Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Politics Quackery

Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey rally to “Green Our Vaccines”: Anti-vaccine, not “pro-safe vaccine”!

Sadly, it’s almost here.

I’m referring, of course, to the “Green Our Vaccines” rally led by that useful idiot for the antivaccinationist movement Jenny McCarthy and sponsored by Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), Generation Rescue, and a variety of other , which will take place a mere day from now. I’ll give the organizers credit for one thing. They have come up with a slogan that’s truly brilliant in an Orwellian sort of way, namely “Green our Vaccines,” with an accompanying press release:

McCarthy, author of the best-selling book “Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism,” and Carrey have joined forces with national advocacy organizations in the battle to eliminate toxins from children’s vaccines and to encourage national health agencies to reassess mandatory vaccine schedules. While they do support immunization, like many parents and experts in the medical community, McCarthy, Carrey and their many allies feel that children are receiving too many vaccines, too soon, many of which are toxic. Their goal is to demand a safer vaccine supply and schedule for children.

The marchers also have a logo to match:


The logo may be–how shall I put this?–either charmingly minimalist or done on the cheap by Jenny herself, but the slogan is potentially quite effective. After all, who wouldn’t want “greener” vaccines, whatever that means? In the meantime Jen and Jim’s merry band of antivaccinationists is going out of its way to assure the press and anyone who will listen to their spokespeople and members that they are really, truly, and honestly “not anti-vaccine” but rather “pro-safe vaccine.” Indeed, the Grand Poobah of propagandists for the antivaccine movement, David Kirby, even went way, way out of his way yesterday to try to answer charges that he is antivaccine, albeit not particularly convincingly to those of us who have followed his writings. Again, I doff my hat to the organizers at this march for how they’ve–if you’ll excuse the term–framed the issue. It’s brilliant and very difficult to counter. After all, who doesn’t want “safer” vaccines as well? No one, not even the the man who is to antivaccinationists the Devil incarnate, Paul Offit, would say that he doesn’t want safer vaccines. Certainly I would be in favor of making vaccines as safe as possible. They’re incredibly safe now, but there’s always room for improvement. What the press and others at whom this crunchy eco-friendly message of reassurance and seeming reason that fits right in with the current mood of the country is aimed don’t realize is just one thing.

It’s a load of fetid dingo’s kidneys

Nowhere is the utter disingenuousness of this strategy more apparent than from the “toxin” gambit, which is the new bogey man that has replaced the previous bogey man of thimerosal in vaccines. Take a look at this companion emblem that is contains the other major slogan that antivaccinationists are using for this rally (more on that later):


Check out the bottom bit:

Vaccine ingredients: Mercury, aluminum, antifreeze, formaldehyde, aborted human fetus cells, chick embryos, monkey kidney cells, fetal bovine serum, etc.

Here’s another sign for the rally:


Yes, it’s the dreaded “toxin” gambit, a variation of which Jenny McCarthy has been mindlessly parroting and that I presciently deconstructed a while back when Kent Heckenlively produced such an over-the-top and idiotic invocation of this particular canard that I had a hard time believing anyone could be so utterly scientifically clueless that he could spout such misinformation without his head exploding. Not only was Heckenlively’s version of this gambit wrong, but it was so extravagantly and outrageously wrong that it threatened to tear a rent in the fabric of the space-time continuum that would suck all remaining intelligence out of any intelligent organism anywhere in the universe. Heckenlively’s stupidity was just that potent. Indeed, when I deconstructed the full idiocy of this gambit, I feared that even my mind, which has been hardened through long exposure to just this sort of pseudoscientific babble, might be hard pressed not to have many of my neurons undergo a dramatic wave of apoptosis in protest against my subjecting them to this sort of toxic level of dumb.

Given that I’ve already dealt with this in detail before, I don’t see the need to do it again, other than to point out a couple of things. I think that I can best illustrate why the “toxin” gambit is in fact an antivaccine gambit by going back to a time three years ago when I lurked on the discussion boards of, where the prevailing opinion is pro-woo and anti-vaccine. This was perhaps best encapsulated by a comment by a woman using the ‘nym Jen123:

Mercury seems to be getting tons of coverage. When that deal is settled and we win, we need to go after another ingredient. We’ll dismantle the vaccine industry ingredient by stupid ingredient if we have to.

Who is with me?

Suffice it to say, no one, apparently, wasn’t with her. I will give Jen123 kudos, though. She perfectly and succinctly stated the true aim of the “toxin” gambit. The “Green Our Vaccines” (GOV) movement is nothing more than the same sentiment wrapped up in a nice, friendly slogan that on the surface sounds so very reasonable, particularly when antivaccinationists mention all those really scary-sounding ingredients and either fail to understand or fail to mention that there is a reason why every one of those ingredients is in there and that the dose makes the poison. Many of those “ingredients” are not ingredients at all but rather cells used to grow up the viruses used to make the vaccine and then later removed, and others are used in the manufacturing process to do things like lyse cells, inactivate virus, and other necessary steps. In the end vaccine, they are present in no more than trace amounts.

Antivaccinationists are also not too concerned with getting the actual niceties of the chemistry right, confusing ethylene glycol (antifreeze, which is not in vaccines) with polyethylene glycol (PEG, which is in some vaccines and is also in a number of skin creams, toothpaste, and medications, including laxatives) or ethyl ether (the flammable anaesthetic) with polyethylene glycol pisooctylphenyl ether (Triton X-100, a kind of soap/detergent). Nor are they concerned with getting the niceties of the biology right, either. They like to mention “aborted fetuses,” as though vaccines were somehow made from aborted fetal tissue, when in reality some viruses are grown in cells derived from an aborted fetus nearly 45 years ago. Antivaccinationists know that, but they like to try to feed in to religious objections to abortion by playing this gambit, which is in reality no more than a variant of the “toxin” gambit (although they do appear to have gotten a bit smarter about it and don’t say “tissues” anymore). The whole bit about “monkey cells” is pretty dumb as well. Some viruses are indeed grown in monkey kidney cells, but it’s not as though these cells are retained in the vaccine. There’s a little step called “purification” that antivaccinationists seem to think that manufacturers forget The viral particles are isolated and the cells are eliminated, just as the human fetal cells are. Maybe they believe in a homeopathic theory of vaccination, in which the vaccines somehow retain a memory of the monkey cells with which they have been in contact but that have been removed from the final product. Finally, antivaccinationists aren’t too concerned about the niceties of pharmacology. They’ll rant on and on about formaldehyde, neglecting the fact that most people are exposed in a single day to more formaldehyde from plastics, plywood, furniture and furniture finishes, and a variety of other household products and objects in every house than babies are exposed to from their entire vaccine schedule.

The “toxin” gambit is also nothing more than moving the goalposts, a tried-and-true crank technique. Now that thimerosal is increasingly being vindicated by clinical and epidemiological studies that have failed to find a link between its presence in vaccines and autism, antivaccinationists have moved on to other ingredients. They will continue to do so as long as there are vaccines, and the GOV slogan is just a far more media-savvy manifestation of this goalpost-shifting that has always been part and parcel of the anti-vaccine movement. It’s also a clever co-optation of the environmental movement, although the attempt to be green has brought out some questions of such jaw-dropping ignorance that it’s hard for me to believe that they came from the mind of a human:

But Mason, who has two autistic children, warns that autism is on the rise, and that something has to change. “ideally the legislators would enact legislation that would force companies to use natural ingredients”, she argues. “Not what they’re using now.”

That’s right. Mrs. Mason wants manufacturers to use “all natural” ingredients in vaccines, as though she were getting her vaccines from Whole Foods. I have news for Mrs. Mason: Polio, the measles, mumps, influenza, smallpox, and every other vaccine-preventable disease are nothing but all natural ingredients.

With this background in mind, let’s look at some more signs being sold for the rally:

i-b674dbad97f490b857bd3657bb7f59f9-GOV shirt.jpg

Of course, the organizers of this rally, even though they sympathize with the anti-vaccine movement, have been trying very hard to keep them quiet and out of sight, mainly because such sentiments undermine the “we’re not anti-vaccine” message that the organizers are trying to promote. Unfortunately, the antivaccinationists are among the most vocal and rabid supporters of this rally, which will make keeping them in line difficult. Indeed, about a month ago, on a mailing list for people planning to go to the rally, a woman wanted assurances that the rally was not going to be “taken over by anti-vaccine groups.” People were urged to discuss this “PRIVATELY.” It was also mentioned that this was a very contentious topic, hence the reason for urging the discussion to be private.

The other major slogan being used is “Too many, too soon.” This, too, is a conveniently vague but oh-so-reasonable-sounding slogan. Of course, no scientific evidence is presented that rises above the level of Dr. Laura Hewitson’s badly designed monkey study to support their contention that the current vaccine schedule is harmful. Moreover, when the GOV movement claims that current vaccines haven’t been tested in combinations, it’s just plain wrong. Vaccines being tested in clinical trials are administered in conjunction with vaccines already on the market according to the recommended vaccination schedule. Not to do so would be highly unethical, as it would involve withholding existing protective vaccines from a group participating in a clinical trial and leave that group of children exposed to serious infectious diseases. Moreover, contrary to the claims that the current vaccine schedule “overloads the immune system,” there are actually fewer antigens now in more vaccines, thanks to better vaccine design. Like the “Green Our Vaccines” slogan, the “Too many, too soon” slogan is also nothing more than a fairly clever strategy of preemptively moving the goalposts. Conveniently, the GOV folks never quite tell us which vaccines should be delayed and why or what the tradeoff would be in terms of exposing children to vaccine-preventable disease for a longer period of time before they are vaccinated.

So what will this demonstration look like? I can’t say how large it will be, but I’m guessing it will look very similar to the Power of Truth rally three years ago, at least in terms of the signs. Mercury will not be the predominant theme this time around, though. Even the thickest-headed antivaccinationists are starting to realize that the vast preponderance of evidence is failing to support a connection between thimerosal and autism. That’s the entire reason for the goal post moving strategy of emphasizing “toxins” and the “Green Our Vaccines” slogan, after all. Still, it’s instructive to look at photos of the original demonstration (more here). I predict that, mixed in with the “Green Our Vaccines” signs, we’ll see signs like these:

Vaccines = Russian Roulette
My son was poisoned by booster shots
Weapons of mass destruction

Kathleen Seidel predicted the following about the 2005 rally:

We can expect to see photomontages of autistic children, with ‘before’ pictures of smiling babies, and ‘after’ pictures of toddlers in distress, or their attention focused in some other direction than towards the photographer.

We can expect well-meaning parent-advocates, and the celebrities, public relations professionals, journalists, lawyers and politicians they have enlisted in support of their mission, to implicitly broadcast to the autistic children and adults of the world,

‘You are autistic, therefore you are all poisoned.’
‘You are autistic, therefore you are all broken.’
‘You are autistic, and someone has to take the blame.’

We can also expect to see autistic children themselves–children carrying brightly colored signs reading, “Poisoned By Immunizations!!!” Children in t-shirts bedecked with skull-and-crossbones, bearing the legend, “Warning: Contains Mercury.”

I see no reason to update her prediction, other than that mercury will not be the overarching villain, antivaccinationists having expanded their repertoire in the intervening three years, and that the rally is likely to be considerably larger than it was three years ago. Even so, everything old is new again, and Kathleen’s predictions will be just as valid today. The only other difference is that these days antivaccinationists are better at moving the goalposts and they’ve learned from their experience with thimerosal never–ever–to make a hypothesis about what in vaccines is causing autism that makes a prediction that allows that hypothesis to be falsified. But more importantly, they’ve gotten considerably better at hiding their antivaccination agenda from the public and lawmakers behind media- and eco-friendly slogans like “Green Our Vaccines,” and that’s why they’ve become so much more effective than in the past. That’s why it’s so important to emphasize that “Green Our Vaccines” is nothing more than another way of moving the goalposts yet again. No matter how much vaccines are “greened” (whatever that means) it will never be enough for them until the very ingredients that make vaccines work (bacterial and viral antigens) are removed, and even then I’m not so sure that would be enough for them. That’s because it’s always been all about the vaccines, not about any single ingredient or combination of ingredients.


  1. The Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey rally to “Green Our Vaccines”: Anti-vaccine, not “pro-safe vaccine”!
  2. An Open Letter to Congress on Immunization
  3. “Green Our Vaccines”: Further skeptical reading
  4. “Green Our Vaccines”: Serendipity and schadenfreude as antivaccinationists go to war
  5. “Green Our Vaccines”: Best comment EVAH! Or: How to preserve biological diversity through not vaccinating
  6. “Green Our Vaccines”: Celebrity antivaccinationist ignoramuses on parade. Or: I didn’t know that Dumb & Dumber was a documentary
  7. “Green Our Vaccines”: “Pro-safe vaccine” or anti-vaccine? You be the judge!
  8. “Green Our Vaccines”: “Pro-safe vaccine” or anti-vaccine? You be the judge! (Part 2)
  9. “Green Our Vaccines”: The fallacy of the perfect solution

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]

Comments are closed.


Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading