Antivaccine nonsense Medicine

Word to Steve Kirsch: The 1990s called. They want their antivax lies about shaken baby syndrome back

In another example of how, in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything antivax that was old is new again, Steve Kirsch is claiming that vaccine cause something like shaken baby syndrome, an old antivax trope used to exonerate baby killers.

Roughly three decades ago now, there arose a particularly vile and insidious antivax lie, specifically the claim that the clinical entity known as “shaken baby syndrome” (these days called abusive head trauma) was in actuality a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury. Although it is not clear exactly who was responsible for originating the myth or when, it is clear that two sources were very much responsible for popularizing the lie. The first was Australian geologist named Viera Scheibner. The second were fans of a man named Alan Yurko, who was initially convicted in 1999 for the death of his girlfriend’s ten week old infant. Ever since then, the lie that shaken baby syndrome/abusive head trauma is in reality a “misdiagnosis” for “vaccine injury” has been a major part of antivaccine lore, promoted by a number of antivaxxers over the years, as well as by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), otherwise know (to me, at least) as a medical John Birch Society disguised as a medical professional society. So I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me when tech bro turned rabid antivaxxer Steve Kirsch posted on his Substack an article entitled The new rise of “shaken baby syndrome,” complete with a photo of a brain-injured child, you know, because that’s the sort of thing vile antivaxxers like Kirsch do.

In yet another example of how in the age of COVID-19 everything antivax that was old—and, make no mistake, this particular lie is very, very old—is seemingly new again, at least if you’re a Johnny-come-lately antivaxxer like Steve Kirsch:

Parents who follow their physician’s advice to vaccinate their kids can find that their child subsequently develops encephalitis soon after vaccination (more likely when multiple vaccines are given at once and even more likely if the child has an infection at the time of vaccination) which then becomes a permanent brain injury.

Their doctor then reports the parents to Child Protective Services for “shaken baby syndrome” and their child is taken away.

Physicians are never to blame of course, because vaccines are safe and effective.

Funny how Kirsch posts this as though he’s discovered something new, as though this hoary lie hasn’t been part and parcel of antivax disinformation for at least 30 years. What’s particularly nasty about this particular lie is that antivaxxers frequently use it to try to defend child abusers and help them avoid paying the price for their crimes. For example, Vera Schreiber was doing just that in the 1990s, as this 2003 article in Australian Doctor describes:

Dr Scheibner describes herself as a retired principal research scientist who formerly worked with the NSW Government. Her PhD is in micropalaeontology, which she says focused on “ecology, palaeontology and the reconstruction of past marine environments based on microscopic fossils and climates”. 

She attributes shaken baby syndrome to brain swelling and bleeding, and bone fragility induced by vaccination.

When questioned about the motivation behind her claims that children can build a natural immunity to tetanus, that smallpox has not been wiped out but has been re-classified as other pox viruses, and that vaccines are the single biggest cause of SIDS, she says: “I only satisfy my conscience. I am a scientist … I don’t care if people agree or are against me, I know I am stating the truth.”

See what I mean? This article is over 20 years old, and I bet you will recognize some of those claims, such as the whopper that vaccines cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They don’t. Of course, I note that even before he started claiming that shaken baby syndrome is a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury, Steve Kirsch had also already latched onto the old antivax chestnut blaming vaccines for SIDS. Schreiber, for her part, has apparently been promoting the false claim that vaccines cause a SIDS-like syndrome that is falsely attributed to abusive head trauma way back in 1996. I haven’t been able to tell if she was the one who originated this claim. Probably not. I rather suspect that she just picked up on something that had been made up before and ran with it. Whoever thought of this lie first, though, it’s been around a long, long time.

Kirsch continues:

While this is unlikely to happen to any of my readers who know better than to ever vaccinate their kids, it is happening to parents who are not aware that vaccine risks outweigh the benefits because they rely on their doctors for medical advice.

Also, DPT vaccine injuries were also often attributed to shaken baby syndrome. And SIDS was partially created to cover up vaccine deaths.

This is becoming more prevalent now with COVID vaccines being part of the mix.

Seriously, Kirsch is like a Mad Libs of antivaccine disinformation, regurgitating it seemingly at random without being able to make anything resembling a coherent argument. However, the issue with DPT (the version of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine that used whole cell pertussis) does suggest that the antivaccine shaken baby syndrome narrative likely arose in the 1980s, around the time that it was suspected that DPT was causing brain damage. You might recall that the DPT scare originated as a result of a documentary, DPT: Vaccine Roulette, which first aired on a local NBC affiliate in Washington DC on April 19, 1982, and then ultimately was aired nationally on The Today Show. This particular bit of muckraking was arguably the spark that resulted in the big bang of the modern anti-vaccine movement. During the 1980s, it was thought that the whole cell pertussis vaccine (abbreviated DTwP, for diptheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis, as opposed to the DTaP, which is now used and in which the “a” stands for “acellular”) was responsible for encephalitis and brain damage in children, based on sensational case reports in the media, like the ones in Vaccine Roulette. Early studies even suggested that there might be an association between the whole cell pertussis vaccine and the encephalopathy attributed in the media to it, but, as Steve Novella pointed out, later studies did not support his association.

The claim about shaken baby syndrome is even more disgusting, though. In the moment, before the studies exonerating the whole-cell DPT were published years later, it was not unreasonable to be concerned, and, indeed, the public health establishment was sufficiently concerned to develop a new version of the DTP vaccine, the DTaP vaccine, that did not use whole cell pertussis. Note, however, that, if her account is true, Vera Schreiber helped child abusers avoid punishment:

Dr Scheibner has written two self-published books against vaccination, and often addresses community gatherings in Australia and overseas. She has achieved substantial media coverage in almost 20 years of committed lobbying.

She says since 1996 she has been asked to write expert reports for the defence in about 80 cases of shaken baby syndrome in the UK, US and Australia.

“In many cases, when the prosecution received my report, the charges were dropped,” she says. 

This is not something to be proud of, helping child abusers get off.

Speaking of child abusers getting off, the case of Alan Yurko is instructive. To remind those of you not familiar with this particularly odious excuse for a human being, I’ll briefly relate who he is and why he’s so vile. I first learned of this the lie that Kirsch is regurgitating when I learned of the case of Alan Yurko. Yurko gained “fame” (if you can call it that) when he was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1999 for the murder of his 10-week-old son, who was shaken to death. Somehow, Yurko became the centerpiece of a campaign (Free Yurko) that featured as the centerpiece of its argument for Yurko’s innocence the claim that shaken baby syndrome is in realty “vaccine injury” and that Yurko’s son died not of injuries sustained by being vigorous shaken by Yurko but by “vaccine injury.” Unfortunately, ultimately Yurko was released early, not because the courts agreed with the lie that it was vaccine injury, not shaken baby syndrome, that killed Yurko’s son. Rather, it was because apparently the coroner’s office where the autopsy was done on the dead baby was the most shoddily run morgue ever and incompetent coroner ever. As Australian skeptic Peter Bowditch put it:

I want you to think about a dead baby. This baby was ten weeks old when he died. The autopsy revealed bleeding around the brain, in the eyes and in the spinal column. There were bruises on the sides of his head. Another thing that the autopsy showed was four broken ribs. These fractures had started to heal, and therefore indicated a pattern of physical abuse prior to the date of death. The father admitted to holding the baby by his feet and hitting him shortly before he died. I now want to you to form an opinion of the father. If you are the sort of person who opposes vaccination, you would see this man as a hero. You would see him as a martyr to the cause and would try to get him released from prison. In a breathtaking demonstration of what it can mean to believe that the end justifies the means, the anti-vaccination liars have adopted Alan Yurko as a symbol that they can use to frighten parents into refusing vaccination for their children. You can read a loathsome justification for this murderer at

I’ve discussed the case of Alan Yurko and the antivaccine movement’s most shameless vile lie (namely, that shaken baby syndrome is a “misdiagnosis” for vaccine injury) in detail before on more than one occasion. It’s a “concept” that one Harold Buttram of AAPS had joined Vera Schreibner in championing, although others, like Catherine Frompovich and F. Edward Yazbak, had also promoted this concept, which had allowed a baby killer to avoid punishment. Fortunately, he was also a criminal for other reasons and still did prison time, but you get the idea.

Nor was Alan Yurko the only one to use this claim to try to avoid punishment for killing an infant. In 2012, Elwood Sadowsky tried the same lie to void his life sentence with the help of antivaxxers Harold Buttram and John D. Lloyd, who basically said, “Never mind the multiple skull fractures and triad of injuries suffered by the baby girl, Amanda Sadowsky, that are associated with shaken baby syndrome, like retinal hemorrhages (bleeding into the linings of the eyes); subdural hemorrhages (bleeding beneath the dural membrane); and encephalopathy (damage to the brain affecting function). It was the vaccines specifically the birth dose of the hepatitis B vaccine, which was “never investigated.” Of course it was never investigated. The very idea was bullshit, with no scientific evidence to support it!

Back in the day, before the pandemic, I used to say that the idea that vaccines cause shaken baby syndrome was so fringe—or, as I put it, so detestable that even some of the most rabid antivaccine activists out there generally wouldn’t touch it with the proverbial ten-foot cattle prod—that “mainstream” antivaxxers and their orgs avoided it like the plague, lest they be correctly perceived as defending baby killers. Apparently buying into a lie used in the past by antivaxxers to allow baby killers like Alan Yurko and the child abusers assisted by Viera Schreiber in the 1990s to avoid justice is not too far down the rabbit hole for Steve Kirsch. For him, there appears to be no bottom.

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.)

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33 replies on “Word to Steve Kirsch: The 1990s called. They want their antivax lies about shaken baby syndrome back”

To the extent the vaccine advocates are on the right side of this, they only have theirselves to blame. They spent all their trust capital and more during COVID. No reason to feel sorry for them.

Well, the antivaxxers are responsible for the rise of measles-cases and de suffering vaccinepreventable diseases. In The Netherlands 4 children have died from whooping cought. The lies the anti-vaxxers spread on vaccines, including covid-vaccines, may play a part in this. Perhaps they should be prosecuted.

Damaging public health and being indirectly responsible for the death and suffering of the unvaccinated children, which are probably not vaccinated, by their parents, because of the lies they have spread on vaccines.

And I say perhaps, they should be prosicuted. Anti-vaxxers call for tribunals for scienist who promote vaccines, that save lives.

While there are laws on the books regarding damaging public health, my understanding (IANAL) is that they are about infectious people breaking quarantine. There are no laws broken when people express their opinions about vaccines even if they aren’t factually accurate. So that doesn’t seem like something that could be prosecuted.

Being indirectly responsible for the death and suffering of the unvaccinated children isn’t against the law either. Their parents or guardians are responsible for whether or not they get vaccines, not people expressing contrary opinions.

Seems to me that you are calling for making voicing AV opinions a crime. Is that correct? If not, can you explain what I am missing?

Beth: “Being indirectly responsible for the death and suffering of the unvaccinated children isn’t against the law either.’

If there’s a hint of a troubled conscience there, I’m not seeing it.

Antivaxers who rejoice in supposed legal immunity for their behavior (and who drool at the prospect of lawsuits against their opponents) should think about the possibility of being sued themselves for spreading disinformation that results in serious harm or death. As once rare vaccine-preventable diseases become more common, that outcome appears increasingly likely.

Prosecuted? Hell no. At least not in the US. Ostracized, ridiculed, and mocked? Absolutely. You’re free to believe and espouse any loony nonsense you want in this country. That does NOT mean you deserve to be taken seriously, however…

In countries that do not have as strong free speech protections as the U.S., which covers many European democracies, prosecuting for misinformation that causes harm is more feasible than in the U.S..

I’m not saying it’s a good idea, but laws about causing diseases may be relevant, and new laws can be created. In the right case, it would be possible.

If you could show fraud like in Wakefield’s case and a causal connection to an outbreak that caused harm, for example.

Anti-vaccine activists have been defending child abusers and promoting misinformation about vaccines since long before covid-19.

How can you read about anti-vaxxers making excuses for parents who murdered their own children, and blame vaccination advocates for not being good enough at countering other anti-vax lies?

This isn’t points in an abstract game: it’s about real children who were murdered by their abusive parents. Stop telling adults that you don’t feel sorry for them, and take some some time to feel sorry for the victims of abusive head trauma. Then stop defending the parents who murdered those children. Just because someone claims to be on your side, doesn’t mean you have to be on theirs.

In what direction does time work in your universe? Antivax loons were defending child abusers by claiming that vaccines caused broken bones, and hand-shaped bruises that weirdly matched the hands of “innocent” parents, decades ago, which even your limited perceptions should be able to figure out was before Covid. In what I’m sure you are pleased to call your “mind” did Japan bomb Pearl Harbor in revenge for Hiroshima?

“To the extent”

This claim is much older than covid but your semi-excusal of child abuse is noted. Not surprising though, anti-vaxxers will bathe in any cess pit and reassure each other that they smell of roses.

Next up, Kirsch will rediscover the claims that vaccines turn people into cows and that it’s impious to save the lives of people God destined to die from a disease.

Actually, they already discovered that one. It’s just been updated for the 21st century. I’m referring to the claim that vaccines are “transhumanism” and will “permanently alter our DNA.” There’s a direct line from the belief 200 years ago that smallpox vaccine based on cow pox would turn people into cows and claims by today’s antivaxxers that the vaccines “permanently alter your DNA” and somehow make you different from fully human.

In fairness, there’s a lot of controversy surrounding SBS. If the signs are found in combination, as in the cases you note, with other signs of abuse, that’s one thing. But the triad by itself is not 100% indicative even though a lot of people pretended it was. That, I think, is what the SBS/vaccine idiots are latching onto. Unfortunately, that gets them support and attention from people who are genuinely interested in the issue of SBS misdiagnosis.

I will reiterate that, to my knowledge, of the high profile cases of SBS that I’ve seen antivaxxers latch onto over the last couple of decades as horrific miscarriages of justice because (they believed) the victim had actually suffered “vaccine injury” rather than abusive head trauma were nowhere even close to borderline. All had fractures elsewhere, either old and healed or new, as well as fresh skull fractures.

Anyone who questions SBS as a valid, verifiable clinical entity and yet somehow falls for these rather obvious cases of abusive head trauma as evidence to back up their doubt almost certainly had strong antivax proclivities to begin with.

@ Orac:

Don’t a few anti-vaxxers even attribute broken bones to vitamin D deficiency caused by vaccines?

Yurko was a hero to some people.

“But NEWT kNEW Too much to be stopped by so small a problem”.
– from Jethro Tull’s A Passion Play interlude: “The hare who lost his spectacles”.

A few days ago, I mentioned 3 other anti-vaxxers’ bad ideas** prior to Steve Kirsch’s…
don’t their readers get a clue that the BS mentioned by their gurus is wrong when they have histories of basking in festering swamps of CT?

When they praise “astute investigators” like RFKjr, Del Bigtree or Gary Null, doesn’t it register that they have already missed easily accessible material such as the true aetiology of ASDs or how vaccines work? Not too astute, I’d say.

The only way out of this quandary for alties is to claim that everyone else is wrong: experts, universities, governmental agencies, news sources all over the world.
Doesn’t that sound rather unlikely?
And easy to ridicule?

** the moon landing hoax, chemtrails, energy healing

Not that it matters…we call it Abusive Head Trauma (AHT) now. It can be harder than heck to diagnose/prove especially if it’s the first presentation devoid of other injuries. Worse if the poor clinician doesn’t have ready access to a CT scanner. I’m sure this leads to some of the “mysterious” nature that has always come with it.

Last case I saw in the ER, the offender was the last person in the group we suspected. I’m sure he would have loved to blame vaccines, aliens, or a coronal mass ejection if he could after the cops were onto him. That’s the company some of these antivax folks are keeping.

I’ve been reading the Radley Balko blog lately as well, and this reminds me of nothing more than “excited delirium,” another pseudomedical crock cooked up to get perpetrators off the hook for homicides. At least this one never got any mainstream respect.

Dr. Susan Oliver is almost weekly discrediting experts with a large audience in a verbally abusive way. Please read the following, and call her out on her YouTube channel ‘Back to the Science’ and Twitter (@DrSusanOliver1)

Dr. Oliver’s boss Cyrille Boyer and Prof Thordarson from ACN lead the Australian mRNA vaccine research. They received 96 million from the government for this purpose. Question is: What is Dr. Oliver’s role?

Her job description from Boyer says: “Her work focuses on developing functional polymeric materials and nanoparticles from natural products for “advanced materials applications”. In other words: she most likely developed delivery systems (technology) for mRNA vaccines. You might ask Dr. Oliver to explain this.

She tries to cover-up her ties to pharma and the vaccines by saying she is “retired”, in an attempt to deflect from financial conflicts of interest. Recent activity exposes her retirement lie. It is about this article:

“Errors and issues in risk of all-cause and cardiac-related mortality after vaccination against COVID-19: A meta-analysis of self-controlled case series studies”, published in Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics (published Dec 10, 2023). The article ends with:

With respect,

Susan Oliver, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia.

The paper they’re attacking is attempting to expose vaccine harms, and Dr. Oliver and cohorts are attempting to undermine this. Dr. Oliver claims having no ties with the UNSW (anymore), but that’s a lie.

I uploaded a video in which Dr. Oliver is unmasked. Cherry-picking, misleading, blowing things out of proportion, accusations without evidence, immature language and ad hominems are part of her “science” world.

Finally, read the article “Dr Susan Oliver’s Employer ACN Has Ties To Moderna” – ACN’s Boyer lab also tries to scrub evidence”, from Daily Beagle’s substack (Feb 15, 2024). It lifts the veil even more…

The pharma shill gambit? Yawn…

“Verbally abusive”? You keep using that term. I do not think it means what you think it means. If anything, Dr. Oliver is quite restrained, given the level of misinformation, disinformation, pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and outright lies that she deals with on her YouTube channel.

I am, however, particularly amused by your transparently stupid attempt to claim that Dr. Oliver’s retirement is a “lie” because she cosigned a response to a badly done paper about COVID-19 vaccines. Seriously? Here’s a hint: You can still co-author papers and cosign letters to the editor after you have retired. I also note that I know every single author on that response. All of them know what they are talking about, certainly far more than you appear to.

Also, in your quest to obfuscate by focusing on the supposed “lie” of Dr. Oliver’s retirement, you fail to note the obvious errors and misrepresentations that they called out:

The authors claim to present a systematic review and meta-analysis of self-controlled case series (SCCS) studies looking at cardiac risks post-vaccination for mRNA vaccines. However, there are clear errors within the data and methodology that entirely undermine this analysis.

The key issue is that the authors have extracted many numbers incorrectly from the studies that are cited. For example, they cite a SCCS paper from England, and extract the overall hazard ratio of pre-vaccine to post-vaccine outcomes as 0.99 (0.66–1.46) in their primary model (fig 2a). The correct value is 0.88 (0.75–0.95) for 12 weeks. In the 18–24 age group, which is given significant weight in the authors’ meta-analysis, the Hazard ratio is reported as 1.08 (0.83–1.42) when in the original article it is 0.91 (0.80–1.05). In fact, despite significant effort, we cannot find where the extracted figures provided by Marchand et al appear in the citation: every value supposedly extracted from this publication in Nature Communications is incorrectly reported, as well as numerous other values that the authors have extracted. These require extensive correction, as they are undeniably wrong. In addition, the authors continually refer to the extracted numbers as “hazard ratios” and in at least one occasion as “relative risk ratios”. However, the SCCS design does not produce either of these quantities, instead giving incidence rate ratios. This continued error by the authors raises the question of whether they understood the studies that they identified, a worry that is amplified by the fact that they were incapable of extracting the numbers correctly from these studies.

That’s just some of the problems that they found, but I think that incorrectly reporting findings of the papers they are reviewing is quite enough to recognize misinformation and bullshit.

I agree. I’ve viewed most of her videos and can’t recall her ever being verbally abusive unless you consider being called an anti-vaxer or called our for doing bad science to be “verbally abusive”. I note that this person didn’t give any quotes.

Also, she really started into doing videos by trying to advise Dr John Campbell about some of his mistakes so he could do better videos. I’m pretty sure she even appeared on one video with him. But then he stopped listening to advice from her and others, but she still tried to give him some benefit of the doubt. It’s really only in the last year that she has given up that and pretty much directly criticizes him for his statements, often quoting his own prior statements that contradict what he is currently telling people.

Shared. Somehow Debate-Me Kirsch dredging up that coprolite of a claim isn’t surprising.

My guess is he hasn’t hit bottom yet.

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