The Ugliness of the Anti-Vaccine Movement
Things often get very nasty for those who try to tell folks that vaccines have nothing to do with autism. The latest target of that nastiness is writer Amy Wallace, who authored an outstanding article in this month’s Wired called “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.” In it, Wallace exposes vaccine rejectionists’ junk science and fear-mongering rhetoric.
The typical response of the anti-vaccine camp when they hear this kind of sacrilege is to attack the messenger rather than the facts. There is no proof, after all, that vaccines cause autism, and whatever proof anti-vaccinationists do cite is about as accurate as a report about a celebrity in the National Enquirer.
So they smear people instead. In the most benign cases, people who disagree with anti-vaccine folks get accused of having ties to pharmaceutical companies or the CDC (I have relationship to neither, by the way). Others just shout expletives and call you names. If you want examples of this, just check out anybody who disagrees with David Kirby’s anti-vaccine rants on the anti-scientific Living section of the Huffington Post.
But the blowback against Wallace has been especially harsh. In a recent interview about her piece on NPR, she shared her experience. The nicest insults were being called “stupid,” “greedy” and being accused of writing the piece to “get famous.” On the other hand, others have gone so far as to make veiled threats against her and resort to misogyny, calling her a “whore,” a “prostitute,” and a “fking lib.”
Some of the crudest comments come from a man named JB Handley. Handley is the founder of the anti-vaccine group Generation Rescue, “Jenny McCarthy’s autism research and treatment advocacy organization.” Handley is famous for his vitriol against anybody who disagrees with him. But in a rebuttal to Wallace even he reached new lows by playing the misogyny card. He sent Wallace an essay he wrote called “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine. ” In the article, Handley takes the ugly metaphor further, implying that Paul Offit, a pediatric infectious disease doctor in Philadelphia who developed the Rotavirus vaccine and the author of a 2008 book exposing the anti-vaccine movement, slipped her a date rape drug. “The roofie cocktails at Paul Offit’s house must be damn good,” he wrote.
While Handley later omitted his comments from his essay (posted at Age of Autism–another anti-vaccine group), his handiwork is an ugly, disturbing case study in how anti-vaccinationists think and behave. Whether it’s Jenny McCarthy yelling expletives on Larry King Live at the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, or the threats on Paul Offit’s life that required him to need a security detail, there is a pattern of behavior that is at best, irrational and at worst extremist. Whether or not you believe vaccines cause autism, you shouldn’t tolerate it.
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