I have been to a couple of hearings concerning immunization bills, and I have listened to and sent parents to many, many more hearings. I have heard the most passionate, intelligent, and well-respected doctors and nurses try to convey to lawmakers in minutes the complexity of our vaccination program and the importance of high immunization rates. These healthcare professionals who testify on the public health side are from in-state and work directly with the children and parents who are affected by vaccine rates. They are the people who, when bills working to raise rates do not pass or die, must intubate infants with pertussis, admit children to intensive care during measles outbreaks, and put children on ECMO machines when influenza attacks.
In other words, these doctors nurses testifying for tougher vaccine laws do so because they have seen children in their communities suffer, and they want to prevent more suffering. These are not people whose names you would know. They don’t make any money from their appearances in front of legislative committees. Their testimony brings them no further glory.
And then we have those who testify on behalf of the anti-vaccine contingent. Take Robert Kennedy, Jr., for example. In his latest stop, he is going to New York to persuade them not to make the meningitis vaccine mandatory. He claims that the vaccine contains too much mercury. And although he is an environmental lawyer and finds that experience relevant, it is clear he doesn’t understand medicine or public health. His stop might be unremarkable, except that he has also testified in front of legislative bodies in Vermont, Illinois, and Oregon.
Another example of an anti-vaxxer willing to travel to testify against immunizations is Dr. Toni Bark, whom I watched testify in Minnesota (where she was schooled on misusing a local doctor’s research.) She has also testified in Texas and Vermont, and there is talk of her traveling to other states to testify as well.
Part of me takes heart that being anti-vaccine is so rare that the same expert must be flown from place to place to testify. After all, the pro-vaccine forces need only look to their local hospital, university, or health department to find someone who both thoroughly understands the value of vaccines and is passionate enough to give their expert opinion to lawmakers. Apparently anti-vaxxers are not so lucky.
But the other part of me is annoyed. Much of the anti-vaccine belief system is predicated on an assumption that a conspiracy exists to suppress the evils of immunization so that the very many people involved can profit from the near universal usage of vaccines. This conspiracy means that all the doctors, nurses, research scientists, public health officials, and pharmaceutical company employees in the world aren’t in it to save lives. They are in it for cash. Thus the admonition from the anti-vaccine lines to “follow the money.”
Every time I see RFK Jr. or Toni Bark or whomever travel to yet another state legislature, I do follow the money. And I note that Kennedy has a book out–on the topic of thimerosal, of course! He has also been heavily promoting a pseudo-documentary which implicates thimerosal, which has been removed from childhood immunizations, in autism. Meanwhile, Toni Bark has her own horrible pseudo-documentary, starring multiple people with online supplement stores. When I follow the money, I realize that all this fear of vaccines is being used to sell me something. Movies! Books! Supplements!
It comes down to this: public health advocates find local people with expertise to educate lawmakers about bills. Anti-vaccine activists fly in profiteers on publicity tours to promote the very fear that sells their wares. The worst part is that their efforts are sometimes successful.