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The Ohio statehouse has an antivaccine problem

Ohio, you have a definite antivaccine problem in your statehouse. Unfortunately, Ohio is not alone. Antivaxers have outsized influence in too many state legislatures.

I hadn’t planned on writing about vaccines again today, having written about the antivaccine movement too many times in the last week. But, as Michael Corleone said in The Godfather, Part III, “Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in.” What do I mean this time? Simple. Yesterday I came across a news report showing something that disturbs me, namely how much influence the antivaccine movement is amassing in my state’s neighbor to the south, Ohio. It appears that the Ohio statehouse has a real antivaccine problem and that antivaccine views have—if you’ll excuse the term—gone viral there.

Obviously, we here in Michigan are not immune from our own antivaccine problems. For example, right before the 2016 election, I described how Del Bigtree and antivaxers associated with the antivaccine propaganda film disguised as a documentary, VAXXED, were making the rounds at the Michigan statehouse and unfortunately finding some all-too-receptive ears there. (That was also the visit to Michigan in which Del Bigtree was the main speaker at a fundraiser for a local antivaccine PAC and gave what can only be described as an incredibly over-the-top performance. Did you know that antivaxers are just like the Founding Fathers, fighting for liberty, or Martin Luther King, Jr., fighting for civil rights? Neither did I.) Then there was the time before the 2018 midterm primaries that I attended an antivaccine “roundtable” discussion hosted at the local Republican Party headquarters for my Congressional district by a candidate for the GOP nomination for Representative for my district. It was also attended by my state senator (who was running for governor because term limits didn’t let him run again) and my state representative (who, thankfully ultimately lost reelection.) They were the same not-so-dynamic-duo who co-sponsored a bill to make measles great again in Michigan by eliminating a reform by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that made it more difficult for parents to obtain personal belief exemptions to school vaccine mandates. And don’t even get me started how my former state senator, Patrick Colbeck, went from pandering to antivaxers to full-on antivax and 5G conspiracy crank.

Is the situation in Ohio as bad or worse? The story I cited at the beginning of this post notes that Ohio has Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom (OAMF) and Health Freedom Ohio, (HFO). Of course, “health freedom” is a euphemism for freedom from regulation for quacks and antivaccine cranks. We have our own vaccine-specific versions of these groups in Michigan, Michigan For Vaccine Choice and Michigan Vaccine Freedom PAC. Michigan for Vaccine Freedom tends to work on advocacy and was a prominent presence at the GOP antivaccine confab that I attended, while the Michigan Vaccine Freedom PAC works to raise money to lobby and influence the legislature on vaccine-related issues. Perusing the website for OAMF, I see that, its more general name aside, the group definitely is mostly focused on vaccines, although it also does focus on promoting bills that would broaden the scope of practice of quacks, such as chiropractors. HFO appears to have a bit broader focus (e.g., promoting functional medicine and homeopathy), but is still very much into opposing vaccine mandates and spreading antivaccine misinformation, just like OAMF.

The story comes from a Twitter user with the handle @42believer, who relates attending a recent screening of VAXXED II: The People’s Truth. Before I delve into the story, it’s worth going through some of her Twitter thread:

Like @42believer, I wonder if any of these big corporations know that their commercials are being shown before an antivaccine propaganda film like VAXXED II in Ohio. Oh, and AMC Theaters? I know you’ve been hosting private screenings of this movie. Knock it off..

Also:

I wonder if Twitter, which owns Periscope, knows how integral its tool was to spreading the antivaccine message of the original VAXXED movie?

It sounds as though the production values on the sequel aren’t quite up to the “standards” of the first movie. Having seen the first movie, I can only imagine how bad the second is. It was Wakefield’s first attempt at directing, although, truth be told, given that Del Bigtree was producer and had TV directing and production experience, I had always suspected that he had done most of the directing himself and that Wakefield was just a figurehead. Be that as it may:

If the production values are worse on VAXXED II than on the first VAXXED movie, they must be pretty bad indeed. The message is still the same, though:

As do I. As do I. I also agree with this:

This is a very important point. The key reasons these movies are made are twofold:

  • To fire up the antivaccine base.
  • As a recruiting tool

They’ve proven themselves to be very effective at the first, as evidenced by people driving hours to these screening and the very cult-like feel a the screenings. How effective are they at the second? It’s hard to say, but I know from previous experience with the “documentaries” about cancer quack Stanislaw Burzynski that films like this can be very effective persuasion. The production values don’t even have to be that great (and, believe me, they weren’t for both Burzynski movies and the first VAXXED movie). They just have to tweak the right emotional hooks and stoke the right fears, which the first VAXXED movie most definitely did. This time around, there were apparently comparisons of pro-vaccine activists to Hitler, because of course there were

It was this next observation that led @42believer to write her article:

Which brings us back to the article:

Both Ohio antivax groups regularly meet with Senators and Representatives at the Statehouse, and have succeeded in influencing policy decisions. HFO even hosted a press conference for HB 268, a bill with 7 sponsors and cosponsors, that would prohibit hospitals from taking an “adverse employment action” against employees who refuse to vaccinate. Once upon a time I visited my neutropenic friend in the hospital. If her nurse refused vaccinations, would moving that nurse to a different ward be considered an “adverse employment action”? Who knows, and thankfully it’s not going anywhere, but the fact that enough lawmakers have been so influenced that they introduce legislation that benefits anti-vaxxers is very worrying.

But anti-vaxxers don’t stop there.

If pro-vaccine legislation is introduced, they work quickly to try and quash it. A bill removing nonmedical exemptions to vaccines had bipartisan cosponsorship, but both dropped after the flurry of anti-vax pressuring. It didn’t even get so far as to receive a bill number. In committee I personally witnessed a legislator ask questions about a pro-vax bill at the behest of these anti-vax groups.

This is a problem not just in Ohio, but in a number of states, for example Texas, where Texans for Vaccine Choice wield outsize influence over vaccine legislation. Any attempt to tighten up restrictions on nonmedical exemptions gets shot down rapidly. In Texas and Oklahoma, pro-vaccine Republicans have even been successfully primaried.

As for VAXXED II, it sounds just like what I expected:

Vaxxed II starts with a recap of how Vaxxed came to be, how they got the bus, how helpful the news coverage was in getting the word out. The movie is then split into a few sections: one on autism, one on SIDS, and ne on the HPV vaccine. At the end is a section on all the unvaccinated children and how none of them have allergies, eczema, ADHD, ear infections, autism, or most any other ailment. If you take them at face value, you might believe it. However, all I could think about was my family member who has two unvaccinated kids. The older has eczema, and the younger is either on the spectrum or close enough.

Yes, it’s all anecdotes. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve described why antivaccine anecdotes are almost never indicative of causation, thanks to the natural human traits of confirmation bias and selective memory coupled with other phenomena such as regression to the mean and missing early signs of autism (for example). Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, and when you look at the stories more closely often you don’t even find convincing evidence of correlation, such as when parents blame vaccines for a condition that arose many months after vaccination, which happens a lot.

Now here’s what’s disturbing going on in the Ohio statehouse:

After the movie was over, HFO hosted a Q&A session. I stuck around and learned some really interesting things. Apparently, the anti-vaxxers have been so effective that they have actually convinced several Ohio lawmakers not to vaccinate their children. There was also much bragging about how influential they’ve been especially with the House Health Committee. I know for a fact that the President of OAMF volunteers for State Representative Don Manning’s election campaign, and he’s the vice chair of that committee!

HFO also talked about the need to crowdfund for a lobbyist. Apparently the one they want costs $3,000 a month, which is really crazy to me. But it shows that they’re serious, and I think if enough parents are manipulated to this line of thinking that they could very well raise that money.

Actually, in politics, $3,000 a month isn’t even that much money. It’s $36,000 a year. A single affluent (not even necessarily wealthy) donor could manage that sum, and crowdfunding that much money from a passionate base of antivaxers would probably not be that difficult. It’s also horrifying that, if the account above is to be believed, legislators are being persuaded not to vaccinate their children. Of course, knowing antivaxers, “several” could really mean “one or two,” but that would still be plenty bad.

@42believer lists the names of the antivaxers, 29 Republicans and 6 Democrats, which basically jibes with the current tendencies of the two parties these days. As I’ve said, unfortunately the Republican Party has become the most hospitable of the two main parties to antivaxers and their influence, mainly because antivaxers have successfully co-opted the messages of “freedom” and “parental rights” and weaponized them to influence the GOP base, coupling them with anti-regulation fervor in order to appeal to the money base of the GOP as well. It’s gotten to the point that GOP candidates in many states now at least have to pander to antivaxers to win the nomination. Ohio is no different, particularly given the lock that Republicans currently have on the statehouse and governor’s office.

I’ll conclude by pointing out that Michigan has a problem too. All I had to do was to head over to the Michigan Vaccine Freedom PAC website and peruse the list of candidates endorsed by the PAC. Of course, many of those candidates didn’t win, but enough of them did to scare me. That’s why I agree with @42believer:

If you believe in vaccines, but do so passively, consider making it active. Start with contacting your state senator or representative, ask to meet and share your views, maybe ask them to advance pro-vaccine legislation. Do anything other than just posting funny anti-antivax memes. Organizations like the Ohio AAP chapter do lobby at the Statehouse in favor of vaccines, but they lobby on a variety of other subjects too. Legislators need to understand that normal people support vaccines, and that they’re just as willing to be every bit as passionate about it as an anti-vaxxer.

Last year, after my state senator and representative (both, thankfully former now) started promoting bills that would reverse progress in making nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates more difficult to obtain and try to frighten parents out of vaccinating by having them receive warnings about “fetal parts” or “fetal cells” in vaccines. Since then I’ve tried to keep a much closer eye on what’s going on in the legislature with respect to vaccines using, ironically enough, the legislative monitoring tool of an antivaccine group to do so. I encourage other pro-science advocates to do the same.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

48 replies on “The Ohio statehouse has an antivaccine problem”

A. The vice chair of the health committee is an especially concerning recruit.

B. Notice that this also reflects previous patterns in that the main contribution of sympathetic legislators is not to promote new bills – passing bills is hard in any state – but blocking bills, something that is doable (if not easy) even with minority influence.

An interesting take on antivaccine efforts in legislation see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/25199897

Yes, things changed, but it’s still relevant.

Their description of past legisilation is, as you say, out of date (though still instructive about the history), but the general pattern – and I think the factors they highlight – are still relevant. We still see much stronger anti-vaccine successes at stopping legislation than passing any – and less success at that (continuing the trend they started seeing from 2010) – so we are still in the third era, though I think you’re alerting us to the fact that we need be careful about future changes. And I think the factors they raise as to when we should expect rise and fall of power are right.

Orac said, “Since then I’ve tried to keep a much closer eye on what’s going on in the legislature with respect to vaccines using, ironically enough, the legislative monitoring tool of an anti-vaccine group to do so.”
BLF’s den of iniquity?
.
I agree that we should become active in legislative lobbying with visits to reps offices with prepared pro-vaccine information. It isn’t hard to make a one-sheeter debunking a dozen of the most common lies the anti-vaccinationists promote.
We should also take every opportunity to ridicule every anti-vax pol who sticks their head up and babbles dangerous anti-vax inanities. Make them look like the ridiculous cretins they are.
Write letters to the editor especially after an article where one of these dimwits promotes dangerous anti-vax delusions.
Work to unseat/defeat the ghouls. Make it so uncomfortable for their party to support them that their own party supports an alternate in the primaries.
And while doing all this… Have fun.

Thankfully neither my state rep nor state senator are on that list. I write them regularly on health issues including flu vaccination and vaccines in general. Looks like I need to write them again.

I pushed the OAAPN last year to develop a position statement on vaccination but haven’t heard a thing about it since. They’re too focused on getting NPs full practice authority right now 🙁

I looked at my state’s bills concerning vaccines and there is a very concerning one slated to be heard by the legislature. One of the bill’s sponsors is a chiropractor, quell surprise. I will be contacting my local reps.

Robert Santos who is running against Tim Ryan (13th congressional district) is also anti-vaccine, supported by OAMF.

Fortunately, HB268 in Ohio which is aimed at “prohibit(ing) an employer from taking an adverse employment action against a person who has not been or will not be vaccinated” has been stuck in committee since early June and I haven’t heard of any prospects for it moving forward anytime soon. Similar bills targeting mandated flu shots have previously died in committee. Since hospitals and other employers oppose such legislation, it faces tough sledding in the legislature.

While a majority of the lawmakers supporting it appear to be Republicans, HB268 was co-sponsored by Bernadine Kennedy Kent, a black Democrat from Columbus.

Further complicating political stereotypes, an Ohio bill to allow only medical exemptions to vaccination has been sponsored by Peggy Lehner, a Republican (whose views on abortion rights are ecch, but that’s another story).

The division between Republicans and Democrats on vaccines is not absolute. I never said it was. However, there’s no doubt that the vast majority of politicians opposing more robust vaccine mandates and supporting the loosening of existing mandates are Republican. It’s not even close.

Last time I talked to someone in the OAAPN about the mandated flu shots thing, the consensus was that bill was and would for the foreseeable future be DOA. The hospitals don’t want it and they have more money and clout than the antivaxxers.

Does anyone know which states currently have strong movements against vaccination laws?
From my travels around anti-vaxville, I notice that California and Maine appear to have many activists but they weren’t able to affect prevent positive changes to the laws. Where is there strength? Red states? Who are in most danger?

I do wonder if Dr Pan made the difference here in CA. We have no shortage of anti-vax nuts on both sides of the political spectrum. Having an outspoken medical expert actually within the legislature doesn’t seem that common?

Or are there states without a lot of laws in the first place. I know Idaho, for example, is very lenient about letting people pray their kids to death. So it might also be a question of in which states would it be easy for anti-vaxxers to slide something through, even if they haven’t been very vocal there recently.

Here in Massachusetts, the legislature is considering a bill that would remove the religious exemption from the school vaccination mandate. I found this by searching legiscan for Massachusetts bills that refer to vaccination, and found H3999, “an act relative to vaccinations and public health.” The text of the bill is “amend chapter 76, section 15 by deleting paragraph 3.” That paragraph says that parents who state a sincere religious objection don’t need to present proof that their children are vaccinated. (Why is it always a “sincere” objection?)

I have written to my state legislators asking them to support this. Googling on the bill number found only a couple of articles about anti-vaxxers opposing it, including a very small rally back in August. I suspect it will get more attention if it ever gets out of committee.

I’ve been tracking this one. It was reported to the Committee on Public Health in August but has yet to have been scheduled for a hearing. The bill has just under 40 co-sponsors so there is strong support for it. I’ll be at the hearing though, given that I sit on a state licensing board, I am not likely to publicly testify but I will, as a private citizen, submit written testimony.

“As I’ve said, unfortunately the Republican Party has become the most hospitable of the two main parties to antivaxers and their influence, mainly because antivaxers have successfully co-opted the messages of “freedom” and “parental rights” and weaponized them to influence the GOP base,”

You forgot to add the whole anti-science thing. It is close to crank magnetism.

“Make it so uncomfortable for their party to support them that their own party supports an alternate in the primaries.”

Nice thought. Won’t work. Certainly not now for those with an “R” still after their name. Your post-Nixon GOP cannot increase votes by backtracking to moderatism; it is too far gone already. It can only do so by creating more extremist voters. You think the voters putting the liars, frauds, and fascists into power don’t know exactly what they’re getting or why they’re doing it? They want to be lied to. They want to enjoy the suffering of others. The cruelty is the point.

The citizenry has one damn job to do. If it’s doing that job wrong then it needs to fix itself. Don’t expect Parties to do it right for them, because they won’t.

I found myself wondering when I heard that on the news this morning if antivaxxers will have anything to say about that. Or, if because it will primarily be used far away in Africa where most of the people are brown, they won’t really care.

It’s fantastic news.

I found myself wondering when I heard that on the news this morning if antivaxxers will have anything to say about that. Or, if because it will primarily be used far away in Africa where most of the people are brown, they won’t really care.

How the action gets stale without a villain!

If I were in Africa, and especially near an Ebola outbreak local, I would consider taking the vaccine. Heck! — I would take it and encourage other Africans to do the same.

Still, living in North America, can’t help ponder how the vaccine could benefit those 1 in 36 brain damaged kids — or at least Anderson’s 67% confirmed amount. Sorry — not seeing any homerun ball for you guys on the immediate horizon.

@gerg: Not to worry, you can have just as much fun at home by fucking yourself on a rusty spike. We trust your DT[a]P is well out of date.

Greg:
Autism is not brain damage.
Vaccines do not cause autism.
Vaccines do not cause brain damage.

Thus, nothing you said has anything to do with anything except to show again how nasty you are towards people you deem “different”.

Looking back to a recent previous post here, of the 6 Democrats listed as “either explicitly endorsed by an anti-vax group, sponsored anti-vax legislation, or who have expressed support for their beliefs” by @42believer, 5 are African American. I do wonder if it’s .fair to label every lawmaker on the list as “antivaxers” as that sieve could be fairly wide. For example, an endorsement could come merely some support of a related issue, or for a pol running against a strong pro-vax candidate. But regardless of the range of positions there, the racial makeup suggests pro-vax/public health advocates have work to do in minority communities, outreach through or involving trusted members of those communities – e.g. black churches – rather than just lectures from distant white-coat experts like Dr. Hotez.

The medical community as a whole has a lot of work to do with African American communities. There is a long history of mistrust that is well deserved. The rest of us can sit here and say its in the past but it never will be for them until there’s real effort to take ownership of several centuries of medical atrocities from Dr. Sims to Tuskegee and beyond. Going to the preachers and expecting them to do the work of convincing African Americans that the medical community is OK now will be a non-starter.

YAWN.

“In this documentary piece, frontline experts as Robert Kennedy Jr. (Waterkeeper Alliance, Vaccine Safety Commission, Childrenshealthdefense.org, ICAN, etc) and Del Bigtree (producer of VAXXED The Movie, ICAN, Childrenshealthdefense.org, etc) share their knowledge, experience and thoughts on the vaccine business, the implications of the current politics around it, the gradual suspension of the right to choose through mandates and what it will potentially lead us to in several years time.”

Whomever 42believer is, I thank them for their efforts. Vaxxed II screens (secretly) tonight in Phoenix. I’d thought about trying to figure out where the AVers are holding the germ fest (there’s only a few places it could be because it’s almost certainly the same theater chain that hosted Vaxxed here), but if Vaxxed II is even more poorly put together than Vaxxed then I’m not up for dealing with being in a dark room with a bunch of disease-worshiping anti-vax zealots.

Thought-provoking article on the politics of vaccination here:

“Experts differ on the gravity of the political polarization. Dan Salmon, a vaccinologist at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, notes that the only vaccine bills that have passed in legislatures in recent years — notably a 2015 law eliminating philosophical exemptions in California — have tightened, rather than loosened restrictions.

“I don’t think this is a partisan issue,” Salmon insists.

But research by Neal Goldstein of Drexel University’s public health school suggests the issue of vaccine mandates has indeed entered a hyper-partisan landscape. As a result, he said, it may be wise to avoid legislation when possible to avoid opening more wounds.

Brendan Nyhan, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, said, “My concern is that tightening requirements through the political process risks politicizing an issue that we can’t allow to be politicized if we’re going to maintain public health.”

http://politico.com/story/2019/04/16/republican-reject-democrat-vaccines-1361277

You know there’s a problem when the “objective” reporter writes: “Republicans… are loath to diminish the right of parental control over their children’s bodies, and yield that power to the government.”

I didn’t know. “Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, have all raised suspicions about vaccines.” Has Orac missed something?

As I think I’ve noted before, Nyhan couldn’t be more clueless. The issue is already politicized [I suppose he doesn’t listen to Limbaugh and Carlson 😉 ]. You’re not going to maintain public health unless you work through public policy.

gerg: Not to worry, you can have just as much fun at home by fucking yourself on a rusty spike. We trust your DT[a]P is well out of date.

Has, thanks so much for the suggestion of how I may better sexually satisfy myself. I will keep it in mind as an alternative to Pornhub. Yes – my DTaP is indeed woefully out of date.

Has, my appreciation notwithstanding, what relevance is your suggestion to my musing of whether the Ebola vaccine may mitigate the devastation of the autism epidemic?

Give your “musing” (which reads more like grandiosity) is in of itself completely irrelevant, has’s suggestion was remarkably on point.

Sorry, Orac, for the offtopic question, but I’ve been having trouble accessing your not-so-secret other blog of late. I keep getting Cloudflare errors while doing so. Is someone doing a denial of service attack there? Any news from that side?

Yeah I noticed that too.

Shout out to our friend Liz at I Speak of Dreams,who put up a very good post the other day,with lots of historical background,about the whole fetal DNA in vaccines thing.It’s quite detailed.You might want to go look at it.

@ Anonymous Coward:

There was an issue but it appears to be functioning now. There may be a brief re-direct message first.

A Skeptical YouTuber named Jeff Holiday managed to find his local showing of Vaxxed 2 and he was really not impressed.

One of the hallmark of dishonesty is failure to look a person in his eyes as you speak. Jeff with all these ‘taking down’ the antivaxxers shtick, seems always to be making a conscious effort to intermittently look away from the camera as he speaks. Dramatic effect, covering up for disingenuity, — or both?!

about autistics

Or about people in general.
Some people – like me – are visual. We look aside from our audience because we are “seeing” what we are about to talk about, and we need some neutral surface to look at, in order to focus our thoughts and remember all factoids. Looking at people is distracting.

Also, pinning someone by your glare is somewhat aggressively challenging. When you are politely making a point, or bringing some bad news (“sorry, the universe is a b****, it doesn’t work that way”), you generally don’t want to give the impression you are about to start a wrestling match.

Finally, I’m pretty sure used car salesmen and politicians are very good at fixing you in your eyes while making their pitch. Very big on a firm handshake, too. Doesn’t change the fact the pitch is usually full of small and big lies.

Critiquing the production values of a video that was obviously shot quickly on a cell phone in a car in a parking garage or lot is really petty. But that is Greg’s style.

Squirrel, if you want a bigger sampling size capturing what I have noticed, check out all his ‘Innocuating Against Vaxxed’ videos.

PS: I think though now that I have made the criticism, Management might take notice and get him to polish things up.

Oh boy, well, if not looking directly into the camera is a symptom of dishonesty, then I guess all of those anti-vax “warriors” making cell phone videos in their car, never looking directly into the camera while they are driving are lying – per your observation.

Thanks for that Gerg.

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