Antivaccine nonsense Bad science Medicine Skepticism/critical thinking

Antivax pediatrician Liz Mumper suggests “criteria” for knowing COVID-19 vaccines are safe

Dr. Liz Mumper is associated with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.’s antivax organization Children’s Health Defense. She recently gave a presentation asking: How will we know that a COVID vaccine is safe? It’s a presentation that provides an excellent example of how to identify if someone is antivaccine.

Recently, I’ve seen a presentation by a pediatrician named Dr. Elizabeth Mumper being promoted by antivaxxer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and his antivaccine organization Children’s Health Defense entitled “How will we know that a COVID vaccine is safe?” It’s a great example of antivaccine propaganda disguised as “concerns” that are portrayed as seemingly reasonable but fall apart upon closer inspection. Before I get to that closer inspection of the video itself, however, let me explain how Dr. Mumper’s video is a perfect teaching tool to help identify antivaccine propaganda, particularly in the way that it basically answers the question with antivaccine talking points and an impossible standard.

“Antivax”: I know it when I see it

Whenever I’m asked what I mean when I refer to someone as “antivaccine”, “antivax”, or an “antivaxxer”, I tend to use two responses. The first is that I’ll often joke that being antivaccine is a lot like pornography. I know it when I see it. Basically, I’m channeling US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous quip about hard-core pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio. And it’s true. I do know antivaccine rhetoric when I see it without mentally having to check off a bunch of boxes in a list of criteria for what constitutes antivaccine conspiracy mongering and pseudoscience. However, that’s often very unsatisfying to those who haven’t followed the antivaccine movement for a long time. That’s where I like to use another test.

When I encounter someone whom I suspect of being antivaccine (especially if they deny being antivax and claim to be promoting vaccine safety), I like to ask a simple question. My line of questioning usually goes something like this: “You say you’re not ‘antivaccine,’ and I’ll accept that for the moment. Presumably, though, your not being ‘antivaccine’ means that you accept that there actually do exist vaccines that are sufficiently safe and effective for you to take yourself or for you to recommend in general to children (in the case of childhood vaccines) or adults. So tell me: Which vaccines do you consider sufficiently safe and effective to recommend in general?”

On rare occasions, the person suspected of being antivaccine will list off a vaccine or two, but only on rare occasions. When that happens, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is not antivaccine, but it’s a start. Some people, for instance, are afraid of only one or two vaccines (such as the COVID-19 vaccine). They might just be vaccine hesitant, rather than antivaccine, and then just hesitant about a small subset of vaccines at that. They can potentially be reasoned with, unless their fear of that one vaccine or handful of vaccines is too rooted in conspiracy theory.

More frequently, the answer to the question will either be crickets or a skillful dance around the question, in which conspiracies about big pharma will be referenced or a vaccine or two will be mentioned, but with so many caveats that the “endorsement” of that vaccine is functionally not an endorsement at all. Alternatively, the response will involve placing so many conditions, often impossible conditions, upon the endorsement of a vaccine or vaccines as to make it clear that there’s no way that person would ever recommend any vaccine. Sometimes the response is of the form, “I’m not ‘antivaccine,’ but current vaccines are completely unacceptable and unsafe”. I’ll quote an example from our old pal, scientist-turned-antivaccine-crank James Lyons-Weiler, in which he stated:

Mind you, I am not anti-vaccine. Ask any hard-core anti-vaxxer who has debated the issues with me. They get frustrated at my eternal hope that vaccines might be made safer. Or that biomarkers might be found to screen for those most at risk at serious adverse events. I do have issues with denial of informed consent, and in the bias that exists both in the conduct of “science” on vaccine science, in the interpretation of the “science” on vaccine safety, and the absolute bias in the media against any reasonable discussion of whether any vaccine is responsible for any adverse event.

Notice how Lyons-Weiler tried to distinguish himself from “hard-core antivaxxers” and then launched into unreasonable reasons that he considers vaccines unsafe, including the persecution complex so beloved of antivaxxers that you “can’t discuss” whether a given vaccine causes an adverse event. (Funny, The CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization practices, a.k.a. ACIP, would beg to differ, as would the FDA, which routinely asks exactly that question during the approval process of every vaccine and medicine. It’s making claims for adverse events caused by vaccines that are unsupported by the evidence and spreading conspiracy theories that generally garner the unfavorable reactions that Lyons-Weiler is complaining about, not doing science-based analyses about specific adverse events and specific vaccines.)

Then Lyons-Weiler, as antivaxxers nearly always do, gave the game away:

Let me state this as clearly as possible: as currently formulated, vaccines are filthy, nasty vials of toxic sludge that every American citizen and parent should be able to refuse for any reason. Doctors are not qualified to and should not be put in the position to “vet” whether any individuals’ claim to a religious exemption is “valid”; they certainly are not trained on comparative theology in medical school, and they cannot know the hearts and minds of individuals who do not want to collaborate with the past evils of abortion by injecting products made with and containing proteins and DNA from aborted fetal cells and tumor cell lines. I defend religious exemptions, and I am an evolutionary biologist!

So Lyons-Weiler also stated that vaccines are “filthy, nasty vials of toxic sludge”. That sounds rather…antivaccine, doesn’t it? Or is it just me? You get the idea. Simple, innocent probing questions directed at a suspected antivaxxer proclaiming that he’s “not antivaccine” will almost always reveal the truth. Dr. Mumper’s article is much like this, as I will show.

“I’m not antivaccine, but COVID-19 vaccines can never be safe”

Now let’s get into Dr. Mumper’s article, “How Will We Know That a COVID-19 Vaccine is Safe?” The video, sadly, is still on YouTube:

I thought YouTube and Google were cracking down on antivaccine disinformation. How is it that Children’s Health Defense still has a YouTube channel and can still post videos like this? In any case, you don’t have to watch it. Helpfully, there is a transcript, for those of you so inclined, and the PowerPoint presentation is in a PDF file. Also, RFK Jr. gives the game away with this introduction:

Dr. Mumper carefully provides detailed answers to two questions often asked by the public: “What does a safe and effective vaccine look like?” and “How will we know that a COVID-19 vaccine is safe?” She reviews many of the reasons why vaccines, as they are currently produced, are not safe, and explains that every year there are tens of thousands of adverse events, many of them resulting in serious conditions or even death.

Even if Dr. Mumper’s panoply of antivaccine disinformation were actually good science (which, obviously, it isn’t), I can’t help but point out that over a half a million are dead of COVID-19 in just over a year in just the US alone, with millions sickened and untold numbers of survivors suffering complications of the disease. Of course, Dr. Mumper is a longtime antivaccine activist. She’s the President and CEO of The Rimland Center and a Scientific Advisory Committee Member for RFK Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense. Longtimers might remember that Bernard Rimland formed the Autism Research Institute in 1967 and became the inspiration for Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) doctors, who all advocated “autism biomed” treatments for autism, the vast majority of which were quackery and much of which was based on the false idea that vaccines cause autism. Dr. Mumper has also been featured on SBM before, albeit a long time ago, when she promoted a plan that (she claimed) prevented nearly all autism in children. Unsurprisingly, lack of vaccines was a prominent feature.

As for the presentation itself, Mumper begins by citing how many people are reluctant to accept COVID-19 vaccines, pointing to “lockdowns” (they aren’t really that; they’re barely restrictions in many cases) as overreactions, and then blaming fear for the rush to a COVID-19 vaccine:

But why would we put all of our eggs in one basket? Why would we assume that a vaccine developed at Warp Speed is the only way to save ourselves? A public health crisis that’s unfolding with global implications should bring forth collaborative strategies to pull our collective wisdom. Now, the amygdala is a part of our brain that is ruled by fear and emotion, it’s considered the reptilian part of the brain, this very primitive response. So instant access to bad news 24/7 can have the effect of making us live in fear.

Neuroscience long ago has shown that when we are fearful, our ability to make rational decisions is compromised. We have trouble processing nuanced information. We are more likely to follow others blindly than to assess the data and make decisions for ourselves and our families. So the hijacking of the amygdala by fear, obviously a hand coming out of the grave or the scary clown face are images that would disturb most people. However, now, if we’re living in fear, the other images like the hand being presented for a handshake or the cute guy’s smile might seem threatening to some people because they’re worried about the contagion of COVID.

And here are the slides accompanying this part of the talk:

Liz Mumper's "Lizard Brain"
Liz Mumper's amygdala slide

Got that? The reason we’re rushing ahead with vaccinating as many people as possible can’t possibly be because millions are being sickened by SARS-CoV-2 and hundreds of thousands have died in just a year. It has to be fear. (Heck, Dr. Mumper even included a photo of a zombie hand pushing through the dirt of a grave!) Of course, sometimes, fear is not an entirely irrational response to danger, and COVID-19 represents danger. In any event, one might perceive that we’re “putting all our eggs in one basket”, but if that’s the case it’s more because of a failure to use other methods to stop the spread of the virus.

Next up:

"Vaccines didn't save us"

Yes, this is the ever-popular antivaccine gambit that I like to refer to as “vaccines didn’t save us”. It’s a highly intellectually dishonest antivaccine trope in which antivaxxers point to the declining mortality rate from vaccine-preventable diseases before the vaccines were introduced as evidence that “vaccines didn’t save us”. We’ve done detailed rebuttals before (for example here), and Steve Novella rebutted this very same trope when he debated Dr. Julian Whitaker (with Leslie Manookian as moderator!) at FreedomFest in Las Vegas in 2012.

I’m not going to go into the weeds of every antivaccine trope in Dr. Mumper’s presentation because we at SBM have refuted them all before. (I’ll provide links where appropriate.) I’m more interested in what someone like Dr. Mumper thinks would be an acceptably safe vaccine.

An antivaxxer’s vision of what a “perfect” vaccine would look like

So let’s get into the list of Dr. Mumper’s criteria for a vaccine that’s acceptably safe and effective as applied to COVID-19. Before I get into them, I can’t help but point out that not only do the current candidate COVID-19 vaccines meet many of these criteria, but that close to all vaccines do, other than a couple of ringers. For example, here’s the Criterion #1, which does not start her argument well:

The vaccine would be tested against a true placebo, inert saline, which is salt water. So unlike drugs, which have to be tested against a true placebo, vaccines fall under the category of biologics and are not tested against a true saline placebo. As an example, Merck’s HPV vaccine was tested against an aluminum adjuvant that can trigger auto-immunity. This clinical impact of this is actually very significant since aluminum is a known neurotoxin and a known trigger for auto-immunity, having aluminum in the new vaccine and in the placebo would wash out the differences in auto-immune or neurologic disease between the two groups. The one that got the vaccine and the one that got the aluminum placebo.

The “no true placebo” trope is an antivaccine lie that can be very easily refuted by simply searching PubMed for “vaccine clinical trial placebo”, which brings up thousands of references. Dr. Vincent Iannelli has written several articles about vaccines being tested against saline controls and loves to list examples of double-blind saline placebo-controlled clinical trials of vaccines. Personally, I like pointing out how the claim by antivaxxers that the MMR was never tested against a saline placebo is utter hogwash. I also like pointing out that this requirement by antivaxxers is red herring dependent on an utter lack of understanding of clinical trial design, as sometimes the best placebo control is not something completely inert, like saline, nor is the use of solutions that contain everything but the vaccine antigen as a placebo control somehow unethical or scientifically unsound.

I’ll jump to Criterion #4:

Number four, vaccines should be free of mercury, aluminum and nano-metals. At Children’s Health Defense, we have over 240 studies showing that mercury is not safe. Due to safety concerns, the public health service did remove mercury for most vaccines starting in 1999 and most were phased out by 2003, 2004 but mercury is still present in many flu vaccines. Aluminum is a known neurotoxin, which is used as an adjuvant to induce immune responses in lots of vaccines.

Of course, there has been no more than trace mercury in childhood vaccines for nearly 20 years now, and since then aluminum has become the new mercury to antivaxxers, with repeated attempts using bad science by them to demonstrate that aluminum adjuvants are unsafe. They aren’t. Basically, aluminum is the new mercury to antivaxxers, and you know what’s funny? Neither the Pfizer/BioNTech nor the Moderna vaccines currently being used contain either of them.

Now, Criterion #7 (yes, I’m jumping around to the criteria that don’t even apply to COVID-19 vaccines before I get to the ones that might):

Number seven, vaccines should be free of human DNA and aborted human fetal tissue. So there’s a human fetal cell line dating back to the 1960s that’s been used in vaccines for many years. An Italian study identified the presence of a complete abnormal human genome of a male fetus in the MMRV vaccine, which is measles, mumps, rubella combined with chicken pox, a vaccine I have never used because of such concerns. And I invite you to go to the Children’s Health Defense website and check out the paper.

That Italian study is so risibly bad as to evoke nothing but laughter and disgust from me. As for the rest, even that most anti-abortion of religions, the Roman Catholic Church, has stated that vaccines used from cell lines derived from aborted fetuses in the 1960s is acceptable, albeit not ideal, because the “evil” (in its view) is so remote from the cell lines as they exist now that the “extreme good” of vaccination outweighs it. Also, current COVID-19 vaccines are not manufactured using these cell lines, which are used for other vaccines for which virus stock needs to be grown in order to make them, although some research that led to their development did use such cells. Also, the Roman Catholic Church said that it’s acceptable to use these COVID-19 vaccines. I’ll finish by mentioning that vaccines using these cell lines have saved millions of lives and prevented billions of cases of sickness.

Now let’s backtrack and cover the rest. I’m going to save Criterion #2 for last because it’s a claim that antivaxxers have long made for all vaccines. Let’s start by taking on Criterion #3 instead:

Number three, experimental mRNA and DNA gene technologies should undergo years of testing before being used on consumers, mRNA vaccines have actually been used to target specific types of cancer. And if that works well for that patient, that’s fantastic. But the initial studies on COVID mRNA vaccines were done on extremely healthy patients. And since the vaccine is currently being prioritized for the most vulnerable, including the elderly, it’s crucial to assess safety for those in various states of health. And this theoretically is happening as the trials progress to phase three. mRNA vaccines have an intrinsic inflammatory effect, which could lead to auto-immune events.

Both Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech are using mRNA technology in their vaccines. And these techniques have not been used and approved in the context of widespread use as is being contemplated now. In 1990, the first report of a successful use of In Vitro transcribed mRNA in animals was published. At that time, concerns were raised about the inherent instability of mRNA and the high innate immunogenicity of mRNA vaccines which can be a double-edged sword.

There’s been a lot of progress since then but mRNA that comes from outside a person is inherently immunostimulatory because your body recognizes that is foreign. Another concern that I have is that, in order for mRNA vaccines to penetrate into the cell membrane, they have to essentially penetrate by lipid layer, the two layers of fat that surround all our cell membranes. And this can be done through electrical measures or by using carrier proteins. And my question is, do we really wanna poke holes in our cell membrane?

It is true that mRNA can be immunostimulatory, but that’s actually a problem for mRNA-based vaccine design more than a concern about the vaccine because that immune stimulation could result in an mRNA vaccine being less effective. Moreover, naked mRNA is very unstable in aqueous solution and rapidly broken down if it’s left out in the extracellular fluid. Of course, the mRNA is encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles and thus largely shielded from the immune system, but Pfizer and Moderna have also made modifications to the mRNA to make it less unstable and decrease the immunogenicity of the raw mRNA. Moreover, the autoimmune condition stimulated by mRNA was observed only in mice and could be prevented with a simple modification to the mRNA.

As for the development of mRNA vaccines, Dr. Mumper tries to make it sound as though this is some sort of radical new technology, even as she cites an animal study from 1990 using mRNA to make a protein product in animals. The bottom line is that mRNA vaccines have been under development for at least a couple of decades, and it was serendipity that the technology was ready for prime time at around about the time the COVID-19 pandemic hit and got out of control. I’ve seen a number of scientists saying that if the pandemic had hit five years ago, the technology would not have been ready. In any event, this technology is not gene therapy, nor will it reprogram your DNA. It’s actually a highly useful way to be able to make and update a vaccine very rapidly, with many advantages, including high potency, capacity for rapid development, and potential for low-cost manufacture. Indeed, as new SARS-CoV-2 variants that might be less susceptible to the vaccine proliferate, the ability to update COVID-19 vaccines by simply packaging the mRNA for the new variants in the lipid nanoparticles will become paramount.

Let’s move on to Criterion #5:

Number five, vaccines should be free of adjuvants that are proven to be dangerous. This includes, but it’s not limited to squalene, aluminum and polyethylene glycol. So an adjuvant is a substance that’s deliberately added to a vaccine in order to stimulate the immune system to make a strong immune response. So squalene is one of many adjuvants that are used and it was found to be harmful in certain people by inducing, for example, auto-immune conditions or narcolepsy which is falling asleep suddenly literally while you’re on your feet sometimes. Polyethylene glycol is another adjuvant that can trigger serious auto-immune responses and anaphylaxis in certain individuals.

There is indeed PEG in the lipid nanoparticles of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines. PEG is a very commonly used ingredient in a number of applications, including, for example, toothpaste, ice cream, and osmotic laxatives of the type used for colon prep for colonoscopy. It’s also been used in a variety of medications. Since I’m a cancer doctor, I’ll point to liposomal doxorubicin, which has a PEG layer around a doxorubicin-containing liposome and has been used for a quarter of a century with fewer side effects than doxorubicin. It has a long safety record. In fact, serious allergic reactions to PEG are quite rare. Indeed, a recent study found that anaphylactic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines containing PEG are rare, 4.7 cases/million doses for the Pfizer vaccine and 2.5 cases/million doses for the Moderna vaccine, well within the range seen for other vaccines and very uncommon, with no deaths reported. As for squalene, none of the currently used vaccines under emergency use approval (EUA) contains squalene. There are five candidate vaccines that do (GlaxoSmithKline, Clover Biopharmaceuticals, Seqirus/University of Queensland/CSL, Medicago Inc. and Farmacologós veterinarios SAC/Universidad Peruana Cayetana Heredia). Thus far, none of these have received an EUA from the US. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine did just receive an EUA, but the GSK vaccine has not. Indeed, a reformulated version of the GSK vaccine is still in clinical trials and is not expected to be widely deployed until late this year at the earliest. In actuality, the reason not to be excited about squalene-containing COVID-19 vaccines is not because squalene is dangerous, but rather because its main source is still sharks and a massive need for squalene could endanger shark populations.

Next up, Criterion #6:

Number six, the vaccine should be free of avian, bovine, porcine, monkey and mouse viruses. So essentially many vaccines are produced in animal serums and can be contaminated with retrovirus. One such virus is known as simian virus 40 which has been shown to be associated with cancer. So in the new millennia, we have better methods for producing vaccines. And again, we need to keep safety foremost in our minds. It’s notable that SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 is an animal virus that allegedly originated in bats.

Here we go again. This is yet another old antivaccine trope repurposed for COVID-19 vaccines, namely that SV40 contaminating the polio vaccine has resulted in an epidemic of cancer. It hasn’t. More importantly, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are entirely synthetic. The mRNA is synthesized, as are the lipid nanoparticles. There are no viruses and no cells in which there could be viral contamination. That bit about SARS-CoV-2 having originated in bats is, of course, a speculative distraction.

Criterion #8 is straight out of QAnon:

Number eight, vaccine should be free of bio chips and nano-technology agents. So it’s important to know that bio-chips and nano-technology agents can be introduced into the body through vaccines. This would allow communication between a person’s biology physiology or psychology and outside technology. This is a new frontier but you need to know that it is being examined by tech companies as well as by the defense advanced research projects agency. I’m not saying this will be done with COVID vaccines as Yogi Berra said, it’s tough to make predictions especially about the future, but we need to have our eyes wide open so that those of us who have backgrounds in history and sociology and theology and the humanities and medicine can temper the momentum of big tech as these options are explored.

None of the current COVID-19 vaccines in use or nearing use contain biochips or nanotechnology. Here, Dr. Mumper is just delving into the deeper realms of antivaccine conspiracy theories. I will give her credit for not mentioning Bill Gates in her talk, although she did on slide #32, where she mentioned “hydrogel” as well. This nonsense has been discussed before; so I’ll move on, except to chuckle at how Dr. Mumper includes a slide that claims that these chips are unlikely to be listed as ingredients and that “independent” testing would be needed to verify that COVID-19 vaccines don’t have them.

Criterion #9 is not entirely unreasonable but it is also exaggerated:

Number nine, the liability protection provided to vaccine makers actually creates a perverse incentive to rush the vaccine and potentially downplay safety concerns. So at Children’s Health Defense, we argue that vaccine makers need to bear responsibility and financial liability for ensuring that their products are safe. Again, many people are not aware that vaccine injuries and deaths do occur. And again, that the consumers of vaccines paid over $4.4 billion to compensate the vaccine injured.

This is the usual trope about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). When taken in context in the over 30 years that the program has existed, the payouts have not been that particularly large. It is true that vaccines that haven’t been approved by the FDA are not even subject to the NVICP but rather to the Countermeasures Injury Compensation program, which is a lot less generous, and that’s not an unreasonable concern. (Vaccine advocates want COVID-19 vaccines to be covered under NVICP.) It’s funny that Dr. Mumper didn’t even seem to understand this.

Finally, back to #7, showing that everything old about vaccines is new again for COVID-19 vaccines:

A safe vaccine would be tested long enough to track adverse events. And then post approval surveillance would be conducted to measure the long-term effects. So many vaccines are just monitored for side effects for two to five days or maybe a week. And auto-immune neurodevelopmental and chronic conditions would take much longer than that to manifest. As an example, Merck’s hepatitis B vaccine, which was given to one day old infants was only safety tested for five days.

So here’s my question. Newborn babies, mostly eat and sleep. So how effective can we be at assessing if they are experiencing side effects in such a short period of time? As somebody who has studied vaccines for many years and I’ve read every single vaccine insert of every single vaccine, I’m not as worried about the short-term effects, the redness, the swelling, all those signs that show that the body has recognized the shot as foreign and is reacting to it. I’m much more concerned about potential long-term effects on brain inflammation or auto-immunity, for example.

This is an oldie but not goody from antivaxxers, the claim that we don’t monitor vaccines for adverse events. Dr. Mumper even trots out the common antivax claim that less than 1% of adverse reactions ever get reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database, which is, quite simply, not true and based on a single study. Also, VAERS is not the be-all and end-all of vaccine safety monitoring, as I’ve explained more times than I can remember. Moreover, it is simply not true that there aren’t any long-term term safety studies of vaccines, as Dr. Mumper claims. There are. As for the COVID-19 vaccines, there is an intense safety monitoring program that is unprecedented in its intensity to track potential adverse events.

To back up her claim that vaccines cause chronic health problems, Dr. Mumper even trots out RFK Jr.’s claim that the current generation of children is the “sickest generation” (because of mostly vaccines and a few other things), a claim that is, quite simply, not true and, even if it were, not because of vaccines. Of course, Dr. Mumper believes this and also believes that we can “boost our immune system” to deal with COVID-19 by using vitamins C and D, taking zinc, avoiding “pro-inflammatory foods”, and other things unlikely to make a difference.

As for her solutions:

So the six steps that we advocate; vaccines should be subjective [sic] to scientifically rigorous approval processes. We need to remove conflicts of interest so that those involved in the vaccine approval process are not going to directly or indirectly benefit from approving a vaccine. We need acknowledgement from both medical and public health authorities that vaccine injury exists and that they will take this seriously and take steps to investigate the causes of vaccine injuries.

Actually, we have all these things. Vaccines are subject to scientifically rigorous approval processes, and there is a very strict conflict of interest policy for members of the ACIP. The very existence of the NVICP is an admission that vaccine injury can happen. Antivaxxers just don’t like that it doesn’t “acknowledge” potential “injuries” from vaccines that are not backed up by scientific evidence showing that they occur. The unprecedented vaccine safety monitoring effort with the rollout of the new COVID-19 vaccines tells us that the government takes vaccine safety very seriously indeed.


We need systems that can actually measure the safety of vaccines and their adverse events after the vaccine is deployed. So the existing systems that we have, VAERS which is the vaccine adverse event reporting system and VSD, which is the vaccine safety data link, these need to be automated and updated. Government needs to support fully-informed consent. And this does involve potentially the individual right to refuse vaccination, obviously, a topic for much debate. We at Children’s Health Defense welcome civil debate among people who disagree. Number six, government-granted immunity for vaccine makers needs to be rescinded. We need to restore some liability for people who are profiting from vaccines. At Children’s Health Defense, we are working with like-minded organizations around the globe to push for these safety changes and for vaccine safety reform.

She forgot the other vaccine safety monitoring systems, and, I note, has failed to cite anything wrong with the VSD. As for “fully informed consent,” what antivaxxers mean by that is, in actuality, what I like to refer to as “misinformed refusal“, in which all the fantasy-inspired fake “adverse reactions” to vaccines are presented to people before they receive them as if they were supported by science. As for “liability”, vaccine manufacturers can be sued if Vaccine Court rules against the complainant, and they pay a tax on every vaccine to fund the court. These are all common antivaccine myths about the NVICP and the Vaccine Court. Indeed, it’s easier to prevail in Vaccine Court than in civil court, and the Vaccine Court even pays reasonable legal and court costs for the complainant, win or lose.

What have we learned today?

I started out this post by pointing out how people who claim they are “not antivaccine” can be identified as antivaccine. The reason I did that is because RFK Jr. is well known for not only proclaiming himself “not antivaccine” but “fiercely pro-vaccine” and stating that Children’s Health Defense is “not antivaccine”. Dr. Mumper herself uses a variant of the claim that she’s “not antivaccine” but rather a “vaccine safety advocate” when she says late in the presentation:

Many of us want a safer vaccination program for all vaccines and for all people. This is common to us, whether you identify as pro-vaccine or have concerns about safety of vaccines, which by the way does not make one an anti-vaxxer. We need to know that we’re developing the health of our children as best we can. So we could work together and make us safer vaccine program. Children’s Health Defense has been looking at this for years, and we have a lot of resources.

This is exactly the phenomenon I described at the beginning. An antivaxxer denies being “antivaccine” and proclaims herself as being “for safer vaccines”. Then, when I look at her requirements for a safe COVID-19 vaccine, I quickly find that she has constructed them such that they either (1) do not apply to COVID-19 vaccines; (2) have been met by COVID-19 vaccines (and, by the way, other vaccines); or (3) are either deceptive or impossible standards. Worse, while justifying her standards, Dr. Mumper regurgitates a number of common antivaccine tropes and lies. So what do we call a person and organization that proclaim themselves “not antivaccine” but basically creates impossible standards that have to be met before they will agree that a vaccine is safe and effective?

I think you know the word. Certainly, I know it when I see it.

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.

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71 replies on “Antivax pediatrician Liz Mumper suggests “criteria” for knowing COVID-19 vaccines are safe”

I hadn’t head of the Autism Hope Alliance, the group on the poster. Looking them up, they describe themselves as “the first non-profit foundation for Autism to emerge from the natural foods industry.” Because that just fills me with confidence in their expertise.

Tom Bohager, the founder of Autism Hope Alliance, was previously in the supplement industry producing enzymes to manage food intolerance (plausible, but the actual evidence is pretty weak) and capsules to balance the pH of individuals who are either too acidic or too alkaline (yeah, right).

He seems to have turned his attention to treating autism. Yes they have an online store to buy supplements.

And my question is, do we really wanna poke holes in our cell membrane?

And my questions are: Did she get her degree by sending in cereal box tops? Did she study at the Luc Montagnier school of biomolecular teleportation? Has she ever heard of endocytosis? Exocytosis? How in blue blazes does she think things like say, fatty acids get into cells? Cripes there’s stuff larger ions going through the cell membrane one way or the other all the time. I wonder if she knows how viruses get into cells (getting out is sometimes a little messy). Does she know that antigens get presented at the surface of cells?

I also have to wonder where is the paper where she collaborated with Dr. Measler and Dr. Rubeller. It’s probably an important one about vaccine safety.

Saline placebo controlled Gardasil trial:
Garland SM, Cheung TH, McNeill S, Petersen LK, Romaguera J, Vazquez-Narvaez J, Bautista O, Shields C, Vuocolo S, Luxembourg A. Safety and immunogenicity of a 9-valent HPV vaccine in females 12-26 years of age who previously received the quadrivalent HPV vaccine. Vaccine. 2015 Nov 27;33(48):6855-64. doi: 10.1016/j.vaccine.2015.08.059. Epub 2015 Sep 26. PMID: 26411885.
Pfizer vaccine trial data is here:
Go to chapter 4.1. Saline placebo was used.
An antivax lie never dies.

I estimate that at least 9 out of 10 antivaxers who chant “no saline placebo!” ignore the fact that such placebos have commonly been used in vaccine trials, and/or have no real understanding of what placebos are and which are appropriate to use in testing drugs and vaccines.*

I’ve patiently explained placebo design in clinical trials in a number of discussions online, which typically elicits one of three responses:

“You’re a shill!”
“Aluminum! Toxins! Aborted fetal tissue!”

I’m surprised that antivaxxers don’t try to claim that when a saline placebo is used it isn’t the right kind because it is a racemic mixture of sodium chloride instead of only the enantiomer approved by the natural foods trades. Not that I would expect more than a tiny fraction of them to know what those words mean and that they are nonsense when applied to salt.

And if vaccines were tested in combination, they would then complain that subjects weren’t pre-tested to eliminate those who were vulnerable to vaccine “damages”:
Handley has a recent book on this, How to End Autism. Also that dude advocating pre-screens for Covid-19 vaccines. ( That’ll help speed up vaccine uptake…SURE!)

re Orac’s famous question – which vaccine would you accept?-
they probably would name something that doesn’t exist ( single doses for MMR) or is no longer used.( earlier DPT or similar). We’ve heard that here at RI.

They also don’t seem to have an answer on why, if vaccines are just a money making ploy, things like yellow fever or cholera aren’t included in the US schedule.

@ Beth

Don’t know why URL didn’t work; but it happens. I simply went to FDA website, typed in Pfizer Covid Vaccine, got page with numerous papers, chose “Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine Emergency Use Authorization Review Memorandum” which describes in detail Pfizer phase 1, phase 2, and phase 3 clinical trials. On page 12, for instance, legend Table 1 states: Placebo: saline

here’s the URL, maybe it will work, does for me:

Note only difference with one that didn’t work is at end: “downloadner”

Really, claiming to be a researcher and lacking initiative to find a document???

If I think something important, I am willing to spend some time to find it. In this case, took about 2 minutes. Wow!

@ Joel:

re commenters not being able to find documents/ websites

That’s one of the reasons ( laziness may be another) that I deliberately do NOT include URLs or link because
— SBM advocates know how to find research or can easily learn if cued
— alties/ anti-vaxxers claim to be able to scour every nook and cranny of the internet to find their “science” **
Oddly though, they seem to totally miss or disregard groundbreaking research by important scientists who changed the state of science like those I repeatedly list.
I wonder why?.. .

** usually cherry picked, mis- interpreted or not representative of consensus

Orac writes,

“Longtimers might remember that Bernard Rimland formed the Autism Research Institute in 1967 and became the inspiration for Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!)”

MJD says,

I remember presenting a poster for Defeat Autism Now (DAN!) in San Diego, California. During oral presentations, Dr. Rimland was seated in the front row surrounded by enthusiastic “vaccine safety advocates.” At one point, Dr. Rimland left the seat to answer his cell phone. I was in a respectfully insolence mode, in that Rimland called me the Rubber Man, and exited my back row seat and sheepishly absconded Rimland’s front row seat. The neighborly advocates briefly looked at me, then fidgeted in nervous apprehension awaiting Dr. Rimland’s return.

Q. Does MJD get minion points for such a respectfully insolent act.

No. MJD does NOT get minion points for presenting at a DAN! Conference. You have mentioned this before, and as I said before on my comment replying to you, presenting a poster at a DAN! Conference is nothing to be proud of. Quite the opposite, in fact.

At the historic DAN! conference I received strange looks, and at the controversial Respectful Insolence blog I get strange responses. In full disclosure, Rimland and Orac are two peas in a pod i.e., extraordinarily gifted communicators. Neither were correct some of the time while both are remembered most of the time.

I remember presenting a poster for Defeat Autism Now

That’s just pathetic.

As for “liability”, vaccine manufacturers can be sued if Vaccine Court rules against the complainant

Sort of. Not in a state tort action: Bruesewitz foreclosed that angle, so there’s only an appeals chain in the Federal Circuit for design defect.

^ Then again, the NCVIA doesn’t apply to any of the COVID-19 vaccines, so Emily Litella.

Is there a handy cite specifying that a federal appeal is possible on grounds of alleged design defect, and has anyone ever attempted it?

Is there a handy cite specifying that a federal appeal is possible on grounds of alleged design defect, and has anyone ever attempted it?

Try this. I’m just waking up for the second time — the new cat is really serious about being crepuscular.

And I misspelled NVCIA above.

re ” It has to be fear”, not Covid killing people..
Interestingly, denialists said something similar about aids: people died because they were terrified of the diagnosis: it wasn’t the virus.

I think they were trying to contrast fearful and friendly images of hand and mouth.

But a lot of things can evoke fear.

How dare you ask for the research criteria. Just take your vaccine slaves.

The sad thing is, you’ve been coddled all your life and don’t realise that as soon as mummy lets go of your hand, you’ll drown.

What the heck is wrong with you?

Take your nasty anti-Semitism and go.

@JustaTech. They’re always bigots. Always. The exact flavors (plural because rarely are there single issue bigots) may vary, but the core disdain for other people never varies. The only major difference is how good they are at masking it.

Given antivaxxers are publicly communing with white supremacists now, the skinny ol’ narc’s full Godwin is doubly ironic.

@has: You’re probably right. Now that I think of it, north eastern California is pretty close to eastern Oregon, which like eastern Washington and Idaho has an ongoing infestation of skinheads and neo-n*zis.

(They’re out of hibernation again and ugh, they’re the worst.)

@Terrie: Well they’re not masking anything now, because masks, freedom, something, something, shouting.
I was just surprised at the speed of the escalation. Usually the skinny one gets in a few more posts before going off the rails.

@ JustaTech:

Right. I call it ‘Red State California’ ( I’ve never been there although I do want to see Mt Shasta) and its borders are obvious if you look at a 2020 election map.
Interestingly, here, right outside of [redacted] we have red enclaves within an hour’s drive ( and smaller micro-climates within the blue areas which are apparent to locals). Maps like these tell us so much.

In other news, a headline on CBC website:
“David and Collet Stephan to face 3rd trial over toddler death as appeal court overturns acquittals”

Damn, these two Annoying Humans again.
But good news on the appeal court overturning.
I can’t believe the judge ruled that an hospital cannot help with a viral infection. Among other things.
2020 put that to the test.

And his name was Ezekiel.

Jeez, I haven’t read Orac for a long time but remember this original story from YEARS ago. How discouraging to find that these lunatics are not in prison yet!

Good. The judge was clearly biased against the pathologist who testified for the Crown (dare I say racist?) and the appeal court recognized this. A pathologist in my region knows the Crown pathologist and states that his English, although accented, is perfectly understandable.

Anyway, a third trial for the Stephans? Boo f-in’ hoo. Should have pleaded guilty, taken your lumps,and gotten along with your miserable lives, maybe even learned a lesson. Or maybe, not let your son suffer and die in the first place.

Or maybe, not let your son suffer and die in the first place.


The Stephans would never plead guilty because they have already bought into the alternative medicine dogma that if the treatment does not work, it is the fault of the patient.

Just saw this tonight.

All four babies died in their first two years and all were sick with some condition at the time of death.

Now we can identify genetic mutations that the mother shares with both daughters and the sons have a different mutation.

Science and the Australian court system are colliding and so far science is losing. But scientists are networking to try to overturn the case or get a pardon.

We at Children’s Health Defense welcome civil debate among people who disagree

I’m late to the party but my 64 000$ question is: when did a civil debate where antivaxxers are civil, did ever happen?


We at Children’s Health Defense welcome civil debate among people who disagree.

Someone needs to tell John Stone this. He quite happily does not approve comments he does not agree with.

What about the criteria for an individual to be ineligible for the covid vaccine?

Early on people with a history of anaphylaxis were advised to not be vaccinated. Now there are people lining up with epi-pen in hand, disregarding this advice. What are the contraindications for the covid vaccines? (Pfizer & Moderna)

I’ve never seen a single person in the line at any of our clinics or hospitals with an Epi pen, in hand or otherwise. We have vaccinated tens of thousands and in that time, when I was covering the ED, clinic, or hospital we had…wait for it…ONE gal come over and sit quietly reading her magazine in our trauma bay for a possible reaction. She left two hours later with a cup of coffee and a smile. I’ve asked around and no one in the eastern part of our state has ever seen a COVID vaccine reaction.

STOP spewing nonsense.

If you are not making this stuff up yourself, whoever you are getting it from is making it up out of thin air. What you described there so hyperbolically is NOT happening.

@MedicalYeti: “STOP spewing nonsense.”

Kincaid is an attention-seeker trolling for a response. As long as you feed it, it won’t.

@has, I think what did it for me is realizing that sooner or later, they all reveal themselves to be bigots. Not just ableism, but often sexism, racism (Christine managed that one with her comments about her son’s hair), homophobia, transphobia, etc.

@ MedicalYeti,

I’m not spewing anything.

What is the criteria your clinics/departments are using to determine if the vaccine is safe for the individuals requesting the vaccine? Or;

What are the contraindications that would result in your providers advising someone against getting the vaccine?

Now there are people lining up with epi-pen in hand, disregarding this advice.

One might think vaccination sites would have those on hand in the first place. Oh, wait.

The Australian advice is still, as far as I can see, that the contraindications for the two COVID-19 vaccines approved here (Pfizer & AstraZeneca) are:

The only absolute contraindications to a COVID-19 vaccine are:
• anaphylaxis after a previous dose of the same vaccine
• anaphylaxis to any component of the vaccine, including:
• anaphylaxis to polyethylene glycol (PEG) for Comirnaty [Pfizer]
• anaphylaxis to polysorbate 80 for COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca
• Anaphylaxis to COVID-19 vaccine

So, in Australia at least, the only absolute contraindications are for anaphylaxis, but it’s more specific than a generic history of anaphylaxis. I’d suspect that if someone needs to carry an Epipen because of a known risk of anaphylaxis, then they’d have it with them when they went for a vaccine, too, just the same as when they did anything else.

@ prl,

Thank you. Here in the US, initially we were told that anyone with a history of anaphylaxis was “cautioned” about receiving the vaccine. That seems to have been abandoned now. Yes, anyone with a history should be carrying their epipen. My 19 year old daughter left her epipen in the car once when we were eating at a restaurant, ugh.

So basically, the only absolute contraindication to receiving a covid vaccine would require being tested for an allergy to the covid vaccine first & that would only help avoid an anaphylactic reaction because contraindications involving other adverse events are not known at this time.

contraindications involving other adverse events are not known at this time

You can always keep hoping, Mulder.

Would taking a couple benadryl before hand harm anything? Or would that just mask a potential severe reaction during the 15 min wait {30, in my case if I tell them of my latex allergy} only to bite my 1 in a million self later?

@ Christine Kincaid

You left some things out: What if while driving to the vaccine center a drunk drivers hits them? What if while getting into their car, if parked on the street, a mugger robs them? What if . . . what if . . . what if? Yep, lots of what ifs? However, you should apply them generally, e.g., just leaving the safety of their homes, eating out (always a risk for anaphylaxis), etc.

And as mentioned by Narad, vaccine centers, just as doctor’s offices, clinics, etc. will have epipens. Of course, it is always possible that somewhere one doesn’t; but that could apply to anywhere; but do your best to find a vaccine site that didn’t have one and generalize to all vaccine sites. You are really a very SICK individual.

@ Joel; “You left some things out: What if while driving to the vaccine center a drunk drivers hits them?”

That’s unfortunate but not a contraindication for the vaccine.

“What if while getting into their car, if parked on the street, a mugger robs them?”

Also unfortunate but not a contraindication for the vaccine.

These are not very scientific “answers”. I’m asking about appropriate contraindications to the vaccine.

@ Christine Kincaid

Obviously you are incapable of basic understanding. My point was that you keep coming up with “what ifs”, not based on any valid research; but just your need to try to find fault with vaccines.

And, just one of your “what ifs” was platelets inhibiting inflammation, which I cited several papers, do the exact opposite.

And you continue to ignore the elephant in the room, that is, your twins were born extremely low birthweight and extremely prematurely, and possibly inherited some genetic problems you have and that SIDS is one of the risks associated with this AND apnea is another risk, which, of course, could end up as SIDS. Yep, it has to be the vaccine because all the research on very low birthweight, very premature risks is wrong. And, whereas I wrote that based on everything I know about immunology, vaccines, and epidemiology, my opinion is that a vaccine didn’t cause your twins SIDS. I also stated that, given the immense variety of genes, genetic mutations, epigenetic, environmental toxins, though minuscule, it is possible that somehow the vaccine contributed; but even if later research found that extremely rare cases, like your twins, should delay getting vaccines, you would still generalize to all vaccines, period.

As I’ve said over and over again, you are a very sick individual. Wait, what if you finally got some therapy????

I’m sure you will ignore what I’ve written as you have previous comments and comments by many others and continue with your “what ifs”.

There is always inbreeding/bred; Hey, nobody is without reproach other than all the rest of the normies.

That only matters if they’re hit by an aluminum bodied vehicle.

Dr. Gorski: when you compare my professional work to pornography, you say “you know an anti-vaxxer when you see one.” I give vaccines every day. I took a photo of my vaccine refrigerator the day after your blog was forwarded to me so I could post it, but the photo did not copy to this response. Next to payroll, vaccines are the biggest office expense in my practice, typically costing ~$87,000 per year for a 1.4 FTE practice.
Yes, I realize I asked for too much in the safety concerns I listed. But I have seen bad vaccine reactions, and many of the vaccines we give use decades old technology.
I would never dream of criticizing you on the topic of breast cancer surgery – your field – that I know nothing about.
Elizabeth Mumper, MD, FAAP, IFMCP

With all due respect, you made the video. You spewed misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines in that video. That’s fair game. If, for instance, I were to make a video claiming that, for instance, cell phones cause breast cancer or, for another example, that homeopathy cures breast cancer, you would have every right to refute that, regardless of whether breast cancer is my specialty or not. In your video, you spewed antivaccine disinformation that was easily recognizable to anyone who’s followed the antivaccine movement. You’re on the advisory committee of RFK Jr.’s rabidly antivaccine organization.

I stand by my opinion and characterization of you.

You are quoting as saying: “Number eight, vaccine should be free of bio chips and nano-technology agents. So it’s important to know that bio-chips and nano-technology agents can be introduced into the body through vaccines.”

Since you are here, could you please explain how this could be physically possible. How would anyone do that?

Oh, and why use that for tracking since both Apple and Google already have GPS trackers in their software used in almost every smartphone on this planet.

Nope, I was also reminded.

I hope, she or someone else can explain how vaccines can deliver “bio chips.” Especially if that person has a smartphone and uses any of the GPS dependent apps (like a map, weather, bus arrival… or any other getting a ride app).

Dr Mumper, are you aware that the slide showing rates of death from specific diseases has several major factual inaccuracies?

There are vaccines against typhoid, and cholera, and tuberculosis. We don’t use the BCG TB vaccine in the US, but it does exist.

This information is readily available on the CDC website, among other places. These vaccines aren’t particularly new.

I am sure that you will update your slides immediately to cover this glaring error.

As an Army brat who lived overseas I also got vaccines for typhus and yellow fever, along with typhoid. My military dependent vaccine record did have a place for cholera, but I never got that disease.

If you really think, as these slides and claims quoted suggest, that vaccines aren’t responsible for preventing disease mortality, that ingredients in current vaccines are unsafe, and that vaccines don’t meet your (excessive) safety requirements, why do you give vaccines?

If I believed those inaccurate claims I would be against vaccines.

Wait, so your ability to draw some liquid into a syringe and stick it into some squirming animal makes you a vaccine expert? Heck, I’ve done that myself. Guess that makes me a vaccine expert too! Terrific, I hope it pays great! (And I didn’t even get through premed.)

Sorry, doctor, you’re not a scientist; never mind a vaccinologist. You’re an ersatz engineer, a glorified car mechanic; an educated button pusher. One with pretensions of expertise and authority well outside her lane.

Our gracious host might not be a vaccinologist either but is a working research scientist, so at least he knows one end of science from the other; which is a helluva lot more than you.

That your best response to his criticisms is a Courtier’s reply tells us everything we need to know about you and your capacity for honest self-reflection and critical thought. So scurry off now so JFK Jr can put a band-aid on that boo; and since you suck at science maybe reflect on some religion: Matthew 7:15-20.

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