No, MLK Jr Wasn’t Talking About Vaccines

The anti-vaccine movement has a history of couching their concerns callously and ridiculously as civil rights issues. Of course, purposely leaving a child unprotected against a potentially dangerous disease is not a civil right.

So I wasn’t surprised to see them co-opt Martin Luther King Jr. day for their own agenda.

 

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Immediately assuming he is talking about your pet cause does not count as thinking.

There were several other similar posts, including this one, from one prominent California activist, claiming that being required to vaccinate your child before enrolling them in school is the equivalent to being denied the right to vote and use public facilities because of the color of your skin:

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When I saw those posts, I wondered why they were not connecting MLK Jr. to any race issue at all, including their newest claims that a CDC Whistleblower has revealed that the MMR vaccine causes autism in black, male preschoolers. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t and it doesn’t.) Considering this accusation, you would think that when talking about their CDC Whistleblower hubbub they would invoke race and MLK on a day about race and MLK, right?

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Posted on MLK day, this literally says nothing about MLK or race or their main CDC Whistleblower thesis.

Faux-journalist Ben Swann, who works for the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, is coming out with a bombshell documentary (on his own website) about the CDC Whistleblower documents–the ones that claim that there is an increased risk of autism for black males who receive the MMR–and he says nothing about race at all. (Note: these assertions are bunk.)

So much for civil rights, huh?

I combed Facebook to see if others, who were working to promote Ben Swann’s report, but I couldn’t find mention of race at all. I found the Canary Party’s Ginger Taylor’s missive about why God is on their side and how Ben Swann is going to expose the Truth. The Thinking Moms’ Revolution was excited about exposing the CDC for something. Age of Autism discussed how bad the media is and how good Ben Swann is. But I couldn’t find anyone talking about the main Whistleblower hypothesis as it concerned race. And that was on the day many specifically think about race and civil rights.

It is likely just an oversight, but the anti-vaccine activists have been exploiting the idea of race, such as Robert F Kennedy Jr. did in this interview with Tavis Smiley. It’s not that they don’t know race exists. It’s just that they think their rights trump not only their children’s rights but also the struggle for actual civil rights and racial equality.

And let’s not forget the demographic we are discussing. Parents who refuse to protect their children through immunization are often wealthy, well-educated, and white. Despite all of their privilege, they think Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about them and their supposed right to leave their children vulnerable to disease and to endanger their broader community. And that’s kind of awful.

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The Cancer Kids are Taking Over

I frequent Dr. Tenpenny’s Facebook page because it is amusing but also because it helps me understand the marketing being used to make parents afraid of vaccines. Because I keep tabs on Tenpenny, I’ve also taken note of the revolving websites she has attached herself to, from Vaxxter to All About Breast Health. That’s where I found TruthKings.

It sounded promising but also slightly frightening. We all know the spurious ways people like Tenpenny use the term truth, after all. But today I noticed a post about why it is okay to endanger the health of vulnerable children undergoing chemotherapy.

Of course, that’s not how my new favorite truthers framed it, though. They titled their post, “Your Child Having Cancer Doesn’t Mean My Child Should Be Forced Dangerous Vaccines.” The title alone is poppycock. Let’s review in bulleted points:

  • No one is forcing vaccines upon anyone. To force a vaccine would mean to hold a child down and physically inject it into a child. Instead, reasonable safeguards are put on schools, including the safeguard against infectious disease. If you don’t want to participate in helping schools be safe from infectious diseases, you bear the consequences.
  • Vaccines are not dangerous. Millions of vaccines are given every day. 95% of parents choose to fully vaccinate their children. If vaccines were dangerous, pretty much every child in this country would be worse off for being vaccinated. Instead, they are free of diphtheria, polio, Hib, measles, and so forth.
  • Of course it is your responsibility to take reasonable precautions to help other children. That’s why you can’t drive drunk or text while driving. In fact, the law books are filled with things you can’t do because it would endanger others. And Laura Bredesen, mother of a cancer patient exposed to measles, will tell you that leaving your child unvaccinated is a direct threat to the children around him/her who are cancer patients.

Why are these TruthKings taking on the ever threatening pediatric cancer patient? What did these cancer kids ever do to them?

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Don’t worry, cancer kids; you aren’t the only threat. It seems that fluoride, GMOs, education, and the Islamics are all taking over. Or at least the Islamics are.

Fear of the other is the most common cause of bigotry and prejudice. For a TruthKing, you are a threat if you are a Muslim or if you are receiving chemotherapy because your existence means that their freedom might be curtailed. Both cancer patients and Muslims are turned into the enemy by refusing to actually get to know anyone who fits those categories.

After all, Ben Bredesen can’t be your enemy once you get to know him because he’s a sweet kid. And he’s a child. How can a kid be an enemy, and on what planet to you refuse to protect a child?

And that’s just my reaction to the headline. In fact, the entire post is a deep conspiracy about how the government is using pediatric cancer patients to take away our freedom. And you and I are apparently part of the conspiracy:

The Government has pulled at the very fibers which inspire you, cause you to be passionate, make you laugh and make you enraged. They’ve convinced you that myself and my child are here on earth to do harm to your child. And they’ve done this as a way to recruit an army of mothers and fathers to take the helm and become soldiers in a way to fight against parental rights.

In this battle, of course, the rights of the parent trump the rights of the child. People who use terms like “truth” and “parental rights” believe that they own their children, that their decisions are paramount whether or not these decisions are wise. They give no consideration to how children have been historically used by those who believe they own them, children who have worked in sweatshops and have been physically abused. The history of children’s rights is expunged in favor of a new liberty for parent/owners of children.

Of course, you ask, the war metaphor is just a metaphor right? (Okay, maybe you didn’t ask that, but you should.) No. Not at all. Remember these are people who think we are on the brink of an Islamic takeover. Their fears are about something sadistic and nefarious:

When you take the bait by the Government to diminish these very basic human, parental rights, you allow the Government to play to your sadness and despair. They have you at your weakest moment, compromised in your soul. When you really consider what they are doing, using your sick child as bait for your impassioned plea to support the army who is going to go door to door and remove rights, you begin to see how disturbing and disingenuous it all really is.

Going door to door to remove your rights. Sounds frightening doesn’t it?

But again, nothing of the sort is happening or is going to happen. At worst, you might be required to homeschool your child, as is now the case in California. Ironically, of course, asking that you opt for homeschooling instead of government-funded schooling is really the opposite of the foot soldiers coming to your door to remove your rights. It is keeping children closer to the adults who have bought into the fear mongering of the anti-vaccine movement.

Of course someone like Tenpenny shares the heck out of TruthKings on her page. This fear-based marketing, stirring distrust in the government and asking people to cloister against some imaginary army. The purpose of this marketing scheme is to sell her own wares. But real people are being harmed with this marketing strategy, whether these people are Ben Bredesen or our Muslim friends and neighbors. It’s unconscionable that a grifter like Tenpenny make them into the enemies in order to turn a profit. She will never change, but we can make sure our friends and family do not fall prey to these cynical strategies.

Are Doctors Dumb and the CDC Evil?

Last week, I wrote about Dr. Toni Bark’s testimony in front of the Minnesota Senate Health and Human Services Committee concerning a vaccine bill that would have made it more difficult to opt out of school entry vaccine requirements. I touched briefly on her assertion that the CDC is not transparent, hides information, plays games, and is bad in all possible ways.

Today, I wanted to revisit some of these assertions because they are common to the anti-vaccine movement. In fact, in order to believe that vaccines are bad for children, a person must believe that either the CDC is evil and wants to purposely harm them, or doctors are bumbling fools who don’t know what they are doing.

You cannot be anti-vaccine without believing that someone is hiding something from you or that you are smarter than the experts in the field since nearly every single expert in the field agrees that vaccines are safe and effective. In fact, the anti-vaxxers like to trot out their list of doctors who believe that vaccines are bad, which is quaint because there are so few of these doctors that they fit on a list. The number of doctors who want you to vaccinate your children and yourself is so large that we cannot list them. It’s easier just to say, “Pretty much all of them, except the ones on your list (who usually have online stores).”

But let’s address some of the questions this either-or anti-vaccine assumption posits.

Do doctors know anything about vaccines? Or do anti-vaccine parents who use the internet find themselves better informed than their doctors?

For this answer, I would like to quote the reply given by Dr. Dawn Martin, pediatrician at the Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis. She was asked this question directly by Minnesota Senator Eaton in response to Toni Bark’s testimony in front of the MN HHS committee. Here is what Dr. Martin said:

One of the centerpieces of what we do in pediatrics is preventative care, and one of the centerpieces of preventative care is vaccines. We take it very seriously. I’m actually a faculty member of Hennepin County Medical Center, where I am involved in teaching medical students [and] residents. We have in this state, I think cutting edge information through our health department and through original research that has been done here in this state on vaccines. We have several members who have testified here before you that are on the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practice for the CDC. We have, I believe, a wealth of solid immunization information here, and it is centerpiece in our medical school curriculum.

I can speak for what we do in pediatric resident training. It is something, that I know for a fact, that our pediatric trainees are well-versed and well-educated in solid immunization information. . . . So, yes, we are familiar with that research, we are familiar with the vaccines, I think most pediatricians take this very seriously. And it’s a very big part of our ongoing continuing medical education.

If you look at CMEs that most pediatricians engage in, immunization information, how are the schedules changing, wanting to be up-to-date, that is very important in pediatrics. And I am not a family doctor, but I would also venture to say it is a central part of their education as well as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. So I don’t know, Madam Chairman, if I have answered your question or if there is other information that you want. It really pains me to hear individuals say that physicians, and pediatricians in particular, don’t take this seriously or do the research or get the background that they need to come themselves informed and up-to-date. I will admit that it is a changing field and that it does take some very deliberate effort to stay up-to-date, but we do take that very seriously.

Is there a lack of transparency at the CDC? 

Whenever a large, bureaucratic government agency exists, we will naturally wonder if, in an attempt at self-preservation, will close their shutters to all scrutiny. However, when it comes to immunization, it is very important to note that the schedule is not made from within the Ivory Towers of the CDC. It is suggested, debated, and voted upon by doctors who are current practitioners working in communities around the country and outside the CDC.These researchers, doctors, nurses, and public health officials sitting on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) rely on research done from many different sources when deciding if and how to change the recommended vaccine schedule. And all of this is done as transparently as possible – in fact, you can watch the meetings on the internet as they take place.

Does the CDC waive Conflicts of Interest (COIs) in order to remain in cahoots with Big Pharma?

Part of the anti-vaccine trope about ACIP, however, is that those on it bring their Big Pharma love there without anyone ever being able to learn about their ties. Is this true? Is it possible that I could own  Big Pharma stock and sit on ACIP in secret hopes of becoming rich by getting vaccines added to the schedule? I asked Patsy Stinchfield CPNP, the first nurse to sit on ACIP, about this question. Here’s what she said:

To become an ACIP voting member I had to provide the CDC detailed statements of my and my husband’s investments. (I have no conflicts). At the beginning of every day of every ACIP you must declare if you have any conflict of interest and if you do you cannot vote on that issue.

So not only does someone have to declare COIs in order to be a member of ACIP, one also must declare before voting and abstain from votes where a conflict might exist.

The CDC probably wants to prevent disease and doctors probably know more than their patients.

Even I have had the exceedingly rare moment when I was right and the doctor was wrong. (A doctor once performed a strep test to humor me, and it came back positive.) But for the most part, those of us who never went to medical school know less about medicine than those who went. And while government agencies can feel like something faceless from a science fiction movie, when it comes to vaccines, it’s pretty easy to watch, in real time, what the CDC is doing.

Remember that in order to be anti-vaccine, you have to believe that either the experts are evil or the experts don’t know what they are doing. If you want to help a friend or family member overcome vaccine hesitancy, help them see the follies of this belief, first.

A special thank you to Dr. Dawn Martin and Patsy Stinchfield for their advocacy and their all-around awesomeness.

Why Do Anti-Vaxxers Try to Convince Parents the Government Will Kidnap Their Children?

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend on anti-vaccine sites and social media outlets. They are promoting stories of (as they tell it) good families whose children are unfairly and injudiciously kidnapped from them by government agencies. The anti-vaxxers sometimes assert that these so-called kidnappings are related to vaccines, but more often they do not. It seems that the overriding take-home message is, “Don’t trust the government.” Here are a few samples I found in 2 minutes of Googling:

The first instance is Natural News asserting that a child was (unfairly and unjustly) taken by CPS after receiving vaccines. For some background, Natural News is a for-profit website that promotes all manner of conspiracy theory, including that vaccines are a Nazi-like plot to thin our population and that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

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The next example I found was from the ironically-named National Vaccine Information Center’s Facebook page, asserting that Child Protective Service’s “corrupt” practices have finally been exposed (on a website about doctors and government workers kidnapping children):

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The last example I will present here come from a new website called Edgy Truth, which is closely tied to snake oil saleswoman Dr. Sherri Tenpenny’s practice. Dr. Tenpenny sells very expensive videos discussing the dangers of vaccines, and she also sells access to medical studies she did not write.

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The question in the title above asks why the anti-vaxxers are trying to convince parents that the government will kidnap their children. I’m not a mind-reader, and I cannot say for certain, but I have a few hypotheses:

  1. More and more every day parents are speaking up on behalf of vaccines. It is no longer just government agencies who are promoting high vaccine rates. In this way, parents from all political parties are giving the same message about something as the government. The anti-vaxxers may be trying to peel away this rare bi-partisan, every-person support by showing just how untrustowrthy and wicked the government truly is.
  2. The anti-vaxxers are so conspiracy minded that they truly believe that at any moment, someone will burst into their homes and remove their children for reasons capricious and nebulous. The message of “medical kidnappings” has a stickiness to them, and anti-vaccine pages and websites get more hits with these stories than less conspiracy-laden stories. In other words, these stories sell to the anti-vaccine base.
  3. The purveyors of anti-vaccine wares want parents to hide their children away from school officials and doctors so that they will be more vulnerable to anti-vaccine messaging. When parents do not trust doctors and other officials, they will not share information with them, and their beliefs about vaccines (and a whole host of other stuff) will go unchecked, leaving them at the mercy of the anti-vaccine pages and what they are selling.

Perhaps you have another observation or hypothesis. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, by any means, but it is worth paying attention to the paranoia and conspiracies being sold to our anti-vaccine friends and family members. I have a great deal of sympathy for people who live in a world so frightening that they believe this new message. Every parent deserves to be confident that their community will support them and their children.