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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Left, Right, and the Antivax Movement

In The Politics of Autism, I analyze the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. This bogus idea can hurt people by allowing diseases to spread  And among those diseases could be COVID-19.

Antivaxxers are sometimes violent, often abusive, and always wrong.  

UnfortunatelyRepublican politicians are increasingly joining up with the anti-vaxxers.  Recent examples include a member of the House COVID subcommittee and a crackpot who is seeking the party's US Senate nomination in OhioCalifornia gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder gave a radio platform to Andrew Wakefield.

Orac (David Gorski) notes that there was once a stereotype that antivaxxers were mostly on the left.

In actuality, this perception of a strong leftward political bias in the antivaccine movement was never really accurate. It’s long been known that antivaccine views tended to be the pseudoscience that crossed political boundaries. Indeed, there has always been a libertarian and right wing component to the antivaccine movement, with a very strong strain of antivaccine views on the right as well. Examples included General Bert Stubblebine III’s Natural Solutions Foundation, far right libertarians, and others who distrust the government, including government-recommended vaccine schedules, an observation that led me once to ask in 2013 why the antivaccine movement seemed so at home among libertarians. Indeed, at the right-wing Libertarian FreedomFest in 2012, I was privileged to watch a debate between Julian Whitaker and Steve Novella about vaccines. At the debate, vaccine pseudoscience flowed freely from Whitaker in a most embarrassing fashion, and I couldn’t help but note that FreedomFest that year featured two screenings of Leslie Manookian’s antivaccine propaganda piece, The Greater Good and had featured antivaccine talks in previous years. Ironically, at one point, one of the antivaccine bloggers at the crank blog Age of Autism blamed “progressivism” for failing to “get” autism. (Translation: From his perspective, his fellow progressives don’t accept the vaccine-autism link the way he would like, while conservatives apparently did.)

It is no coincidence that the most powerful antivaccine legislator in the 1990s and into the first decade of the 2000s was Representative Dan Burton (R-Indiana), who for many years was the foremost promoter of the pseudoscience claiming that vaccines cause autism. His activities in support of antivaccine views as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform were legion while he was in Congress and Republicans controlled the House. For instance, Burton held showboating, Kangaroo court-style hearings about thimerosal and autism back in 2002 that now remind me, more than anything else, of the hearings about Stanislaw Burzynski by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) back in the 1990s. Burton also was known for harassing FDA officials over thimerosal in vaccines, and at one point tried to insert himself into the Autism Omnibus hearings by writing a letter to the Special Masters asking them to consider crappy scientific papers (e.g., a this paper, which was pure crap) allegedly supporting a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.