On Friday, I found myself protesting an anti-vaccine bus. A decade ago, I could not have imagined even writing such a sentence, but there I was.
Some backstory, first. (Scroll down if you don’t need the backstory.)
In 2011, amidst a growing measles outbreak among some unvaccinated Somali-American children in Minnesota, Andrew Wakefield flew into town and held a private meeting with them. Who knows what was said in this meeting since the people in attendance were parents of autistic children who are convinced of the vaccine connection and Wakefield–a defrocked pediatric gastroenterologist. I mean, what could he say? Who knows, but it was history.
Until April of this year when measles made a predictable comeback to the same community. Wakefield didn’t come back, but there was plenty of anti-vaccine outreach into the Somali-American community to convince them not to trust public health officials (to the consternation of many Somali-Americans). The Washington Post also reported talk about white parents of exposing their children purposely to measles and convincing Somali-American mothers that there was no measles outbreak, that it was all a trick concocted by public health.
And that’s all bad enough, but the anti-vaccine community in Minnesota has been actively working on translating Wakefield’s 2015 fraudumentary, Vaxxed, into Somali for further indoctrination. I’m not done. We were all disheartened when Tribeca announced (and eventually retracted) that Vaxxed would be screened, but now the film is available on Amazon Prime and a tour RV/bus (it’s an RV, okay?) containing Polly Tommy and her friends is making its way through the country and recording stories of so-called vaccine-injury (usually autism).
Enter self-described Pro-Vaccine Troll, Craig Egan. Craig asked his Facebook friends and fans if he should follow the Vaxxed RV/bus/it’s an RV à la Grateful Dead. $10,000 in GoFundMe donations later, he was pulling into Minneapolis and following the Vaxxed vehicle.
On the day the measles outbreak was finally declared over.
End of backstory.
Everyone wants to know what it was like confronting the Vaxxed jalopy, and so I thought I would write out my story. The day before, I wanted Craig to get a real sense of what we are really fighting for–preventing kids from getting sick. So I took him to Children’s Minnesota to meet Patsy Stinchfield and Joe Kurland, who worked directly with the measles cases and with system-wide infection prevention. He interviewed them on video (and they interviewed him back):
At this point, we still had no idea where the bus was going to be. The anti-vaxxers in Minnesota were being purposely coy about where they were filming. Even though it was the day before and we had had feelers out for weeks trying to figure out where it would be, we didn’t know. But one journalist got confirmation of where it would be, and I called him Friday morning and was lucky enough to find out. This is where I admit that we tipped off a few reporters, as well. When I arrived, Craig, his girlfriend Sharon, Joe Kurland, a few mothers, and a reporter were there, being filmed by an anti-vaccine mom standing at a distance. I waved hello because I am polite.
Not much happened other than some good conversation on our end and worried looks shot our way from theirs. Joe decided to do a Facebook Live video.
Eventually Patsy Stinchfield arrived and Joe left. She pointed out the Sunday Mail journalist Ian Birrell was over at the RV. He had interviewed both of us in the week prior, and we were both impressed with his depth of knowledge concerning science and the anti-vaccine movement–especially Andrew Wakefield in particular. I knew he had connected with Polly Tommey, and he allowed her to interview him aboard their transport.
Because Patsy is brave and I want to grow up to be just like her because she is also smart and pretty and amazing, she decided she wanted to get up close to see the Vaxxed wagon. A number of people had been staring at use almost the entire time we had been there, and they didn’t look happy that we were walking closer. I held out my hand and introduced myself to a few people, only because I wanted to convey to them that I was not there to belittle or harm them. I feel like giving people your name helps you connect as people rather than representatives of some opposing side. Most of them shook my hand and told me their names, too. They were polite.
One woman, however, did refuse to shake my hand. I felt a little like Angela Merkel, and hey–that’s not bad company to be in. She also would not tell me her name. I don’t know if she was afraid of what I would do with her name (honestly, I am terrible with names, so forget is the correct answer) or if she was just being hostile.
She wanted us to say something about the names written on the bus. (The names are supposed to represent people who have been injured by vaccines. I did notice how many of the names were written in groups by the same hand, and it seems an improbability to me that anyone would have multiple people from the same family who suffered a true adverse reaction to a vaccine.)
In any case, we didn’t reply as she wanted, and she expressed her displeasure. She wanted us to know that the names were important, so I tried to prove I was listening to her by paraphrasing what I believed she was saying, but that also made her angry. I supposed she didn’t like my paraphrasing. I was trying, though! Perhaps she was just spoiling for an argument.
She told us that if our brakes went out in our cars, we would want to warn other people. Patsy commented that brakes are a good analogy, except that with vaccines, we need everyone to use their brakes or else we are all in trouble. We can’t allow people to opt out of brakes. This unnamed woman told us that we couldn’t use a car as a comparison because the human body is not a car. Craig pointed out to her that the car/brake analogy was hers, but that didn’t satisfy her. I’m also not really a huge fan of arguing about analogies. The thing about analogies is that they are always imperfect. The only thing that is exactly like the thing is the thing. So we moved on.
Another woman then approached us. She did give us her name (I am not going to disclose it here), shook our hands, and told us that she was vaccine injured. Patsy asked what happened, and she said she had a stroke after the flu vaccine.
I’ll just pause briefly for an evidence aside. The flu vaccine is, in fact, associated with a temporary drop in the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Unpause.
She disclosed some other information to us that isn’t pertinent to anything and I don’t think is appropriate to share publicly. It was a calm, polite conversation. No minds were changed. She probably doesn’t like us.
We returned to our picnic table, and Ian came over and chatted with us briefly. His photographer took a photo of us. He asked us not to smile, but he was standing next to an adorable baby who kept waving at us.
As we stood there, someone we called Frisbee Guy walked past and said, “I’m with you guys!” I guess while I was at the bus with Patsy, a family on a Surrey bike pointed at the Vaxxed vector and shouted, “They are the ones who caused the measles outbreak!”
Craig presented me with a check for Voices for Vaccines. He donated a third of his GoFundMe proceeds, which was incredibly generous.
As I drove home, I heard a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio give an in-depth (and really well-covered) report on the end of the measles outbreak and the Vaxxed cohort’s dealings. If possible, please listen rather than read the MPR report, as it is abbreviated in print.
If you live in Minnesota, please use the contact form on this blog to reach me and to learn how to combat the anti-vaccine movement. The next measles outbreak will happen if we do not act now.
- There is only one Craig Egan.
- Anti-vaxxers want to argue. Kind of. Not about car brakes.
- Read the dimensions on Amazon products carefully.
- Eric Clapton became a terrible person while I wasn’t looking, so I can’t tell you who I thought looked like him. (I now denounce that opinion. He was much handsomer than Clapton.)
- The Vaxxed tour is devolving into the end of the Spinal Tap tour. All they need is their miniature Stonehenge.
- Pro-vaxxers are awesome, and they are often huggers.