Having been writing about the antivaccine movement for a long time, I’ve long been familiar with what I like to call “old school” antivaxxers. It’s an artificial demarcation. Basically, for my purposes “old school” means before COVID-19, in contrast to the new wave of antivaxxers who have arisen since COVID-19. For example, Andrew Wakefield, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Dr. Bob Sears, and the like are old school, while Dr. Robert Malone, Geert Vanden Bossche, Dr. Peter McCullough, and Steve Kirsch (and many more) are the new wave, people who were not—detectably, at least—antivaccine before the pandemic but have used the pandemic to spread anti-COVID-19 vaccine misinformation and become famous antivaxxers themselves. Of course, many “old school” antivaxxers quickly leapt on the anti-COVID-19 vaccination bandwagon and also enthusiastically embraced all forms of COVID-19 conspiracy theories, whether vaccine-related, mask-related, or other. This brings me to Jennifer Margulis.
Searching my blog, I found that the very first time I wrote about Jennifer Margulis was 12 years ago, when she appeared in a documentary, The Vaccine War, about the antivaccine movement. In that documentary Margulis asked why we were still vaccinating against polio now that it is so rare in the US? (If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?) She next popped up opposing SB 277, the California law passed in 2015 that banned nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates, seeing “pharma shills” everywhere among the law’s supporters. By 2017, she was supporting Dr. Bob Sears, co-authoring an antivax book with antivax pediatrician Dr. Paul Thomas, and appearing in Ty and Charlene Bollinger’s The Truth About Vaccines. After that, she periodically showed up to speak at various antivax rallies, and by 2018 I was referring to her as a rising star in the antivaccine movement. Even after the pandemic was well under way, she was working with Dr.Thomas to promote crappy “vaxxed vs. unvaxxed” studies.
It’s thus no surprise that Margulis has her very own Substack (the new wretched hive of scum and quackery where antivaxxer go to monetize their misinformation) and that it’s a cesspool of antivax pseudoscience, misinformation, and conspiracy theories, one of which, 13 Reasons the CDC is Right and You Should Get the COVID Vaccine, caught my eye. Obviously, it’s sarcasm, as becomes obvious right from the start:
After all, as I explored in my last Substack, the CDC has no conflicts of interest, no financial incentives, and no reasons besides their deep and heartfelt concern about your health and the health of the American people, which is why they recommend these vaccines.
There are way more than 13 reasons to vaccinate against COVID, of course. More like 130,000!
But thirteen’s such a good number. Fabulous things happen on Friday the 13th; friggatriskaidekaphobia’s all the rage right now; and the 13 in the Tarot deck is the best.
Very droll, Ms. Margulis. Very funny. Or should I say “Dr. Margulis”? I know you love to flaunt your PhD, using it to imply that you have expertise in science. Wherever I see you citing your PhD, I almost never see you cite what subject it was in, namely English, specializing in 19th century American Literature, African-American Literature, and American Studies.
I will give Margulis credit for some antivax tropes that I don’t recall having heard before. I won’t cover all 13 of her tropes, as the post will get too long. That will be left as an exercise for readers in the comments, if they wish to take the task on.
Let’s get started:
1. You’d like to get a vulvar aphthous ulcer.
I mean, why not? Sure, when these purple/red blisters explode they can be excruciatingly painful. But the team of researchers at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, who described three children, ages 12 to 15, getting vulvar aphthous ulcers two days after their second Pfizer vaccines in the April issue of the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology concluded that, “The COVID vaccine is safe and efficacious.” Plus, it’s always good to have a new experience!
This is a very odd choice to lead with. In fact, it’s so odd that I wondered why Ms. Margulis chose it. Perhaps she chose it because it is so odd and out of left field, given that it’s an issue that even I hadn’t heard before.
I looked up the paper. It’s short, and, unsurprisingly, it’s basically a very small case series with an odd name, Post COVID-19 Vaccination Vulvar Aphthous Ulcers: An Unpopular Case Series. “Unpopular”? I can’t recall ever seeing a case series published in the biomedical literature being described as “unpopular” in its title. It’s definitely rather odd. As is the situation with all case series, this one can’t demonstrate causation, just correlation, and a tiny number of such cases doesn’t tell us much of anything. Even if there were causation (for which there really isn’t any good evidence), one notes that Margulis conveniently forgot to mention one small detail, namely that all “resolved spontaneously by 3 weeks and no further follow-up was needed.” Just for yucks, I did a PubMed search and found four papers on this, three case reports and one article summarizing them. In any event, there are a small number of case reports about this, and it’s unclear whether there is causation. There might be, given that vulvar aphthous ulcers are thought to be immune-mediated. Whatever the case, either COVID-19 vaccines don’t cause this or they do, but very rarely. In either case, this is not a reason to forego vaccination.
Next up, Margulis attacks doctors:
2. You Trust Your Doctor.
This is probably the best reason of all. Your doctor told you to! The doctor said so! And doctors are always trustworthy!
I mean, just look at Dr. Joel Lavine, M.D., who groomed and sexually abused at least one child in his care; Dr. Onyekachi Nwabuko, M.D., a Florida-based ER doc who smacked a patient in the face, laughed at her, and accused her of faking it while she was having a brain seizure; and Dr. Yee Chung Ho, M.D., a Pennsylvania-based doc who’s sweet side hustle was illegally selling opioids.
Doctors know best. Trust ’em, always. And trust your kids with them too!
Ms. Margulis does realize, doesn’t she, that if you’re going to attack doctors in general, the same attack applies to the doctors she likes, such as her co-author Dr. Thomas. After all, Dr. Thomas had his medical license suspended a year and a half ago for his antivaccine activities, which led him to practice in a manner that caused injury to patients; yet Ms. Margulis trusts him. That being said, yes, there are bad doctors, just as there are bad people. There are doctors who run pill mills, diddle patients, or are addicted to alcohol, opioids, or other addictive substances. That doesn’t mean that the medical advice of doctors in general is wrong. It just means there are bad doctors—again, like doctors Ms. Margulis likes and works with, such as Dr. Thomas.
3. You’d rather have a lifelong heart disorder than a SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Yes, yes, we know that these mRNA vaccines can cause heart inflammation. That’s well established in the scientific literature now. Who cares?! This peer-reviewed article from data in Israel has found that signal, as did this one from the United Kingdom, and this one from Denmark. But, so what?
Myocarditis is no big deal.
This one is easy. There is a small incidence of vaccine-associated myocarditis, especially in young males, but the risk of myocarditis from COVID-19 is far higher than the risk from the vaccine, and the risk-benefit calculation is still very much in favor of the vaccine.
This one made me laugh:
4. You don’t want anyone to think you’re an anti-vaxxer.
Those people are ridiculous! My god. Yeah, yeah, Dr. Daniel Salmon, Ph.D., claimed people who don’t vaccinate their kids tend to be better educated and have higher incomes than parents who don’t question vaccines, but what does he know? Salmon is only head of the Institute of Vaccine Safety at Johns Hopkins.
And even if that were true (which it’s not because we all know that anyone who skips even just one vaccine is a complete dunderhead), who wants to be associated with educated people who make good money anyway?!
So even though you secretly have some reservations about getting the vaccine, you don’t want anyone to think you’re an anti-vaxxer. Scroll down to the end of this post to see pictures of just a few of the dufus-for-brains you’d never want to talk to or hear speak. And then roll up your sleeve for vaccine numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4. Peer pressure and groupthink for the win!
That last link is to an antivax conference featuring a lot of the big names in the antivaccine movement, both old school and new wave, such as Mary Holland, Shannon Kroner, James Lyons-Weiler, Dr. Peter McCullough, Del Bigtree, and more. The whole shtick behind #4 is the common antivax mischaracterization that if you “question” even a single vaccine, you’ll be hopelessly attacked as an antivaxxer. Well, for all the reasons I listed above and in the links in the paragraph in which I introduced her, Ms. Margulis is an antivaxxer. It’s not because she “skips one vaccine” or has “reservations” about the COVID-19 vaccine. It’s because she has been spreading antivaccine pseudoscience, misinformation, and conspiracy theories since at least 2010, and likely before given that 2010 was just the year when I first discovered her.
Next up, Ms. Margulis cites other rare events:
5. Having your skin peel off in clumps is just not something you’re worried about.
This happened to Richard Terrell, who had to be hospitalized for five days. But the Virginia man told reporters that he’s still glad he did it! Your vulva might become blistered with lesions that fill with pus and then pop (see #1), your face might become paralyzed, or you might end up with possibly lethal thrombocytopenia, but you’ll still be glad you did it.
Again, although the doctors believe that the reaction was due to the vaccine, there isn’t really any hard evidence other than correlation, although it’s not implausible that a vaccine could cause an immune reaction like this. Moreover, even if it were, this would obviously be a very, very rare adverse event. As for the reports of facial paralysis (also called Bell’s palsy), this was something that people started trying to report very soon after the vaccines were released, even though there was no good evidence that Bell’s palsy, which is more common than people think, was caused by the vaccine. Three billion doses later, the evidence is still equivocal about whether there’s even a correlation between COVID-19 vaccines and Bell’s palsy. As for vaccine-induced thrombocytopenia from the ChAdOx1 vaccine (AstraZeneca’s adenovirus-based vaccine), this appears to be a real thing, but very rare. Again, the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, particularly during a pandemic.
Some of Ms. Margulis’ other claims are pretty easy to dispense with. For instance, she cites a paper by Stephanie Seneff (seriously, that Stephanie Seneff, the one who predicted that all children would be born autistic by 2025) and Peter McCullough to argue that the vaccines suppress the innate immune system. She says that you “like to be a guinea pig,” even though the COVID-19 vaccines underwent large scale phase III clinical studies to demonstrate safety and efficacy, which alone would make them no longer “experimental” but there’s also the matter of some three billion or so doses having been administered since then with an excellent safety record. She also touts how roughly 40% of COVID-19 infections are thought to be asymptomatic and that the infection fatality rate (IFR) is estimated to be “only” 0.1-0.2%. As I’ve said many times before, that might sound small, but when tens or hundreds of millions get infected, that quickly translates to millions of deaths, and, of course, with the US alone closing in on a million deaths, that already sets a hard lower boundary for the IFR of around 0.3% in a population of ~330 million; that is, if you assume that every single person in the US has been infected, which means that the IFR is likely far higher. Unsurprisingly, Ms. Margulis cites the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) database to parrot the ridiculous antivax claim that COVID-19 vaccines have killed more people than all other vaccines combined. Regular readers know that being reported to VAERS does not mean that the vaccine caused the adverse event, be it death or any other, because anyone can report anything to VAERS—and does.
I’ll stop right there and jump ahead to the one that made me laugh the loudest—derisively, of course:
9. More is always better, and you want more, more, more.
You did number one and then number two. Now they’re telling you to get number three and number four. More is always better when it comes to medicine, as you already know. And getting shot #4 because the efficacy of shots numbers 1, 2, and 3 have worn off does NOT mean the vaccines aren’t working! You also wear three seatbelts when you drive your car and four condoms when you make love.
I couldn’t help but think of a rocker who was very popular when I was in college:
Here’s a counterexample: I sprained my ankle, and it hurts a lot. I took some Advil for the pain. It wore off after a few hours, and my ankle started hurting again. So I had to take some more. That must mean that Advil doesn’t work!
Or how about this one: I got COVID-19 eight months ago and recovered. Now I just got it again this week! That must mean my immune system doesn’t work and “natural immunity” is a crock! (Yes, there have been lots of reinfections during the Omicron wave.)
Seriously, the claim that because immunity from vaccines is known to wane after several months and you might need boosters means that the vaccines don’t work is the height of ignorance. However, it’s not ignorance with Ms. Margulis, I suspect. Even though her PhD is in English, not any scientific career related to medicine, she’s intelligent and knowledgeable enough to know that not all immunity is like the lifelong immunity from measles vaccination and that coronaviruses are notorious for inducing only relatively short-lived immunity. That variants arose that could evade pre-existing immunity and that immunity from the vaccine against infection wanes does not mean that the vaccines are useless, just that better vaccines are needed. (Seriously, this is the same ignorant argument that old school antivaxxers used to make against pertussis vaccines, the immunity from which also fades with time.) Like all good antivax propagandists, though, Ms. Margulis knows that most people tend towards black and white thinking with respect to vaccines. Either vaccines work and provide lifelong immunity or they’re useless. She’s playing on that.
Then of course, Ms. Margulis, after having demonized doctors as abusive pedophiles who run pill mills, pivots to appealing to trusting that same profession that she had just castigated as completely unreliable and morally bankrupt:
If you’ve decided to stop after one or two, or just take a little more time to decide, it means that you want babies to die. And grandmas too. The TEN PERCENT of medical doctors who are openly expressing concerns about the efficacy, necessity, and safety of the COVID vaccine? They’ve just been duped. You see, every single one of them has been misled by peer-reviewed science and clinical experience, I mean, by dangerous misinformers like me.
Which is it, Ms. Margulis? Are doctors reliable to the point that we should care about their doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine, or are they all drug-addled despicable pedos whose judgment cannot be trusted? I guess they’re both, depending on what you need them to be for the argument you’re making. If doctors recommend vaccination against COVID-19, they’re pedos hitting patients and running pill mills. If they doubt the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination, you should trust them! Easy! Just never mind that pesky scientific evidence showing that the vaccines are very safe and very effective protecting against severe COVID-19 that lands you in the hospital or the morgue. It must be conceded that they are not as effective against infection as we would like and that immunity wanes, but so does “natural immunity” (a.k.a., post-infection) immunity in those who have recovered from COVID-19. Overall, even after the rise of the Delta and Omicron variants, the vaccines are far safer than COVID-19. We will likely need new vaccine formulations as boosters to cover new and emerging variants, but we already do that with influenza.
I realize that Ms. Margulis obviously thought she was being clever and satirical with the title of her post and the entire tone, in which she tries to sound as though she’s agreeing with the CDC and recommending COVID-19 vaccines as she fear mongers about them. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing I’ve discovered, it’s that antivaxxers, be they old school or new wave, rarely have the wit for good satire or parody. They always tend to go for very obvious and crude “satire” or humor, such as the time when they likened vaccination to an elephant that had crushed a baby’s head with its hoof but could never, ever be blamed. They thought it was funny. I thought it was eyerollingly bad.
The same goes for Ms. Margulis’ attempt at “satire.”