One of the great things about America has been the First Amendment, particularly the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. These are rights allow us to gather together to protest when we see something that we don’t think is right and want to change. Unfortunately, there is one downside to these freedoms, and that is that cranks, quacks, and outright twits have just as much right to free speech as anyone. Fortunately, my right to free speech allows me to ridicule these twits for annoying people, endangering public health, and in general making publicly making idiots of themselves. Among the most obnoxious and ignorant cranks and quacks out there are antivaccinationists. We’ve seen it time and time again, dating all the way back to Jenny McCarthy’s “Green Our Vaccines” march on Washington and including such “high points” as last year’s “#CDCTruth rally,” in which antivaccinationists hilariously thought that a poor guy just trying to do his job power washing a wall was actually a CDC agent sent to spy on them.
There is, however, one characteristic of antivaccine activists, and that’s that they love to harass and stalk people whom they view as their enemies, which generally include the CDC, vaccine scientists (legitimate ones not vaccine pseudoscientists like Andrew Wakefield or Mark Geier), and any media figure that criticizes antivaccinationists. Indeed, online, the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism has its very own troll team led by its “media editor” Anne Dachel, who, whenever she sees an article about vaccines, particularly one criticizing antivaccine views, she activates the crank signal, and hordes of antivaccine commenters will swoop down on the comment section like flying monkeys flinging poo. Meanwhile, before he became an alt right misogynist Donald Trump supporter, Jake Crosby gained plaudits from his fellow antivaccine kooks by stalking vaccine scientists Paul Offit, who, to antivaccinationists, represents a combination of Voldemort, Sauron, and Darth Vader, all rolled into one. As a minor minion of the dark lords of pharma myself, I, too, have been stalked. Yes, I’m hard-pressed to think of a group more dedicated to harassing those whom they perceive as their enemies than antivaccinationists. Indeed, they harassed random people on the street whom they thought to be CDC employees last month during their 2016 “CDC Truth” protest at the CDC, apparently unconcerned over whether the victims of their harassment were in fact CDC employees or not.
So it was not surprising that when NYU Langone Medical Center hosted a conference yesterday, Confronting Vaccine Resistance: Strategies for Success, it was like catnip to a cat, waving a cape in front of a bull, or whatever cliched simile you want to use. After all, Paul Offit was was going to speak. So was Richard Pan, the California state senator who co-sponsored SB 277 as a bill. SB 277 is now a law that bans nonmedical exemptions. So was bioethicist Arthur Caplan, a strong advocate for vaccines. So was Dorit Reiss, who over the last couple of years has become a favored target for the antivaccine movement. Add to that Bernard Dreyer, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it was as though the greatest enemies of the antivaccine movement were all concentrated in one place. It was thus utterly irresistible to antivaccine cranks, who yesterday morning on AoA urged their followers to show up:
Please plan on attending a demonstration against an event entitled “Confronting Vaccine Resistance” which will be coming to the New York University Langone Medical Center this Monday, November 21, 2016. Please meet at 11 am at 550 First Avenue in Manhattan to greet the speakers and attendees. The meeting is closed to the public but will feature three of America’s leading proponents of forced vaccination: Paul Offit, California State Senator Richard Pan and anti-vaccination rights Internet troll Dorit Reiss.
FB PanJoining the Demonstration will be leading health advocate Gary Null, and VAXXED producers Polly Tommey and Del Bigtree. Bring friends, families and cameras. And bring a poster with a picture of any vaccine-injured loved one, along with their name, the date they were injured and the vaccine(s) that injured them printed on the poster.
Oh, goody. They attracted the VAXXED bus, you know that RV Del Bigtree and Polly Tommey, along with a rotating cast of antivaccinationists who actually believe the propaganda contained in the movie VAXXED, showed up! And they were as obnoxious as ever. For instance, they managed to send a cameraman into the cafeteria to bother Paul Offit as he was having breakfast and getting ready to present. Offit gave the VAXXED guy the response he deserved:
Not surprisingly, it turns out that this is cherry picked in order to make Dr. Offit look as bad as possible. Dr. Offit has explained his side of the story on Facebook in a comment:
Let me explain what happened yesterday. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss sent me an email stating that the VAXXED crowd would be protesting before the symposium in front of NYU-Langone. So I took the early morning train (6:30am) from Philly so that I could get to NYU before they gathered. I don’t like having to walk through crowds like this for obvious reasons (I had to do this once at the CDC and it wasn’t fun.) I entered the main building where I was met by a security guard. I told him that I was one of the speakers and he directed me to go to the cafeteria for breakfast where “I would be safe.” After sitting near the window for about 15 minutes (not imagining this would ever be a problem) I noticed Polly Tommey filming me from the street and another woman gesturing for me to look at their VAXXED truck. It was unnerving. I felt ambushed. At the same time that I noticed this, a man claiming to be “the cameraman for VAXXED” came up behind me and asked me to come in to the VAXXED truck to be interviewed. He had what looked like a camera which was around his neck but now I know that he was actually recording me. I asked him if he was recording me and he said that he wasn’t. I declined his request politely several times but he persisted. Frankly the guy was a little frightening (now I know that this was Josh Coleman, who has a criminal past). So I cursed at him. Not terribly proud of this, but I’m human. I also can’t stand the way that the “VAXXED team” denigrates children with autism and scares parents away from vaccines. Frankly, I think their “quest” is a dangerous one. Now I’m just trying to deal with the fallout, primarily from our hospital’s PR team who are concerned that the video of me keeps showing up on their Facebook page. And so it goes.
Typical antivaccine behavior, and very much of a piece with what I’ve come to expect from Del Bigtree and his minion.
Of course, Mark Blaxill also couldn’t resist regurgitating deceptive antivaccine attacks on Offit, in which Offit’s earnings from being the inventor of the Rotateq vaccine are portrayed as evidence that he is evil personified and hopelessly compromised.
Not surprisingly, on the VAXXED Facebook page, there are videos of the “protest”:
I found it hilarious that Del Bigtree claims to be for the science and the first person he interviews on the video is Gary Null, who, by the way, doesn’t look that healthy to me, his claims otherwise that his supplements will lead to excellent health notwithstanding. (Maybe he overdosed on them again.) He claims to have been fighting “this fight” (i.e., against vaccines) since 1966. Given that he would have been 21 years old then, I suppose it’s possible, but I consider it unlikely and am tempted to call BS on this. After all, we know that according to Null himself he says he became interested in nutrition in his 20s while working as a short order cook in New York.
Of course, Null’s paranoia is epic. At one point he asserts that antivaccine groups that claim to be pro-vaccine safety, that insist they are not antivaccine, are in fact agents provocateurs because they say we need “safer” vaccines, not the elimination of vaccines. He invokes Wikileaks (of course) to justify this assertion.
Even more hilarious is how Null claims to have spent 1,400 hours himself personally studying all the available science on vaccines and claims later that between him, Toni Bark, Sherri Tenpenny, and Suzanne Humphries, each one of them has 10,000-15,000 hours of research. Just to give you an idea, 1,400 hours is 175 eight-hour days, by the way; and Null is claiming that they’ve all done roughly three times that. I’m sorry, but I call BS on this as well.. The question he asked: What studies show that every single ingredient of every single vaccine has been proven safe and effective for every child it’s given to? All I could think when hearing that, after I finished laughing at Null, was that he clearly has no clue about how medicine works. (Obviously that’s true, but remarks like this just nail it.) Yes, it’s the sort of statement that sounds reasonable if you don’t know that there is no such thing as a medicine that is safe and effective for every single person to whom it’s administered; so right away you know that Null is pulling the usual antivaccine trick of demanding impossible standards of vaccines, when in fact by any reasonable standard vaccines are effective and incredibly safe. His remark about “every ingredient” is nothing more than a variation of the “toxins gambit.” Null does discuss how he would like ot see the end of all vaccines; so at least he’s honest about being antivaccine. Be that as it may, the scientific ignorance on parade here is epic, as he repeats multiple times that he could not find science showing that there is “such a thing” as a safe vaccine.
His failure just goes to show how clueless he is by claiming that immunologists and toxicologists are “not involved in the discussion,” as he mocks the very concept of “vaccinologist.” Idiot. It’s immunologists who help design, produce, and test vaccines. He also advocates a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials of the vaccine schedule involving 5,000 children in each group. Of course, besides being completely unethical because it fails to provide clinical equipoise, leaving the control group unprotected against vaccine-preventable diseases, such a study would be woefully underpowered to detect a difference in autism rates. I’ve explained in detail why 5,000 subjects per group would not be anywhere near enough subjects for such a trial. It goes along with Del Bigtree’s general scientific cluelessness, his claim elsewhere that VAXXED is a “pro-science” movement notwithstanding.
Near the end of the video there is a woman who claims that her children’s religious exemptions were rejected by the Catholic school in which she enrolls her children. Of course, if the woman is Catholic, which presumably she is, she should know that there is no religious objection to vaccines in Catholicism. Yes, it’s true that the church doesn’t like the use of cell lines created from aborted fetuses 40 or 50 years ago to grow the viruses used to make some vaccines, but the Catholic Church still promotes vaccination as the greatest good. Of course, the whole conversation takes place in the context of complaining about “forced vaccination” by the government, and I can’t help but point out that the government had nothing to do with this. A Catholic school is a private institution. If her children were in a public school, it would have had to accept her religious exemption if valid.
Finally, there’s Suzanne Humphries, who somehow managed to attend the conference:
Right off the bat she characterizes the conference as the “social engineering” of medical students. She also notes that one recommendation to medical students was that they should be passionate and “go down swinging” when dealing with vaccine-averse parents. My thought was: “Gee, she says that as though it were a bad thing.” Of course, medical students who go into primary care should be trained how to deal with vaccine-averse parents and what methods have the best chance of persuading them. It’s just good medicine.
Unfortunately, good medicine is the farthest thing from what Bigtree and company are promoting.