As hard as it is to believe, it’s been over a year since I first wrote about a particularly pernicious phenomenon in the antivaccine movement, the concept of “purebloods,” more specifically the concept that those unvaccinated with one of the COVID-19 vaccines have “pure blood” and that the vaccines somehow “contaminate” the blood. As I pointed out at the time, there is nothing new about “purebloods” other than “new school” antivaxxers having chosen a name based seemingly on disturbingly fascist concepts about “purity,” sparking an obvious comparison to a character from one of my favorite movies of all time, Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper from one of my favorite movies of all time, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Specifically, the concept reminds me of how Gen. Ripper would seemingly reasonably rant about how fluoridation is a Communist plot to “sap and impurify” the “precious bodily fluids” of real Americans, noting that anti-fluoridation, antivaccine, and anti-GMO pseudoscience all tap into the alternative medicine fear of “contamination” as a cause of ill health and “purity of essence” (again, from Dr. Strangelove) as key to good health.
And who can forget this scene?
I can predict how antivaxxers will react to my starting this post with clips of Gen. Ripper ranting about “contamination” of his “precious bodily fluids” and how that “contamination” is the result of a Communist plot. They won’t like it. They’ll say I’m being unfair and uncharitable in my comparison and using it to poison the well. Here’s the problem, though, from a science-based perspective that led me to lead with this: Huge swaths of alternative medicine relies on the concept that “contamination” (these days more frequently referred to as “toxins”) cause most, if not all, disease. Over the years, I’ve discussed how various “detoxification” regimens that make up so much of alternative medicine (and, not coincidentally, the basis of many treatments for many conditions—like autism—that antivaxxers used to attribute to vaccines) have more in common with religious ritual purification rituals than they do with science or medicine. This concept of “purity” versus “contamination” (implied to be with evil) also has a lot to do with the idea that “natural immunity” to a disease (which in reality should be called post-infection immunity given that vaccine-induced immunity is natural) and has infected the discourse over COVID-19 vaccines. Not coincidentally, concepts of “contamination” versus “purity” (or even “pureblood” or “purebloods”) are also behind the fear stoked by antivaxxers that mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines “permanently alter” your DNA, thus contaminating and corrupting it with evil (the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein).
I won’t belabor the point (yet), having discussed the concept of “purebloods” and antivax “purity of essence” multiple times, but with that background, consider a story I saw just a couple of days ago from New Zealand about this very issue related to a child referred to as Baby Will:
Health New Zealand is heading to court over the guardianship of a baby in need of heart surgery as the boy’s parents are refusing to allow blood from vaccinated people to be used in the operation, it is understood.
Court records show documents had been filed with the Auckland High Court yesterday and Health New Zealand/Te Whatu Ora is listed as the applicant for proceedings set down for tomorrow.
The NZ Herald understands Te Whatu Ora is seeking the guardianship of the 4-month-old be shifted from his parents to the courts so consent to use donated blood in the required open-heart surgery can be given.
After the court hearing:
Justice Layne Harvey said today’s hearing at the High Court in Auckland is purely administrative to set the date for an urgent hearing.
Representing Te Whatu Ora, lawyer Paul White flagged the urgency of the case saying medical professionals have said the child with such a condition would have been treated several weeks ago in normal circumstances.
The parents’ lawyer, Sue Grey, said the case was unusual and different from other medical guardianship cases where parents are refusing medical care. For this one, she said, the parents want better care than what the state is offering.
So what is going on? The whole idea of “purebloods” (unvaccinated) has led parents with a child with a congenital heart defect to refuse surgery unless the hospital can guarantee that their child will only receive “unvaccinated blood”:
The parents of the baby discussed their son’s health situation and their medical preferences in an interview with an anti-vaccination campaigner.
In the interview the parents say their baby has severe pulmonary valve stenosis, and that he needs surgery “almost immediately”, but that they are “extremely concerned with the blood [the doctors] are going to use”.
“We don’t want blood that is tainted by vaccination,” the father said. “That’s the end of the deal – we are fine with anything else these doctors want to do.”
Before I go on, my position on this issue will come as no surprise. While a competent adult is free to refuse any medical intervention whatsoever, as long as the consequences of doing so are understood, the same is not true for parents refusing life-saving medical interventions for their child. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, is free to refuse blood transfusions based on their religion, even if that refusal will result in their deaths, they should not be allowed to refuse such transfusions for their children. If they do, the state has a duty and obligation to step in to see that the child gets proper medical care. Del Bigtree, to name another example, is perfectly free to refuse “vaccinated blood” after bleeding down to a very low hemoglobin level due to his hemorrhoids, even at the risk of his life, but he does not have the right to let one of his children die a transfusion is needed too save that child’s life. Of course, Bigtree also had adoring fans who paid for a flight to a quack clinic in Cancun to receive just such a transfusion of “unvaccinated” blood, thus ensuring his ability to continue to exist as one of the “purebloods,” but most people are not so fortunate.
In any event, unsurprisingly this case has become a cause célèbre among the antivaccine crowd, with the court hearing earlier this week packed by supporters, who also regularly flood articles about the case with support, rants against Health New Zealand/Te Whatu Ora, and, of course, conspiracy theories about how supposedly deadly spike proteins used as the antigen in COVID-19 vaccines are. Also unsurprisingly, there is a publicity campaign, with the parents appearing in videos filmed by antivax former presenter Liz Gunn featuring them and their lawyer Sue Grey:
Images like this are very powerful propaganda for antivaxxers because everyone with a few cardiac muscle cells able to contract feels for a mother with a young child with a life-threatening heart defect that requires semi-urgent surgery. Similarly, it’s hard not to sympathize with fear of blood transfusions, because such fear has existed since transfusions first entered medical care and the concept of taking blood from another person is, on a primal level, a very frightening one. Similarly, the idea of “parental rights” is also very powerful, not just in the US but all over the world, including in New Zealand.
Here in the US, you might remember an incident from nearly eight years ago that I like to cite to point out how so often children are viewed not as autonomous beings but rather the property of their parents during the time they are being raised. I’ve written about this attitude more times than I can remember, encapsulating it with a quote by Senator Rand Paul that sums up this attitude about as close to perfectly as I can. It’s an attitude that permeates every discussion about the health care of children. He said it three years ago at the height of the Disneyland measles outbreak, when calls were just starting to be made in California to ban nonmedical “personal belief exemptions” to school vaccine mandates, calls that ultimately led to SB 277, the law that did ban nonmedical exemptions in California:”The state doesn’t own the children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.” Parental rights are not, nor should they be, absolute, and there is no evidence that “vaccinated” blood is any less safe than “unvaccinated blood.”
But what about the claim of the parents that they are just seeking “better medical care” for their child:
The issue has created an impasse between the two parties and Sue Grey—the parents’ lawyer described by the Guardian as a “prominent anti-vaccination campaigner”—claimed the parents are simply demanding better care for their child than what the state is offering and that the state has written them off as conspiracy theorists.
With antivaxxers arguing:
Here are two sincere parents who have already been traumatised by the heart condition of their four month old which necessitates an operation. They would like unvaccinated blood to be used, and they arranged for matching donors.
But the surgeon and the New Zealand health system have refused this easy option. Instead, they decided to go for the jugular. They are seeking custody of the child to enforce the use of blood from the public blood bank. They are refusing to admit that studies finding persistence of spike protein indicate any risk. An extreme position. It is of note, as we have previously written that even pro-vaccine advocates overseas are admitting the existence of novel blood clots, (whilst arguing implausibly that their causes are unknown).
Both national dailies have decided to demonise the parents, abandoning all semblance of humane compassion. There can’t be any greater condemnation of the effect of vaccination. Apparently, it makes people angry and uncaring.
At a time when the parents deserve understanding and support, all semblance of recognition of the provision of medical choice in the New Zealand Bill of Rights has been abandoned. Medical choice is off the table and it is open season for vicious attacks on the unvaccinated.
I have not really seen evidence of this “demonization” of the parents reading various New Zealand-based accounts of the story. What I have seen is the appropriate refutation of their conspiracy mongering about “vaccinated blood” being “tainted” and somehow unsafe and questioning why parents would risk their baby’s life based on unscientific nonsense. Of course, to antivaxxers, any science-based criticism that points out that a child’s life should not be endangered because of fear of a medical treatment that isn’t based in any evidence that that medical treatment is, in fact, dangerous.
But what about this “easy option”? To be honest, I’m somewhat conflicted. It does seem “easy” simply to give in to “purebloods” conspiracy mongering and let the parents line up 20 donors that they claim to have recruited for directed donation, all for the good of the child. However, first consider this:
New Zealand’s blood service said it does not separate or label donated blood by vaccination status nor is there any evidence suggesting vaccination adversely affects the quality of blood for transfusion.
Correct. Also, nowhere in the world that I’m aware of routinely separates donated blood by COVID-19 vaccination status—or any other vaccine status. Also, as bioethicists point out:
A lecturer in bioethics at the University of Otago, Josephine Johnston, told RNZ it was very rare for a case to get this far. It was a distressing case for everyone involved, she added, because there was significant disagreement between the parents and the healthcare teams, both of whom were trying to act in the best interests of the child.
“Parents have a lot of decision-making authority over their child’s life – there’s a huge zone of discretion for parents to make decisions including about medical issues,” Johnston said.
“But there are limits to that, and this is one of those tragic cases where the limit has life and death consequences.”
Gray counters that there’s no “downside” to using directed donation other than administrative difficulty and expense. That’s not entirely true. As this review points out, there is actually a significantly increased risk of transfusion-transmitted infectious disease from directed donation compared to standard anonymous pooled community donations, specifically HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HTLV, and syphilis. It’s a risk that remains even when the donor is a parent of the patient, leading to a conclusion:
Thus, increased risk of transfusion-transmitted infections in directed donor blood products should be considered because the detection of such infections would preclude the donated blood products from use.
Why might this be? The answer might surprise you, but probably doesn’t surprise physicians:
Directed donations may be influenced by extrinsic pressures, such as coercion or monetary compensation, particularly in times of crisis.2 Ramifications of such pressure may include inaccurate answers on predonation screening questions.
The review also notes that infectious disease testing of donated blood is not foolproof. Consequently, if a donor pool is more high-risk, then there’s a higher risk that infectious agents will slip through the screening.
In addition, people underestimate the supposed “simple” extra administrative requirements for directed donation:
The turnaround time for this required testing is often overlooked when planning for directed donations. Directed donations are not immediately available for transfusion; their release is contingent upon testing completion and acceptable test results. Depending on the testing and product preparation process of the particular blood bank, the period from collection to product availability for transfusion may be >48 hours. Because of the turnaround time, directed donation is a less feasible option than the use of voluntary, nonrenumerated blood donations when a transfusion is needed expediently because the latter products would have already been tested and prepared for transfusion.
In addition, directed donations have increased administrative requirements. Facility-specific circumstances may require that blood products be donated and collected at a separate facility than where the patient receives the transfusion. In comparison, a facility would already have blood products from voluntary, nonrenumerated blood donations in stock. Extra care must be taken to ensure the directed donation units are appropriately labeled, tested, and cross-matched for the intended patient, transported to the patient’s specific location, and transfused to the correct patient.30,31 Directed donations therefore involve administrative burdens as well as time constraints.
The review ends up concluding first that directed donation often remains the best or only option for patients with rare blood types, IgA deficiency, or significant alloimmunization, but, more importantly for this case, that there are not insignificant risks to directed donation compared to pooled community donations. Of course, given these parents’ “purebloods” belief system about vaccines, they undoubtedly would not be swayed even if informed of the additional risks, which brings up the question of whether the New Zealand hospital is obligated to accede to the unscientific demands of these parents.
There’s also another consideration, something that I had meant to write about before this child’s story hit international news, namely the “safe blood” movement, sometimes called “SafeBlood,” which is based on the same nonsense:
Anti-vaxxers are trying to create a new global infrastructure for the supply of unvaccinated blood, driven by conspiracy theories and pseudoscientific beliefs about the dangers of mRNA COVID vaccines.
SafeBlood Donation was founded by a Swiss naturopath, George Della Pietra, who considers global coronavirus vaccination campaigns to be “the crime of the century.”
He and his supporters believe, wrongly, that mRNA coronavirus vaccines “contaminate” the blood and destroy the immune system, and that unvaccinated people will be harmed if they receive transfusions of blood supplied by vaccinated people.
When a movement is founded by a naturopath, that should tell you all you need to know about the science behind it, namely that it’s very bad at best and nonexistent at worst. Indeed, this naturopath claims that his own studies of “vaccinated blood” has revealed horrifying “contamination,” with him adding, “I’ve never seen blood like this. This was, to be honest, the main reason I started the whole thing, because when I saw this, I was so horrified.” The story also notes that he believes there is an an agenda afoot to vaccinate everyone on the planet in an effort to control the world’s population.
Holy depopulation conspiracy theories, Batman!
Whatever infrastructure has been built up for these “purebloods” so far, however, the initial goal of this movement appears to be:
SafeBlood Donation, which has members in at least 16 countries, eventually hopes to open blood banks providing unvaccinated plasma for its members. But the group’s initial goal is to pressure hospitals and health authorities worldwide into permitting so-called “directed donations” of unvaccinated blood – through which recipients could nominate donors who hadn’t had COVID vaccinations to provide the blood directly for their treatment.
Although it is tempting in this case to accede to the parents’ wishes, as unscientific as they are, in the name of the child, I would make the argument that if the parents are willing to let their child die rather than let him receive “unvaccinated blood,” chances are very good that their children won’t be getting any of the other recommended childhood vaccines and will receive quackery for medical care in other areas; so a good case can be made for revoking the parents’ rights with respect to medical care. After all, the only difference between the blood of those vaccinated and the unvaccinated is likely to be the presence of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which, increasingly, more and more unvaccinated people also have given how many have had and recovered from COVID-19. Moreover, as I’ve pointed out, the amount of spike protein generated by the vaccine is tiny compared to the amount generated by an actual…oh, you know…COVID-19 infection.
The bottom line is that, as much as we might want to empathize with these parents, they are potentially endangering the life of Baby Will based on what are, in essence, religious (or very religion-like) beliefs devoid of evidence. In this, they are no different from adherents of religions that believe that disease should be treated with prayer rather than medicine, as was the case for Herbert and Catherine Schaible, who chose prayer instead of antibiotics to treat bacterial pneumonia in their son Kent Schaible, who died. The parents were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and child endangerment, were sentenced to ten years of probation, and had to promise to take their children to a doctor when they were ill (i.e., not to do it again). That was 2009. Guess what happened in 2013? They did it again! Parents like these rarely change their minds.
We have to counter the attitude that children don’t have rights of their own as autonomous beings apart from their parents, that their parents have absolute power over them, and that the state should never interfere with that power, no matter how much it is abused. It’s an uphill battle, but it’s one worth fighting for the sake of the children.