To troll or not to troll: The White House responds to a We The People petition from antivaccine activists

Antivaccine activists amuse me.

Obviously, I think they are a major risk to public health. Their relentless demonization of vaccines as causing autism, autoimmune diseases, “shaken baby syndrome,” and even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) serves no purpose other than to frighten parents and discourage them from vaccinating. As despicable as some of their antics are—for instance, blaming vaccines for SIDS and shaken baby syndrome or comparing the vaccine program to the Holocaust because it’s a “mass poisoning program” (I’m talking to you, Jake Crosby)—some are just as entertaining as others are despicable. In particular, these hilariously inept and downright dumb antics have been flowing fast and furious as SB 277 was introduced in the California legislature and ultimately passed into law. SB 277, remember, is the California law passed last month that will eliminate non-medical exemptions to school vaccine mandates. It’s a law that, when it was originally introduced, I didn’t think had a ghost of a prayer of passing, but happily I was wrong.

When SB 277 was first being discussed, one of the most amusingly off-beat antics of the antivaccine movement was to start a We The People petition to prohibit any laws mandating the force and requirement of vaccinations of any kind:

No human being should be FORCED to be vaccinated against their will and/or personal/religious beliefs. I petition against making vaccinations of any kind mandatory. This includes forcing children to be vaccinated to attend public schools, activities, and daycare centers. This also includes adults working in the public or private sector.


Notice the emphasis on the word “FORCE” (capitalized, of course, for maximum crank effect), which is clearly designed to appeal to Americans’ dislike of being forced to do anything. Of course, it’s not exactly being “forced”; parents can still refuse to vaccinate their children, but their children will pay a price other than being made vulnerable to potentially deadly vaccine-preventable diseases. They won’t be able to attend public school. After having been used to getting easy religious and personal belief exemptions to this mandate (the latter of which basically boiled down to saying, “because I don’t want to”), it is understandable that antivaccine activists would be upset. In any case, they channeled their rage into the petition above (among other places).

How I remember it! As they got closer to the required 100,000 signatures that would trigger a mandatory response from the White House, they got more and more excited. Apparently they thought that the answer would be to their liking. Why they thought that, I have no idea, but now we know the answer. The White House got Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to respond personally to the petition, and I have to conclude that the Obama administration is basically trolling the antivaccine movement. First, the response quotes President Obama from a previous interview thusly:

I understand that there are families that in some cases are concerned about the effect of vaccinations. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.

And now here is the video response:

I like how he starts out citing the Disneyland measles outbreak, explains how he understands the parents’ fears, and basically delivers a robust, full-throated defense of vaccines, complete with a history of the measles vaccine and a detailed discussion of how contagious measles is and herd immunity. He even mentions the long-discredited and fraudulent Lancet case studies. He also points out that it is the states that determine vaccine requirements. What must have been particularly infuriating is how Dr. Murthy emphasizes the social contract and says, unequivocally, that there is no link between vaccination and autism, and describes vaccines as a triumph of medicine and public policy.

Here’s an excerpt:

When it comes to laws regarding vaccines, there are two important things to keep in mind.

First, states and localities determine these kinds of vaccine requirements and exemption policies. Right now, all states require children to be vaccinated against certain communicable diseases as a condition of school attendance, and there are some employers, such as health care facilities and day cares, that require vaccination to protect their employees as well as their customers (for example, hospitalized patients, people living in long-term health care facilities, and infants attending day care).

Second, the science is quite clear that vaccines are vital to our fight to quell and eventually eliminate highly contagious diseases. Vaccines undergo rigorous scientific study and testing for both safety and efficacy before they are approved for use. Following licensure and use among the U.S. population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration continue to monitor vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Over the years, billions of people have received vaccines, which have, in turn, saved hundreds of millions of lives in the United States and around the world. For example, prior to the development of the measles vaccine, many children died in the United States as a result of measles and many more were hospitalized each year. After the introduction of the measles vaccine, the number of infections and deaths dropped precipitously.

While the vast majority of people in the United States get vaccinated, there are some communities where vaccination rates are low, and this can increase the risk for vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks. If we continue to see growing pockets of people who are not vaccinated, measles and other contagious diseases will regain a foothold in our country and spread.

Many of the most contagious illnesses can be prevented thanks to vaccines — and as a result, one of the most important things people can do to protect themselves and their children is to get vaccinated.

Murthy concludes:

Vaccines are safe and effective ways to prevent disease and death. They are necessary. They save lives.

Indeed.

It didn’t take long for the antivaccine underground to go ballistic over this. Over at a particularly wretched hive of Facebook scum and quackery, the Vaccine Resistance Movement, there’s a reference to the response in all caps calling Dr. Murthy—what else?—a shill. The comments that follow are just more of the same, including a meme:

Gollum actually wouldn't say this.

Gollum actually wouldn’t say this.

They also attempt to dehumanize Murthy by referring to him as not being a human being but a robot or android. Since this response was only released last night, I only expect that the crazy will grow. Either that, or the antivaccine movement will do its best to ignore it because they didn’t get the answer that they want. In the meantime, as Karen Ernst points out, they’re behaving like children. They didn’t get the answer they wanted; so they’re throwing a fit.

Oh, and thanks Obama. Really. This time I mean it. I really do think, with less than a year and a half to go in his term, Obama is no longer shy about trolling cranks.