I realize that it was just the other day that I wrote about how, since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything old is new again among antivaxxers. What I did not mention is that, when it comes to pure antivax bonkers, it’s hard to surpass what has been happening in Florida lately, where Gov. Ron DeSantis has apparently decided that the path to becoming President runs through recycling every old “health freedom” antivaccine trope I’ve been writing about for 18 years now, after having used them to dictate Florida’s pandemic policy for nearly two years. Examples of how Gov. DeSantis has done this include his embrace of the “Urgency of Normal,” which advocated reopening schools with, in essence, no COVID-19 mitigations “for the children”; his appointment of Dr. Joseph Ladapo, who first made his name promoting hydroxychloroquine as a cure-all for COVID-19 with the grifting right wing conspiracy group known as America’s Frontline Doctors, and then pivoted to opposing in essence any COVID-19 mitigations that are not completely voluntary or inconvenience anyone; and the conversion of the Florida Department of Health into a pandemic-opposing antivax organization, complete with dubious studies falsely extrapolating their results to argue that vaccinating children against COVID-19 is more dangerous than letting them catch COVID-19.
Apparently, totally embracing the “let ‘er rip” philosophy of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), the frankly eugenicist statement advocating letting the young and healthy catch COVID-19 and locking away the “vulnerable” as “focused protection” wasn’t enough. Now, apparently, Gov. DeSantis wants to give antivaxxers what they’ve long wanted, dating back to decades before the pandemic, their own mini-“Nuremberg 2.0.”
At a roundtable he convened of Covid vaccine skeptics and opponents — including his own surgeon general — he formally called on the state Supreme Court to impanel a grand jury to investigatewhether pharmaceutical companies criminally misled Floridians about the side effects of vaccines, a position at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
DeSantis was a major booster of the vaccines last year and once called them lifesaving, but he later turned against them, mirroring a shift in conservative Republican opinion. By January, he refused to say if he even got a booster, and that prompted Trump — whose Operation Warp Speed led to the rapid development of the vaccines — to take a thinly veiled shot at him, albeit not by name, for being “gutless.”
The last time Gov. DeSantis organized a roundtable discussion of COVID-19, pandemic response, and vaccines, he included antivaxxers like Dr. Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Malone (who’s gone complete antivax conspiracy theorist), GBD contributors Drs Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff, and advocates of letting kids catch COVID-19 like Dr. Tracy Beth Høeg. Let’s just say that antivaxxers immediately got the reference:
Florida Governor Ron Desantis Seeks Grand Jury of Covid Vaccines-Covid Crimes https://www.foxbusiness.com/politics/desantis-florida-grand-jury-investigate-coronavirus-vaccine-wrongdoing — POISON SHOTS: DESANTIS’S PANEL PUSH NON-COVID VACCINES, C19 SHOT VS BLOOD UPDATES – TIMTRUTH.COM https://bitchute.com/video/SaPr7eWVHjlk/ — Desantis, Musk, Paul… All agree with Chris Edwards, Chief Justice of Nuremberg 2.0 for Crimes Against Humanity vs Covid Hoax and Vaccine Injuries. https://NurembergTrials.net.
One of the sites referenced above greets visitors with this image:
Unsurprisingly, many of the same usual suspects from the “Urgency of Normal” roundtable in March participated in Gov. DeSantis’ “Nuremberg 2.0” conference this week, including:
- Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD
- Martin Kuldorff, PhD
- Tracy Beth Høeg, MD, PhD
- Joseph Fraiman, MD
- Christine Stabell Benn, MD, PhD
- Bret Weinstein, PhD
- Steven Templeton, PhD
I’m not so familiar with Dr. Benn or Templeton, but I’m very familiar with the GBD authors Drs. Bhattacharya and Kulldorff, who first co-authored the GBD and now write for the astroturf anti-public health “group”think tank” Brownstone Institute, with Kulldorff serving as its scientific advisor. Bret Weinstein, of course, is the evolutionary biologist turned COVID-19 conspiracy theorist and promoter of ivermectin as a cure for the disease, while Dr. Fraiman is an antivaxxer who has coauthored an awful paper with Peter Doshi falsely representing COVID-19 vaccines as unsafe. Dr.Tracy Beth Høeg, of course, is a sports medicine doctor turned fake COVID-19 expert churning out a bad VAERS study and one of the main promoters of “Urgency of Normal” and dubious claims about vaccinating children.
Consistent with that, the roundtable produced antivax zingers like:
“It is always important to balance benefits and risks. For older high-risk people who have not vet had Covid, vaccine benefits outweigh potential risks for an adverse reaction,” said Dr. Martin Kulldorf, Ph.D., Scientific Director, Brownstone Institute; Fellow, Hillsdale College’s Academy for Science & Freedom. “For children, young adults and those who have had COVID, the risk of dying from COVID is miniscule, so even a small risk of a serious vaccine adverse reaction, such as myocarditis, will tip the balance against the vaccine.”
“It it clear we urgently need updated and fully transparent vaccines risk-benefit analyses for all age groups for physicians to make informed recommendations and patients to make informed decisions,” said Dr. Tracey Høeg , M.D., Ph.D., Physician Epidemiologist and Clinical Researcher at Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University of California San Francisco, Acumen, LLC. “Blanket mandates or requirements for COVID-19 vaccines are both unscientific and unethical given the vaccines’ ineffectiveness at providing lasting protection from infection or transmission and the uncertainty surrounding the current vaccines’ benefits and risks.”
In antivax-speak, “risk stratification” means: Don’t vaccinate children. It has ever been thus, back to the days when antivaxxers used to argue that vaccinating against measles was unnecessary because it was a “harmless” childhood disease the produced lifelong “natural immunity.” (Never mind the injury to the immune system it causes that results in “immune amnesia” lasting up to three years.)
Curious about the other two, I looked them up. Dr. Benn appears down with the messaging of the GBD, if her Twitter feed is any indication, for example:
She was also apparently “honored” to be part of what she called an “inspiring and refreshing” meeting:
Whatever one can say about Dr. Benn’s past, now clearly she has gone deep down the antivax conspiracy rabbit hole, as one of her followers noted:
Here’s the video:
As for Dr. Templeton, a quick Google search led me to his Substack, Fear of a Microbial Planet, billed as “fighting back against a germophobic safety culture.” His first article railed against “coercion,” reaching back to The Black Plague for examples, for example how Jews were targeted, along with foreigners, religious dissenters and witches, or, as he put it, “anyone who could be labeled as ‘other’—were attacked, cast out, stoned, lynched or burned.” Yes, he does fit in with a “Nuremberg 2.0” narrative, as:
Consistent with this, Dr. Templeton added:
“There has been a tremendous loss of trust in public health and I think you can see that in decreased uptake of vaccines that have been traditionally used,” Steve Templeton, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, Indiana University School of Medicine-Terre Haute. “This isn’t just anti-vaxx people; this is people who have really lost trust in the system, and I think you have to restore that trust to get people to believe in the efficacy of vaccines that have been used for decades without problem and have been very effective.”
What Templeton neglects to mention is that undermining trust in all vaccines by taking advantage of the newness of COVID-19 vaccines to spread what sounds like convincing disinformation about them has been the aim all along, which is why antivaxxers rejoice when surveys have shown that trust in childhood vaccines has declined. It’s an intentional strategy designed to use the banning of COVID-19 vaccines as the “foot in the door” to achieve the longtime goal of the antivaccine movement, the elimination of all vaccine mandates of any kind. That’s always been the endgame, and COVID-19 has given antivaxxers the opportunity to realize it, possibly with the help of cynical politicians like Gov. DeSantis.
I didn’t watch the whole roundtable. (The older I get, the more I fear putting my neurons at risk.) However, but these assessments were accurate about what I did see:
Yes, indeed. All the COVID-19 antivax conspiracies are there. The “Died Suddenly” claims about excess mortality? They’re there. Exaggerated claims about myocarditis from the vaccines? They’re there! False claims that the vaccine has promoted newer and more deadly variants? Yep. The list goes on.
Let’s look at what Gov. DeSantis is doing:
Today, Governor Ron DeSantis held a roundtable discussion joined by Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo and world-renowned physicians, researchers, and public health experts to discuss adverse events of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines and announce new, aggressive actions to hold the federal government and Big Pharma accountable, including:
- Establishing the Public Health Integrity Committee. The Committee will be overseen by the Surgeon General to assess federal public health recommendations and guidance to ensure that Florida’s public health policies are tailored for Florida’s communities and priorities.
- Filing a petition for a Statewide Grand Jury to investigate crimes and wrongdoing committed against Floridians related to the COVID-19 vaccine.
- Leading further surveillance into sudden deaths of individuals that received the COVID-19 vaccine in Florida, based on autopsy results. The state will collaborate with the University of Florida to compare research with studies done in other countries.
Translation of “Public Health Integrity Committee”: Nuremberg 2.0, the tribunal long fantasized about by antivaxxers going back decades that will supposedly investigate the vaccine program and then prosecute and punish vaccine advocates. Actually, the Statewide Grand Jury is probably the better fit to Nuremberg 2.0, with the Public Health Integrity Committee being basically a rubber stamp for Gov. DeSantis’ anti-public health and antivax policies designed to slap a veneer of fake scientific credibility onto profoundly antiscience and antivax policies. Indeed, Gov. DeSantis intends this committee to:
…counter the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which DeSantis said “is not serving a useful function; it’s really serving to advance narratives rather than do evidence-based medicine.” The panel would assess guidance and actions from federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, US Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.
Never mind that the state does not control drug regulation. Not that that matters. This committee is all about propaganda and countering messaging from the CDC and federal government. That’s all.
Reading the press release, I was interested in exactly what Gov. DeSantis’ handpicked committee of antivaxxers, COVID-19 minimizers, and conspiracy theorists is claiming:
The Biden Administration and pharmaceutical corporations continue to push widespread distribution of mRNA vaccines on the public, including children as young as 6 months old, through relentless propaganda while ignoring real-life adverse events. At today’s roundtable the Governor and health experts discussed data covering serious adverse events. These risks include coagulation disorders, acute cardiac injuries, Bell’s palsy, encephalitis, appendicitis, and shingles.
I had, of course, read about all the dubious claims about the “clot shot”—never mind that there’s no evidence that the mRNA vaccines cause increased clotting leading young people to “die suddenly” of massive heart attacks, while there is plenty of evidence that COVID-19 infection itself does cause that—but I had never heard of any claims that the vaccines cause appendicitis before. So I looked at the link cited, and it’s the original clinical trial for the Moderna vaccine, which found, yes, a slightly increased incidence of appendicitis in the vaccinated group, with a risk ratio of 1.40 (95% CI, 1.02 to 2.01; risk difference, 5.0 events per 100,000 persons; 95% CI, 0.3 to 9.9). That’s barely statistically significant, as well as a very tiny number, and the authors noted:
However, phase 3 trials may have inherent limi- tations in assessing vaccine safety because of a small number of participants and a healthier-than- average sample population. Hence, they are often underpowered to identify less common adverse events. Postmarketing surveillance is required to monitor the safety of new vaccines in real-world settings.
Funny how Gov. DeSantis’ lackeys ignored this large 2022 study that investigated the potential safety signal in the Moderna study and found:
In this nationwide study comprising 4 million vaccinated individuals, we found no association between immunization with mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines and appendicitis. The safety signal was raised when BNT162b2 vaccine trials showed higher numbers of appendicitis cases in vaccinated than placebo groups; the US Food and Drug Administration then listed appendicitis as an adverse effect of special interest.1,4 This suspicion was backed by disproportional reporting of adverse events2 and an Israeli cohort study estimating an excess risk of appendicitis of 5.0 episodes per 100 000 individuals after vaccination.3 However, an interim analysis of US surveillance data found no association.5
Cherry picking, anyone? Basically, there was a safety signal for appendicitis, it was investigated, and no association was found in postmarking surveillance.
Unsurprisingly, one of the other references cited is that awful study by committee member Dr. Fraiman and The BMJ‘s antivax-adjacent senior editor Peter Doshi that was full of p-hacking-like misrepresentation to find spurious associations between vaccination and “adverse events of special interest.” You get the idea. A lot of the favorite antivax tropes are in the press release and were part of the conversation.
Of course, no good disinformation campaign would be complete without anecdotes, and so those were featured as well, without evidence that their health problems were actually caused by the vaccines, just like any good antivax narrative. Every antivax roundtable organized by cynical politicians needs its “victims,” and this one is no exception. Republicans were doing this in my state back in 2018.
Gov. DeSantis’ call for a “Statewide Grand Jury” to investigate COVID-19 vaccines, vaccine manufacturers, and the CDC is obviously an attempt to play to his party’s base. As Amanda Carpenter points out at The Bulwark:
But regardless of the political calculations that brought DeSantis to this point, it’s important to recognize that his vaccine skepticism is relatively new. This is particularly odd considering that an overwhelming majority of Americans have been safely vaccinated—including millions of Floridians who received their shots when DeSantis was still advocating them.
Let’s review DeSantis’s pro-vaccine advocacy: In December 2020, he traveled to Washington to attend Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” vaccine summit, where he outlined plans for Florida’s vaccine rollout. DeSantis then embarked on a “Seniors First” campaign to ensure Florida seniors were first in line to get jabs. He also developed a partnership with the Publix supermarket chain to establish vaccination sites in its stores. DeSantis was so happy to promote vaccination—including vaccines delivered during “house calls” to those unable to travel to get their shots—that he joined healthcare workers to vaccinate a 94-year-old WWII veteran in his home and invited Fox & Friends to cover it.
DeSantis cheered vaccines for everyone in July 2021: “If you are vaccinated, fully vaccinated, the chance of you getting seriously ill or dying from COVID is effectively zero,” he said. “If you look at the people that are being admitted to hospitals, over 95 percent of them are either not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all. And so these vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.”
But somewhere along the way, his tone and emphasis started to change. Instead of promoting individual vaccination efforts, he started criticizing vaccine mandates. And as he did, his status with the GOP’s base only improved.
She also asks:
It’s tempting to wonder where to place DeSantis on a continuum between “cynical panderer” on one side and “true believer in his own brand-new mythology” on the other. But even this might be giving him too much credit. DeSantis could be something far more boring: a try-hard overachiever with a penchant for overdoing it, even to the point of humiliating himself.
Personally, I tend to view DeSantis as probably more on the side of “cynical panderer.” He sees that embracing the “health freedom” narrative about COVID-19 vaccines fires up the GOP base. Also, it was only April when he awarded the Florida State Medal of Freedom to the last living prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials, Benjamin Ferencz, who is 102. Seriously, in retrospect it’s hard not to look at this award, deserved as it might be, as yet another example of Ron DeSantis understanding exactly what his antivax admirers want and providing a prelude to this latest proposal.
Does he believe all this nonsense about “Nuremberg 2.0” (even if he appears to have managed to restrain himself from explicitly likening the proposed grand jury to that)? Who knows? Does he know that the narrative he’s embracing and his call for a grand jury to investigate big pharma, the CDC, and Anthony Fauci is basically a call for a mini-Nuremberg 2.o? Probably, but he also likely doesn’t care, nor is it likely that he cares about the potential dangerous and violent outcomes that going down the “Nuremberg 2.0” path can produce.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter much whether Gov. DeSantis believes the dangerous nonsense he is peddling. He has, in essence, proposed giving antivaxxers what they have long craved, a mini-Nuremberg 2.0. They won’t be satisfied, though. They want a true Nuremberg 2.0.