Erin Banco and Adam Rawnsley at The Daily Beast:
She’s a doctor, an anti-vaxxer, and, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), a “conspiracy theorist” who is trying to “spread myths and falsehoods about Covid vaccines.” Now, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has invited her to share her thoughts on a coronavirus vaccine with the Senate.
Dr. Jane Orient isn’t just any old anti-vaccine activist, though. She’s the head of the arch-conservative Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), an organization that’s become the hard right’s go-to source for a conservative spin on everything from vaccines, masks, Obamacare, and hydroxychloroquine to whether Hillary Clinton was “neurologically disabled” during the 2016 campaign.
AAPS has a long history of circulating dicey and downright dangerous theories, particularly on the issue of vaccines. The website claims it does not oppose vaccines but the site has consistently pushed anti-vaxxers’ false claims about a nonexistent link between vaccines and childhood autism.
In 2006, AAPS’ in-house journal, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, published a study from Dr. Mark Geier and his son, David, claiming to show that autism rates went ... But even as scientists and academic journals thoroughly debunked anti-vaccine studies claiming a link to autism, AAPS stuck with the discredited theory. In a 2016 piece on vaccination, AAPS claimed “there are hundreds of reports of children who stopped making eye contact and lost language skills soon after receiving MMR” and quoted Orient saying that it’s “not unreasonable to suspect that MMR is one” of the causes of increased rates of autism diagnosis in children.
AAPS seems to have pushed this vision of the unfettered doctor too far, though. Over time, it has taken a puzzling turn toward unconventional medical views, as exemplified by its legal tangle with Schiff. To Orient, the government should not even dictate essential medications that protect public health. Asked whether vaccines increase the risk of autism, she said, “I think that the definitive research has not been done.” (The overwhelming scientific consensus is that vaccines do not cause autism.)
In the 20th century, mankind seemed to be winning the war on microbes. Smallpox was eradicated, and antibiotics were vanquishing infectious diseases. The growing threat of microbial resistance has caused senior public health officials in the UK and the U.S. to be concerned about the “post-antibiotic apocalypse” and the “end of modern medicine.” Dr. Andrew Wakefield asks, “Are vaccines destined for a similar fate?”
According to Dr. Wakefield, the “return of measles” is not the fault of anti-vaccinationists, but results from vaccine failure and “escape mutants”—viruses that elude vaccine immunity, the predictable outcome of selection pressures. Meanwhile, the toll of autoimmune diseases and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism continues to soar relentlessly—without explanation.
Parental outrage might cause reexamination of vaccine orthodoxy. It also raises the question of where to draw the line against encroachment of our freedom.