Vaccine Choice Empowerment Symposium: To be a mole or not to be a mole…?

Regular readers might wonder why there was no post yesterday. Believe it or not, sometimes Orac needs to rest his Tarial cells. For some reason he hit the wall last night in the early evening, and, by the time he regained consciousness, it was the middle of the night. It happens occasionally. At least it gave you all an extra day to peruse part one of our mole’s report on the One Conversation antivaccine quackfest that had almost ensnared real scientists along with me. Since then, I’ve learned of something happening far too close for comfort for me, namely the Vaccine Choice Empowerment Symposium, which is to be held at Schoolcraft College. Guess who’s sponsoring this antivaccine crankfest? Yes, it’s our very own homegrown antivaccine lobbying group, Michigan For Vaccine Choice. Given how close it is, I’m seriously tempted to do what I did the last time antivaxers had a confab in my neck of the woods and show up to observe and report.

I’ve written about Michigan for Vaccine Choice on multiple occasions before, of course. It’s basically Michigan’s version of the sort of group that’s been popping up in nearly every state over the last several years, like Texans for Vaccine Choice. In every case, the group’s tactics are the same. Antivaccine fear mongering is cloaked in a deceptive frame painting school vaccine mandates as unconscionable assaults on “freedom” and “parental rights,” and that deceptive frame is used to promote policies that progressively weaken school vaccine mandates. Indeed, in Michigan, the last attempt to weaken school vaccine mandates included a provision in the proposed bill that, if it had passed, would have made it more difficult for local health officials to exclude unvaccinated children from school in the event of an outbreak of vaccine-preventable disease. More recently, another bill was introduced that would have required “informed consent” about “fetal parts” in vaccines. (That’s the sort of thing that gives the real game away, and the real game is antivaccine.) Still more recently, two candidates for the legislature, including my very own incumbent state representative Jeff Noble, hosted a “vaccine choice” forum, in which the antivaccine tropes flew fast and furious. So it’s not at all surprising that an event called the Vaccine Choice Empowerment Symposium would be held here.

So let’s see what this “Vaccine Choice Empowerment Sypmosium” is about. On the Michigan for Vaccine Choice Facebook page, it’s represented thusly:

Gather medical, legal, and political viewpoints on Vaccine Choice on October 25 in Livonia, Michigan. Learn more and buy your tickets online. there’ll be a strolling dinner and open bar, too!

Now let’s take a look at the panelists:

David Brownstein, MD
Keynote Speaker

Author, board-certified family physician, and Medical Director of the Center for Holistic Medicine in West Bloomfield – Dr. Brownstein will address immunity and health.

Allison Folmar, JD
Renowned civil rights attorney and parental-rights activist best known for winning a legal battle against the Michigan Attorney General to secure the rights of parents to choose the medical treatment for their children.

Sue Allor, RN & MI Rep.
Michigan State Representative for District 106 and Vice Chair of the Appropriations’ subcommittee for Health and Human Services, Representative Allor will talk about vaccine mandates in the workplace.

Christian Bogner, MD
Board-certified physician with clinical interests in nutritional research. As a former Chief of Surgery, Bogner looks at problems mechanically and understands the benefits of a healthy lifestyle to prevent unnecessary medical intervention. He has helped patients with autism, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

James Neuenschwander, MD
Board-certified in Emergency Medicine, Integrative and Holistic Medicine, as well as Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. In addition, “Dr. Neu” is a member of Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS) since its founding, and a MAPS fellow since 2014. He received his undergraduate, medical, and medical postgraduate training from the U of M.

My first reaction was that this “Vaccine Choice Empowerment Symposium” will feature quite the rogues’ gallery of local antivaccine and antivaccine-sympathetic figures. I had heard of each and every one of them, although I was more familiar with some than with others.

Let’s take a look at David Brownstein, MD, first. Dr. Brownstein is, unfortunately, a local “holistic” family doctor who’s based in West Bloomfield and services the affluent people living in the northern suburbs of Detroit. Consistent with his embrace of alternative medicine, he’s definitely antivaccine. Indeed, I first wrote about him in the context of his spewing some weapons-grade nonsense about a large Jewish summer camp in northern Michigan instituting a requirement that children attending the camp and all camp personnel be up-to-date with their vaccines according to the CDC recommended schedule. At the time, I didn’t know the history of Jewish camps in Michigan, but my old friend from my ScienceBlogs days Peter Lipson was happy to educate me that they became popular among the Jewish population of southeast Michigan in the early part of the 20th century because Jewish children weren’t allowed to attend most camps and therefore Jews started their own. On another occasion, Dr. Brownstein published a hilariously off-base rant about board recertification in which he claimed that his family practice exam was all about “drugs, drugs, and more drugs.” Most recently, I was appalled (and somewhat amused by the ignorance of) shingles and the shingles vaccine. Let’s just put it this way. Dr. Brownstein was very, very unhappy with the new recommendation that adults over the age of 50 receive Shingrix, the new shingles vaccine. As usual, his rant against Shingrix was full of antivaccine misinformation.

If you want to get an idea of Dr. Brownstein’s views with respect to vaccines, I’ll re-quote him:

Folks, the truth of the matter is that the claim that vaccines are safe and effective is an example of a platitude that is continually repeated. Vaccines have not been properly studied and many vaccines simply don’t work. The truth of the matter is that the vaccine schedule has never been studied. We simply don’t know if it is safe to inject our children with over 70 vaccines before they are adults.

I can assure you of one thing: It is not safe to inject our children (or any living being) with toxic additives such as mercury, formaldehyde, aluminum or MSG. It is not rocket science to predict that people injected with toxic items that negatively affect the human body will suffer neurological and immunological problems.

Simply repeating that vaccines are safe and effective does not make them so. Watching our young people suffer with so many chronic illnesses should make anyone question the validity of injecting more toxins into them.

As I said at the time, all of these are lies and misinformation that I’ve debunked on more occasions than I can remember over the last 12 years. As I also said at the time, you’ll just have to take my word for it this time; debunking all this information again would make this post much, much longer than you probably want to read, even by my standards. You get the idea, though, I bet. Dr. Brownstein is a font of antivaccine misinformation, and he’s the keynote speaker.

But what about the rest of the crew?

Alison Folmar is a local lawyer who’s made a name for herself representing parents accused of medical neglect of their children. For instance, she represented Maryanne Goldboldo, a woman with a physically impaired daughter who in 2011 refused to turn her over to child protective services, leading to a twelve hour armed standoff with police during which she was accused at firing a weapon at police. She had been treating her child’s psychiatric condition with “holistic medicine” and blamed many of her child’s medical problems on vaccinations. The legal battle went on for years and finally ended with the charges against Goldboldo that she fired a shot at police being dismissed because she was not expected ever to be competent to stand trial again after suffering a brain aneurysm. She died in 2017. Let’s just put it this way. Folmar appeared at the autism quackfest known as Autism One in 2015, where the story was represented as her daughter having ” exhibited autistic-like symptoms immediately after vaccinations.” I can tell right away that Folmar is one of those lawyers who has mistakenly conflated parental rights with the right to refuse vaccinations. She’s a board member for, an organization that works to “preserve parental rights through a Parental Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as through state and federal legislation that will protect children by empowering parents” through a 2019 “battle plan” in which they will try to get as many states as possible to pass “parental rights” resolutions.

Here’s the amendment to the US Constitution they’re pushing:

The liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children is a fundamental right.

The parental right to direct education includes the right to choose, as an alternative to public education, private, religious, or home schools, and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one’s child.

Neither the United States nor any State shall infringe these rights without demonstrating that its governmental interest as applied to the person is of the highest order and not otherwise served.

The parental rights guaranteed by this article shall not be denied or abridged on account of disability.

This article shall not be construed to apply to a parental action or decision that would end life.

You can see why quacks, antivaccine and other, would love this amendment. It could basically make it almost impossible for states to protect children from medical abuse and neglect, if the “liberty” of parents to direct the care of their children is a fundamental right. As for Folmar, her appearances at the Autism One quackfest and at this “vaccine choice” symposium, it’s clear that Folmar considers “vaccine choice” to be part of “parental rights.”

What about Susan Allor? As you might know, I’m sick and tired with the number of antivaccine-sympathetic legislators I keep encountering, the more I pay attention to what our state legislator is doing. I’ve already mentioned my very own state representative, Jeff Noble, who also sees parental rights as near absolute and views “vaccine choice” as part of that, as though children don’t have rights of their own. Then there’s my state senator, Patrick Colbeck, who is antivaccine, prone to other pseudoscience, and, thankfully, soon to be term-limited so as not to be my senator any more. They are not alone.

Depressingly, Sue Allor is a registered nurse. Oddly enough, she doesn’t immediately appear to be antivaccine. For instance, this article from 2015 reports her discussing strategies to increase immunization rates in Cheboygan county. Given that she’s slated to speak about workplace immunization mandates, such as requiring the influenza vaccine for health care workers, it could be that she conflates the “rights” of adults with their “right” to expose their patients to preventable infectious disease. She is, however, one of the Michigan legislative candidates endorsed by Michigan Vaccine Freedom PAC. My take? She buys into the right wing view that parental rights are near absolute and that parents should have unfettered rights to refuse vaccination for their children.

The last two doctors, Dr. Christian Bogner and Dr. James Neuenschwander, appear to be your run-of-the-mill “holistic” doctors who are antivaccine. There’s more about him on the Michigan for Vaccine Choice home page:

Medical Director of Oxford Recovery Center, an integrative care facility in Troy and Brighton. The ARTS (Autism Recovery Thru Synergy) program is analyzing genetics, labs, offers hyperbaric oxygen therapy, nutrition counseling, neurofeedback as well as applied behavior analysis. Dr. Bogner is a regular speaker at AutismOne and will speak at the World Autism Organization conference later this year.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy? This sounds like serious autism quackery, except that Dr. Bogner doesn’t treat just autism. He treats almost everything including, of course, chronic Lyme disease. I’ve written about him before in the context of his advocacy of medical marijuana to treat autism. Specifically, he co-authored a summary of the evidence for cannabis for autism that was one of the most blatantly cherry-picked reviews of the literature I’ve ever seen and did not support the efficacy of medical marijuana for autism by any stretch of the imagination. Dr. Bogner is also most definitely antivaccine, as this article by him demonstrates. Indeed, it looks like a seriously target-rich environment that I should consider doing a complete post on. Basically, he claims that adjuvants (like aluminum) plus heavy metals in vaccine activate the microglia, causing inflammation and autism. Oh, and glyphosate is involved, too. So are a lot of other things, like the “aborted fetal cells in vaccines.” You get the idea.

Finally, there’s Dr. James Neuenschwander. An emergency medicine doctor who turned to quackery, he founded the Bio Energy Center:

Dr. Neu is board certified in Emergency Medicine, Integrative and Holistic Medicine, as well as Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. In addition, he is a Fellow of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) as well as holding a certification in chelation therapy. He is a member of A4M, ACAM, and ILADS. He has been a DAN! Practitioner since 2007, a member of Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS) since its founding, and a MAPS fellow since 2014. He received his undergraduate, medical, and medical postgraduate training from the University of Michigan.

I hang my head in shame. As regular readers know, I graduated from the University of Michigan too. How someone who graduated from U. of M. back in the days before one of its departments embraced integrating quackery into medicine, I can’t understand, but “Dr. Neu” does homeopathy(like the quackery that is CEASE therapy), chelation therapy, and “autism biomed.” If you want to get an idea of his view towards vaccines, just consider that he wrote an article entitled I used to be a vaccine Nazi:

Nowhere else in medicine do we do what we do with vaccines, where we give everybody that exact same dose of something. And then we’re shocked that we get some bad outcomes. And we have a vaccine injury court that paid out $3.6 billion, last I checked, for vaccine injuries.

And when you look at what these vaccine injuries are, most of them are all symptoms of autism… encephalopathy, seizures, and things along those lines… and what am I supposed to think? I’m supposed to tell parents that, regardless of their knowledge, they should vaccinate, just because everyone tell me to?

I can’t abide by that. I mean, there has to be a way for us to say, these are children at risk and they just shouldn’t be vaccinated. And because of my experience, I’ve been doing this for a long time, I’ve gone from being that vaccine Nazi to being somebody who… I don’t know if there’s a vaccine I would recommend anymore.

Yep, “Dr. Neu” is totally antivaccine.

So let’s recap. The Vaccine Choice Empowerment Symposium has three doctors who are unabashedly antivaccine and, in my opinion, quacks, as well as a lawyer and an RN turned legislator who appear to think that parental rights are near-absolute and outweigh any rights the child might have as an autonomous being and therefore either oppose school vaccine mandates or favor weakening them. So I’m left with the question: Should I do what I did for Kerry Bentivolio’s antivaccine confab for voters, namely show up, observe, and report back to you? I don’t know. Bentivolio’s meeting was free. The cost of this meeting is now $125, up from $100 for early registrants.That’s mighty steep. I’ll really have to think about that one, especially since the proceeds from are going to benefit Michigan for Vaccine Choice, and the Vaccine Choice Empowerment Syndrome looks to be no more than yet another antivaccine propaganda event in which parents will be urged to lobby for weaker school vaccine mandates and, above all, to donate to an antivaccine group.