Last week, I linked to a story about Robert DeNiro joining forces with noted anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr. to offer $100,000 to anyone who could turn up a study showing that it is safe to administer vaccines to children. Of course, there have been dozens of such studies, but no one will be paid because the fine print on the offer makes it impossible. That’s the point — not to award the money, but to get free publicity for the anti-vaccine bullshit that’s been around for almost two decades despite having no scientific evidence to back it up, yet continues to be a public health problem (as I’ve said many times on the air and on this site).
As pediatrician Dr. Daniel Summers wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “The Evidence For Vaccine Safety Is Abundant. That Will Be $100,000, Please”:
In the off chance that my word alone isn’t sufficient to collect the $100,000, I’m happy to proffer lots of studies that support the safety of vaccines. Studies never seem to settle the question for anti-vaccine activists, but they are the best evidence we could ever have, based on millions of people and using many different types of comparisons, that vaccination is safe for kids.
The explanation for the bogus vaccine-autism link is a constantly shifting target. As noted, both the MMR vaccine and thimerosal have been blamed, and the anti-vaccine movement happily gloms onto both explanations despite the fact that they are completely unrelated. That the various theories never really cohere doesn’t seem to give the movement pause. Blurring dark but vague threats, anti-vaccine activists blend them into a miasma through which no given study can hope to penetrate. Uncertainty is good for stoking fear.
When studies show that the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism, and when the original study suggesting a link is exposed as a fraud? It must be thimerosal! Other studies show no association between thimerosal and autism, and thimerosal isn’t even used anymore? The combination of all the vaccines at once is the problem! Produce evidence to support the safety of the current vaccination schedule, and the boogeyman simply adopts another form.
I’m particularly concerned because Kennedy seems to have the ear of Donald Trump, who has made statements supportive of vaccine denial. Worse, more and more state legislators believe the anti-vaxxer nonsense and could undo laws that force parents to get their kids vaccinated before they can set foot in school. One of the states most in danger is Texas, but some residents are fighting back, like Jinny Suh, who runs Immunize Texas, a grassroots community dedicated to promoting immunization and keeping Texas communities protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.
I invited Jinny onto my radio show to discuss what pro-vaccine supporters must do to take on the anti-vaxxer movement publicly, how the battle is going in her state, and how badly herd immunity is being reduced in schools near her. Listen to the conversation here.