Vaccine Injury Epidemic (VIE) Event: Antivaxers protest the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986

Antivaxers like rallies. They like protests. They think that their little gatherings (and they nearly always are pretty small) show overwhelming support for their viewpoint to the world in general and to legislators who decide vaccine policy in particular. The first time I wrote about one of these little confabs was an antivax “march on Washington” eleven years ago, led by none other than the then-queen of the antivaccine movement Jenny McCarthy and her then-boyfriend Jim Carrey. It was called the “Green Our Vaccines” rally, a slogan chosen based on the “toxins” gambit favored by antivaxers, in which vaccines are portrayed as being full of toxic chemicals without consideration to the well-known principle that the dose makes the poison. Despite the protestations of McCarthy and Carrey otherwise, the protest was antivaccine to the core. There have been other such protests over the years at different locales (although the CDC, particularly meetings of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and Washington, DC remain favorite locations, along with state legislatures). Three and a half months ago, I took note of the announcement of another such protest organized by Hillary Simpson and her self-described Crazy Mothers. Basically, it was another antivaccine protest in Washington, DC, this time on the Mall, and it was to take place in November. Well, it took place yesterday, and I’ve been reviewing the videos. I admit that I didn’t watch all the videos. There’s four and a half hours worth of antivaccine bloviation, rants, and conspiracy theories. The event was called the Vaccine Injury Epidemic (VIE) event.

First of all, let’s look at the poster with the schedule for the VIE Event:

Look at the list! Everybody who’s anybody in the antivaccine movement in the US was at VIE: Barbara Loe Fisher, Del Bigtree, James Lyons-Weiler, Mary Holland, Dr. Bob Sears, Dr. Jim Meehan, Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, Mark Blaxill, Hillary Simpson, Andrew Wakefield, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. There are also some others, such as Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai, a real crank whom I recently encountered on Twitter, who likes to brag about how he went to MIT and supposedly the “inventor of email.” He almost certainly didn’t. Of late, he’s been an excellent example of crank magnetism, though, including increasingly antivaccine statements.

So here’s the Facebook Live feed of the proceedings of the VIE Event:

The proceedings don’t actually start until around 7:45 in, the rest being taken up with Del Bigtree going, “Check, check, testing 1-2-3,” and other banter.

Again, no one expects you to watch it all, although if you’re a glutton for punishment go right ahead and subject yourself to as much of the VIE Event as you can stand. I’m quite the glutton for punishment, as I’ve demonstrated by watching things like this all the way through, but even I couldn’t watch it all. For one thing, I had clinic today, and I didn’t have four and a half hours last night to watch every speech. I am, however, amused that I was correct that there was no way antivaxers could pack that many speakers into a mere four hours given their propensity to like listening to themselves speak so much that they just can’t stay within their scheduled time for their talks, as happened at RFK Jr.’s last appearance at the Harlem Vaccine Forum when all the speakers went over, leading to RFK Jr. having his microphone cut off by the venue only ten minutes into his speech. (Yes, it was gloriously hilarious.)

So lets look at some of what was said at the VIE Event. First, antivaxers really, really, really hate the National Childhood Vaccine Compensation Act of 1986, which created the Vaccine Court. Even though the Vaccine Court is quite liberal in its judgments, basically bending over backwards to compensate families, even when the medical condition for which compensation is being sought might not have been due to vaccines. Not only is the standard of evidence that of civil court (50% and a feather, as we sometimes call it), but more leeway is given when it comes to the use of scientific evidence and theories of causation, which has on occasion led to some scientifically dubious judgments, antivaxers lie about it and make it sound as though the Vaccine Court never compensates anyone. What they really mean is that the Vaccine Court doesn’t accept that vaccines cause autism because, well, the scientific evidence is overwhelming that they don’t. Lawyers hate it too, although I can’t figure out why. Unlike other courts, the Vaccine Court pays reasonable court costs for complainants, whether they win their case or lose it. Of course, I know why lawyers hate Vaccine Court. Even though they can get a lucrative steady paycheck representing families taking their case to the Vaccine Court, they’ll never get a massive contingency fee that’s a percentage of a huge headline-making payout.

So VIE started with a video about the Vaccine Court, full of the usual lies and distortions that I’ve debunked here more times than I can remember, complete with exploitative shots of autistic children, misinformation about vaccines causing autism, and propaganda for VAXXED, the antivaccine propaganda film produced by Del Bigtree and directed by Andrew Wakefield, as well as its sequel, VAXXED II: The People’s Truth. Then there was a gospel group, giving the whole thing a revival-like feel. One thing I did notice is that the camera angle was kept fairly tight. My guess is that that was to hide how small the crowd was. It looked to me to be no more than maybe 200-300 people there. There was also a very amateurish feel to the whole thing, as well. In the beginning they had a lot of trouble with microphone feedback, for instance.

These videos of @42believer, who showed up to protest the protest, found on Twitter, gives you an idea of the true size of the crowd attending the VIE Event:

It sure looks a lot less impressive from that angle than it does from the angle used by Bigtree for his FB live broadcast of the VIE protest.

After the gospel song, Hillary Simpson came out to begin the introductions. She went on about how there were doctors, scientists, lawyers, and parents of “vaccine-injured children” attending the VIE Event to educate them. Of course, her definition of “scientist” is rather questionable, because not a single person there was an actual scientist, although there were definitely doctors, albeit antivaccine doctors. In any event, Barbara Loe Fisher was the first speaker. She didn’t say much of anything that I hadn’t heard a million times before from her, although the way she said that for these “vaccine-injured children,” the “natural order of things” has been “forever changed” by unnatural, manmade chemical vaccines. Yes, it’s just a variant of the whole “vaccines stole my child” trope.

Next up was Del Bigtree. Watching him, I thought: Somebody get out the dart gun. Either that, or substitute decaf for his coffee. Let’s just say that Bigtree was even more…animated…than he usually is, and that’s saying a lot. Just watching him yell his message to the VIE crowd was tiring. The whole tenor of his talk can be boiled down to this quote, again found on Twitter, but you’ll see it if you decide to watch his talk, which begins around the 40:00 mark. Here’s the quote:

Bigtree started out expressing his displeasure with the press over vaccine issues. He seems to think he was truly brilliant with a story of being interviewed by a journalist, who challenged him by saying that there are thousands of studies not showing a vaccine-autism link. Bigtree asked him to name one or describe one and gloated that the journalist could not. This is actually a good lesson for you journalists out there. Antivaxers are very clever and expert at the Gish gallop, which involves burying those who question them in cherry picked studies, irrelevant studies, misinterpreted studies, and random bits of misinformation that can’t easily be countered unless you have a really deep knowledge of antivaccine propaganda techniques, and even then it’s not easy to do. In any event, Bigtree is very unhappy at being accused of being a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. Of course, because he is a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect, he isn’t aware that he is, in fact, a victim of the Dunning-Kruger effect. That’s what the Dunning-Kruger effect is! So he cited, yes, the “CDC whistleblower,” William Thompson, whose story, contrary to the antivaccine conspiracy theory, does not show that vaccines cause autism and the CDC covered it up. He cited Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, who’s become a useful idiot for the antivaccine movement. His rant was epic in its arrogance of ignorance, with Bigtree lecturing pediatricians to “learn to read,” to “learn to diagnose vaccine injuries,” to stop being “morons.” It really is an astonishing level of projection and lack of self-awareness, all yelled at maximal volume into the microphone.

He finished with the favorite antivaccine trope of all, the claim that unvaccinated children are healthier than vaccinated children. Of course, it’s not true. This is not the “sickest generation,” as Bigtree and RFK Jr. claim, and, if anything, vaccinated children are healthier than unvaccinated children. It’s an article of faith among antivaxers like Del Bigtree, though, that vaccinated children are unhealthy; so he called for a “vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study,” chanting, “Do the study! Do the study! Do the study! Or get out of my face!” My reaction?

Next up was James Lyons-Weiler at around 52:00. Oddly enough, he came out and yelled, “How are you doing today, Americaaaaaaaa?” (What is this, the WWE?) He then bragged about how he’s a scientist and bases conclusions on data. I couldn’t help but think again, “Get out the dart gun.” Lyons-Weiler seems to share Del Bigtree’s penchant for yelling, only without being as compelling. I couldn’t help but think as I listened to him that he really has left the path of science. He was once a legitimate science, but he laid down so much misinformation that it made me sad. Seriously, he invoked the hoariest antivaccine trope of all: If we don’t know what causes autism, the “epidemic” of chronic illness, and multiple sclerosis, it must mean that vaccines can cause it, all while regurgitating the CDC whistleblower conspiracy theory and antivaccine distortions of various studies that failed to find a link between vaccines and autism. He made the ludicrous claim that children born today will spend 70% of the days of their first seven years in “aluminum toxicity,” touting his own “scientific results” (which, not surprisingly, has never been published in the peer-reviewed medical literature as far as I know). He touted antivaccine pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas’ work.

He wrapped up by claiming, “We’re doing that study,” namely a “vaccinated/unvaccinated” study. Of course, I’ve already written about how shoddy their methodology is. In defending this study, he made a jaw-droppingly dumb and unethical argument. Basically, he pointed out that the argument against a vaccinated/unvaccinated study is that it’s unethical because it would leave the unvaccinated children unprotected against diseases like measles, mumps, and chickenpox, which he dismissed as “mild childhood illnesses” when they’re not. Then he claimed that it is not contested that the safety of the full vaccine schedule is unknown, which is flagrantly false, and that there’s no evidence that vaccines are responsible for the decline in incidence of diseases vaccinated against above and beyond better sanitation. (I have one response: Hemophilus influenza, type b, the vaccine for which was introduced in the 1990s, and the massive decline in Hib incidence and death in the absence of any improved sanitation.) He then stated that vaccines cause autoimmune diseases, autism, and chronic disease. I see what he did there. He implied that, because vaccines cause all these problems and the diseases vaccinated against are mild, there is clinical equipoise (genuine uncertainty over which intervention is better) to a vaccinated/unvaccinated study. Of course, both of his premises are wrong. Also, it’s not unethical to do an epidemiological observational study of vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations.

By this point, I was already getting tired of the VIE Event, less than one hour into the whole thing, particularly when he claimed to have read 2,000 studies on autism. Su-ure he did. He also ranted about the “religion” of vaccinology and called on people to “carry the torch” of knowledge. In reality, he’s promoting carrying the “torch” of pseudoscience. He even snuck a comparison to Hitler in their, likening vaccine mandates to the requirement that German citizens purchase Mein Kampf. (Get it? The state forcing you to buy something?) He should learn some history. Actually, the Nazi regime didn’t force anyone to purchase Mein Kampf. Its popularity and high level of sales had more to do with Hitler’s rise to power and popularity than anything else. I suppose that if you really want to strain the analogy you could note that the Nazi government gave a copy to every newlywed couple and every soldier fighting at the front, but it wasn’t required and people actually appreciated it. No, there was no requirement that Germans purchase a copy of Mein Kampf. Sure, there was peer pressure, first because of Hitler’s popularity and then later because of the totalitarian regime, but there was no government mandate.

In any case, it was getting late at this point. I might write a second part, I might not. I will point out, however, that Dr. Bob Sears was clearly full antivax in his talk. He even cried at around the 1:23:00 as he discussed “vaccine injury,” after which he laid down a straw man so large that, were it set on fire, it could be seen from the moon, claiming that doctors deny that vaccine injury ever happens. No, Dr. Bob. We deny the “injuries” you and your ilk attribute to vaccines when the evidence does not support doing so. He even referred to “vaccine injury deniers,” which is a term only used unironically by antivaxers. If you have any doubt that Dr. Sears is antivax, watch this talk, as he blubbered through most of it, expressing regret for all the children he had “injured” by vaccinating and going on about how doctors deny vaccine injury as a defense mechanism because admitting that they had injured children is too painful. (Oh, and doctors don’t dare speak up because their careers will be ruined.)

Perhaps the most hilarious thing about the speakers that I did get the opportunity to watch thus far is that they all apparently think that they came to their views on vaccines through “critical thinking” and science. Del Bigtree said it, contrasting his True Science with that of the experts. James Lyons-Weiler said it, contrasting what he dismissively called “science-like activities” with his True Science. Dr. Bob Sears did it, claiming that he came to his views on vaccines through critical thinking and science. Science, you’re doing it wrong. Critical thinking? You’re doing the exact opposite! Don’t believe me? Check out this “greatest hits” compilation by The Real Truther, who sat through the whole thing in order to pick only the choicest bits taking up 2:42:

I particularly like the bit where Jim Meahan said that, had he known what he knows today, he would never have agreed to the “defilement” of his children by “some secret, sinister Satanic ritual to defile and destroy God’s perfect creation.” I kid you not. He really said that about vaccines! (But don’t call this rally “antivaccine,” even though one of the speakers likened vaccination to a sinister Satanic ritual!) Meanwhile, RFK Jr. revealed that all of his seven children have asthma and he can’t figure out why. (So obviously it must be vaccines.) He also declared that in a just society we’d be building statues of Andrew Wakefield, which would have been an excellent emetic if I had eaten anything within a few hours of viewing that clip.

In the end, this was yet another in a long line of antivaccine protests. It was longer than most, dragging on hour after hour after hour. (I hope there were enough Porta-Potties.) There weren’t, when you come right down to it, very many people. Above all, it was a marketing opportunity for VAXXED II.

In the end, this was yet another in a long line of antivaccine protests. It was longer than most, dragging on hour after hour after hour. (I hope there were enough Porta-Potties.) There weren’t, when you come right down to it, very many people. Above all, it was a marketing opportunity for VAXXED II.

Addendum: Here’s a great Twitter thread by @42believer, who protested the VIE Event, representing the pro-vaccine viewpoint. Just click on the first Tweet and follow down:

I’ll also include a few key Tweets excerpted from the thread:

It is rather interesting how these antivax parents bemoan “vaccine injury” and portray their children as victims and yet turn around and use “vaccine injury” (equated with autism, neurologic damage, and/or mental retardation in their minds) as a casual insult against those who accept vaccine science. I think that says it all about their attitude towards autistic people.