Categories
Antivaccine nonsense Religion

“Fetal cells” in COVID-19 vaccines…again

In the age of COVID, everything old is new again in antivax conspiracy world. This time around, antivaxxers are trying to claim (yet again) that COVID vaccines contain “fetal cells.” Once more into the breach.

I realize that I probably sound a lot like one of those annoying scolds who keeps saying, “I told you so,” but, nearly two decades into my second “career” writing about pseudoscience and conspiracy theories like those promoted by the antivaccine movement, it’s hard to resist. The reason is that everything old is new again. The same claims that I’ve been discussing right here on this very blog since 2004 and then before that on Usenet and other discussion forums have not only resurfaced since the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in early 2020, but they’ve been turbocharged. Somewhat annoying to us relative old-timers, a lot of colleagues are now noticing antivaccine lies and conspiracy theories that we’ve known about and been warning about for years and years, such as the misuse of the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database; claims that vaccines kill, cause infertility in girls, and the like; fear mongering over vaccines selecting for more deadly variants of the coronavirus; and minimization of COVID-19 as a disease that is not dangerous to the virtuous “healthy” people. (Just never mind those old people, who can’t help being old right now, because no one can control when they are born, and don’t get me started on the resurrection of old antivax conspiracy theories about the CDC.) So it is, yet again, with the claim that COVID-19 vaccines contain “aborted fetal tissue,” “fetal cells,” or “fetal DNA.” Just for yucks, I searched for the first time I ever wrote about this particular antivax trope, and it turned out to have been in 2005, when an antivaxxer claimed that the varicella vaccine contained “aborted fetal tissue.” (Hint: It didn’t and doesn’t.)

Longtime readers will recognize this as a hoary claim dating back a long time, but in the age of the pandemic I keep repeating that everything old is new again (because it is), as can be seen by this unattributed article at a website I hadn’t encountered before, The Vault Project entitled What You Need to Know About Aborted Fetal Ingredients and COVID Vaccines. Yes, it’s the same old claim that fetal “ingredients,” cells, DNA, or just miasma are in COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, it’s almost rather amusing. Given the level of pseudo-sophistication that previous iterations of this trope reached, with (for example) Theresa Deisher bending all her skills as a molecular biologist to argue, in effect, that fetal DNA is so magic that truly minuscule amounts of short fragments of fetal DNA can not only somehow pass through the blood-brain barrier but then also get into neurons and express “non-self” proteins that are then somehow recognized by the immune system to produce “autoimmunity” leading to—you guessed it!—autism. Never mind that the speculative contortions of science needed to make such claims, which can sound plausible to the scientifically ignorant and unsophisticated but, are laughed at by anyone who’s ever worked with DNA in a research lab. Then there was Sin Hang Lee, who used an incredibly sensitive nested PCR assay prone to false positives to “prove” that there was “fetal DNA” in Gardasil, even though what he discovered, if legit, was such an incredible small quantity of DNA left over from the cell line used in the manufacture of the vaccine as to be harmless. (Those were the days. They seem almost rather quaint in comparison to the weaponized disinformation of the last 20 months.)

But back to The Vault Project.

The first thing I noticed about The Vault Project is that none of the people behind the website are identified, at least not that I could find. Under the About Us section, there’s this:

The Vault Project was founded in 2021 out of a growing concern the COVID “pandemic” was being used as a mechanism to censor science, usher in unprecedented vaccine mandates and sweeping public health measures, and as a justification to infringe upon the individual liberties afforded to American citizens. 

Our goal is to provide you with a comprehensive resource you can turn to for accurate information, studies and resources to help you navigate misinformation and vaccine mandates, and anything you need to assert your rights. We hope you’ll take what you learn here and educate others.

More tellingly, though, I found a classic “Quack Miranda warning” under the Legal Disclaimer page:

The information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Parents, caregivers, consumers, patients, individuals and health practitioners must use their own judgment concerning specific treatment options. The Vault Project’s authors, editors, and principals disclaim any liability or responsibility to any person or organization for any loss, damage, expense, fine, injury or penalty that may arise or result from the use of any information, recommendations, opinions and/or errors on this website or in our articles. Any use of, or reliance on, information reflected on this website or in our articles is solely the responsibility of the viewer.

There’s nothing like a classic quack disclaimer to give me confidence in the website! Also, I do so love it that a quick WHOIS search demonstrated that The Vault Project registered its domain under a privacy service, to hide who owns it. I will concede that there are legitimate reasons for someone to do that. For example, personally I registered this domain under such a service for the simple reason that I didn’t want to have to have my address and phone number publicly available in the WHOIS record. However, whenever I see a website like The Vault Project registered this way, my skeptical antennae start twitching fiercely, particularly when no one behind the site is identified and all of the articles are attributed to “The Vault Project.” (To pre-empt antivaxxers, yes, I do use a pseudonym, but it’s very easy to find to who’s really behind the Insolence dished out here, because it’s right on the website if you bother to look for it.) Also, The Vault Project appears to have gone out of its way to hide where its server is located, given the traceroute search I did.

But enough of the astroturfy-appearing nature of this website and the likely rich trove of blog material for me that I’ve discovered. What about its claims about fetal cells in vaccines? Unsurprisingly, they’re nothing more than the same old claims repackaged and repurposed for COVID-19. I do realize that I’ve already written about how antivaxxers have resurrected claims about “fetal cells” for COVID-19 vaccines, but this article seems to be a more comprehensive “state of the antivax lie” than the one that I discussed in December, just as the vaccines were rolling out under an emergency use authorization (EUA) for health care professionals.

The Vault Project gives away the game right from the very first sentence of its post, and it’s the same game that it’s always been:

If you’re planning to request an exemption to COVID vaccines on religious grounds, arguably your biggest supporting argument will be that all three manufacturers of  U.S. authorized vaccines use cell lines obtained from aborted babies in the research, development and/or manufacturing of their products.

To this, you will state you have a “sincerely held religious belief” that prevents you from injecting the cells, tissue, DNA and proteins of an aborted baby into your body, an objection to the practice of abortion itself and anything derived from it, and/or an objection to participating in a practice that undoubtedly encourages more abortions — something your faith, whatever that may be, prohibits.

The story should end there, as it doesn’t matter what belief any other entity, denomination or religious leader holds on the issue — what matters are your own subjective beliefs. However, that won’t keep you from being subjected to a barrage of misinformation designed to undermine the severity of the aborted fetal issue or your right to obtain a religious exemption.

You may have been told none of the COVID vaccines contain aborted fetal ingredients, that it was just “one abortion” from a very long time ago if it does or it was so far removed from the original abortion it couldn’t possibly be associated with any religious or ethical issues. Why? Because there’s a concerted effort to undermine the grounds for the religious exemption so that more people are vaccinated.

That bit about “other entity, denomination or religious leader” is a clear nod to the Roman Catholic Church, arguably the biggest, baddest anti-abortion force in the world that’s done more to harm women’s healthcare through its efforts to ban contraception and abortion. As those of us who have been combatting this particular antivaccine trope for decades keep pointing out, the Roman Catholic Church has stated quite clearly (at the behest of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope and was no liberal) that the great good of vaccination far outweighs the “distant evil” of the creation of fetal cell lines decades ago (in one case, almost 60 years ago) from aborted fetuses, making it morally acceptable to use them if there are no other alternatives. (There aren’t for COVID-19 vaccines, and the same is true for several other childhood vaccines that use such cell lines in their manufacture and have prevented billions of cases of disease and saved many millions, if not billions, of lives over the last several decades.)

It’s also very telling to note how much effort and verbiage The Vault Project expends right up front to discount common retorts to antivax efforts to link vaccines to abortion through “fetal parts,” “fetal cells,” “fetal DNA,” and, it sometimes seems, “essence of abortion.” Again, as I’ve written many times, the fetal cell lines used to manufacture some childhood vaccines are old and have been passaged (replated in order to continue growing) many many times, for example, the WI-38 cell line, which is a human diploid fibroblast cell line derived from a three month old fetus aborted therapeutically in 1962. As much as The Vault Project tries to imply otherwise, there’s a huge difference between a cell line that was derived from a fetus nearly 60 years ago and actual “fetal cells.” Apparently the “essence of fetus” is like homeopathy. It becomes more powerful the more distant the creation of the cell line is and the less connection there is to the original abortion.

The specific cell lines that The Vault Project complains about, using inflammatory language that “any vaccine that uses aborted fetal cell lines during manufacturing, like the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine, may also contain residual cells, DNA or proteins from an aborted baby,” are different ones, though; so let’s take a look. Interestingly, the link used by The Vault Project to substantiate its claim leads to an FDA sheet about the J&J vaccine that says nothing more than that the “Ad26 vector expressing the SARS-CoV-2 S protein is grown in PER.C6 TetR cells, in media containing amino acids and no animal-derived proteins” and that after propagation “the vaccine is processed through several purification steps, formulated with inactive ingredients and filled into vials.”

All of this leads to the same sort of claims that I’ve discussed regarding “fetal DNA” in previous vaccines before the pandemic:

According to Janssen’s website, “The SARS-CoV-2 vaccine research program is leveraging Janssen’s AdVac® and PER.C6® technologies in an effort to help combat the current COVID-19 pandemic.” The FDA’s EUA fact sheet for Healthcare Providers and the Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine EUA Letter of Authorization issued by the agency further state:
Each 0.5 mL dose of Janssen COVID-19 Vaccine is formulated to contain 5×1010 virus particles (VP) and the following inactive ingredients: citric acid monohydrate (0.14 mg), trisodium citrate dihydrate (2.02 mg), ethanol (2.04 mg), 2-hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin (HBCD) (25.50 mg), polysorbate-80 (0.16 mg), sodium chloride (2.19 mg). Each dose may also contain residual amounts of host cell proteins (≤0.15 mcg) and/or host cell DNA (≤3 ng).
The “host cell proteins” and/or “host cell DNA” is referring to the PER.C6 cell line used to culture the AD26 vector, and the language used is consistent with the vaccine package inserts for other vaccines that contain aborted fetal cells, DNA and proteins.

First of all, the maximum of 0.15 g of protein and 3 ng of genomic DNA that might be present is not very much DNA, and most likely that DNA is sheered into short fragments. Fear mongering about it is nothing more than what Sin Hang Lee did about Gardasil over ten years ago. (I swear, antivaxxers have the same playbook, and they use it obsessively over and over and over again for all vaccines.)

PER.C6 is, like WI-38 and other cell lines used to grow vectors for vaccine research and manufacture, a cell line derived from a fetus in the distant past. In this case, PER.C6 was derived from the retinal cells of an 18-week fetus:

The PER.C6 cell line is derived from human embryonic retinal cells, originally from the retinal tissue of an 18 week old fetus aborted in 1985 and further developed and prepared as cell line by transfection with defined E1 region of the adenovirus type 5 followed by selection for transfectants with an immortal phenotype. At the beginning, this cell line was mainly applied for the production of human adenovirus vectors for use in vaccine development and gene therapy, and further optimization makes PER.C6 become a superexcellent host cell line for large-scale industrial production of therapeutic proteins, especially the human IgG. 

I like to point out that PER.C6 and cell lines like it aren’t used because scientists somehow love abortion and are thus utterly immoral, which The Vault Press goes on and on about to try to insinuate and outright claim. They’re used because they facilitate manufacturing huge quantities of much more standardized and safer vaccines that can save (and have saved) many millions of lives over the last six decades.

Unsurprisingly, The Vault Project goes on to fear monger, pointing out yet again that the PER.C6 cell line was derived from retinal cells of an 18 week old fetus aborted in 1985 and that the MRC-5 cell line (which I’ve discussed before) was developed from lung tissue from a 14 week old fetus aborted in 1966. They also mention the HEK-293 cell line, which was derived in 1973 from the kidney of a fetus—it’s not known if the fetus miscarried or was aborted (presumably if it miscarried The Vault Project shouldn’t have a problem with it but probably still does)—and used by Moderna and Pfizer during the research phase to develop their mRNA-based vaccines. (I note that neither HEK-293 cells nor any other fetal cell lines are used in the manufacture of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.) They also go out of their way to make the cells seem scary, for instance, pointedly referring to PER.C6 cells as “tumorigenic” and pointing to this FDA article, which says:

Virus-based vaccines are made in living cells (cell substrates). Some manufacturers are investigating the use of new cell lines to make vaccines. The continual growth of cell lines ensures that there is a consistent supply of the same cells that can yield high quantities of the vaccine.

In some cases the cell lines that are used might be tumorigenic, that is, they form tumors when injected into rodents. Some of these tumor-forming cell lines may contain cancer-causing viruses that are not actively reproducing. Such viruses are hard to detect using standard methods. These latent, or “quiet,” viruses pose a potential threat, since they might become active under vaccine manufacturing conditions. Therefore, to ensure the safety of vaccines, our laboratory is investigating ways to activate latent viruses in cell lines and to detect the activated viruses, as well as other unknown viruses, using new technologies. We will then adapt our findings to detect viruses in the same types of cell substrates that are used to produce vaccines. We are also trying to identify specific biological processes that reflect virus activity.

Here’s the thing. First, “tumorigenic” usually means that the cells can form tumors in experimental mouse strains whose immune systems have been crippled in order to allow non-mouse tumor cells to grow, in other words the same sorts of mouse strains (like nude or SCID mice) used in cancer research to grow human tumor cells as xenografts. Second, the very FDA article cited explains that the FDA goes to great lengths to “detect endogenous retroviruses and latent DNA viruses during evaluation of cell substrates for vaccine safety.” These are the sorts of things that could theoretically be tumorigenic in humans. Overall, The Vault Project is clearly trying to make these cell lines sound a lot scarier than they are.

They’re also doing their best to portray the scientists who isolated these cell lines between 35-60 years ago as evil, or at least immoral, beasts who couldn’t wait to cut open aborted fetuses to get at those sweet, sweet cells within. The Vault Project cites scientists saying that it can take several abortions to get a single cell line, which makes it sound as though several are done to get each cell lines, but in reality developing an immortalized cell line from primary cells isolated from an organism—any organism—is difficult. We’re a lot better at it now than we were decades ago, but it often takes several failed attempts before there is success, which is why The Vault Project cites quotes by like this one by Dr. Alex Van der Eb, a Dutch molecular biologist and virologist:

So I isolated retina from a fetus, from a healthy fetus as far as could be seen, of 18 weeks old. There was nothing special with a family history or the pregnancy was completely normal up to the 18 weeks, and it turned out to be a socially indicated abortus — abortus provocatus, and that was simply because the woman wanted to get rid of the fetus.

And:

There was permission, et cetera, and that was, however, was in 1985, ten years before this. This shows that the cells were isolated in October, 1985, Laeiden University in my lab. At that time already ’85, I should say the cells were frozen, stored in liquid nitrogen, and in 1995 one of these was thawed for the generation of the PER.C6 cells.

And this is the final slide just showing you some comparisons between [HEK] 293 and PER.C6. Again, I remind you that both cell lines were made in my lab for different reasons. The objective, as I indicated, is for 293 — was basic research, and we have done many different transformation studies after that, not transformation studies, but gene expressions studies with human embryonic kidney cells in the years following that up to now, I would say.

Leading to this kicker:

According to Van der Eb, the PER.C6 cell line was made specifically for pharmaceutical manufacturing of adenovirus vectors. “I realize that this sounds a bit commercial, but PER. C6 were made for that particular purpose,” he said. 

Note that the implication is that the scientists wanted the cells for commercial purposes. Yet the original cells were stored in Dr. Van der Eb’s freezer for a decade before they were thawed out in order to try to immortalize them into a cell line that could be used for gene expression studies in basic research. What follows are multiple quotes by scientists claiming that the fetuses must be very fresh in order to get viable cells from them, describing in detail how the kidney or other organs had to be minced up with scissors and then trypsinized before being grown in medium containing fetal calf serum. (Trypsin is a digestive enzyme that cleaves proteins at a specific site that is used to separate cells from each other by dissolving the protein matrix that holds them together in organs.)

I also note that The Vault Project tries very hard to weave a conspiracy theory by pointing how the document of the VRBPAC meeting in which Dr. Van der Eb said these thing is no longer on the FDA website, even though websites get rearranged for various reasons and links change or disappear. Could it be that the FDA had nefarious purposes in removing the document? Maybe, but more likely it was, as was observed elsewhere, because the meeting was 20 years ago and the FDA removed documents more than ten years old, although the paper was there as late as around 2017. Whatever happened, the document is available at various Archive sites like Archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Otherwise, how could The Vault Press ever have gotten a hold of it?

Then, of course, The Vault Project invokes…Project Veritas! (Never invoke Project Veritas, one of the lyingest right wing propaganda outfits there is, masters of dishonest undercover “sting” operations, secret recordings, and deceptively edited videos promoting right wing disinformation.) Apparently, Project Veritas has been trying to discredit COVID-19 vaccines (because of course it is) by issuing videos like this:

On Oct. 6, 2021, Project Veritas released the fifth video in its COVID vaccine investigative series featuring an interview with Melissa Strickler, a Manufacturing Quality Auditor with Pfizer. Strickler leaked internal emails showing corporate executives telling staff to be secretive about the use of human fetal tissue in laboratory testing of the COVID vaccine.

Vanessa Gelman, Pfizer Senior Director of Worldwide Research said in a leaked email:

From the perspective of corporate affairs, we want to avoid having the information on fetal cells floating out there. […] The risk of communicating this right now outweighs any potential benefit we could see, particularly with general members of the public who may take this information and use it in ways we may not want out there. We have not received any questions from policymakers or media on this issue in the last few weeks, so we want to avoid raising this if possible.

“We have been trying as much as possible to not mention the fetal cell lines. […] One or more cell lines with an origin that can be traced back to human fetal tissue has been used in laboratory tests associated with the vaccine program,” Gelman said.

When Gelman was asked by a colleague how he should respond to a medical group who specifically asked whether Pfizer made “use of a cell line from an aborted fetus” when carrying out confirmatory tests for their vaccine, Gelman said the colleague should say:

“Human fetal derived cell lines are not used to produce our investigational vaccine, which consists of synthetic and enzymatically produced components,” but should not disclose that one or more cell lines with an “origin that can be traced back to human fetal tissue” were used in laboratory tests associated with the vaccine program.

The wag in me can’t help but note that this is perfectly reasonable, given longstanding attempts of antivaxxers to weaponize abortion against vaccines, something I bet that Pfizer has known about for a long time, given that it’s not a new tactic. Of course, The Vault Project tries very hard to make it sound so very, very nefarious.

Basically, The Vault Project’s article does nothing more than recycle, regurgitate, and reinvent very old antivaccine talking points based on a favorite antivaccine tactic, to cite components of vaccines to try to induce revulsion. At its heart, it’s nothing more than what Bill Maher once did when he referred to vaccines as “disease matter” or when Jenny McCarthy referred to all the “toxins” in vaccines, just using abortion.

I conclude by citing a factsheet by the North Dakota Department of Health on COVID-19 Vaccines & Fetal Cell Lines:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops goes further and has stated: “receiving a COVID-19 vaccine ought to be understood as an act of charity toward the other members of our community. In this way, being vaccinated safely against COVID-19 should be considered an act of love of our neighbor and part of our moral responsibility for the common good…Given the urgency of this crisis, the lack of available alternative vaccines, and the fact that the connection between an abortion that occurred decades ago and receiving a vaccine produced today is remote, inoculation with the new COVID-19 vaccines in these circumstances can be morally justified.” 

On March 2nd, 2021, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement which addressed the use of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine. The Bishops stated: “if one can choose among equally safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines, the vaccine with the least connection to abortion-derived cell lines should be chosen. Therefore, if one has the ability to choose a vaccine, Pfizer or Moderna’s vaccines should be chosen over Johnson & Johnson’s…While we should continue to insist that pharmaceutical companies stop using abortion-derived cell lines, given the world-wide suffering that this pandemic is causing, we affirm again that being vaccinated can be an act of charity that serves the common good.” 

The Catholic Church has stated, “Those who, however, for reasons of conscience, refuse vaccine produced with cell lines from aborted fetuses, must do their utmost to avoid, by other prophylactic means and appropriate behavior, becoming vehicles for the transmission of the infectious agent. In particular, they must avoid any risk to the health of those who cannot be vaccinated for medical or other reasons, and who are the most vulnerable.”

It’s that last paragraph that I really want to focus on. The reason is that the very same people who use religion to justify their refusal to use vaccines supposedly hopelessly morally contaminated by any contact whatsoever with abortion, no matter how distant in the past or through many doublings of cell lines isolated 60 years ago, tend to be the very same people who refuse to do the bare minimum to avoid “becoming vehicles for the transmission of” SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Although The Vault Project doesn’t have any explicitly antimask/antilockdown articles published (yet), given that they do have articles touting unproven and almost certainly ineffective “cures” for COVID-19 like ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine, it’s a safe bet that whoever is behind the website is also antimask.

Astroturfers gonna astroturf, and antivaxxers gonna abuse religious exemptions to vaccine mandates I guess. Also, I wonder if The Vault Project opposes any use of Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail, which was developed using—you guessed it!—HEK-293 cells and used by Donald Trump himself when he came down with COVID-19 last year.

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]

41 replies on ““Fetal cells” in COVID-19 vaccines…again”

Also, The Vault Project appears to have gone out of its way to hide where its server is located, given the traceroute search I did.

It appears to be on pair.com, in Pittsburgh, FWIW. It was a bit opaque given that Pair uses G—le Cloud Platform. Snyk also gives it a security grade of E:

HIGH SEVERITY

Content Security Policy

A computer security standard introduced to prevent cross-site scripting (XSS), clickjacking and other code injection attacks resulting from execution of malicious content in the trusted web page context

I wonder if the antivaxxers are anti-therapeutics as well given the use of similar cell lines in their development.

I’m guessing Ken meant the therapeutics which they don’t already control and sell, such as monoclonal antibody therapy at a princely $2000 (compared to $20 vaccine).

Be assured, if they can find a way to grift it themselves, they will. And if they can’t, they’ll slather it in their shit for the equally obvious reason.

They also go out of their way to make the cells seem scary, for instance, pointedly referring to PER.C6 cells as “tumorigenic” and pointing to this FDA article….

Did they acknowledge riffing from this contemporaneous CHD post?

Antivaxers should worry not only about vaccines, but also about the many drugs developed, tested and/or manufactured using fetal cells.

Sure, but don’t think Vaccines are down and out yet. Start laying in fresh popcorn supplies now, cos you are gonna need it: Frazier vs Ali won’t be nothing once Kennedy et-al vs Boobies steps into the ring. Let’s see ’em square that!

Washington State University fired their football coach, who also was the highest paid state employee, for refusing to vaccinate. He tried to get a religious exemption because he is Catholic. Apparently he has not attended mass for a while, because it turns out that did not fly with the state, so he threatened to sue: https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/wsu-leaders-make-good-call-in-firing-rolovich/

I loved this bit:

The coach was only hours out of his job when, through an attorney, he started grandstanding that he’d sue the school over being fired “merely for being devout in his Catholic faith.”

It’s been a busy year, and Rolovich might not be up on the emphasis the Catholic Chuch has placed on vaccination throughout, beginning with Pope Francis’ Jan. 1 homily and continuing through the Vatican’s vaccine requirements for employees and visitors. The coach could have missed Francis’ January statement that COVID-19 vaccination is a moral obligation. Rolovich would have been busy in August prepping the Cougars for the season when the pope called vaccination “an act of love.” The season was in full swing in September, when Francis said vaccine resistance is “a bit strange.”

Rolovich’s “religious” objections to vaccination look even more dubious when you hear about his meeting with a WSU professor who the university had sit down with Rolovich to answer questions about the Covid-19 vaccines.

According to an ESPN article, Dr. Guy Palmer, a professor of pathology and infectious diseases who did a fellowship in vaccine immunology and has run infectious disease programs in Third World countries, heard Rolovich’s concerns, which touched on such standard antivax themes as Bill Gates’ role and whether SV-40 was present in the vaccines. Palmer says religion-based objections didn’t come up.

Whatever “religion” is involved seems to be the antivax religion.

Wow. That is just so “special.” Yeah, we do not need pay a state employee over three million dollars for that kind of nonsense.

Why do anti-vaxxers/ alt med believers buy into every single conspiracy / trope presented to them no matter how unlikely?
At their sites, their leaders encourage them to doubt scientific information if it comes from governmental sources, corporations, universities or mainstream media. They should not trust the powers-that-be who are compromised, bought-and-paid-for and up to no good, being both profit hungry and power hungry. Every wild conspiracy and character assassination, no matter how bizarre, is accepted and repeated. They should trust NO ONE else. Why is this?

I’ve thought about this a lot: why do they reject valid information, often cross studied by experts and shown repeatedly to be true and instead accept any BS their leaders toss to them? Because they identify with their leaders as brave, maverick rebels out to overturn the status quo and usher in paradigm shift. Researchers who study personality characteristics of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists have found that they imagine themselves to be out of the ordinary, not of the common herd and ahead of the game, There is a tendency towards narcissism and paranoid ideas as well. They do not accept hierarchies of expertise but imagine themselves as Galilei. An anti-vax mother could then easily debate an immunologist and win.

They are encouraged to regard themselves this way by their leaders: they know better than experts. Experts are all criminal except for their own exclusive set who are usually anything but expert. It is rare that any of them have studied in appropriate fields yet they yammer on about the intricacies of the brain or immunology. they they read somewhere recently

“Why do anti-vaxxers/ alt med believers buy into every single conspiracy / trope presented to them no matter how unlikely?”

Two words: Paranoid Narcissism. (Bonus if stated in the style of this meme.)

Honestly, the world’s entire supply of Psychology postgrad students could lunch out on the psychopathology of these people, and still have plenty left for dinner.

There was a recent documentary about one of the “harmless” conspiracy cults, Flat Earthers, that made it excruciatingly clear that it has nothing to do with the acquisition and acquisition of useful, reliable knowledge, but about fealty to a minority [and thus rare and highly prized] Belief; and the social status, tribal belonging, and ego feeding such devotion confers.

Anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers are just a more malignant expression of the same basic personality type. And you know the dirty little devils love it too.

I do not think their recent intersection with overt fascists is a coincidence either. Fellow travellers with compatible goals. This is how civilization dies: not through destruction of science or knowledge or even entire populations, but by the rewriting of epistemology to mean: truth is what I want it to be.

See also: Gaslighting, JADE, DARVO.

It’s interesting. You’re probably right. What causes them to become enamored with that thinking? I knew a guy growing up who invented a fake “Nordic” language rather than just focusing on studying German like the rest of us. I ran into him in college and he was all into UFOs and how the professor was “lying” about evolution. This was pre-social media so it was easy to never talk to him again.

The couple of guys I know now who are really into the far right baloney about this pandemic have one thing in common with that guy from back then-they’re angry. Just like him, they seem to feel like life let them down. Possibly like him, they know they are responsible for their lot. They could have studied, worked, made different decisions. They didn’t and it’s easier to blame everyone else for their plight. I wonder if this isn’t a common theme?

It took a helluva long time, effort, sacrifice, dedication, and abandonment of ego to become a doctor. Any yahoo can now get on Twitter and say “what about the chimp that escaped from WIV?! You don’t know about that? You don’t know ANYTHING!” And convince a wide swath of our populace that I don’t.

I follow a few of the biggest pretenders/ liars ( including PRN, NN) and they endlessly proclaim their own brilliance as scientists BUT then claim that they couldn’t go to “elite” universities/ grad schools because they were not rich! So they instead went to career schools, took unrelated degrees, alternate pathways, mail order .
I attended so-called “elite” unis and somehow I recall that students got scholarships, work study, loans etc. ( These two were supposedly intellectual giants and star athletes).

Their anger at and hatred of professionals may be fuelled by jealousy. Also, because they have experienced success in unrelated areas or business they imagine themselves to be masters of all they survey- anti-vaxxers have a number of leaders who have succeeded in banking, marketing, finance and now have money as Orac has shown frequently.

Thus, they think that they can read a few books, scour the internet for studies they like and then postulate a model of autism, immunity etc. We read that from the trolling set as the ‘splain Covid and vaccines for us.

As I note below, I doubt that many anti-vaxxers could tackle areas like brain development or basic immunology so they skip those and focus on topics they can use to posture with ( fan faves are microbiome, methylation. etc) or take a piecemeal approach to reasonable areas.

Yeti: “They didn’t [work to improve their lot] and it’s easier to blame everyone else for their plight. I wonder if this isn’t a common theme?”

I do not doubt this. As Denice says, such people tend towards narcissism and paranoia. It is a naturally self-reinforcing combination: the paranoia neatly resolves the cognitive dissonance between how their life ought to be (according to their narcissism) and how it actually is (according to harsh reality).

Rank-and-file movement antivaxxers perhaps tend towards covert, antagonistic narcissism while far-righters lean hard into the overt, malignant form. There is lots of scope for crossover and common cause between the two, which is why we see the likes of anti-vax leader>Kennedy Jr giving speeches to adulating crowds of anti-vaxxers and neo-Nazis mingling in in Berlin.

“It took a helluva long time, effort, sacrifice, dedication, and abandonment of ego to become a doctor.”

I am sure there are plenty of qualified doctors around who still carry large egos. (Though perhaps less than there used to be?) A powerful ego may not itself be a bad thing, especially for pushing through all the other grind you describe, where it might even provide some evolutionary advantage. What matters is empathy, which is the thing that narcissists lack.

Massive voracious insatiable ego + zero shits for anyone but themselves. Much like psychopaths, the piece of neural wiring that makes the rest of us humans into social, empathetic animals simply isn’t present in full-on NPDs. Personally I think NPDs might be the worse: a psychopath screws you because they can (i.e. callous and opportunistic), but a [malignant] narcissist screws you because they must. Because that’s how they feed. On us.

If it helps, think of them all not as Homo sapiens but as Homo sapiens vampiris. And proceed accordingly.

Denice:

I follow a few of the biggest pretenders/ liars ( including PRN, NN) and they endlessly proclaim their own brilliance as scientists BUT then claim that they couldn’t go to “elite” universities/ grad schools because they were not rich!

LOL.

If they’re saying that because they believe it themselves, they’re narcissists.

If they’re saying that because they know the marks will believe it, they’re psychopaths.

Either way, if they’re saying that they’re not rich themselves… Bwahahahahahahah!

The other really-should-be-obvious point is that being a scientist is not about earning a science degree but about developing a very particular way of thinking, one that relentlessly self-checks for errors and has zero problem in saying “I am wrong”.

The advantage in undertaking a science degree is that it provides the nascent scientist extended opportunities to develop and hone those self-teaching and self-testing skills essential to doing the work right. Basic training, background info, a minimum competence bar to clear, and—hopefully—a path forward into the post-education world where they can continue to scratch their itch. But possessing that degree is not an end in itself.

That “Voice of Authority” play is SOP for anti-vaxxers, alt-medders, and all others who seek to take easy authority for themselves simply by making their voice loudest of all. But there’s good reason why scientists couch all their claims in caveats and uncertainty, and “hmmmm, that’s odd”. Whereas easy, pat, maximum-volume certitudes are the patent tells of priests and salesmen; and their reformulating of a science degree as “a piece of paper for the pampered elites” is a step to dragging science low so they can stand supreme in its stead. A lovely beguiling accessible narrative, that doesn’t fool anyone who doesn’t already want to be fooled. Which, unfortunately, is quite a lot.

And, yes, this basic ascientific thinking, which is endemic in societies, really needs to be addressed in K12; by teaching little kids to how to question and how to test for themselves, and how to be wrong and make mistakes without being ashamed and humiliated for it. Because by the time those children arrive at young adulthood, whatever mode of thinking they’ve formed is likely the one that will employ for life. And no prizes for spotting all the adult interests which depend on making sure this never changes.

“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” – Vladimir Lenin

@ has **:

I think that you are describing common traits of anti-vaxxers/ alties both professional and amateur: Orac writes about the pros and the beginners appear in the comments.

I imagine that you studied similar material as I have so we know that you can’t pick this up by surfing the net as I commented elsewhere we have a good idea about how autism happens in the developing brain and have for a long time. When I first read about Andy’s “research” I was highly suspicious because I studied this years before. The structures involved in ASD are formed during specific critical periods and this can be cross documented through autopsy, abortion, imagery, animal studies, effects of drugs during gestation and comparative mammalian anatomy. We know WHEN the structures form and HOW they vary from average as well as how infants with these conditions act and learn differently prior to ages when many vaccines are given; they are physiognomic indices as well ( head size, intra-facial dimensions). We know how autism involves extra, less developed, less organised and less well connected cells in particular areas of the brain.

Yet, these brilliant researchers of alt med and mother cults somehow fail to ever even mention any of that research as they scrounge around the net for key words to flesh out their confabulated pet theories.

** is that a nice thing to say about vampires?

I like the approach taken by this Arkansas hospital.
https://www.webmd.com/vaccines/covid-19-vaccine/news/20210918/some-medications-also-tied-to-religious-vaccine-exemption

“Thus, we provided a religious attestation form for those individuals requesting a religious exemption,” Troup said.

The hospital’s form includes a list of 30 common medications that used fetal cell lines during research and development. The list includes acetaminophen, albuterol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Lipitor, Senokot, Motrin, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Sudafed, Preparation H, Claritin, Prilosec, and Zoloft.

Employees are asked to attest that they “truthfully acknowledge and affirm that my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true” and that they won’t use the medications listed.

Health system administrators want to “educate staff who might have requested an exemption without understanding the full scope of how fetal cells are used in testing and development in common medicines,” Troup said.

Employees who don’t sign the form will be given a temporary exemption, he said. If they don’t receive a vaccine or full exemption, they can face disciplinary action, including termination.

So a consistent religious objection should apply to those medications as well.

I wonder if a full list would include hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin?

I may be wearing a bag of shame over my head for Halloween, after hearing about the activities of an Idaho pathologist.

Ryan Cole runs a diagnostics lab and sits on a regional health board. He claims to have seen a whopping increase in cancer cases among Covid-vaccinated patients, including an alleged 20X increase in endometrial cancer diagnoses.* He’s also gotten in on the ivermectin scam.

“Cole told the Sun that he personally treated patients by prescribing ivermectin and other drugs to them. The patients lived in Idaho and out of state, he told the Sun. Cole is licensed with a specialty in pathology, not as a primary care provider or specialist in infectious diseases.”

“But scrutiny of his actions as a physician has primarily focused on his public statements. He has called the COVID-19 vaccine “immune slaughter,” “killshots,” “needle rape” and said the vaccines must be stopped.”

Fellow physicians in Idaho think that it’s Cole who needs to be stopped.

http://idahocapitalsun.com/2021/10/11/it-should-be-stopped-idaho-medical-group-files-complaint-against-dr-ryan-cole/

*I’m mystified how Cole could possibly know the vaccination status of patients whose biopsies are sent to him. Primary treating docs are notorious for providing scanty to no clinical information to pathologists when they submit tissue for diagnosis. I’ve never seen anyone include vaccination info.

Oh ffs. A pathologist. Figures. One of the big antivax cranks at one of our hospitals is a rads guy.

Nutty outliers like this can be found in any branch of medicine. For instance, “America’s Frontline Physicians” are to my knowledge heavily if not exclusively clinicians.

It would make an interesting research project* to determine which specialties are most prone to harboring loons. Neurosurgeons and pediatricians seem to be disproportionately represented based on what we read on RI and see in the news, but appearances could be deceptive.

*digging into state medical board actions and conducting national surveys could provide data. Even law enforcement records might prove illustrative. For instance, a team of researchers published a study in the BMJ based on traffic citations issued to physicians in Florida, and determined that psychiatrists were most likely to be fined for “extreme speeding” – going 20 mph or more above the speed limit.

I don’t know if anyone else amongst the regulars thinks that much of the opposition to Covid vaccines we’ve seen has to somehow be dependent upon that curious egregious notion that vaccines cause autism promulgated for decades at this point. It runs contrary to what neuroscience teaches us and becomes even less likely as new research arrives.

i often recommend that scoffers read a little in this area or consult videos / audios, especially those of Prof Eric Courchesne of UCSD. There is a 19 minute video at Amfar 2011 and a 2.5 hour lecture at Rutgers with accompanying slides 2017 easy to find on the internet. Because I suggest them, I reviewed both myself today and made a shocking discovery: I doubt that most anti-vax “thought leaders”/ trolls could follow Prof Eric as he guides us through the complexity that is the development of the brain- especially in the longer lecture. They wouldn’t get it. He would be over their heads 90% of the time. it might be easy for anyone to pick up a few terms and ideas from published research and cobble together a model of autism that leaves out most of the relevant material, such as, oh, I don’t know, prenatal origins as shown through multiple avenues of research.

@Denice: “They wouldn’t get it.”

Does that really matter though? Much as the vain assholes would love to lauded by all as great masters of knowledge, they don’t actually need it in order to win. Merely ruining epistemology will do, and is a lot easier too. Once ALL knowledge is rendered equally opinionated and untrustworthy in the popular mind, the contest reduces to a simple “he who shouts loudest, is rightest” which is their forte.

If you can’t win by the rules of the game, just keep rewriting the rules till you can’t lose. See: gaslighting, firehosing, echolalia.

Since the big box stores have had their Xmas stuff on display for weeks, it can’t be too soon for caroling.

Fetal cells (fetal cells), fetal cells (fetal cells)
It’s antivax time in the city
Ding-a-lings (ding-a-lings), hear them sing (hear them sing)
Soon they’ll be carried away
City ERs, busy ERs, packed in pandemic style
In the air, there’s a feeling of fear
Children coughing, people passing, meeting
death with a smile
And on every street corner you’ll hear
Fetal cells (fetal cells), fetal cells (fetal cells)
It’s antivax time in the city
Ding-a-lings (ding-a-lings), hear them sing (hear them sing)
Soon it will be judgement day

Over a week has passed without any comment here about Dr. Joseph Ladapo refusing to mask up during a meeting with an immuno-compromised state legislator inside a confined office space. And, AFAIK, he didn’t even offer her a dose of Ivermectin… perhaps encouraged by Ron DeSantis to expand the use of Regeneron monoclonal anti-bodies. I joke, of course.
This guy could actually be the Surgeon General of the US in 2024.

“This guy could actually be the Surgeon General of the US in 2024.”

Consider it your regular reminder that Idiocracy’s vision is actually a utopia.

“Ladapo explained that he meant no offense, just wasn’t comfortable wearing a mask”

Now there’s a guy who puts politics before science and humanity. Some kind of power play too? I’m doing you a favour by giving you the chance to vote for me. Now, come out into the corridor and let me shout at you the many ways in which I am superior.

Ladapo explained that he meant no offense, just wasn’t comfortable wearing a mask

I dislike wearing masks too. Sensory Processing Disorder makes it an unpleasant sensation. In fact, I had to shave my beard off as it was too tickly to wear a mask over it.
But I wear my mask when in public. It’s part of the price of living in a community.

@NumberWang: Obligatory.

The Narcissist’s Prayer

That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
And if it is, that’s not my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.

Sounds like Ladapo is now on #2/3.

I think, as empathetic social creatures, we naturally, automatically, apply our own working theory of mind to others when trying to understand the reasoning and motives that lie behind their behaviors. But these are atypical animals that, unlike us, are neurologically incapable of caring about anyone but themselves. The brain wiring for it simply doesn’t exist. They have all the ethics of a great white shark, and absolutely none of the restraint.

Which is why I wasn’t really joking in comparing the subset of Cluster Bs to [fictional] vampires. Mentally model them as the vampires of popular culture (ignoring daylight and garlic silliness), and one’s predictions and observations align much better. And yes, it is (and should be!) genuinely frightening, because these vampires do not sparkle (sorry, Denice!). They eat. And they are never not hungry.

Today there are tens of millions on that spectrum just in the USA alone, at every level of society, already intertwined through the corridors of power; while the rest of us would rather minimize our fear (and so feel safe in doing nothing) than defang the monster itself. Our own empathy pushes back against us, as it should! But just remember: they suffer no such limitation themselves.

Ladapo added to his non-masked excuse a further bit of sanctimony: it was just too hard to communicate effectively with people while he was masked. And a political friend of mine has heard extensive gossip that he really does want to be Surgeon General. The stupidity and misinformation from this guy are truly endless. So is the passive aggression, a convenient cover for his essential ruthlessness, she said.

I am in the hellhole of DeathInsanity, but there’s pretty strong support for getting rid of that homicidal psychopath.

@ has:

( Don’ worry, I’m not a fan of the sparkly kind- more the Taika Waititi kind).

Interesting that you mention ‘brain wiring’ when we led up to this discussion because anti-vaxxers totally misunderstand brain/ child development after Andy Wakefield – he probably also lacks self awareness and may not be visible in the ( metaphorical) mirror of self perception and personal responsibility. It’s always hilarious to me when an accomplished woo-meister enlightens his audience about SBM “sociopaths” and “narcissists” ( mispronounced, of course). as well as the need for “critical thinking”, “Occam’s Razor” and unmasking “Dunning Kruger” ( all true! I’ve heard these things).

People may indeed be born lacking the wiring but they gain skill and perfect their craft through social interaction. I’ve observed anti-vax/ woo leaders fire up their audiences about their Deep Concerns for Humanity, the Children and the Planet as they rake in cash and bask in applause. Now I can’t diagnose anyone but would bet that most of Orac’s frequent targets fall into this category. As do many trolls at RI.

There must be a better way to test, and develop vaccines. Have a heart! This issue for the most part is genuinely disturbing, this is the best science can do? Point out how many products are using this line of cells? Like that makes it ok? Mocking people for being disturbed by this?

MRNA vaccines do not use cell cultures started tens of years ago with fe ?tal cells. Are you satisfied

OK, where’s your completely human immortalized cell line that is perfect for growing any and all types of viruses used to both make and test vaccines?

One that is grown for tissues that you find acceptable.

Oh, did you discover how incredibly hard it is to find the exact right cell to start that kind of cell line?

It is incredibly frustrating how people will just wander in and say “I don’t like how you do this incredibly difficult and technical thing, do it a different way” without the slightest suggestion (or understanding) of how to do that. And then imply that every scientist is lazy and/or immoral because this really, really difficult question hasn’t been solved.

Many viruses of interest to humans only grow in human cells. Period. You can’t just decide to grow them in E. coli; it won’t work.

So, Jojo, before you go around lambasting every single medical or scientific advance of the last century, maybe do yourself the favor of a quick skim of the background to understand why things are the way they are.

I’d like to understand what’s being said.

Companies and hospitals indicate that fetal cell lines used in the testing and/or manufacturing of vaccines don’t contain the actual cells from the aborted baby.

How are the fetal cell lines different from the HeLa cells? Are there any reports stating that the HeLa cells used in research today are not the original HeLa cells?

I’m seriously trying to understand and would appreciate serious feedback addressing my question.

If you have links to articles or videos, I’d appreciate them. Thanks.

Want to respond to Orac? Here's your chance. Leave a reply! Just make sure that you've read the Comment Policy (link located in the main menu in the upper right hand corner of the page) first if you're new here!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.