Harlem Vaccine Forum: Is Al Sharpton antivaccine?

I’ve been blogging for nearly 15 years, and before that I spent several years on Usenet applying skepticism from topics ranging from Holocaust denial to alternative medicine to antivaccine misinformation. That means that I’ve been studying and dealing with antivaccine misinformation and pseudoscience for nearly two decades. Yet, even after all this time, I still learn things I didn’t know before. Sometimes, they’re things that I think I should have known but, for whatever reason, didn’t. This is one of those times. After all this time, I had no idea that Rev. Al Sharpton is apparently either antivaccine or, at the very least, antivaccine-sympathetic. Indeed, I was only able to find one instance in 15 years of blogging in which I even mentioned Rev. Sharpton, and it had nothing to do with vaccines, as you will soon see with his Harlem Vaccine Forum.

Anyway, here’s what jogged me:

The Harlem Vaccine Forum? Apparently, this event was scheduled in September but postponed until October 19. According to someone named Curtis Cost, author of a book entitled Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Global Community, whose blog is entitled—you guessed it!—Vaccines Are Dangerous. Cost announced the day before the original date for the forum:

My apologies to everyone who was planning on attending the Harlem Vaccine Forum this Saturday, September 14. I found out this afternoon that Mr. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke with Reverend Sharpton today and they both decided that they wanted to be part of this forum, but neither could attend this Saturday so it was decided to postpone the event for a few weeks. With Mr. Robert Kennedy and Reverend Sharpton along with the other great speakers and parents I will have lined up, it will be a very dynamic event with massive news media coverage. We are looking at October 19 for the new date. I should have confirmation on this date later today or early next week. I will post the new date and time on my website: www.vaccinesaredangerous.com.

So let me get this straight. Rev. Sharpton spoke with RFK Jr., and both agreed that they wanted to appear at the Harlem Vaccine Forum alongside a lineup of antivaccine cranks, including Curtis Cost. First of all, I can’t believe that I had never heard of Curtis Cost before, given that he’s written a book called Vaccines Are Dangerous. Perusing his blog revealed photos of him with Andrew Wakefield and RFK, Jr.

Let’s look at the lineup of the Harlem Vaccine Forum. We’ll start with Curtis Cost, given that this will be educational for me. (After all, how many times have I written about Gary Null and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.?) First of all, all you need to know about Curtis Cost and vaccines is that he’s featured favorably on that repository of all quackery and cranks, Whale.to. He’s listed on the posters as “Professor,” but there’s no evidence that he’s actually a professor that I can find.

There’s even a link to an interview with him dated October 1995 by Susan Davis, who was described as an animal rights activist and anti-vivisectionist. Think about that. That’s nearly two and a half years before Andrew Wakefield dropped his turd of a case series in The Lancet, in which he tried to relate bowel dysfunction in autistic children to the MMR vaccine. What is instructive about this interview is just how many antivaccine tropes that Cost regurgitated are still in use today. For instance, here’s the “toxins gambit”:

All types of toxic chemicals and substances have been placed in vaccines. Kidneys from monkeys in the production of the polio vaccine, embryos/eggs in the measles vaccines, horse and pig blood, aborted fetus tissue, mercury which is a toxic metal, formaldehyde (proven to cause cancer), and many other substances, that any rational person would realize are revolting, disgusting and have very serious implications for the human body. People don’t know about these chemicals placed in vaccines. They need to know this. They have also developed genetically engineered vaccines, where they genetically alter viruses and create vaccines out of them. It’s bad enough to take a naturally occurring organism and place it into a person’s blood system. It’s absolute madness to alter naturally occurring viruses and place them in a person’s body, because they have no idea what the long term implications are. There is no way for them to know, unless they put these chemicals out, give them to millions of people, and watch the results. So, basically, the American public is being used as guinea pigs on a massive scale.

There’s also the “vaccines have no warranty” trope, which is a precursor to the claim that vaccine makers have no liability, and Cost tried to link vaccines to the same diseases and conditions that antivaxers try to attribute to vaccines today:

Some studies have linked vaccines to cancers and brain damage, to say nothing of the more subtle side effects such as arthritis, ear and eye problems. For a list of side effects, anyone can refer to the Physician’s Desk Reference and look up the various vaccines. It gives you a detailed list of side effects associated with vaccines: side effects such as autism, seizures, mental retardation, hyperactivity, dyslexia, convulsions, paralysis, sudden infant death syndrome, blindness, death, premature aging, multiple sclerosis, blood and skin disorders, allergies. These are documented. The medical establishment gets away with constantly saying that these side effects are small and that the chances of them happening are limited. In fact, doctors have gone so far as to not even tell parents which pharmaceutical company produced which particular vaccine, or the batch number of that vaccine, which by law they have to do. You have to realize that no doctor wants to be sued or put in the position where they are challenging the AMA.

Actually, Cost did mention a vaccine complication that I don’t recall having heard from another antivaxer before, namely premature aging. I suppose one might consider the claim that the flu vaccine causes Alzheimer’s disease (one of the earliest antivaccine claims I ever encountered) might sort of qualify as a variant of this one, but not really. In any case, I couldn’t help but be amused by Davis’ question asking Cost if he considers himself a pioneer. This was 24 years ago, and Cost was spouting antivaccine tropes still in use today. In that respect, he was a pioneer—the wrong kind of pioneer, but a pioneer. Indeed, his book, Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Global Community is an revised and updated version published in 2010 of his previous book Vaccines Are Dangerous: A Warning to the Black Community, originally published in 1992. And, yes, there’s a movie. It just goes to show that antivax misinformation and pseudoscience never dies. It just mutates. Indeed, Curtis Cost was also promoting conspiracy theories in which vaccines are a plot to harm black people, a conspiracy theory that the Nation of Islam continues today, to be exploited by RFK Jr.

Next up, keeping with the idea of first looking at people about whom I’ve never written before (or of whom I’ve never heard before), let’s move on to Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine, who is also on the bill for the Harlem Vaccine Forum. He’s listed as a “doctor of hygienic sciences” and author. I also found Valentine’s blog, where he describes himself thusly:

Hygienic Scientist; Naturopath; Metaphysician; Clinical Hypnotherapist; Polymath, Lecturer; Free-Thinker… The founder, director and pastor of the Temple of the Healing Spirit; Self-Healing Education Center, The Institute for Self-Mastery; and The University of Kemetian Sciences. A certified member of the International Association of Counselors and Therapists (I.A.C.T.), he received his doctorate in Hygienic Health Science and Classical Naturopathy from The Life Science Institute of Texas, now merged to the Fit for Life Sciences Institute-College of Natural Health in Canada. A former member of the American Natural Hygienic Society, Valentine is currently a hygienic science and metaphysical health consultant to doctors and lay practitioners as far away as Azania (South Africa), Canada, Trinidad, Jamaica, England, Ghana, Japan and the Philippines.

Valentine’s website has that late 1990s design that we all used to cringe about. In it, I find gems like this:

Hygienic Science, also known as “The Life Sciences”, is the study of the oldest and purest form of the Nature Healing Sciences. It incorporates the dietary and healing philosophies inherited from our ancestral masters of Kemet. Studying the Hygienic approach to health, healing and wellness, students learn that present day systems promoting the practice and principles of “holistic health” (i.e.” Alternative Healing,” Herbology and “Integrative Medicine”) follow the same philosophy and protocols of treatment based therapies used by orthodox medicine, which is a system of heroic treatment we call “the practice of Poisonopathy”. Instead of using pharmaceutical drugs, “alternative” methods utilize herbal remedies, tonics and vitamins to medicate the body and mask symptoms. Entry level students learn the fundamental principles of Classical Naturopathy. They also learn how to recognize, respond to and assist in the healing processes initiated by the universal intelligence of the cell, addressing the true causes of dis-ease, removing the obstacles to healing, and imparting knowledge to empower the client to take personal responsibility for his or her health.

Reading this, I wondered: What could such a man possibly have to say about vaccines. After all, naturopaths are known to be overwhelmingly antivaccine, with few exceptions. Is this true of Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine? What do you think? All it took was for me to do a little Googling of Valentine’s name and the word “vaccines,” and I found antivaccine gems like this, “Vaccines That Kill”:

Then, over at Valentine’s Facebook page:

Nothing like comparing vaccines to genocide!

Then there’s this:

So Valentine believes that vaccines have “been scientifically proven DEADLY to the Creator’s Supreme Creation … The Human-Body Temple!” Yes, that’s pretty darned antivaccine.

Here he is referring to vaccines as “toxic vaccine cocktails”:

Let’s look at just one more. Here’s Rev. Dr. Phil Valentine on a podcast with Curtis Cost.

Here’s the description:

The first hour will feature two amazing nutrititional and health advocates, Curtis Cost and Dr. Phil Valentine. Curtis Cost in a world renowned author and lecturer. His message is the dangers of vaccines and the unaccountability of the pharmaceutic industry. Dr. Phil Valentine is a famous autthor, lecturer, health advocate, Spiritual Reader, Counselor, and Elder of impeccable knowledge, genius, and insights. He too will reveal the unknown diabolical agenda for mass genocide through the forced application of deadly vaccines.

You get the idea.

Others appearing at the Harlem Vaccine Forum whom I haven’t written about before include:

  • Mitchell Cohen, who’s an anti-Monsanto activist and writer, who wrote a book The Fight Against Monsanto’s Roundup: The Politics of Pesticides, because, of course, there is considerable overlap between antivaccine and anti-GMO activists.
  • Rev. Walter Sotelo, who is listed as an advocate for religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates and has spoken at a number of antivaccine rallies in New York.
  • Dr. Shakira Moore, a “holistic” practitioner.

The rest of the speakers at the Harlem Vaccine Forum are antivaxers whom I’ve written about before multiple times, in some cases lots of times:

Indeed, Mary Holland recently laid down some antivaccine misinformation about the Harlem Vaccine Summit in a local newspaper, mainly invoking the “health freedom” and “parental rights.” Naturally, she’s claiming that the effects of the recent change in New York State law that eliminated religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates disproportionately affects African-Americans and other minority communities. Why? Because they tend to be less able to homeschool.

As I said when I started this post, I had no idea that Rev. Al Sharpton was antivaccine. I suppose it’s possible that he’s not antivaccine, but instead is susceptible to antivaccine misinformation because he buys into conspiracy theories in the African-American postulating that “they” (big pharma, The Man) are out to screw his people. However, it’s more likely that he’s antivaccine. Why do I say this? Because this is not the first time Al Sharpton has allied himself with antivaxers. He’s done it before. It’s also disturbing to see antivaxers take advantage of the distrust the African-American community has of Medicine and doctors. It’s an understandable distrust, given our history (e.g., the Tuskegee syphilis experiment), and it’s despicable of white, privileged antivaxers like RFK Jr., Gary Null, and Mary Holland to exploit that history to stoke great and loathing of vaccines in Harlem.