The annals of “I’m not antivaccine,” part 30: Kevin Tuttle “drops the mic” at ACIP

The first meeting of 2020 of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) was held last week. As I noted about the first ACIP meeting of 2019 a year ago, antivaxxers have adopted a strategy of basically trying to disrupt the meeting in any way they can. Where they have been most annoying is in managing to plant themselves in the public comment session, spurred on through a Facebook group Inundate the CDC ACIP meetings and antivaccine propaganda blogs like Age of Autism, which urge their readers to submit written comments and try to register to make oral comments at the meetings themselves. Each public commenter is alloted three minutes to make a statement to ACIP, and last year the vast majority of those making public statements were antivaxxers. Sure, Lori Boyle and Alison Singer tried to make some scientifically sound comments, but they were swimming against the tide. This year, I’m not going to concentrate mainly on one antivaxxer’s statement, that of Kevin Tuttle:

I came across it over the weekend on—where else?—that wretched hive of scum and antivaccine villainy, Age of Autism, where the commenters were ebullient about his statement, referring to it as “dropping the mic.” I suppose you could call it that, if you meant “drop the mic on your bare foot, leading to an incoherent scream,” but unsurprisingly the denizens of AoA loved it and were very impressed with Tuttle.

Antivaxxers love to deny that they are, in fact, antivaccine. The reason is simple. They know that being antivaccine is—quite correctly, I might add—highly frowned upon by the vast majority of people. We’re funny that way. We don’t like people whose beliefs and activities risk the return of potentially deadly infectious diseases. At some level, antivaxxers know this, hence their frequent claim, “I’m not antivaccine. I’m a vaccine safety advocate. (This was a favorite of Jenny McCarthy’s.) Other claims that follow “I’m not antivaccine” include: “I’m pro-informed consent”; “I’m for parental rights”; “I”m for medical freedom”; and several other antivaccine dog whistles. The reason I decided to focus on Kevin Tuttle’s statement, other than that AoA conveniently posted it for me, is that it simultaneously puts the lie to antivaxxers’ claims that they aren’t antivaccine while laying down a staggering Gish gallup of antivaccine misinformation in a mere three minutes. Moreover, video of Tuttle’s statement has been shared widely; I’ve been coming across it in many of the usual places. Finally, March 5 is a day dedicated to #DoctorsSpeakUp/#NursesSpeakUp/#HealthcareSpeaksUp on Twitter and other social media. So I figured I had to do a post about vaccines on the day before or the day of, and what better way to contribute than to take apart this “mic drop,” which contains so many antivaccine tropes and so much misinformation and disinformation? (Maybe I’ll add a second post tomorrow.)

Here’s ZDoggMD interviewing Todd Wolynn:

Dr. Wolynn, as you might recall, started Shots Heard, a group designed to rally help to physicians, nurses, and other vaccine advocates who find themselves swarmed by abusive and threatening antivaxxers after having advocated for vaccines on social media. Sadly, such a group has become necessary because, like what they have been doing at ACIP the last couple of years, antivaxxers are increasingly willing to harass provaccine healthcare workers, flooding their practices’ and hospitals’ Facebook pages with abusive comments, posting fake reviews on doctor review sites like Vitals.com (there are several such reviews about me), and sometimes even flooding their practices’ phone lines with abusive calls. This harassment is a feature, not a bug, of the modern antivaccine movement.

So let’s start. I didn’t recall ever having heard of Kevin Tuttle before, and a search of my blogs found that I’ve never written about him before. At the beginning of his statement, Tuttle introduces himself as a former Air Force officer and president of the Adverse Events Recovery and Information Center. Naturally, I had to go and check out the group’s website, and it was pretty much what you’d expect:

The foundation of those values instilled in me, has led me here. Those experiences fuel my passion to give, help, and protect. There is a necessary urgency that we are facing in this country. We are one of the most advanced nations in the world, yet we rank overall one of the worst in health. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Statistics have shown that rates of asthma, allergies, autoimmune disorders have risen at a rate never seen before in human history. Yet with conventional treatments, mainly symptoms are treated. Ailments are rarely cured.

This is why AERIC was formed. I want to make a difference in the lives of those that have been failed by conventional medicine. I want to provide options of natural and alternative therapies that are effective and safe, for those that aren’t able to afford it. Establish a partnership with patients and service providers. Go beyond treating symptoms, find the root cause. AERIC’s mission: heal from the roots

Also:

We, at the Adverse Events Recovery and Information Center, seek to provide health guidance and recovery to families, and individuals, who have succumbed to injury via pharmaceuticals. We strive to provide aid where needed, in a naturally-minded approach: healing from the roots.

We believe that, far too often, conventional medicines treat symptoms and not the actual source. This fuels our passion in assisting our clients. We will arrange a partnership with professionals who specialize in alternative and holistic therapies. We will fund their treatments from donations received from our sponsors, patrons, members, and those who care to make a difference.

“We”? The AERIC website gives every indication of its being a one man operation. Kevin Tuttle is the only person pictured on the website, and its YouTube channel consists mainly of Tuttle playing a character he calls Dr. Kosher in 15 second videos that, I presume, he also posted to Tik Tok. (Seriously? “Dr. Kosher”? Tuttle couldn’t think of a different name for his parody doctor character? Gee, big surprise, an antivaxxer appears to be an antisemite as well.) The character is meant to be a parody of a pro-vaccine doctor, and the channel is full of painfully unfunny videos like this:

There are a few longer videos, even less clever and more unfunny:

And, of course, there’s this video portraying pediatricians as pedophiles:

Antivaxxers started comparing pediatricians to pedophiles after pediatricians on social media suggested that adolescents can speak with them without their parents present. What really surprises me is how aggressively, painfully unfunny all these videos are. For a “parody,” none of the humor lands, other than as vicious, stupid, cruel, or, worst of all, boring.

So you know where Kevin Tuttle is coming from, and he sure does go there:

I sat down the other day to watch Netflix, and as happens to every middle aged man I decided to watch a World War II documentary.

I guess this is Tuttle’s attempt at self-deprecating humor, but I also knew immediately where he was going to go next with this:

It occurred to me while watching this that you people are going to be in a heap of trouble when the Nuremberg Tribunal-like trials happen here after your crimes against humanity are uncovered, because what history shows us is that truth prevails. My grandmother survived the Nazi regime that finally crumbled, due to what the rest of the world finally saw was happening as murder. A tyrannical regime is also crumbling. The people are rising up against the slow Holocaust you’re inflicting upon us. You can’t hide the truth from parents who have witnessed vaccine harm.

Don’t you dare call Tuttle antivaccine! He only just accused ACIP of crimes against humanity, wished for a new Nuremberg Tribunal to mete out punishment, and likened ACIP, the CDC, and everyone involved in giving vaccines Nazis, but, no, he’s just a “vaccine safety advocate.” Of course, this is a typical fantasy of retribution that antivaxxers sometimes like to engage in, where they’re finally “proven right” and all the doctors and public health bureaucracy are shown to have been “covering up” vaccine injury. (That the CDC, doctors, pharma, and government public health organizations all “knew” that vaccines cause autism and a host of harms but covered it up is what I like to refer to the central conspiracy theory of the antivaccine movement, and antivaxxers frequently invoke it, sometimes with hilariously ludicrous results.) Similarly, comparing ACIP to Nazis is straight out of the antivax playbook.

Next up:

Your buddies at the WHO recently revised how adverse events after vaccination are classified, so that if a child with a heart condition, for example, is vaccinated and then dies, it was his heart condition that caused his death and not the vaccine. Isn’t that convenient? Tell me how that’s ethical.

While it is true that WHO revised its algorithm for Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) in 2012 to produce the WHO-UMC causality assessment system. Here’s a PDF of the manual. It’s actually a lot more complicated than that. Here are the old guidelines for causality assessment. Here is the newer system and, if you’re interested, the long WHO document describing it, Definition and Application of Terms for Vaccine Pharmacovigilance. If you look at the new system, there are six classifications of AEFI based on the assessed likelihood that the vaccine caused the adverse event: Certain, probable/likely, possible, unlikely, conditional/unclassified, and unassessable/unclassifiable. The example that Tuttle cites would likely be classified as possible, based on these critieria:

  • Event or laboratory test abnormality, with reasonable time relationship to drug intake
  • Could also be explained by disease or other drugs
  • Information on drug withdrawal may be lacking or unclear

Or it might be classified as unlikely based on these criteria:

  • Event or laboratory test abnormality, with a time to drug intake that makes a relationship improbable (but not impossible)
  • Disease or other drugs provide plausible explanations

Specific circumstances would dictate, but such an event would be unlikely to be classified as “probable” because there is another potential explanation (heart disease) and the lack of plausibility. Quoth WHO:

The essential distinctions between ‘Probable’ and ‘Possible’ are that in the latter case there may be another equally likely explanation for the event and/or there is no information or uncertainty with regard to what has happened after stopping.

The bottom line is that pharmacovigilance is complicated and difficult, and involves more than just concluding that an adverse event that happened after vaccination must have been caused by the vaccine, which is basically what antivaxxers like Tuttle always conclude.

Next up comes a “greatest hits” of antivaccine tropes:

It’s shocking how a product that isn’t safety tested, isn’t tested for carcinogenicity or mutagenicity, and has no liability can be so revered amongst medical professionals. What you call science is simply marketing, and people are seeing through it. For instance, people know that acute flaccid paralysis is polio triggered by the oral polio vaccine. Changing the name doesn’t change the condition. Your lies are being uncovered.

Let’s stop a moment, because Tuttle’s false statement per ten second interval rate is so high that I feel the need to interject. Fortunately these tropes are pretty much easily taken care of with links to appropriate rebuttals:

  • Vaccines are safety tested, very much so. No, really. Tuttle is spouting pure disinformation. Oh, and vaccines are tested for mutagenicity and carcinogenicity too. Tuttle is, quite simply, either lying or parroting antivaccine talking points.
  • Vaccine manufacturers are not free from liability. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was passed because liability from people trying to sue for vaccine injury was threatening to lead the last vaccine manufacturers to stop making vaccines. A small tax was assessed per dose to fund the Vaccine Court and a fund to compensate those injured by vaccines, and all claims for vaccine injury first have to go through the Vaccine Court. It’s a good deal, too, as the standards of evidence are fairly relaxed, and all legal fees are reimbursed, win or lose. Even then, if a claim fails in the vaccine court, the parents can still access federal courts. Antivaxxers love to mischaracterize how the Vaccine Court works, because, even under fairly lax evidentiary standards, most of their claims are rejected.
  • Acute flaccid paralysis can be caused by mutant strains of the oral polio vaccine in which the attenuated virus regains its virulence, but that’s pretty rare and only oral polio vaccine can do it. (We no longer use the oral polio vaccine in the US.) However, there are also several other forms of this syndrome that are not caused by polio.

Tuttle sure is good at Gish galloping, as he did indeed manage to package a lot of antivaccine misinformation into three minutes, and this is only roughly the halfway point. He keeps going:

The lies that come from this board and the CDC cause far more sickness and death than measles, chickenpox, whooping cough, and all of the other diseases there are vaccines for combined.

I’d love to ask Tuttle to show his work on this claim. He’s probably just parroting Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s “sickest generation” nonsense. Tuttle’s disinformation continues:

Let’s take a look at some of your lies. Your slogan of “safe and effective.” The definition of “safe” is “protected from or not exposed to danger.” “Effective” means “successful in producing an intended desire or result.”

The dictionary? He’s reading definitions of “safe” and “effective” from the frickin’ dictionary? Does he not know how utterly pathetic a strategy that is in an argument?

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. Please, do go on, Mr. Tuttle:

Clearly your products aren’t safe, since the Supreme Court ruled they are “unavoidably unsafe,” and countless testimonies prove their dangerous.

First, the Supreme Court ruled no such thing. It actually ruled the opposite. The bit about “unavoidably unsafe” was in a dissenting opinion. The opinion was Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, and I discussed it when it was made. Even if it had, “unavoidably unsafe” doesn’t mean what antivaxxers think it does. “Unavoidably unsafe” does not mean “dangerous.” It basically means that a product is as safe as it can be made and still function as intended, such that to make it safer would compromise its function. Oh, and testimonials aren’t scientific evidence, as it is very easy for humans to confuse correlation with causation. Numerous massive epidemiological studies and clinical trials show that vaccines are safe and effective.

Next up:

I can only presume your intended outcome is to injure and kill; so I’ll et you have the effective portion of that.

Nice. He just called the members of ACIP murderers who want to harm children. But he’s still “not antivaccine,” right?

Onward, as we’re in the home stretch:

You should be sued for misleading advertising. When you tell patients that they need Gardasil, or they will get HPV, that is a lie. When you say that the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from the flu, that is a lie. When you tell the mother that her new baby is in danger unless he receives the hep B moments after birth, that is a lie. Vaccines don’t cause autism. That is a lie. Remember the Tuskegee experiment. Their lives could have been saved, but those in authority watched them suffer and did nothing to help, much like the Nazi leadership. How is what you’re doing here any different? Your lies are catching up with you. I’d start worrying about that trial.

If I were a member of ACIP, the only thing I’d be worrying about during Mr. Tuttle’s statement are how long I could suppress the facial expressions and laughter that the utter bullshit Tuttle was laying down would have been eliciting in me and whether my eyes could roll so far in response to Tuttle’s nonsense that they’d get stuck peering backwards into my skull. I certainly wouldn’t be worried about any Nuremberg Tribunal-like trial. And, no, vaccines do not cause autism. That has been studied to death, and there is not even a hint of a whiff of a positive signal there. The vaccine-autism hypothesis is, like the famous parrot in a Monty Python sketch, deader than dead. To paraphrase, this hypothesis is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! Its metabolic processes are now ‘istory! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket, It’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-HYPOTHESIS!!

Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to use that schtick. I feel obligated to trot it out every now and then.

In fact, ACIP labors tirelessly to examine the scientific studies and safety data for vaccines, assess the risk of various diseases and the effectiveness of the vaccines, and use that information to tweak the CDC’s recommended vaccine schedule as needed. In fact, if you want to get an idea of what ACIP does, read this account of the February meeting by Dorit Reiss, who attended much of it, including her description of the public comment session. After noting that there were 12 antivaxxers and only two pro-vaccine commenters, she further noted how the antivaxxers often went wildly off-topic.

She also noted something that I’ve commented on before, albeit not specifically about antivaxxers and ACIP. I’m referring to the increasing tendency of antivaxxers to harass their opponents in person and use frighteningly violent rhetoric at hate speech levels. This is not the first time I’ve seen antivaxxers mention their dark fantasies of retribution (they call it “justice”) against the CDC, doctors, pharma, and anyone else whom they perceive as provaccine, while viewing themselves as heroic. One, Kent Heckenlively, openly likened the vaccine-autism “battle” to the French revolution and implied that pro-vaccine activists were like “unreasonable” French nobility dragged to the guillotine. He even wrote a post entitled I Will Accept Your Surrender:

And so I’m offering you a way out. A complete and unconditional surrender. You can’t ask what we’re going to do to you. You’re just going to have to trust in our good graces. Maybe sometime in the distant future your children and family might believe you had a shred of courage if you act at this very moment. But the time for choosing is drawing near. Choose wisely.

I declined Heckenlively’s kind offer.

Does this sound familiar, though? It sounds a lot like Kevin Tuttle.

Dorit Reiss notes:

Second, the tone of more of the comments was openly threatening and aggressive, even if the threats were not reality-based. One example was a commenter who warned the committee to expect “Nuremberg Trials” – clearly trying to scare the committee members with an imagined death penalty.

And:

More than before, the undertone of the comments was angry, spiteful, and threatening (maybe because the focus was, in fact, on a photo op, and threatening comments go over better with their anti-vaccine audience) – a trend other commenters have pointed out in online comments, too.

Hopefully, thoough:

One notable difference from past years is that the number of anti-vaccine activists attending seemed very limited. In past years, there were many of them – this time I doubt there were even twenty.

This is a good thing.

I’m torn over whether it’s a useful exercise to let antivaxxers vent to ACIP, allowing them to be shown as the cranks they are and to emphasize to ACIP what a threat to public health they are, or whether the public comment session should just be scrapped and only written comments allowed. Antivaxxers clearly now just use them to grandstand in the hopes of producing viral videos of them “dropping the mic” in a battle with their most hated enemy. It probably is time to stop letting antiscience cranks use the ACIP for propaganda purposes. They shed only heat, no light, and there’s no reason why people who agree to serve on ACIP should be forced to try to sit without facepalming through a session in which abuse and accusations of crimes against humanity are hurled their way.