Adventures of a science-based mole at an antivaccine crankfest (part one)

[Orac note: A couple of months ago, two antivaccine activists named Shannon Kroner and Britney Valas invited me to a forum/roundtable/debate, or whatever you want to call it, called One Conversation. The “One Conversation” was to be about one of my favorite topics, vaccines. I did what I always do in these cases, and investigated the principals. It didn’t take me long to figure out that Kroner and Valas were definitely antivaccine. It further didn’t take long for me to figure out that this was going to be one of those debates/discussions/roundtables in which there was nothing but false balance between antivaccine cranks and legitimate scientists; i.e., it was going to be an antivaccine crankfest. That was probably why multiple people on the “pro-vaccine” side had been invited and declined, which I did. I also blogged about it. I later also learned that three legitimate medical authorities had accepted Kroner’s offer and still later learned that they backed out, thus causing One Conversation to devolve into what it was always going to devolve into, an antivaccine crankfest with bonus antivaccine cranks. That’s where I left it.

Little did Kroner and Valas know, however, that Orac has eyes everywhere. All I had to do was to appeal to our scaly overlord, Lord Draconis Zeneca, and ask if there were any Atlanta-area minions who could attend this antivaccine crankfest and report back. It would be a difficult assignment. The minion would have to be highly intelligent, but, even more importantly, have a superhuman tolerance for antivaccine pseudoscience and bullshit. As you will see, our Great Scaly Pharma Lord’s minion (loaned on a temporary basis to Orac) came through marvelously, particularly given that the event stretched to five and a half hours, with only one fifteen minute intermission. So here, read the report of just what went on. Here is part one of what is a very rare occurence on this blog, a guest post. Because this minion is in deep cover, total anonymity will be maintained. Orac knows who this is, but, sadly, no one else will.]


The One Conversation event in Atlanta, Georgia took place on October 11, 2018 and was indeed a one-sided conversation featuring some of the most notable anti-vaccine luminaries out there discussing the perils of vaccines. Although there were “pro-vaccine” panelists who had been invited to attend but later canceled, it was clearly never intended to be a balanced and fair presentation of vaccines.

I attended the One Conversation event in Atlanta, Georgia this past Thursday evening. For more information on the pre-event and participants, please refer to:

The event begins

The event began late an lasted over five hours, with a 15 minute intermission, and there are two videos. I will refer to them by video (1 or 2) and timestamp; e.g. (2/1:45). The theater had a capacity of 220 and was less than half full; so, by my estimation, there were at most 100 people in attendance. We were asked by a media person to sit together in front for “better camera shots,” and when no one moved we were asked by Ms. Valas to sit together in the center leaving the aisle seats for late-comers. No one moved, and there were no late-comers. At one point, the audience was asked to please stand if they or someone they knew was vaccine-injured, and about half the audience stood up.

The whole antivaccine quackfest is available on Youtube. So that you can follow along, here is Part One:

The conspiracies flow as the quackfest begins

The panelists seats were arranged in two groups with “canceled” signs predominantly displayed on one set to represent the pro-vaccine scientists who had canceled prior to the event. Dr. Kroner and Ms. Valas explained that the pro-vaccine panelists really wanted to be there but that organizations such as the ACP(American College of Physicians) and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), along with the scientists’ respective institutions, intimidated them into canceling. The event began with a video explaining how One Conversation came about (1/29:00). Dr. Kroner stated (1/30:00):

I have no doubt that there is a link between vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders.


The way that One Conversation came about was wouldn’t it be really great if people who really push vaccines could address the people who were speaking against vaccines, there needs to be some kind of public debate.

Dr. Kroner posted an email response from Dr. Stringer, a pro-vaccine panelist who canceled to support her claim that the pro-vaccine panelists really wanted to be there but were intimidated by their institutions and medical organizations to decline attending (1/33:24). In it, he asked that any mention of him in association with One Conversation be deleted, and there was nothing that suggested he was intimidated, just informed. The pro-vaccine panelists had been duped into believing they were presenting their work to a diverse lay-audience because no mention of vaccines was made until the anti-vaccine panelists were publicly announced and/or they were alerted to the anti-vaccine stance of the organizers Dr. Kroner and Ms. Valas. Dr. Kroner contacted Dr. Stanley Plotkin who referred to what they were doing as “shameful and disgusting” (1/33:50). They flashed through several cancellation emails and none appeared to be due to intimidation but rather due to finding out the true agenda of One Conversation or for completely unrelated reasons.

The premise of the event was thus set very early on that pro-vaccine voices are being silenced by nefarious forces, that vaccine science is dubious, and that the anti-vaccine panelists are the experts who are willing to fearlessly discuss vaccines. Because of course it was.

Meet the panelists

At this point, the panelists were introduced: Bob Sears, Sherri Tenpenny, Toni Bark, Del Bigtree, and Christopher Shaw (1/41:35). Del Bigtree began by explaining how his expertise is due to working on television shows like The Doctors and reading the medical literature. He presented slides of The Introduction of Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis and Oral Polio Vaccine Among Young Infants in an Urban African Community: A Natural Experiment and stated that it is “a perfect randomized vaccinated versus unvaccinated study” and that children who received DTP died at ten times the rate of those who did not. Mr. Bigtree blamed vaccines for increased infant mortality in the U.S. at least partially based upon this study. Of course, is study, the Mogensen study, was not a randomized study and that Bigtree’s was not an accurate representation of the study. It was a natural experiment, a large number of unvaccinated children were actually vaccinated and there were no statistical differences between groups. It is an intriguing study with limitations and strengths and should not be dismissed out of hand however it cannot be taken as definitive nor applicable to anywhere outside of the study population.

Mr. Bigtree also claimed that the rise in developmental disorders and chronic illness in children is concurrent with the rise in the number of vaccines, stating (1/1:15:50):

Hepatitis b is a virus like AIDS that you’re not going to come in contact with unless you’re sharing heroin needles or sleeping with prostitutes.”

Bigtree further claimed that vaccine clinical trials are only done for a few days; no placebos are ever used, or the DTP vaccine is used as a placebo, which kills ten times the children that didn’t receive it; and that the CDC approves vaccines. Mr. Bigtree further stated that Stanley Plotkin said:

Where there is a lack of science, we assume safety.

The audience gasped although I could find nothing that indicates Dr. Plotkin ever said this. Mr. Bigtree described VAERS as a reporting system without qualifying it as passive and prone to a high degree of unrelated or inaccurate reports. He went on to describe how VAERS is under-reported by more than 99% and uses this number to re-calculate some VAERS data to show that adverse reactions in all categories such as deaths and hospitalizations are ‘in the ballpark of” 100 times higher than reported. (1/1:23:25) After Bigtree finished, Shelley Wynter, a local Atlanta right wing talk radio host tapped to moderate the panel, asked questions about DTP vaccination, and Christopher Shaw said that between 1990 and 2018 there were 345 deaths from pertussis but 1,700 deaths reported to VAERS.

Next to speak was Dr. Bob Sears (1/1:29:10). He told us that 99% of pediatricians say vaccine reactions don’t happen, denying the reactions that are listed in the vaccine information sheets (VIS) and claimed that he is an expert in vaccine reactions. According to him, there is a zero percent chance of dying of measles in the U.S. He then uncritically presented Allergic disease and sensitization in Steiner school children and Pilot comparative study on the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated 6- to 12-year-old U.S. children as evidence that unvaccinated children are healthier than vaccinated children. He then said this is a pilot study, we need to do another but no one will do a large-scale study and continues (1/1:45:20):

…the government told the CDC to do the study like five or six years ago, the CDC said no thanks we can’t do the study so now the government is trying to get the NIH to do the study and hopefully they will someday because we have to know if it’s true about unvaccinated kids.

Then, Shelley Wynter asked Dr. Sears:

If I am an unvaxxed family, everything about my family is going to be healthier I think, food, diet, exercise is going to be healthier than a vaxxed family, I assume is going to give a lot of Doritos, is going to pass a lot a junk food to you know, get the kids through the day but the unvaxxed family is starting from the outset a healthier lifestyle at the outset. Do you think that could be play why they’re healthier kids in the unvaxxed because the family is going to be a healthier-living family?

Del Bigtree responded that in the meeting he and Robert Kennedy, Jr. had with the NIH, CDC, FDA etc. that they (either Tony Fauci or Francis Collins) said they couldn’t do that study because they know how it would how it would turn out because there is an advantage to the lifestyle of the unvaccinated. Shelley Wynter equated vaccination with “poisoning the kids” and likened vaccine testing to the Tuskegee experiment. And, of course, to them, pro-vax scientists have no common sense, and that’s why they weren’t here. The audience howled and clapped wildly.

A video clip of several media reports about how vaccines don’t cause autism was shown as a segue into Dr. Toni Bark’s presentation (1/1:58). She asked, “If we don’t know what causes autism, then how can we say vaccines don’t cause autism? She attempted to answer this question by using attributable risk and show a slide (1/1:59:27):

Toni Bark does epidemiology.

She also said that we can’t say vaccines don’t cause autism because there has never been an unexposed group or “completely unvaccinated,” which is part of the equation for attributable risk. To here, there are some “kind of bogus studies” on MMR and on thimerosal but no studies on other vaccines, the entire schedule relative to completely unvaccinated children. She implied that doctors are just true believers and aren’t thinking and relayed a correspondence she claimed to have had with Siddhartha Mukherjee about a comment he made comparing cell phones and brain cancer to autism and vaccines (and how neither are supported by evidence) taking him to task for making an untrue statement about vaccines and autism, with him admitting he didn’t have evidence but refusing to publish a correction.

She further argued that vaccines aren’t worth the risk because she’s gone through the notifiable diseases data and considered “long-term sequelae” e.g. young children only miss a week or two of school which is not really a big deal for them. To her, the the measles vaccine does work to reduce measles but causes too many problems, and the only measles cases she has ever seen were in two teenagers who got it from their vaccination a week earlier but they were fine because she gave them vitamin A. Those vaccinated with live viral vaccines shed for months and spread disease, whereas unvaccinated who feel sick stay home. To her, no vaccine can create lifetime immunity, leaving infants susceptible to disease when they weren’t with “natural immunity.” Any vaccine safety studies that demonstrate adverse effects are not published, are retracted or the author “gets beat up”. She claimed that the Cochrane Collaboration studies don’t have safety studies and need them and that vaccines cause autism although not the only cause.

Christopher Shaw was asked why aluminum is in vaccines and answered it’s bad in your body (1/2:16:50), stating, “When you put aluminum in stuff, you break stuff.” He presents Aluminum adjuvant linked to Gulf War illness induces motor neuron death in mice. and really believes that he had demonstrated damage. He said that AlOH was discovered as an adjuvant in the 1920s because “they” were trying to get the diptheria vaccine to work so “they” rummaged around a chemical cabinet and found AlOH. His claim of toxicity (at any amount) was based upon a paper from 1911. He was told to “stop talking about aluminum.” and invoked a conspiracy that other aluminum researchers are told to stop talking about it but he will not. He said Lucija Tomljenovic is no longer in the field (1/2:24:46), after which he went on to compare ingested aluminum and injected aluminum, stating that ingested aluminum is excreted with normal kidney function,while injected is “parked in the brain” by macrophages, as shown by Gherardi et al. He then scoffed, “People like Gorski and others like to say dum dums, you don’t know the difference between correlation and causation, well we kind of do.”(1/2:28:23).

Shaw clearly believes that aluminum is either a primary or secondary cause of autism but with caveats that more research is needed. To him, aluminum is not a “fast toxin” and causes chronic immune disorders as evidenced by Shoenfeld, Gherardi and Exley along with Shaw’s group. Of course, the scientific community denies the existence of their findings. Shelley Wynter was very impressed with how smart these doctors appeared to be to him, while Bob Sears and Del Bigtree invoked a David and Goliath scenario, with the government and pharmaceutical companies are “stuck” with aluminum adjuvants, researchers like Christopher Shaw showing how toxic aluminum is and being ignored. Toni Bark said that Chris Exley isn’t allowed to conduct research on autopsy samples for her court cases and has spent a year trying to find neuropathologists to examine tissue samples but that the federal government and academic institutions won’t allow it (1/2:33:53). Shelley Wynter announced he’s a conservative because he doesn’t “trust the government” and was greeted with wild applause. He said it’s safer to drive home drunk than it is taking a vaccine as he introduced Sherri Tenpenny.

Sherri Tenpenny wrapped up the first block (1/2:37:03). She started by asserting that vaccines are “nothing more than an injection of a wad of foreign matter.” She calculates that infants receive 5000 μg of aluminum by one year old and all the vaccines children get by 18 years old and even includes vitamin K at birth. She blamed ADHD, depression, aggression and gun violence on vaccines, video games and diet and has five points why vaccines aren’t safe: Number one is that there are no double-blind, placebo-controlled RCTs. New vaccines are tested against existing vaccines, HPV trials only had an “aluminum shot” as a placebo. Number two is vaccine trials are only ever done on healthy children; children with any pre-existing conditions are always excluded. Number three is that vaccine trial attrition is mostly due to vaccine reactions including death and are ignored by trial investigators as, “dismissed with the stroke of a pen.” Investigators don’t include any reported side effects in the final analyses. Number four is foreign chemicals (of which there are over 80) are not tested for synergy.

She reported having her Vaccine Boot Camp students compiling vaccine ingredients and quantity so she can sum up the total amount of “foreign matter” we are injecting into our kids and ourselves, making claims such as that polysorbate-80 “punches holes in the blood brain barrier” and that is why it is used with chemo drugs for brain cancer. Since Polysorbate-80 is in vaccines, “it punches holes in the blood brain barrier and aluminum gets a steady ride into the brain.” Doctors don’t pre-test children for mitochondrial disease and doctors ignore family history “to toxicity”. Number five is that vaccines are not tested for carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, teratogenicity and longterm fertility. She stated that teratogenicity, “breaks up your genes and causes abnormalities in your developing organs.” She claimed she attended a CDC conference in 2004 when influenza vaccination for pregnant women was being discussed and a speaker said, “We’ll never get the OB-GYNs to do this, never ever ever unless we put the fetus onto the injury compensation program because we know these vaccines are going to cause all kinds of problems and we’re not going to know how to sort them out or whatever.” (1/2:53:10).

At the end of her talk Shelley Wynter, referring to influenza vaccination during pregnancy commented, “Women are given the flu to keep from getting the flu.”

Sherri Tenpenny responded, “yea kind of”.

She finished by discussing Tdap during pregnancy results in blunted immune response in infants except that she didn’t give a citation. She claimed that the study demonstrated that maternal vaccination with Tdap causes a complete non-response to DTaP in the infant so they get all the side effects and no benefit from the vaccine.

An antivaccine Q&A

The question section began (1/3:12) and I’ll list only a few questions:

Q: What training do doctors receive in vaccine reactions?
A: The panel said “none” and Toni Bark claimed she saw an intern observe a vaccine reaction and was told by the attending physician not to report it. Bob Sears said that physicians are trained that reactions are coincidental and would have happened anyway. Sherri Tenpenny said that HPV vaccines cause “POTS syndrome”, seizures and asthma and doctors will put patients through expensive testing to prove that it wasn’t the vaccine. Bob Sears nodded in agreement.

Q: Are autism rates on the rise?
A: The panel said yes. Del Bigtree explained that there was no autism prior to 1938/1944 and autistics were put in insane asylums.

Q: Will you cover fluoride? Fluoride helps aluminum travel to the brain.
A: Christopher Shaw said that aluminum fluoride compounds are not a good idea.

Q: Do vaccines cause acid reflux?
A: The panel said yes. Toni Bark explained that aluminum causes autonomic dysfunction and acid reflux is autonomic dysfunction.

Q: How can the CDC refuse to do a vaccine study that was ordered by the government?
A: Del Bigtree said that the CDC is “sitting on a pile of money for a vaxxed versus unvaxxed study” and it’s a shell game where the CDC kicks it back to the government and the government kicks it back to the CDC. He asked why didn’t the government call Dr. Thompson and the five scientists involved in the MMR fraud? He launches into a spiel about mistrust of government and how the pharmaceutical lobby is the largest lobby and buys off politicians. Toni Bark interjects that Dr. Insel of the IACC is the one who defunded the $5 million set aside to do the unvaccinated versus vaccinated study because, “he didn’t like the optics of it.”

This is the first half of the presentation, the second will follow and is mercifully shorter. I have gained considerable insight after watching this. The panelists were not unlikeable, genuinely believed what they were saying and particularly proud of the information they imparted on the audience. They raised some fair points such as some paucity in vaccine safety data and pharmaceutical companies having too much influence. However, I felt as though those valid points were lost in the drive to cast vaccines and vaccine science in the worst possible light. There were conspiracies invoked, shoddy data and ideas presented and valid studies misrepresented that magnify why anti-vaccine scientists and physicians have problems with credibility and acceptance by their peers. This, in turn, leads to insulation from critique and validation and adoration by those who are like-minded.

I would like to thank Orac for allowing me the rare honor of guest post and access to his readership who I find to be a wonderfully diverse, intelligent, evolving and humorous group as there ever was on the internet. Stay tuned for part two.

[Orac postscript: I thank Lord Draconis and his minion on loan for enduring this blizzard of misinformation about vaccines delivered at this antivaccine crankfest. I plan on watching the videos, but I don’t know if I can manage to watch the whole thing. I await with anticipation and trepidation part two of the report. I’m including part two of the video below, just in case any of you want to get a head start on part two of the report.]