Would you like some whine with that cheese, Ms. Fisher?

I must admit, I’m surprised that it took so long for this to happen.

Remember back in April? Three months ago, uber-quack (in my opinion) Joe Mercola teamed up with the grand dame of the anti-vaccine movement Barbara Loe Fisher of the misnamed National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) to run a “public service announcement” on the CBS JumboTron in Times Square. Here is the ad:

To recap, yes, I know that the ad itself appears relatively innocuous. Certainly that’s what Joe Mercola and Barbara Loe Fisher argue, because all it says is “Vaccines: Know the Risks” followed by “Vaccination: Your Health. Your Family. Your Choice.” If that’s all it said, it might not be too objectionable, but notice what else is there, namely links to the NVIC and Mercola.com websites, two of the most wretched hives of scum and quackery when it comes to vaccines that I can think of. The only websites that I can think of off the top of my head that are worse (and then not by very much) are Whale.to, NaturalNews.com, Generation Rescue, and, of course, the One Anti-vaccine Crank Blog to Rule Them All, the One Anti-Vaccine Crank Blog to Bind Them, the One Anti-vaccine Crank Blog to Lead Them All and in the Darkness Bind Them. I’m referring, of course, to Age of Autism.

So basically, what the NVIC is saying is to “know the risks” it tells you, which in essence means “knowing” distorted information that exaggerates the risks and downplays the benefits of vaccination at every turn. It’s not for nothing that I’ve referred to this strategy as “misinformed consent.” Of course, dolloped into the mix is a heapin’ helpin’ of “health freedom” rhetoric, which, as I’ve often pointed out, is in reality freedom of quacks from pesky government regulation and to sell whatever dubious remedies they want to sell. Don’t believe me? Type “NVIC and vaccines” or “Mercola and vaccines” into the search box of this very blog. Then read. I did have to give the NVIC credit, though. It was a clever gambit.

Fortunately, Skepchick and President of the Women Thinking Free Foundation, Elyse Anders, saw right through it and spearheaded a letter writing campaign to CBS Outdoor, the company that books ads for the CBS Times Square JumboTron. Later, the American Academy of Pediatrics found out about the ad and wrote a strongly worded letter of protest. Although the campaign didn’t remove the ads before their run ended on April 28, it apparently didn’t go unnoticed by Barbara Loe Fisher and Joe Mercola. The only surprise is that it took so long for them to complain. But complain they did, and here’s part one of an interview between Joe Mercola and BLF:

First, Joe Mercola can’t resist getting out his flamethrower of burning stupid and spraying napalm-grade idiocy hither and yon:

The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a letter to CBS, pressuring them to take the message down. The letter was also leaked to bloggers who started a smear campaign against NVIC based on the fact that they advocate making informed and voluntary vaccination decisions. All in all, it was a rare display of widespread and blatant pro-censorship sentiments.

First of all, Elyse Anders began her campaign five whole days before the AAP wrote its letter of protest. As one of the bloggers involved in the campaign, along with Elyse, to try to persuade CBS Outdoors that it was irresponsible of it to run ads for organizations that endanger public health, such as Mercola’s empire of woo and the NVIC, the latter of whose founder and leader, BLF, tries to represent it as a reliable source of vaccine information (which it most definitely is not) and as a vaccine safety advocacy group (which it may have–sort of–been back in the 1980s in the wake of the DPT controversy but which is now a title that can no longer be ascribed to it by any stretch of the imagination).

Then Mercola applies his flamethrower of burning stupid to another one of my irony meters, melting that sucker into a pool of bubbling goo, when he says that “those who cannot persuade with facts are left with just one option: attack!” I mean, seriously. Compare the relatively carefully worded letter by the AAP to the invective that regularly flows from the websites, blogs, and YouTube channels of anti-vaccination groups such as Mercola’s and BLF’s. For example, BLF, rather than answering Paul Offit’s criticisms with facts, decided to try to shut him up by suing him. Fortunately, BLF lost and lost big time, but I find it hypocritical in the extreme for Mercola and her to be claiming that a letter of protest by the AAP is somehow a vicious attack or that it’s even trying to “silence” her. As I’ve pointed out before, everyone has the right to free speech, but the there is no inherent right to blast that free speech every hour over a huge JumboTron, and the AAP was doing nothing more than exercising its right to free speech to counter the anti-vaccine message of the NVIC. Of course, this is part of a pattern, such as J.B. Handley also having sued Paul Offit. In reality, it’s not the public health authorities who, unable to persuade with science, facts, evidence, and reason, resort to vicious attacks.

Now, on to the interview. Sit through it, if you can. Or read the transcript. There’s so much nonsense there that I really couldn’t deal with it all if I tried. (Feel free to pick out your favorite choice bits that I don’t cover and hash them out in the comments.) So instead, I’ll “cherry pick” the ones that caught my ear or eye, depending on whether I was listening to the video or reading the transcript.

For instance, here BLF parrots standard anti-vaccine tropes that she herself pioneered:

I think that certainly when the smallpox vaccine was developed people were so afraid of smallpox. When they declared it was eradicated in 1979 from the western hemisphere, we saw this I think sort of commitment by public health that they were going to try to do the same thing with every other infectious disease that inflicts man.

There has been sort of this idea that the cornerstone of public health and individual health as well must be that we control or eradicate infectious diseases through the mass mandated use of vaccines. But what they never have bothered to do really is take a step back and say, is that a wise thing to do? Because we did it with smallpox, because we did it with polio, is it a wise thing to do with every single microorganism that causes infections in humans.
We are at the point now where we have 69 doses of 16 vaccines the government recommends every single child should get from day of birth through age 18. We now have a universal use influenza vaccine policy that every single American from six months of age through the year of death is to receive a flu vaccine every year.

But what we don’t have is large studies that show that that policy is safe particularly for every person not only safe but also effective. Are we really achieving greater health in our society on an individual basis and a public health basis by using so many vaccines?

This is, of course, nonsense. It’s misinformation and a lie. If you do searches for vaccine safety on PubMed, you’ll find literally thousands of studies. What BLF really means to say is that there aren’t studies that she likes, studies that find vaccines to be ineffective and/or unsafe. She’s also attacking a massive straw argument. No, public health officials are not saying that we should try to eradicate every infectious disease there is. In fact, the number of infectious diseases vaccinated against is relatively small compared to the possible diseases that can be caught.

In fact, I’d turn BLF’s question around and ask her if she has any credible evidence that our current vaccine schedule is not safe or that it is not effective. Correlation does not equal causation, for all that BLF’s attributing an “explosion of chronic disease and disability in our society in the last quarter century particularly since we have used so many vaccines.” In fact, study after study after study has failed to find a correlation between our current vaccines and chronic illnesses, including asthma.

Not surprisingly, like all good anti-vaccine loons, BLF is very, very unhappy with the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine:

MERCOLA: There is no common sense applied to this recommendation and implementation because the risk factor for hepatitis B would be being born to a mother who has the active infection. You could check the mother to know if that situation exists. You don’t have to give this innocent child an immunization or they’re going to be exposed to intravenous contaminated drugs or needles or having sex.

A newborn child is not going to have any of those risk factors. Why would you possibly ever justify giving a child, a newborn this dose, this immunization especially since the long – even their own study showed that the protective benefits if they exist disappear after 10 years which is prior to the risk factors being implemented.

BLF: That’s exactly right. There is no detectable antibody for vaccine strain hepatitis B antibodies in the blood after seven to 10 years. Just as children are getting into adolescence they’re basically going to be vulnerable again.

So you’re right. For a very small minority of babies born in this country to hepatitis B positive mothers they instituted the universal use vaccine policy for all 12-hour old newborns not knowing the immune or the neurological or immunological status of that baby after birth. How much do you know about a baby 12 hours after birth? You really know hardly anything.

First off, notice how BLF says there is no “detectable antibody” against the vaccine strain of hepatitis B. That is without a doubt a very conscious choice of words. The reason, of course, is that immunity to hepatitis B lasts much longer than seven years due to immunological memory, as both the CDC website and, yes, even Wikipedia describe. In fact, immunity to hepatitis B in response to vaccination lasts at least 20 years due to immunological memory that outlasts the decline in antibody levels. Basically, in immunocompetent individuals who respond to the vaccine, it is thought that there is no need for a booster vaccine. It’s not known how long immunity lasts after the birth dose (that’s being studied right now), but it’s likely that it lasts at least that long as well.

As for the rationale for the birth dose of hepatitis B vaccine, contrary to BLF’s complaint, it is not without a basis in science nor is it unreasonable at all. For one thing, hepatitis B predisposes to liver cancer; so preventing hepatitis B is a way of preventing liver cancer, much as preventing HPV infection prevents cervical cancer. Also, hepatitis B can kill, either through liver cancer or cirrhosis. Moreover, contrary to BLF’s contention, it is not just from an infected parent that children can be infected by hepatitis B:

About 9,000 of the 18,000 children infected in the first 10 years of life caught the virus from their mother during birth. However, many young children didn’t catch the disease from their mother. They caught it from either another family member or someone else who comes in contact with the child. Because the disease can be transmitted by casual contact, and because many people who are infected with hepatitis B virus don’t know that they have it, it is virtually impossible to be “careful enough” to avoid this infection.

For these reasons, all young children are recommended to receive the hepatitis B vaccine. The best time to receive the first dose is right after birth. This will ensure that the child will be protected as early as possible from catching the disease from someone that doesn’t know that they are infected with the virus.

Finally, BLF flames out even my industrial strength irony meter when she says:

As you say, we don’t tell people what to do. We’re consumer advocates. We’re not doctors. We don’t tell people to vaccinate or not to vaccinate. What we say is as an educated healthcare consumer, you must understand the risk associated with the diseases as well as the vaccines and make an informed decision because you know what, as a parent, you live with that decision.

This is, of course, another age old variant of the favorite anti-vaccine ploy of representing its position as not being “anti-vaccine” but being “pro-education.” Of course, the “education” that Joe Mercola, BLF, and the NVIC provide is more like miseducation, just as their version of “informed consent” for vaccination is in reality misinformed consent based on–of course–misinformation. It’s misinformation promoted by groups like the NVIC and practitioners whom I view as quacks, like Joe Mercola, and it’s misinformation that needs to be countered at every turn with science-based information.