“Vaccine Awareness Week”: Barbara Loe Fisher dupes Delta Airlines into running an anti-vaccine PSA

The nearest major airport to me happens to be a Delta Airlines hub. Consequently, nine times out of ten, whenever I have to fly anywhere I’m usually stuck using Delta Airlines. It’s actually not too bad, as major airlines go, better than some but about the same as most. Unfortunately, during the month of November, Delta’s in-flight entertainment will leave much to be desired. The reason? Apparently, not satisfied with renting the CBS JumboTron in Times Square last year, this year the highly Orwellian-named National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) somehow slithered their way into the in flight entertainment on Delta Airlines in the form of this video, for which, unfortunately, embedding is disabled, as are comments. (So leave your comments here.)

Notice how it starts out as seemingly a normal PSA about how to avoid the flu. It includes sensible recommendations, such as frequent hand washing, covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, eating a nutritious diet, and getting enough exercise. The first signs of trouble occur when the announcer claims that vitamin C can prevent the flu (the evidence for this claim is, to put it charitably, very shaky at best), but the real trouble doesn’t really arrive until, cleverly on the part of the NVIC, until the last third or so of the video, when the announcer chirps, “Getting a flu shot is another option.” Then, while the announcer keeps chirping seemingly reasonable information about reading the package insert and urging viewers to ask their doctor about the risks and benefits of the flu vaccine, the camera focuses on pictures of the NVIC website, including images of headlines like “Mercury in vaccines” and “Aluminum in vaccines, as the announcer touts “different ways to stay healthy,” the obvious implication is “different than the flu vaccine.” The video concludes with a shot of anti-vaccine grande dame Barbara Loe Fisher telling the audience:

Become an informed health care consumer. It’s about your health, your family, your choice.

I agree. It is about your health, your family, and your choice, which is why you should avoid the mass of misinformation that is the NVIC website.

This is a classic version of what I like to call “misinformed consent.” Anti-vaccine propagandists like Barbara Loe Fisher are clever in that they have finally apparently realized that a straight anti-vaccine message is a PR loser (not to mention that responsible corporations won’t air a straight anti-vaccine message); so they don’t include anything as blatant as what’s on their website in their PSAs anymore. Instead, the take a page from the “health freedom” movement and use rhetoric like what’s in this video. If you didn’t know that the NVIC is the oldest and one of the most influential groups in the modern anti-vaccine movement, the video would appear to be just another health-oriented PSA. Most viewers wouldn’t realize it, either. If, however, out of curiosity they happen to type “nvic.org” into their browser they will be confronted with slick anti-vaccine propaganda wrapped in the same deceptive rhetoric about “your choice,” including a highly deceptive “vaccine ingredient calculator,” a fetid load of misinformation about the recent Institute of Medicine report on adverse reactions due to vaccines, the Vaccine Freedom Wall (dedicated to supposed “repression” and “abuse” anti-vaccine parents have experienced for refusing to vaccinate), and the worst of the worst, NVIC’s International Memorial for Vaccine Victims, which implies that vaccines are dangerous and have injured or killed many children, an utter lie. As I’ve said many times before, we’re all for informed consent and personal choice, but both have to be based on accurate information, science, and correct estimates of the risk-benefit ratios of the intervention being recommended.

Indeed, the NVIC specializes intentionally on misinformed consent, in which risks of vaccines are exaggerated far beyond what any science can support and when there aren’t enough risks to suit the NVIC’s taste they show no compunction about promoting imaginary, fantastical, and outright false risks, such as the claim that vaccines cause autism. The only difference this year is that the NVIC, apparently stung by the slapdown administered by the blogosphere and the American Academy of Pediatrics over its JumboTron ad earlier this year, has disguised its anti-vaccine agenda even more effectively, leaving the frankly anti-vaccine information to its website, which its Delta Airlines PSA urges viewers to visit.

And then there’s the reason they’re doing it. It turns out that I had forgotten. Apparently this week is Vaccine Awareness Week (VAW), a joint “effort” by Barbara Loe Fisher with the NVIC and Joe Mercola:

It’s rather interesting how nowhere in the video is Mercola.com mentioned. Mercola is, however, mentioned in various posts on the NVIC and Mercola.com websites. Be that as it may, the NVIC has, once again, clearly teamed with the quackery-promoting Mercola.com website, to pick the last week of October/first week of November to spread misinformation about vaccines by any means they can. (I really wish these anti-vaccine loon groups would get together and settle on just one crank “vaccine awareness week” or month. I can’t keep them all straight, kind of like the way I can’t keep the various homeopathy awareness weeks straight.) You’ll forgive me for having forgotten all about it; it just didn’t register to me until it was already halfway over, so much of the “same ol’ same ol'” has it been. As part of his “celebration” of VAW, Joe Mercola is also streaming an anti-vaccine movie, The Greater Good (link to the video on Vimeo here), which I, as your humble blogger, will try to watch and review, although I don’t know whether I’ll manage to do it before the end of VIAW or whether I’ll post the review here or on my other blogging location. After all, even the mighty Orac can only withstand so much concentrated anti-vaccine nonsense at one time. (Yes, I have already sampled several minutes of the movie; so I know of what I speak.)

In the second year of Mercola’s and the NVIC’s intelligence-insulting “Vaccine Awareness Week,” it looks as though they’ve decided to try to move up the time frame of their attempts to reach the general public with their anti-vaccine propaganda. Last year, during the VAW, Mercola and the NVIC posted the same anti-vaccine nonsense that they usually post, only more of it. The NVIC then followed VAW up by buying pre-movie ad space during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend last year in AMC Theaters to air an anti-vaccine PSA, resulting in skeptical activism and pushback against it. Then, a few months later, the NVIC bought ad time on the CBS JumboTron in Times Square for a very brief ad for the NVIC. Now, the NVIC has gotten even more clever at disguising its anti-vaccine message by wrapping it a seemingly normal health PSA that is in reality an ad for the NVIC and the anti-vaccine message on its website. And the NVIC does it all without actually attacking the flu vaccine directly, instead relying on its PSA being in essence an advertisement for its website. The “Vaccine Awareness” that the NVIC promotes is, as is typical of an anti-vaccine organization, only negative awareness.

All of which is why it looks like it’s time for a bit of skeptical activism again, this time to educate the relevant officials at Delta Airlines. In the meantime, I’ll also keep an eye on what Mercola and Fisher are up to for the rest of this “Vaccine Awareness Week,” realizing that the only “awareness” of vaccines they promote is misinformed awareness.

ADDENDUM: Leave it to Elyse to get the ball rolling with a petition at Change.org. Also, she’s provided a handy-dandy list of contacts at Delta Airlines and its video provider. I have to wonder whether complaints are already having an effect. It’s been pointed out to me that the video has been taken down by the user at YouTube; I note that the video was not hosted at the NVIC’s YouTube channel, but rather at the In-Flight Media Associates YouTube channel. That’s the company providing Delta’s video content.