Nelson Mandela was long imprisoned in South Africa for protesting against apartheid.
After 27 years in prison, he was elected president of the African National Congress (ANC) and eventually became the first elected President of a democratic South Africa.
A lesser known fact is that Nelson Mandela served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for The Vaccine Fund, which provides financial support to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI).
“Giving children a healthy start in life, no matter where they are born or the circumstances of their birth, is the moral obligation of every one of us.
I find it heartbreaking that 3 million people, most of them children, die each year from diseases that we can prevent with simple, inexpensive vaccines. These are children who would have grown up to support their families, their communities, their nations. They would have been productive members of societies that are still developing and need their children to be healthy and strong.
By preventing these deaths, we not only would save children’s lives, but we also would help strengthen communities and contribute to the development of strong and prosperous nations.”
During his time working with the Vaccine Fund, from 2001 to 2004, he worked to get more and more kids vaccinated and protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“A world free of unnecessary disease would be a world more able to cope with the realities it cannot change. A world less burdened by preventable disease would be a world of more balance and greater opportunity for all. Because as a society we are only as strong as the sum of our parts, we all suffer loss when 25 percent of our global family is incapacitated, as it is today. We all lose because too many of our children will never have the opportunity to realize their talents, to share their unique gifts, to focus their courage, or to inspire their fellow citizens to shape a better world.”
Before his work at the Vaccine Fund, as President of South Africa, in 1996, Nelson Mandela launched the “Kick Polio Out of Africa” campaign at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting in Yaoundé, Cameroon.
He also committed the OAU to regularly monitoring progress of the campaign, which helped decrease the number of countries with endemic polio in Africa from 34 to just 2 in 6 years!
And it was Nelson Mandela himself that was “hugely influential” in making sure the campaign worked.
“Children are our future, they are our best hope, their suffering our worst fear. Parents the world over will lie awake at night with fears and dreams in equal measure for what lies ahead for them. Our actions can help or hinder their development. With the resources that the world has at hand, it is possible to break the cycles of poverty and disease. Starting with immunization, we can reduce the inequities of our world and tackle today’s major epidemics, like HIV/AIDS, so that the next generation has an equal chance of life and health.
Guardians of health, we urge you to take up this challenge: we call on governments and civil groups, organizations of the United Nations system and nongovernmental organizations, philanthropists and responsible corporate citizens, to recognize immunization as a global public good. Meet your moral and financial commitments to the world’s children and make a greater investment in immunization.”
As we get closer to that goal of eradicating polio, we shouldn’t forget that his hard work helped us get there.
We also shouldn’t forget our “moral and financial commitments to the world’s children.”
Let’s continue his work to get them all vaccinated and protected.
What to Know About Nelson Mandela and His Vaccine Advocacy
Nelson Mandela believed in the importance of education, that children should be able to live free from violence and fear, and that they shouldn’t die from diseases that can be easily preventable with vaccines.
You probably don’t know anyone who ever had polio.
The Last Case of Polio
After all, the United States has been free of polio since 1979. At least that’s when we had the last endemic case or the last case that originated here.
The last case was in 1993. At least that’s when we had the last imported case of polio in the United States.
A 2005 outbreak of vaccine derived poliovirus in 2005 among a group of unvaccinated Amish in Minnesota didn’t cause any symptoms. They had probably been exposed to someone outside the United States that was still shedding after getting an oral polio vaccine, which hadn’t been used in the United States since 2000.
And then there were these following “last cases:”
The last case of VAPP that was acquired in the United States – 1999.
The last case of VAPP that was acquired outside the United States – 2005 – an unvaccinated 22-year-old U.S. college student who became infected with polio vaccine virus while traveling in Costa Rica in a university-sponsored study-abroad program.
And then there is the final last case of VAPP – 2009 – a patient with a long-standing combined immunodeficiency who was probably infected in the late 1990s, even though she didn’t develop paralysis until years later.
Polio Survivor Stories
Since vaccines work and the United States has essentially been polio free since 1979, it wouldn’t be surprising if you don’t know anyone who ever had polio.
Or do you?
“The doctors told my parents that little could be done for me, so my father prepared for my funeral. Fortunately, I recovered, except for the use of my right hand.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Vaccination’s Lifetime of Blessings
You might not have ever have even heard of anyone who had polio?
Or have you?
A few recent news stories highlight just how common polio used to be in the pre-vaccine era:
Mitch McConnell Wouldn’t Meet with the March of Dimes Even Though They Treated His Polio as a Child
Joni Mitchell – after the stuff about Morgellons, you can read about how she battled polio as a child
“When Joni turned 10 years old in late 1953, she woke up one morning paralyzed. It was quickly diagnosed and she was shipped to a polio colony in Saskatoon – similar to a leper colony designed to halt the spread of the disease.”
It is about how vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases have been depicted on TV and in the movies.
From doctors in the future creating vaccines for plagues from alien worlds to today’s doctors fighting the plague of parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, there are more than a few different story lines when it comes to vaccines on TV and in the movies.
Vaccines on TV
The go-to show for vaccines on TV?
It’s The Simpsons, with at least 15 episodes with references to vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases.
It isn’t the only show though. Others include:
Little Rascals “Tale of the Dog” (1944) – the gang gets the whole town scared that an epidemic is coming when they overhear Buckwheat talking to his friend Big Shot about giving smallpox to the gang. Smallpox is name they came up with for Buckwheat’s dog, because it had a lot of spots.
The Adventures of Jim Bowie “The Quarantine” (1957) – Bowie has to recover a stolen shipment of smallpox vaccine.
Wagon Train “The Daniel Barrister Story” (1958) – Flint rides into Johnsonville and finds that they are in the middle of a smallpox epidemic, an epidemic that had already wiped out half the town. “I guess a little vaccination never hurt anybody,” says Flint, as he gets vaccinated, since the town doctor isn’t convinced that he has had smallpox already.
Have Gun – Will Travel “The Return of Dr. Thackeray” (1958) – The cook at Barton Ranch has smallpox and everyone needs to be vaccinated, if they can get a supply of vaccine from nearby Fort Landon and keep the men at the ranch until they can be vaccinated.
Rawhide “Incident at Red River Station” (1960) – Gil and Rowdy get exposed to smallpox and leave the herd to find vaccine. They instead find a town that believes in Asafoetida bags, leeches and herbal tea, pushing the real doctor out of town to care for patients in a pest house. “There are very few people around here who believe in vaccination,” says Dr. Flood, at least until people start dying of smallpox and they line up for the batch of vaccine he makes from the cowpox of a nearby herd.
The Avengers “The Deadly Air” (1961) – An experimental vaccine is stolen from a top secret lab.
Dr. Kildare “Immunity” (1961) – Dr. Kildare works to prevent a smallpox epidemic by trying to identify and vaccinate contacts, which is made difficult, as they don’t know the patient’s name, only that he is a Polish immigrant, who they later learn was a part of the resistance that fought the Nazis.
The Rifleman “Quite Night, Deadly Night” (1962) – the town prepares for a outbreak as someone new arrives with symptoms of smallpox and the doctor sends out a request for vaccine.
The Andy Griffith Show “The County Nurse” (1962) – Andy and Barney help the county nurse talk Rafe Hollister into getting his tetanus shot.
Ben Casey “Preferably, the Less-Used Arm” (1962) – Dr. Ben Casey has a hard time finding people who may have been exposed to smallpox because his patient can’t talk.
The Wild Wild West “The Night of the Amnesiac” (1968) – Agent West loses his memory after he is shot protecting a stagecoach transporting the state’s only supply of smallpox vaccine.
The Virginian “Ride to Misadventure” (1968) – A stage coach with anthrax vaccine gets robbed and the Virginian has to track them down.
Petticoat Junction “Sorry Doctor, I Ain’t Takin No Shots” (1969) – Dr. Janet Craig, with nurses Billie Jo, Bobbie Jo and Betty Jo, gets everyone in the valley vaccinated against the flu to prevent an epidemic, including Jasper Tweedy and his whole clan.
That Girl “The Subject Was Rabies” (1969) – Ann’s (Marlo Thomas) father is bitten by a dog that might have rabies and Dr. Priddy talks about giving him “the Pasteur anti-rabies vaccine series” if they can’t find the dog.
Dragnet “Juvenile: DR-32” (1969) – Detective Joe Friday and Officer Bill Gannon have two hours to find a dog that had bitten a little girl on the neck five days earlier because she is allergic to the anti-rabies serum that would be given with the rabies vaccine. The little had survived a polio infection just a few years before the dog bite incident.
Marcus Welby, M.D. “Epidemic” (1970) – Dr. Welby’s works to control a flu epidemic.
The Carol Burnett Show “Episode #10.15” (1977) – included a skit about a group of scientists working on a vaccine for swine flu.
Quincy, M.E. “By the Death of a Child” (1979) – Quincy goes to San Christos to investigate if a diphtheria vaccine is killing children in the small country.
The Campbells “Desperate Remedy” (1989) – Dr. Campbell searches for a sick cow to make vaccine after Harriet gets exposed to smallpox.
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman “Father’s Day” (1993) – Dr. Quinn works to convince folks in town to get vaccinated against smallpox.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood “Brave and Strong” (1996) – It’s a beautiful day to get a flu shot! Mister Rogers takes us on a trip to the Center City Health Center so that kids would understand what happens when they get an immunization.
South Park “Chicken Pox” (1998) – The kids have a sleepover at Kenny’s house because he has chicken pox
ER “A Walk in the Woods” (2001) – Carter takes care of an unvaccinated child with measles. A child who later dies.
ER “Lockdown” (2002) – Everyone in the ER is quarantined as they think two patients have smallpox.
ER “Kisangani” (2003) – Carter visits Luka in the Congo, when he is initially away at another clinic giving people vaccines.
House MD “Paternity” (2004) – House diagnoses a teen with subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE is a late complication of a natural measles infection) and also treats a baby who hasn’t received any vaccines because her anti-vaccine mother thinks they are a BigPharma conspiracy theory.
Deadwood “Suffer the Little Children” (2004) – people line up to get the smallpox vaccine.
Law & Order “Fluency” (2005) – a con man is selling fake flu shots and it leads to the death of 16 people who end up getting the flu.
Family Guy “Stewie Loves Lois” (2006) – Peter goes to his doctor to get a flu vaccine.
Saturday Night Live “Melissa McCarthy/Lady Antebellum” (2011) – the episode includes a parody commercial for Lil’ Poundcake, a doll that gives little girls an HPV shot.
Private Practice “Contamination” (2009) – Dr. Freedman takes care of an intentionally unvaccinated child who got measles when his mother took him and his siblings to Switzerland to treat their brother’s autism. The child dies and Dr. Freedman vaccinates the youngest child against the mothers wishes.
Nurse Jackie ” Super Greens” (2014) – Zoey Barkow, one of the nurses at All Saints recruits others to go to a gay bar to give out free meningitis vaccines.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit “Granting Immunity” (2015) – an unvaccinated child who’s mother may have falsified his immunization records gets the measles and starts an outbreak, hindering an investigation into an underage sex party and the circulation of pornographic images of teenagers online.
Call the Midwife “Christmas Special” (2016) – Sister Julienne and a group of midwives work to keep a mission hospital in South Africa open as it works to start a polio vaccination program in the early 1960s.
Family Guy “Hot Shots” (2016) – Lois and Peter cause a measles outbreak, after they convince other parents to not vaccinate their kids and Peter destroys every vaccine in town.
Not surprisingly, vaccines come up in science fiction shows a lot too:
Star Trek “Miri” (1966) – Dr. McCoy works on a vaccine to cure a disease that had killed all of the adults on the planet and is starting to affect the landing party, including Captain Kirk.
Star Trek: The Next Generation “Code of Honor” (1987) – Captain Picard and the Enterprise-D go to Planet Ligon II to get a vaccine to prevent more people from getting Anchilles fever on the Federation planet Styris IV.
Star Trek Voyager “Heroes and Demons” (1995) – The Doctor tells a story of developing a vaccine to stop the spread of Parinisti measles among the crew of the USS Voyager.
The Outer Limits “The Vaccine” (1998) – After most of the people in the world are killed by a man-made virus, a nurse has to decide who gets a limited supply of a new vaccine.
The X-Files “The Red and the Black” (1998) – we learn more about the Purity Control vaccine that can provide resistance against black oil, an alien virus.
The X-Files “One Son” (1999) – more on the experiments by the Syndicate that led to the creation of a black oil vaccine
Enterprise “Dead Stop” (2002) – not finding evidence of live microorganisms from a recently administered Rigelian fever vaccine in his bloodstream helps the Enterprise crew realize that Ensign Mayweather was replaced with a near-perfect replica.
Lost (2004-2010) – multiple episodes of Lost mention a vaccine, CR 4-81516-23 42 or RX-1 GND, that was given every nine days.
Stargate SG-1 “The Fourth Horseman: Part 2” (2006) – Work continues on a vaccine for the plague that is spreading across the earth by the Priors of the Ori.
Battlestar Galactica “A Measure of Salvation” (2006) – The Cylons are sick with a virus. Should they create a vaccine or work to destroy the Cylon race?
Smallville “Oracle” (2006) – Milton Fine creates an alien virus to destroy mankind, while Lex develops a vaccine to protect them.
Eli Stone “Faith” (2008) – The first episode of this show includes a legal case about vaccines and autism.
V “It’s Only the Beginning” (2009) – The flu vaccine the visitors want to give mankind isn’t what it seems.
The X-Files “My Struggle II” (2016) – Scully develops a vaccine, using her own DNA, to protect people from the Spartan Virus, that has infected most people already and is wiping out their immune systems.
There are more TV shows that are about vaccine preventable diseases, but don’t mention vaccines, like when Marcus Welby, M.D. had a few episodes about congenital rubella syndrome in 1972 and Olivia got polio on the Waltons.
Vaccines in the Movies
Haven’t seen many of those TV shows that mentioned vaccines?
You might be more familiar with these movies:
The Last Man on Earth (1964) – Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) uses his own blood as a vaccine to cure people who after a plague turns most people into vampires. (Based on the book I Am Legend)
The Omega Man (1971) – Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) creates a vaccine to cure the disease that is affecting the survivors of a nuclear war between China and the Soviet Union. (Based on the book I Am Legend)
The X-Files: Fight the Future (1998) – Only the Syndicate vaccine can protect everyone from the alien virus.
Star Trek (2009) – Captain Kirk has a reaction to a vaccine that Dr. McCoy gives him to protect him from getting infected with Melvaran mud fleas.
I Am Legend (2007) – Robert Neville (Will Smith) creates a vaccine to cure the man made disease (was supposed to be a cure for cancer) that wiped most people on earth and turned the survivors without natural immunity into Dark Seekers. (Based on the book I Am Legend)
World War Z (2013) – Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) tries to find the origin of the zombie plague virus so that a vaccine can be made. A “camouflage” vaccine is eventually made to hide survivors from the zombies.
From chicken pox parties and conspiracies about using flu shots to control our minds to vaccine injury stories, The Simpsons did it.
The Simpsons on Vaccines and Vaccine Preventable Diseases
The Simpsons have been on the air since 1989 – just before I started medical school.
Since then, as with many other topics, they have done ahead of their time when it comes to vaccines.
Consider that the episode “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes,” in which Homer creates a fake conspiracy website (Mr. X) and gets kidnapped by a mysterious group for stumbling upon a secret about how flu shots are given to control people’s minds, first aired on December 3, 2000. That’s long before Alex Jones and other folks started pushing these very same types of conspiracy theories about vaccines!
And the episode about chicken pox parties, “Milhouse of Sand and Fog,” came out way back on September 25, 2005. That’s before Jenny McCarthy appeared on Oprah and before Bob Sears wrote his “vaccine” book!
Vaccines – The Simpsons Did It
How many episodes of The Simpsons have mentioned vaccines or vaccine-preventable diseases?
“Bart’s Dog Gets an F” – sixteenth episode of Season 2 in which Lisa gets the mumps.
“Lisa’s Pony” – eighth episode of Season 3 in which Homer comes up with a way to save money on luxuries – “Well, you know, we’re always buying Maggie vaccinations for diseases she doesn’t even have!”
“Kamp Krusty” – first episode of Season 4 in which Lisa visits Dr. Hibbert “to get boosters for malaria, German measles, encephalitis, and Hansen’s disease” before heading to camp.
“Lisa’s First Word” – tenth episode of Season 4 in which Dr. Hibbert, at Lisa’s checkup, holds up a giant needle and gives him a “rubella inoculation” when he asks for a lollipop.
“Marge in Chains” – twenty-first episode of Season 4 in which a man is looking for a cure and eats a bee, thinking it is a vaccine.
“Lady Bouvier’s Lover” – twenty-first episode of Season 5 in which everyone sings the Armour Hot Dogs jingle at Maggie’s first birthday party and Milhouse, with spots on his face, sings “even kids with chicken pox” love hot dogs.
“Much Apu About Nothing” – twenty-third episode of Season 7 in which Cotton Mather is the first thing that Apu reads from Homer’s history notes from 9th grade.
“Take My Wife, Sleaze” – eighth episode of Season 11 in which Homer and Marge go to a 1950s-themed restaurant that sell polio dogs.
“Homer vs. Dignity” – fifth episode of Season 12 in which Homer, after coming into some money, is able to get his kids caught up on “six years’ worth of inoculations,” including an “anti-polio shot,” which was much bigger than the “regular” polio shot.
“The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” – sixth episode of Season 12 in which Ned Flanders reads a fake post from Homer on his Mr. X website about how flu shots are given as a form of mind control and he says “They’re controlling our minds with flu shots. I knew it. Well, kids, now aren’t you glad that we don’t believe in inoculations?” as his kids are shivering because they are sick and have fever. Homer is later kidnapped and taken to a secret island for revealing the conspiracy.
“Bart-Mangled Banner” – twenty-first episode of Season 15 in which Lisa and Bart go see Dr. Hibbert (“Children, you should be grateful you live in a country where childhood diseases have been practically…”) to get their vaccines, but Bart escapes. Bart eventually gets his shots, but has a temporary side effect, his ‘earholes’ swell shut…
“Sleeping with the Enemy” – third episode of Season 16 in which Milhouse has the measles.
“Milhouse of Sand and Fog” – third episode of Season 17 in which Homer has a chicken pox party for the kids in the neighborhood after Maggie gets chicken pox.
“The Fool Monty” – sixth episode of Season 22 in which everyone in town waits in line to get a vaccine for the House Cat Flu.
“The Town” – third episode of Season 28 in which after moving to Boston, Marge asks someone if they vaccinate their kids (“of course!”) to make sure that they are progressive, “but not stupid progressive.”
The Simpsons isn’t the first show to include messages about vaccines and vaccine-preventable in their episodes.
Like other TV shows, they are consistently sending a message about vaccines that is helping folks understand that vaccines work and that they are safe and necessary.
What to Know About The Simpsons and Vaccines
While some of the humor and jokes in The Simpsons are rather subtle, their message about getting vaccinated and protected against chicken pox, mumps, measles, rubella, and other vaccine preventable diseases certainly isn’t.
Meryl Dorey – founder of the AVN, she has compared vaccinating a child to rape, has harassed the parents of a newborn who died of pertussis, and suggested the name “Shaken Maybe Syndrome” as a campaign slogan to help associate vaccines with shaken baby syndrome
Mayer Eisenstein, MD – now deceased, he was the founder of Homefirst, a medical practice in Chicago which claimed to have no autistic kids among their unvaccinated patients. He also used Lupron to treat autism and filed bankruptcy several times to escape paying malpractice settlements.
Barbara Loe Fisher – wrote DPT: A Shot in the Dark, which influenced Bob Sears and she founded the NVIC
Mark and David Geier – this father and son pair are infamous for pushing a chemical castration treatment (Lupron) for autistic children, a treatment that led to Mark Geier losing his medical license (he’s a geneticist) in several states.
Neil Z. Miller – a psychologist who has written many anti-vax books, he also gives lectures at chiropractic associations.
Tetyana Obukhanych, MD – the Harvard trained immunologist who believes that Immunology has no theoretical or evidence-based explanation for immunity
Tim O’Shea, DC – a chiropractor, he speaks at anti-vax conferences and wrote an anti-vaccination book called The Sanctity of Human Blood: Vaccination is not Immunization. Dr. O’Shea does not believe that germs make us sick (germ theory denialism), thinks that vaccines cause peanut allergies, and he sells supplements and seminars.
Viera Scheibner – the micropaleontologist who thinks that getting a vaccine-preventable disease is good for kids, that vaccines are contaminated with amoebas, and that they cause SIDS and shaken baby syndrome
Robert Sears, MD, FAAP – a pediatrician who thought he could get more parents to vaccinate their kids by telling them that vaccines are dangerous, vaccine preventable diseases aren’t that big a deal, and it is okay to space out and skip some vaccines that are less important than others
Stephanie Seneff – the MIT doctor (she has a doctorate in electrical engineering) who thinks that half of kids will have autism in 8 years and that glyphosate causes everything from autism to school shootings and terrorist bombings
Sherri Tenpenny, DO – described as anti-vax “expert” whose advise is “chock full of vaccine pseudoscience.” Once board certified in emergency medicine, Dr. Tenpenny now sells DVDs and supplements on her website, speaks at chiropractic health events, and provides holistic medical care. In a rant about freedom of choice in vaccination, she talks about General Robert E. Lee feel, Southern war hero and postwar icon of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy,” the extinction of humanity, and about slavery and eight veils that must be pierced if you want to see what is really going on in the world – that the Illuninati and other secret organizations control us and that they are being controlled by time traveling dragons, lizards, and aliens.
Lawrence Palevsky, MD – an holistic pediatrician, he was an “expert” for the anti-vaccination movie The Greater Good and he links to and quotes other notorious anti-vax “experts.” He even appears on the Gary Null Show – in addition to being anti-vax, Gary Null is among the alternative medicine folks who actually denies that HIV causes AIDS.
Lawrence D. Rosen, MD – an integrative pediatrician who has endorsed flexible immunization schedules and has given talks at anti-vax conferences.
Russell Blaylock, MD – a retired neurosurgeon who thinks that he is an expert on vaccines and vaccine-preventable diseases among other things that are not related to neurosurgery. In addition to believing that vaccines are dangerous and don’t work, Dr. Blaylock also thinks that mercury in dental fillings and fluoride in water are dangerous, among many other conspiracy theories. And while decrying BigPharma and telling people to avoid vaccines, including flu shots, he sells his own “wellness report” and his own supplements to help you “repair your brain.” He even offers ‘natural strategies’ for cancer patients.
Joseph Mercola, DO – like Dr. Blaylock, Dr. Mercola is against fluoride in water, vaccines, mercury fillings, and he is even against giving newborns vitamin K shots. He also sends out a “health” newsletter to paying subscribers and sells supplements, many of which have caused the FDA to issue warnings based on Mercola making illegal claims on what they can do.
Christina England – the “high priestess of vaccinology,” Ms England seems to specialize in the vaccines causes shaken baby syndrome conspiracy theory.
Stephanie Cave, MD – board certified in Family Medicine, Dr. Cave now practices integrative medicine. She wrote one of the first anti-vaccination books I ever read (2001) and came up with her own alternative immunization schedule. She appeared as an “expert witness” in some of the cases in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings.
Kelly Brogan, MD – a holistic psychiatric who warns about stuff like “A veritable body-bomb, the MMR contains recombinant human albumin, fetal bovine serum, and chick embryo fibroblasts, and the potential for interspecies activation of unknown retroviruses, molecular mimicry, and reactivation of the virulence of the infectious virus itself – a completely unstudied and medically unacknowledged risk.”
These are the heroes and “experts” in the anti-vaccination community.
Whether you are on the fence, delaying a few vaccines, or skipping them all, it is often their conspiracy theories and ideas that you buy into when you believe that vaccines aren’t safe, aren’t necessary, or don’t work.
What To Know About Anti-Vaccine Heroes
The heroes and so called experts of the the anti-vaccine movement includes celebrities, some doctors and scientists who are practicing way out of their field of expertise when they talk about vaccines, and others whose work is not supported by the great majority of experts in their field.
How do they push misinformation and myths about vaccines to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids?
Slogans of the Anti-Vaccine Movement
In addition to their celebrities and a relative handful of ‘experts,’ the modern antivaccine movement makes effective use of very catchy slogans to scare people away from getting educated about vaccines and vaccinating their kids.
If there is a RISK, there must be a CHOICE.
This is one of the more recent and also one of the more powerful slogans that we have seen. It implies that the choice over skipping or delaying vaccines is being taken away and that the only risk comes from the vaccines themselves.
But like most slogans used as propaganda tools, there is little behind it.
Parents nearly always have a choice on whether or not to vaccinate their kids, even if they live in a state without non-medical exceptions.
Vaccine mandates are laws that say you must be fully vaccinated to attend school. Instead of homeschooling their intentionally unvaccinated kids, some parents think that they must have even more choices though.
In addition to overestimating the risks from vaccines, these folks greatly underestimate the risks of getting a vaccine-preventable disease from skipping vaccines, both to their own kids and to the rest of us in the community.
They are simply increasing our risk and limiting our choices to keep our own kids safe and healthy.
You can always get Vaccinated, but you can never get Unvaccinated.
This slogan is likely a surprise to all of the folks who push (sell) regimens that claim to detox kids of their vaccines, or more specifically, all of the “toxins, poisons, and chemicals” that were supposedly in the vaccines they got.
It is also a sad reminder to all of those families who skipped or delayed a vaccine a little too long – long enough for their child to get a life-threatening vaccine-preventable disease.
This slogan really just highlights the fact that anti-vaccine do not really understand the risks of delaying or skipping vaccines. That’s despite the fact that studies have shown that following a non-standard, parent-selected, delayed protection vaccine schedule simply puts kids at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases, without any benefits of fewer side effects.
And for the record, you can get unvaccinated. It is one of the reasons that herd immunity is so important. Just ask the parents of any child who has had to have chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant and is now immunosuppressed.
Green Our Vaccines.
Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey led the “Green Our Vaccines” rally back in 2008.
Although they always claimed they were not anti-vaccine, they helped pushed the idea that vaccines were full of toxins.
Today’s vaccines have fewer antigens than ever too, even though kids get more vaccines than they used to. But certainly not more than they can easily and safely handle.
Vaccination is not Immunization.
This idea is pushed by a chiropractor, who also talks about “pure blood.”
If you believe that vaccination is not immunization, then how did vaccines help eradicate smallpox and how are they helping to eliminate and control other vaccine preventable diseases, like polio, measles, and rubella, etc.
And that’s the whole point. Many anti-vaccine folks don’t really believe that vaccines work. That helps them justify their decision to skip or delay vaccinating their kids.
Even if you thought that vaccines had too many side effects, if you also admitted that they worked to protect your kids, then your anti-vaccine views would likely produce a high level of cognitive dissonance. So instead you cling to these types of slogans. And if your kid does get a vaccine-preventable disease, you’ll still feel okay, because you will blame it on shedding from someone who just got vaccinated.
I’m not anti-vaccine, I’m pro-safe vaccine
The problem with this slogan, and in general, using it as an anti-vaccine argument, is that vaccines are safe. They are not 100% safe, but no one claims that they are.
Serious side effects from vaccines are very rare though.
People who rally against already safe vaccines, claiming that they say are full of ‘toxins’ and wanting even safer vaccines before they will vaccinate their kids, are not really pro-vaccine.
Neither are any of the folks who push these slogans, all of which are pure anti-vaccine propaganda.
What to Know About the Slogans of the Anti-Vaccine Movement
Catchy slogans are one of the ways that the anti-vaccine movement uses to push misinformation about vaccines.
“By the 1930s… with the improvements in medical practice and the popular acceptance of the state and federal governments’ role in public health, the anti-vaccinationists slowly faded from view, and the movement collapsed.”
Martin Kaufman The American Anti-Vaccinations and Their Arguments
But while anti-vaccinationists might have “slowly faded from view” in the 1930’s, they came back…
And that’s why we often associate the modern anti-vaccine movement with Bob Sears, and Jenny McCarthy, and even with Andy Wakefield. But who inspired them? The modern anti-vaccine movement took root with a discredited bit of research that was published by a doctor in London, but it wasn’t by Wakefield.
Anti-Vaccine Movement Timeline
Again, the anti-vaccine movement predates modern vaccines, but not surprisingly, they have always used the same arguments:
The Rev. Cotton Mather’s house is bombed after he started a smallpox variolation program in Boston in 1721
“Every year, thousands undergo this operation, and the French Ambassador says pleasantly, that they take the small-pox here by way of diversion, as they take the waters in other countries. There is no example of any one that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of this experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take the pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England…”
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu On Small Pox in Turkey (1717)
Dr. Benjamin Mosely, who had a very busy practice inoculating people against smallpox, becomes “the first antivaccinist,” writing against Jenner’s new smallpox vaccine in 1798, warning about “cow mania” and “to guard parents against suffering their children becoming victims to experiment.”
The satirical print, Admirable effet de la Vaccine, appears in France in 1801, depicting horns sprouting from the forehead of a man who was just vaccinated against smallpox.
Also in France, Dr. Jean Vernier and Dr. Joseph Vaume each publish pamphlets critical of Jenner’s vaccine.
The Anti-Vaccination League is created in England in response to the passage of the Vaccination Act of 1853, which made getting the smallpox vaccine compulsory
Dr. C. C. Schieferdecker, writes about the Evils of Vaccination in 1856 in which he set out to “prove vaccination to be nonsense before reason – a miserable illusion, in a scientific point of view, and, in regard to history, the greatest crime that has been committed in this last century.”
the Anti-Cumpulsory Vaccination League is founded after the passage of the Vaccination Act of 1867
Lewis Carroll argues with folks pushing anti-vaccine information about the smallpox vaccine in 1877
William Tebb, a British anti-vaccinationist, visits the United States in 1879 and helps start the Anti-Vaccination Society of America.
Leicester Demonstration March of 1885 – around the time that Leicester had become “a stronghold of anti-vaccination.”
In 1882, Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA and a vocal member of the anti-vivisectionist movement, which were often anti-vaccine, writes an article against vaccines. He later helped found the American Anti-Vaccination Society.
Lora Little speaks out about vaccines and writes Crimes of the Cowpox Ring in the late 19th century
George Winterburn, like many homeopaths of the time (1886), becomes an outspoken critic of vaccines, writing the book The Value of Vaccination, in which he tries to proves “how little of scientific research it was adopted, and how much the whim of a few fashionable folk shaped its destiny.”
In 1890, Dr. AN Bell debates Dr. Robert A. Gunn, who had “long held that vaccination would in time be relegated to the long list of medical fallacies, and such works as I mention seem to indicate that it will not be long before that time comes,” in a series of articles over several months, “The Truth About Vaccination,” in their respective medical journals, The Sanitarian and Medical Tribune.
William Tebb publishes the book Vaccination and Leprosy in 1893, in which he pushes the idea that an increase in leprosy is caused by smallpox vaccinations. A review in the New York Times wonders “Can it be possible that for all the years of the present century we have been believing in the potency of vaccination and been stupid enough to work in the wrong direction? Such a conclusion forms the basis of Mr Tebb’s arguments.”
In 1902, Dr. Immanuel Pfeiffer, argues that smallpox wasn’t contagious, was allowed to visit the Gallop’s Island smallpox hospital in Boston. A few weeks later, he was found to be critically ill at his home – with smallpox.
Dr. Reuben Swinburne Clymer, an osteopath, in 1904, writes Vaccination Brought Home to You, which “tells what vaccine is and how it is procured from the calf; tells how some have been killed and others made to suffer untold miseries by being inoculated with pure vaccine [poison]; gives facts and figures showing the results of vaccination… All of which show that vaccination don’t prevent small-pox, but rather tends to increase it. It exposes some of the lies of the wily Medicoes.” Clymer was also an occultist, an Rosicurcian (a self-proclaimed community of mystics who study and practice the metaphysical laws governing the universe, but more commonly called a fake secret society), and wrote about alchemy.
“Here I would like to say a word or two upon one of the most terrible of all acute infections, the one of which we first learned the control through the work of Jenner. A great deal of literature has been distributed casting discredit upon the value of vaccination in the prevention of small-pox. I do not see how anyone who has gone through epidemics as I have, or who is familiar with the history of the subject, and who has any capacity left for clear judgement, can doubt its value…
I would like to issue a Mount-Carmel-like challenge to any ten unvaccinated priests of Baal. I will go into the next severe epidemic with ten selected, vaccinated persons and ten selected unvaccinated persons – I should prefer to choose the latter – three members of Parliament, three anti-vaccination doctors (if they can be found), and four anti-vaccination propagandists. And I will make this promise – neither to jeer nor jibe when they catch the disease, but to look after them as brothers, and for the four or five who are certain to die, I will try to arrange the funerals with all the pomp and ceremony of an anti-vaccination demonstration.”
Sir William Osler, MD Man’s Redemption of Man (1910)
The anti-vaccine American Medical Liberty League is founded in 1918 by D.W. Ensign, the owner of Ensign Remedies (which sold mail-order cures to all diseases), and works against the American Medical Association, employs Lora Little and Charles M. Higgins of the Anti-Vaccination League of America
Mahatma Gandhi writes A Guide to Health in 1921 and states that “vaccination is a violation of the dictates of religion and morality”
Dr. John H Tilden writes the book Toxemia Explained: The True Interpretion of the Cause of Disease in 1926 and explains that “Every so-called disease is built within the mind and body by enervating habits.” In addition to pushing germ theory denialism, he is of course, anti-vaccine, calling vaccines poison.
Louis Siefgried, a Brooklyn chiropractor, writes The Quest Against Vaccination and Cruel Vivisection in 1926 and is soon arrested for refusing to vaccinate his daughter
George Barnard Shaw wrote that “vaccination is nothing short of attempted murder” in a 1944 letter to the Irish Times
“I think it can be said that this demonstrates a conscious over-anxiety to appease what I may call the vaccine-damage lobby, which may have led to decisions being biased against the vaccine.”
Justice Murray Stuart-Smith on Dr David Miller’s DPT study (1986)
Dr. John Wilson of London, in 1973, presents to the British Pediatric Association and later publishes an article, “Neurological complications of pertussis inoculation,” in the Archives of Disease in Childhood describing “36 children, seen in the past 11 years, who are believed to have suffered from neurological complications of pertussis inoculation.” While Wilson actually supported immunizations, like Wakefield, he later took to the media to scare parents because he had “seen too many children in whom there has been a very close association between a severe illness, with fits, unconsciousness, often focal neurological signs, and inoculation.” What followed was a drop in DPT vaccinations in many countries and vaccine lawsuits, even though his study was later found to be seriously flawed, with most having no link to the DPT vaccine.
Rosemary Fox, forms the Association of Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children, for which Wilson becomes an adviser. Fox, who believed that her daughter was “damaged by vaccination,” distributed questionnaires to the parents of suspected vaccine injured children, many who were seeking compensation in lawsuits, and many of which were then used in the National Childhood Encephalopathy Study by Dr Gordon Stewart and Dr David Miller.
Jack Ashley MP begins asking questions in Parliament about adverse events after vaccinations, soon after Wilson’s paper is published in 1974, supported by Rosemary Fox and almost 300 families from her Association of Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children.
Dr. Robert Mendelsohn, one of the first celebrity, anti-vaccine pediatricians, was a frequent guest on Donahue and other talk shows during the 1970s and 80s, prompting the AAP Committee on Infectious Disease to call him out in a “Red Book Update” published in Pediatrics in 1982, stating his “views are counter to scientific evidence and clearly they do not reflect Academy policy or recommendation.”
Dr. David Miller publishes a study in 1981 that showed a link between seizures in kids and receiving the DPT vaccine. A link that could not be confirmed in any other studies and a study that was published before all of the data had been completed. Like Wilson’s study, the Miller study quickly fell apart upon closer examination, including a finding that of seven children reportedly having vaccine damage, “three of the children had been incorrectly labeled as brain damaged when in fact they were normal both before and after vaccination.”
Lea Thompson‘s anti-vaccine documentary DPT: Vaccine Roulette aired in 1982 and is often credited as helping start the modern American anti-vaccine movement, but would she have been able to make her documentary without the groundwork laid out by Wilson and Miller?
Mirroring the work of Rosemary Fox, Barbara Loe Fisher, with Kathi Williams, soon form the group Dissatisfied Parents Together (DPT) shortly after watching Vaccine Roulette. They later changed their name to the NVIC, which was once described as the “single most powerful anti-vaccine organization in America.”
The press in Great Britain, when articles from daily and Sunday papers from 1982 were analyzed, were found to be “irresponsible in their attitude” towards vaccines and often depicted “rare, negative events.”
“…because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year…
It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.”
Roald Dahl Death of Olivia (1986)
Lisa Bonet, of The Cosby Show, appeared on Donahue in 1990 and said that vaccines could “introduce alien microorganisms into our children’s blood and the long-term effects which could be trivial or they could be quite hazardous”
Andrew Wakefield publishes his first study trying to find a virus that was causing inflammatory bowel disease in 1992, “Detection of herpesvirus DNA in the large intestine of patients with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease using the nested polymerase chain reaction.” He moves on to the measles virus the next year with his study, “Evidence of persistent measles virus infection in Crohn’s disease.”
Heather Whitestone becomes the first deaf Miss America, winning the Miss America pageant in 1994, and promptly gets media coverage for her ‘vaccine injury,’ which was really caused by a Hib infection. Not surprisingly, the true story, that her deafness wasn’t caused by a vaccine injury, didn’t get nearly as much media coverage.
Andrew Wakefield publishes his first Lancet article in 1994, “Perinatal measles infection and subsequent Crohn’s disease.” The next year, he gets another study published in Lancet, “Is measles vaccination a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease?” Foreshadowing what was to happen with his later “autism” study, his research was found to be “flawed because of biases from differential loss to follow-up and case ascertainment in the vaccinated and unvaccinated cohorts.” The findings of his study also could not be replicated by others and was flagged for “epidemiological weaknesses and lack of biological plausibility.”
Meryl Dorey forms the Australian Vaccination Network in 1994, who’s name is later changed (on order of the NSW Government Fair Trading Agency) to the Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network.
“It would be most unfortunate if the publication of this controversial work led to public anxiety over the safety of measles vaccine.”
KC Calman on Wakefield’s 1995 Measles Vaccination Study
Beginning from at least 1995, and over the next 10 years, 37% of all vaccine safety articles “had a negative take-home message.”
Katie Couric does a segment on the NBC News show Now with Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric about DPT “hot lots.”
David Miller writes a letter to the BMJ about a study he did, “Measles vaccination and neurological events,” and in which he concluded that “these findings provide no evidence of a risk of long-term neurological damage associated with measles vaccine.” Not surprisingly, Wakefield took issue with Miller’s study, but many will be surprised about one of Wakefield’s problem – ” a reaction to vaccination resulting in regressive autism is likely to be a rare event, so the number of cases used for Miller and colleagues’ analysis is woefully inadequate to investigate such a reaction.”
At one of the first anti-vaccine conferences of the modern era, the First International Public Conference on Vaccination, in September 1997, Andrew Wakefield gives a presentation and Lea Thompson gets an award.
Andrew Wakefield publishes another study in the Lancet in 1998, setting off a media frenzy by stating that “Again, this was very contentious and you would not get consensus from all members of the group on this, but that is my feeling, that the, the risk of this particular syndrome developing is related to the combined vaccine, the MMR, rather than the single vaccines.” Although widely discredited, his paper isn’t formally retracted until 2010.
In 1999, ABC’s 20/20 airs a segment about the hepatitis B vaccine, “Who’s Calling the Shots?,” which has been described as “a program that deeply scared the American public.” ABC’s Nightline also does a segment on vaccine injury featuring Barbara Loe Fisher.
Beginning in 2000, Dan Burton begins holding Congressional hearings trying to prove that there is a link between vaccines and autism
Also in 2000, Andrew Wakefield appears on the 60 Minutes segment “The MMR Vaccine”
And that’s the year that Cindy Crawford appeared on Good Morning America with her celebrity pediatrician, Dr. Jay Gordon, after which he said “They edited the segment to make me sound like a vaccination proponent. We also have to understand the impact of a person as well-known as Cindy Crawford delaying vaccines for over six months.”
The CBS Evening News begins their four year run of “extremist views of vaccines and autism,” including going “after vaccine makers and the make-believe link between vaccines and autism, taking up the cause of trial attorneys on the one hand and glossing over the scientific data demonstrating no relationship on the other.” This 2004 segment by Sharyl Attkisson, on “Vaccine Links to Autism?,” featured a ‘landmark study’ by Dr. Mady Hornig about overdosing mice with thimerosal.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. gets his “error-laced” expose “Deadly Immunity” published in Rolling Stone magazine in 2005 (it is later retracted). He also appears on the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.
Jenny McCarthy appears on Oprah,Good Morning America, Larry King Live, and 20/20 in 2007 to promote her book about how she cured her non-Indigo autistic son who got the “autism shot”
“When a well-meaning parent like Jenny McCarthy blames vaccines for her child’s autism, placing the fear of God into every parent who has a baby, it’s not only irresponsible – it’s dangerous. Why? It’s simple math: vaccines are less effective when large numbers of parents opt out. And the more who opt out, the less protected ALL our children are.
Celebrity books come and go . . . but the anxiety they create lives on in pediatricians’ offices across the country. A small, but growing number of parents are even lying about their religious beliefs to avoid having their children vaccinated, thanks in part to the media hysteria created by this book.”
Ari Brown, MD on The New McCarthyism in the Wall Street Journal (2007)
Dr. Bob Sears publishes his Vaccine Book in 2007 which leads vaccine hesitant parents across the country to request that their pediatricians follow Sears’ non-evidence based alternative immunization schedule instead of the standard CDC schedule, leaving these kids unprotected from many vaccine preventable diseases
In 2008, Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey lead the Green Our Vaccines rally in Washington, D.C.
The pilot episode of Eli Stone aired on ABC in 2008, a show described as “anti-vaccination idiocy about autism.”
The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, airs a segment in 2008, “How Independent Are Vaccine Defenders?,” pushing the idea that “strong financial ties” between vaccine manufacturers and the AAP and other groups pushing the idea that “industry ties could impact the advice given to the public about all those vaccines.”
Jenny McCarthy in Time magazine in 2009 and appears again on Larry King Live
Matt Lauer interviews Andrew Wakefield on Dateline in 2009 in the hour-long episode “A Dose of Controversy”
Barbara Loe Fisher discussing “Forced Vaccinations” on Lou Dobbs Tonight in 2009
Bill Maher again warns people about flu shots in 2009 (during the H1N1 pandemic), this time on his own show Real Time with Bill Maher
Bill Gates gives a Ted Talk in 2010, says that “The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care & reproductive health services, we could LOWER that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent,” and folks think he has a plan to depopulate the world using vaccines.
“The way forward is clear. Because no credible evidence during the past 13 years supports the hypothesized connection between the MMR vaccine and autism disorders, it is bereft of credible evidence and must be discarded. At the same time, autism is a public health concern that must be addressed by enhancing research funding and directing that funding toward studies of credible hypotheses of causation.
To continue pouring money into futile attempts to prove a connection to the MMR vaccine when multiple high-quality scientific studies across multiple countries and across many years have failed to show any hint of a connection, and in the face of biologic nonplausibility, is dangerous and reckless of lives, public funding, and ultimately public health.”
Gregory A. Poland, MD on Vaccine Nihilism and Postmodern Science (2011)
The Greater Good movie, which has been described as “pure, unadulterated anti-vaccine propaganda,” debuts at the Dallas International Film Festival in 2011
Rep. Michele Bachman in a 2011 interview on Fox News discussing the HPV vaccine, says that “There’s a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences. It’s not good enough to take, quote, ‘a mulligan’ where you want a do-over, not when you have little children’s lives at risk.”
Katie Couric has a segment about HPV on her show Katie in 2013 in which she “promotes dangerous fear mongering”
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. who has said both that he is “not anti-vaccine” and that after kids get vaccinated, “their brain is gone. This is a holocaust…,” also claimed, in 2017, that he is to lead Donald Trump’s “vaccine safety commission.”
While the names change and we now have anti-vaccine propaganda on the internet instead of hand printed pamphlets, the key messages they use to scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids are surprisingly the same.
What To Know About the History of the Anti-Vaccine Movement
As you follow the anti-vaccine movement from the very beginning, it is easy to see the common threads that connect all of the players from the Victorian Age to the 21st Century. Germ theory denialism. Alternative medical providers. The media.
Fear, especially fear of vaccine-injury.
And although George Bernard Shaw once wrote that “the antivaccinist is facing very serious persecution without any prospect of personal gain,” you just have to look at all of the eBooks, eCourses, conferences, seminars, supplements, and autism “cures” many of them push and sell to know that isn’t true.
The modern anti-vaccine movement certainly also has a wider forum these days, making them an even more vocal minority. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. E-books.
But not much else has changed.
One can’t even really say that the names have changed. Folks in the modern anti-vaccine movement continue to bring up the work of long discredited anti-vaccinated propagandists from the past, even going so far as continuing to believe that germs don’t really cause disease, vaccines don’t really work, and that vaccines aren’t really necessary.