVER, it is not logical to imagine that vaccines will ever be discontinued until the time when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords establishes his kingdom rulership over mankind.” (Autism Grandma.)
  • “I AM anti-vaccine, and I am not ashamed of that label. I don’t care who knows it or what they think about it. If YOU want to shoot that crap into YOUR body, that is your business. Good luck to you.” (Lisa.)
  • “I don’t think it’s possible to green a vaccine. They are filthy and toxic. I also think folks who believe in an alternate schedule or rolling back to the 1980’s are not facing the issue squarely. Children would still suffer vaccine injury…albeit less severely or in fewer numbers. The issue is….DO VACCINES WORK AND HOW DO THEY WORK? WHAT ARE THE LONG TERM CONSEQUENCES TO THE INDIVIDUAL? I realize that no one wants to be labeled anti-vaccine, but eventually that is what it will come to….better to face it now. I believe the saying is ‘shit or get off the pot.’ I don’t think you can have it both ways…at least not with childhood vaccines. Also, the theory of herd immunity is just that…a theory. Have we ever seen studies that prove this theory? Where are the statistics that the evidence-based medicine crowd demand of us? Show us the proof.” (CT Teacher.)

I wonder if CT Teacher has been hanging around creationist discussion boards. That’s usually where I hear the “just a theory” gambit.

No, it’s not the current vaccination program that it madness. Far from it. Rather, it’s the anti-vaccine movement that is madness. It is madness to try to pursuade parents not to vaccinate based on fears born from fear and ignorance and suckled on pseudoscience and conspiracy mongering. What Obradovic seems to want is for scientists to “destroy the vaccine program in order to save it.” She doesn’t want “dialog,” at least not any meaningful dialog where both sides listen. Her post makes it abundantly clear that she wants to be heard without having to listen in turn. Rather, what she is in essence demanding is complete and unconditional surrender of her “enemy” to the demands of the anti-vaccine movement as a precondition for negotiations. Under such circumstances, it would be madness to give in, because, as Ms. Obradovic has shown us in no uncertain terms that anything less than total capitulation to what she wants is unacceptable! In fact, she goes beyond that by saying at the end of the post that her list is “an incomplete list, but it is a good start.”

“Reaching” out to such people runs the very real risk of giving up more and more ground in a futile hope that a reasonable accommodation can be reached, until one day everything has been given up and there is nothing left. What the anti-vaccine movement wants is nothing less than the utter destruction of the current vaccination program. After all, her leader J.B. Handley himself has said as much! The sad thing is that Ms. Obradovic, for all her spewing of anti-vaccine canards, misinformation, and pseudoscience combined with a sense of utter entitlement, is, compared to the commenters on AoA, about as close to reasonable as anti-vaccinationists come.

And that’s what’s so depressing to me, the thought that someone like Ms. Obradovic is about as close to rational as there is at AoA.

ADDENDUM:

Another crazy comment from a commenter by the ‘nym WILLIE from AoA that reveals the true attitude behind much of the anti-vaccine movement:

To get to the point vaccines are a hoax, a canard, a fraud, a failed scientific experiment, a medical charade with catastrophic consequences whose full apocalypse has yet to be disclosed. Vaccines will ultimately be proven to be responsible for the deaths and sufferings of untold numbers of children and adults from a seemingly myriad of unrelated diseases that all have at their genesis a viral etiology, iatrogenic in nature that will be proven with the identification of the DNA footprinting of the viral genome.
Please do not ever forget that and do not become delusional and think vaccines have some measurable medicinal value as they simply do not. The intent of vaccines was noble (small pox, polio vaccine) however the execution of the vaccine research and subsequent implementation has never arisen to anything more than the level of human experimentation and violation of all ethical codes and principles that make up the blood and backbone of human medical science. The success, efficacy and safety of vaccines been greatly exaggerated and is the result of nothing more than a poorly executed and expensive marketing ploy by pharmaceutical companies who have engaged in incestuous relationships with the government agencies charged with monitoring them. “First do no harm” is the oath and creed that all ethical physicians swore they would work and live by and that has been thwarted perverted and otherwise completely abandoned with the advent of vaccines.

The author of this article clearly means well and has made some points however the bigger picture looms and cast a much greater shadow. Please Do not continue to reach into the vaccine toilette to try to find something good in there, there is nothing good in the vaccine toilette for you or for your family and no matter how many times you reach into this toilette or how far you reach into this toilette you still come up with the same thing that you find in any toilette. So please stay out of this toilette, further stop trying to find a way to share what you think you found in this toilette with others because it is not good for them either and no matter how it is packaged it is still the same thing you find in any toilette.

Wow. Just wow. And this guy claims to be a doctor.

But that’s not all. Here’s another from Suzanne, in response to the accusation by WILLIE that Julie and other AoA denizens are “getting weak” and Julie’s post is evidence of it:

“I am glad that I checked in with you folks as it appears that some of you are getting weak again”

I say: Is the arrogance of that statement lost on you? Good thing you were able to swoop down and set us straight! We always talk about how “they” don’t understand us, how “they call us names and mischaracterize us”. Then some of us turn around and do the same, to members of their own community even! It is one thing to disagree with someone’s opinion, but to accuse people whose opinion is different than yours “getting weak”, that is arrogant. Isn’t it generally considered cult-like behavior to expect everyone in a group to agree 100% on everything, then if someone doesn’t to marginalize them and call them names- and yes, referring to people as “getting weak” is name calling.

Keep thinking Suzanne. Seriously. You’re so very, very close to the truth: AoA and the anti-vaccine movement are a cult. They do attack anyone who strays too far from the anti-vaccine line. Seriously, you’re so close. All you need to do is to take one more step, just one more step, and soon you might find yourself on the road to rationality.

I would also point out that I am most grateful to WILLIE and the other AoA commenters. Whenever someone like Suzanne protests that AoA is not “anti-vaccine” in response to one of my posts, these commenters back up my accusation far more effectively than any evidence I alone can come up with. Thanks, WILLIE and Autism Grandma, for bringing the crazy home and thus helping support my assertions! I knew I could count on you!