Antivaccine nonsense Autism Medicine Quackery

The CDC promotes vaccination, and antivaccinationists lose it

If there’s one thing that is true of the antivaccine movement, it’s that its members are rarely willing to admit that they are, in fact, antivaccine. Sure, there are uncommon exceptions who say it loud that they are antivaccine and proud and through their refreshing honesty and lack of self-delusion cause no end of problems for the more “reasonable” and “moderate” antivaccine activists determined to convince the world that they are “not antivaccine” but “pro-safe vaccine,” “pro-vaccine safety,” or “vaccine safety activists.” The less deluded antivaccine activists are, after all, masters of cognitive dissonance. They know society views being antivaccine as bad and, because they don’t view themselves as bad people, convince themselves that they aren’t antivaccine. Add to that the need to appear not to be kooks, and they try very, very hard indeed to deny they are antivaccine.

But antivaccine is as antivaccine does, and antivaccine views are not unlike pornography: sometimes hard to define, but I know it when I see it. Boy, did I see it again recently. In the wake of the whole “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy, the “scandal” that isn’t, antivaccinationists seem to be going quite bonkers in the belief that they have finally found evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt their central organizing conspiracy theory, namely that the CDC has been “covering up” incontrovertible evidence that vaccines cause autism.

So pity the poor CDC when it starts up a rather conventional social medial campaign, which it calls #TeamVax:



This rather basic social media campaign did serve a nice ancillary purpose other than promoting vaccination. It prodded the antivaccine movement to do what it does so well: Dive straight into pseudoscience crazy town. For instance, Levi Quackenboss, one of the dumber antivaccinationists whose “work” I’ve come across, posted one of the silliest antivaccine rants I’ve ever seen, basically sarcastically thanking the CDC for #TeamVax:

CDC have you done lost your mind? What were the big brains in Atlanta thinking when they decided that the largest public health organization in the nation needed to stoop to meme-speak?
Let’s take a look at the meme that my tax dollars paid for. You’ve got your racially ambiguous doting mother with her tiny baby boy who’s clearly already had one round of vaccines because his bulging forehead circumference is in the 99th percentile. It’s nice to see vaccine-injured babies represented.

CDC #TeamVax

Personally, I don’t see any “meme-speak” there. I mean, seriously. Take a look at the photo, which Quackenboss helpfully displays in the post and I helpfully display above. Yes, it’s a mother and a baby, with the slogan, “I want my baby to be safe and healthy, that’s why,” a perfectly fine slogan, concluding with “I’m #TeamVax.” This is about as innocuous an ad campaign as I can imagine. In fact, from my perspective as a supporter of vaccine science, the only complaint I can come up with about it is that maybe it’s a little too innocuous. As for complaining about the whole “#TeamVax” thing, my first reaction was: WTF? Antivaccinationists have been Tweeting various increasingly ridiculous hashtags for a year now, in particular the #CDCwhistleblower hashtag. Particularly silly was the “#GarbageCan” hashtag “inspired” by the “CDC whistleblower” William W. Thompson’s alleged statement quoted by Rep. Bill Posey (R-Florida) that CDC investigators had disposed of a whole lot of original research paperwork and data in a big garbage can. The CDC is only doing what any organization in 2015 should be doing to try to spread its message: leveraging social media. One can argue over how well or poorly it’s doing it, but it would be irresponsible of the CDC not to do it, particularly during August, which is National Immunization Awareness Month.

Particularly hilarious is Quackenboss’s assertion:

Let me break it down for you. You are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As far as 95% of America knows, you are infallible. Why do you need an ad campaign if you’re infallible? You don’t. When was the last time you saw a Rolls Royce commercial? Never. They don’t advertise. They don’t have to. They’re infallible.

Actually, Rolls Royce does advertise. Quackenbush just doesn’t see the ads. Heck, Rolls Royce even has an active Twitter account followed by nearly 100,000 users. It even runs commercials:


Sorry, Quackenbush, just because you’re not aware of Rolls Royce ads doesn’t mean Rolls Royce doesn’t run them. It might not run them on television (and, in fact, the CDC doesn’t often run ads on TV), but it does run print ads and use Twitter. It’s advertised for a long time, decades, even. Indeed, one of its classic ads is considered iconic:

Levi Quackenbush really should Google more. Rolls Royce has been advertising its cars for a long time.

Levi Quackenbush really should Google more. Rolls Royce has been advertising its cars for a long time.

Seriously, dude, before making a claim like that you really should do a couple of minutes’ worth of Googling. So, yes. The CDC does need to advertise. It does need to hit back hard against the antivaccine movement because the antivaccine movement has resulted in pockets of decreased vaccine uptake that have resulted in outbreaks of measles and pertussis. Why? Well, because of people like Quackenbush who gloat because their fear mongering has succeeded in causing vaccine uptake to drop:

But guess what you’ve ended up doing on your little joyride with my tax dollars? You’ve legitimized your opposition, so thank you for that. One doesn’t advertise unless their competitor is a real contender for their job. Do you see NASA responding to flat-Earthers? Do you see #TeamSphere memes on any of their Facebook pages? No, you don’t. Flat-Earthers don’t have NASA quaking in their boots.

We don’t see NASA responding to flat earthers because flat earthers don’t endanger public health. Antivaccine activists do. Also, real flat earthers are so rare as to be not worth dealing with. Antivaccine activists, unfortunately, are not. Yes, it’s a risk responding to them, but it’s a risk that has to be taken because a lack of response is no longer acceptable.

Thanks to Quackenbush, though, for showing what I mean about the antivaccine movement.

There’s another antivaccine loon who’s equally unhappy about the new CDC campaign. We’ve met her before. It’s Megan Heimer over at Living Whole. On one occasion, she inappropriately likened criticism of pseudoscience and quackery to “hate speech“; on another occasion, she argued against neonatal vitamin K injections because they were “synthetic.” Basically, there appears to be no woo, antivaccine or otherwise, that she will not embrace. Not surprisingly, she’s found another way to attack the CDC ad campaign. Her premise? That it’s “pitting parent against parent.” Granted, Quackenbush did make a similarly nonsensical argument, but Heimer can’t resist taking it right off the cliff into the canyon of stupid.

First, she responds to a CDC questionnaire that tells you what vaccines are recommended for people with chronic diseases:

First, vaccines don’t prevent chronic disease. Nobody with Crohn’s Disease wakes up in the morning and says, “Oh, I have Crohn’s, I should probably get an MMR vaccine.” Secondly, vaccines cause chronic disease. It’s written all over the package inserts, PubMed database, and thousands of peer-reviewed studies. (Don’t bother telling the CDC, they already know.) Third, if you have a chronic disease, you’re more likely to suffer from a vaccine adverse reaction. (Logic would follow that a strong immune system is required to deal with the nasty in the shot and mount a “proper” response.)

The stupid, it burns.

The CDC isn’t claiming that vaccines will prevent chronic disease. It’s saying that patients with certain chronic diseases are more susceptible to complications from common vaccine-preventable diseases, which is why they should be vaccinated against those diseases. Second, there is no good evidence that vaccines cause chronic disease. I’ve discussed this more times than I care to remember, including findings that vaccines might actually be protective against asthma. Certainly, even if they aren’t, it’s a good thing to prevent asthmatics from getting a respiratory infection. They’re prone to complications from viral infections. None of that stops Heimer from parroting familiar antivaccine talking points about “injecting neurotoxins, hazardous wastes, aborted baby ingredients, and carcinogens into your tiny children” and labeling anyone who disagrees with her as #TeamStupid. (The projection is truly awesome, is it not?)

We knew that Heimer was antivaccine; so deconstructing her antivaccine tropes is like shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. Instead, let’s look at this:

I have to admit, I was left wondering which team the parents of fully vaccinated, vaccine-injured children were on or the parents who vaccinated but believe in choice?
Yes, this is another sad attempt by the CDC to pit parent against parent. Nothing else works. We’re educated and we see through their lacking data, intentional cover-ups, and misleading propaganda, including their latest ploy at “scaring” parents into vaccinating. But it’s like we’re immune to bull$h*t. (Excuse my language but this is an occasion that warrants such a word and I think Jesus would be okay with it.) Education has that effect on people. So they’ve had to stoop to the level of creating animosity between mothers and they’re sending a misleading message that you don’t care about your child’s health if you don’t vaccinate. Nice. How sixth-grade of them.

This is what we in the biz call reading a meaning into an advertisement that isn’t there. Do you see any message of divisiveness in the CDC message? I sure don’t. It’s basically a positive message encouraging parents to vaccinate. There’s no snarkiness, as I use from time to time when dealing with antivaccine loons like Heimer. There’s no demonization of the vaccine hesitant or antivaccine activists. There’s just a simple message: Vaccinate your children. Join #TeamVax. The only way you can object to that message and view it as somehow “pitting parent against parent” is if you are antivaccine and view yourself as being on #TeamAntivax. Otherwise, why would you object, unless you view #TeamVax as the enemy and any perceived attempt to recruit to it as an attempt by the enemy to swell its numbers.

That’s because Megan Heimer is antivaccine. To the core.

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]


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