Anti-ScienceSkepticism

7 Ways Anti-Vaxxers Are Worse than You Ever Could Have Imagined

I wrote the other day about how most parents that are not vaccinating are not senseless or stupid; They are just parents who have anxieties around vaccines and are not sure of whether it is the best choice for their child. Sure, some of their beliefs about vaccines may be unfounded in science, but they are trying to do what is best for their children even though they may actually be putting their children in more danger as a result.

Although this does describe most parents that are afraid of vaccinating, there is a small yet vocal organized anti-vaccine movement who go way beyond just questioning vaccine safety. I became interested in the anti-vaccine movement a couple years ago after I became so curious about what exactly anti-vaxxers were doing and saying that I went to one of their rallies. Since then I have been following their organizations and blogs and went to their big conference a couple years ago (where I was subsequently recognized and kicked out despite following all rules and being nothing but respectful). From years of following the anti-vaccine movement closely, I’ve learned that whatever you think about anti-vaxxers, you are probably underestimated the utter absurdity of their beliefs. For the purposes of this post, when I use terms like “anti-vaxxers,” I am talking specifically about the extremist anti-vaccine proponents that are part of the organized movement. I should also point out that, as anyone who themselves are part of any movement know, factions exist within the movement. People are not homogenous and even if they all agree that vaccines are bad they may not agree on all the details. Not all anti-vaxxers will believe all of the things mentioned here but these are all things that I have seen mentioned often by anti-vaxxers and published on their websites and blogs.

Anti-vaxxers believe that people who promote vaccines are the equivalent of Nazis and rapists.

When I say that “anti-vaxxers believe vaccine-proponents are equivalent to Nazis,” I don’t mean it as an exaggerated metaphor. They literally believe that organizations like the CDC are the same as Nazi Germany. Back in 2010 when I went to an anti-vaccine rally, a band called the Refusers played a song entitled “Vaccine Gestapo” with lyrics such as

They’re a medical military priesthood
Just like Adolf they preach the greater good
Conscientious objectors are just little snot
Why don’t you quit complaining and go get your shots

In addition to accusing the CDC of being the Gestapo, they often will play the victim card, such as suggesting that antivaccinationists are treated like Jews were in Hitler’s Germany. That’s right, because we all know that anti-vaxxers are being rounded up and gassed. Vaccine mandates are totally equivalent to that. That must be why they are such a fan of comparing themselves to Anne Frank.

Although anti-vaxxers are quite the fans of holocaust metaphors, it’s not the only horrible thing in the world that vaccine proponents could be compared to. Just this month at Age of Autism (AoA), a popular anti-vaccine blog, they published a post comparing vaccine mandates for public schools to human trafficking. I’m not kidding. They call vaccine mandates Vaccine Trafficking, writing that “Vaccine trafficking is a form of modern forced medical experimentation where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.”

They even got in a Nazi reference in the following description of why vaccine mandates are equivalent to human trafficking.

Although forced medical experimentation is commonly thought to be a thing of the past, dealt with and eliminated by The Nuremberg Code after WWII, vaccine trafficking still exists today throughout the United States and globally when traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control other people for the purpose of increasing international vaccine sales by forcing them to be injected with scores of dangerous, ineffective, “unavoidably unsafe”, potentially-fatal vaccines against their will.

This is completely bananas and yet this is the type of fear-mongering language often used by the anti-vaccine movement when communicating to their followers the dangers of vaccines.

Oh, and of course I can’t forget about the vaccine rape metaphors. Anti-vaxxers are constantly comparing giving a child a vaccine to raping them, because in their minds it’s the same thing. Memes like this one, which accuse doctors and nurses of being child rapists, are shared by anti-vaxxers on social media.

[photo of man grabbing a woman with his hand over her mouth and a distressed look on her face] “FORCED PENETRATION: I’m going to stick this in you. But it’s a vaccination, so shut the fuck up and enjoy it, bitch.”

Just in case you’re inclined to believe this is just a one-time thing, over at Respectful Insolence, David Gorski has compiled a whole bunch of instances of anti-vaxxers writing articles where they compare the act of vaccinating to rape.

If you can think of something terrible, then an anti-vaxxer has probably made the comparison between that horrible thing and vaccines.

The anti-vaccine movement has ties to the tea party.

Although anti-vaxxers are often seen as liberal whole-foods shopping types, in fact the organized anti-vax movement consists of right-wing extremists and has ties to the tea party. Anti-vaxxers have actually formed their own political party called the Canary Party which lobbies for removal of vaccine mandates. They often will partner with tea party groups in order to protest tough vaccine mandates for public schools and other pro-vaccine measures. They borrow much of the “freedom” language that is popular with the tea party and other right wing and libertarian groups when pushing for laws that make it easier to opt-out of vaccines.

Anti-vaxxers are shockingly ableist.

Most anti-vaccine organizations masquerade as organizations helping parents who are raising children with autism. However, despite saying they are helping families deal with autism, they way they treat people with autism and other mental disabilities is appallingly ableist.

When Jenny McCarthy made her now infamous appearance on Oprah where she first said that she believed vaccines were responsible for her son’s autism, she said that when she first got her son’s diagnosis it made her feel “like death.” She said that soon after her son got the MMR vaccine “boom—the soul’s gone from his eyes.” In other words, people with autism are people who have lost their souls.

Speaking at the anti-vax con AutismOne, RFK Jr. said that children getting autism from vaccines is like the “Nazi death camps.” Not only do we have another holocaust metaphor here, but I don’t think I need to explain why a person having autism is not equivalent to being imprisoned in a Nazi death camp.

In general, the anti-vaccine movement often treats autism like a fate worse than death. It’s why they are so vehement that if vaccines cause autism than vaccines must be far worse than all the diseases that they are meant to protect from. They do not seem to realize that many people with autism and other mental illnesses live rich, full lives.

The Feminist Skeptic explains why the anti-vax view that says that autism is the worst thing that could possibly happen to your child is so problematic:

it leads to the idea that risking preventable diseases (that can totally kill your kid!), autism biomedchelation therapyLupron therapy, and even outright murder is totally justifiable, because hey, your kid wasn’t “normal” (whatever that means), and you just wanted to make them better, even if it means causing them further suffering in the process.

Oh, and speaking of anti-vaxxers defending the murder of mentally ill children…

Anti-vaxxers defend parents who murder their mentally ill children.

Back in 2013, a Chicago mother planned and carried out the murder of her son Alex Spourdalakis. Alex was 14 years old and severely autistic. His mother first gave him an overdose of his medication, but when he didn’t succumb she stabbed him multiple times and cut his wrists. This was big news in Chicago, but prior to the murder I had already heard of Alex Spourdalakis because over at Age of Autism they had been talking about him and his mother for months, offering both emotional support and financial in the form of a fundraiser. Andrew Wakefield himself filmed a video of him sitting at the bedside of Alex in a Chicago hospital. They claimed the hospital was illegally preventing Alex’s mother from taking him home and were abusing him and keeping him restrained. The entire anti-vaccine movement rallied around the Spourdalakis family, vilified the hospital, and eventually got Alex discharged so that he could continue to get alternative medicine treatments at home rather than the science-based psychiatric care that the hospital provided. David Gorski describes the entire horrific story in an incredibly detailed post at Respectful Insolence.

The anti-vaxxers were supporting the Spourdalakis family prior to the gruesome murder of Alex. You would then expect that after the murder they would walk back their support or perhaps even admit they were wrong. Instead, over a year later they have only dug in their heels. In fact, they have actually created a documentary entitled “Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis?” where they claim that it wasn’t his mother who murdered him, but the medical community and of course the vaccines which made him sick in the first place. They strongly imply that the murder was regrettable yet understandable in the face of a medical community that refused to allow the mother to treat her child using only unproven alternative medicine. The fact that they find the tragic murder of an autistic child even remotely understandable and defend the murderer is ableism at its most extreme.

Anti-vaxxers don’t believe vaccines protect you against disease.

This point is one of the more controversial even within the anti-vaccine movement. Most of the leaders of the movement will say that they believe vaccines do prevent against diseases, though they will often then give reasons why vaccines aren’t actually very effective or no longer needed since the diseases they protect against are so rare. However, the anti-vaccine movement is rife with those who believe that the disease-preventing power of vaccines is a myth or conspiracy.

Just this month Melanie Mallon used Skepchick’s Bad Chart Thursday to feature and consequently destroy an article from VaccineImpact.com on how measles has magically been reduced to the low levels we have today with no help from the vaccine. Measles just naturally decided it didn’t really like humans as much as it used to and went away on its own. The fact that measles saw sharp decreases in the U.S. following the introduction of the measles vaccine is just coincidence. This argument, that vaccines are not at all effective, is a popular one among anti-vaxxers.

Anti-vaxxers subscribe to dangerous alternative medicine for treating the mentally ill.

As I mentioned earlier, many autism organizations are actually anti-vaccine organizations in disguise. As such, they often will promote various alternative medicine treatments for children with autism. Katie and Ashley from Mad Art Lab went to the anti-vaccine con AutismOne in 2012 and reported back that the con was a cornucopia of alternative medicine, with “biomedical treatments, like supplements, special diet items (gluten-free and casein-free, of course), and, oh yeah, hyperbaric oxygen chambers.”

Although some of these treatments may not be harmful, many of them require strict diets or expensive medication and therapies that have no evidence of effectiveness and may even cause harm. Anti-vaxxers also will often discourage traditional medical treatments in favor of alternatives and in some cases, the treatments they encourage are incredibly harmful. Dr. Mark Geier, who has a ton of support from the anti-vax movement had his medical license suspended in 2011 for chemically castrating autistic children. This wasn’t something he was doing unbeknownst to his anti-vax supporters. In fact, anti-vaxxers supported him and continue to support him in using chemical castration to “treat” autistic children. Since losing his medical license, they have treated him like a martyr.

Anti-vaxxers believe that the government is knowingly and purposefully poisoning children

I already mentioned a lot of conspiracy theories that anti-vaxxers believe, but one of the most prominent is that the government and pharmaceutical companies know vaccines are ineffective and highly dangerous but promote them via propaganda and pass laws mandating them for children going to public school in order to make all that sweet, sweet vaccine money.

Back in the Vaccine Trafficking article I mentioned earlier, the author writes:

There are two primary factors driving the spread of vaccine trafficking: high profits and low risk.  Actually, since 1986, it’s no risk, with a captive and guaranteed market, mostly paid for by taxpayer dollars and cash-strapped parents. Like other prescription-drug trafficking, vaccine trafficking is a pharma-driven criminal industry that is based on the principle of “poison to profit”, with the goal being to ensure that every American is somewhere between sick and dead, for as long as possible. Every year, vaccine traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, including here in the United States.

This type of extremist fear-mongering stating that the government and pharmaceutical companies are knowingly poisoning children is standard fare on anti-vaccine websites. The thing that’s always got me about this conspiracy is that if the government and pharmaceutical companies did come up with fake vaccines to make money, why would they inject children with poison? Why not inject them with saline instead or something else non-harmful? The only explanation is that anti-vaxxers believe that the government and pharmaceutical companies are cartoonish villains who poison children for fun.

Don’t worry though, the anti-vaxxers have a response to this. According to them, the reason the big pharma uses poison rather than placebo to sell their fake vaccines is because they are secretly eugenicists. Seriously.


I want to reiterate as I did at the start of this piece that these are not things that the average parent who is opting out of vaccines believe. These are the fringe extremists who produce literature vilifying vaccines, run anti-vaccine blogs, events and conferences, and promote laws making opting out of vaccines easier. Though they are small in number, they are almost exclusively holding up the entire myth of the dangerous vaccine that is creating fear and anxiety among parents and leading to lower vaccine rates and outbreaks of diseases like measles. They run organizations purporting to help families with autistic children while actually just using that as cover to lobby against vaccinations. I think it’s important to emphasize just how utterly ridiculous their true beliefs really are. They go way, way beyond just “vaccines cause autism” or “vaccines contain dangerous toxins” to levels that include vast conspiracy theories and ableism.

Special thanks to David Gorski who helped me track down many of the examples of the horrific things that anti-vaxxers have published.

Featured image is a tinted screen shot of the front page of Age of Autism.

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Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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11 Comments

  1. All right, I have a confession to make. I’m deeply ashamed by this, but here goes.

    I am the parent of an unvaccinated child.

    It doesn’t have anything to do with autism, or the risks of how the vaccines are spaced out, or anything like that.

    My wife is a dedicated vegetarian, and she objects to vaccines that kill animals to create their ingredients. In the case of the MMR vaccine, that includes both gelatin and fetal bovine serum (blood drawn in a slaughterhouse from the heart of a cow fetus).

    While I’m a vegetarian too, I don’t go this far. We have been arguing about this since before we had children. If I push it to hard, I may end up wrecking our marriage. Every year or so, though, I bring it up again and try everything I can throw at her to persuade her; so far, though, I haven’t gotten her to budge an inch. For her, the lives of other animals are just as valuable as the lives of humans — even our own children.

    I’m bringing this up here for just one reason. I’m NOT interested in hearing other arguments I can use against my wife. Believe me, I’ve tried them all, many times.

    But after our last argument last night, and many hours of research, I thought that maybe, someone somewhere might know of some way to find a version of the vaccine that doesn’t use this ingredient. I’d be willing to pay a good deal to find such a thing. Or perhaps there might be a way to lobby for a vegan version of the vaccine to be developed.

    Can anyone help me?

    1. They don’t exist. Even if there were vaccines developed that don’t utilize BSA, they would still have multiple levels of animal and human clinical trials before the FDA would approve them for use. Something tells me that wifey would object just as harshly to vaccines tested on animals, even if they are a vegan version. Let me ask you something. You don’t want to push too hard in the fear that you’ll destroy your marriage, but if one of your children dies or is permanently disabled by a vaccine preventable illness, do you think your marriage will survive that? Will your union be able to withstand all of the guilt and blame? The divorce rate in this country is at ~50% without any mitigating circumstances; the divorce rate among couples who’ve lost a child is > 75%. It looks like there is no middle ground in your situation, and now you have to decide if a lasting marriage is more important than healthy children. I’m truly sorry you’re experiencing this. Good luck man.

    2. I know I’m late to the party, and this is drastic, but: a boy just died of the measles in Germany. No chrinoic illness, no medical excemption, just an 18 months old toddler who celebrated christmas with his parents and who will be in a cold grave come easter. The danger of measles is real.

  2. Hi there,

    There is no such thing as a vegan vaccine, at least in the US. This is because all medications are required to be tested on animals. So, even if you were to find a vaccine that lacked animal-derived ingredients, the fact of the matter is that it was still tested on animals at some point.

    The whole point of veganism is to do as much as possible with what you have available to reduce the impact one has on animal suffering. It is impossible to be a perfect vegan. With this in mind, it becomes clear that sometimes vegans have to make compromises, particularly when it comes to their health.

    As The Vegan Society says, it is great to go to whatever lengths one can to use vegan medication when possible, but that a person’s health has to come first.

    In essence, your wife is putting the interests of “animals” in the abstract above the interests of your children. Not vaccinating them puts them at risk for some terrible diseases, and she will kick herself in the ass if one or more of your kids comes down with whooping cough or the measels because she was concerned about animal ingredients in a vaccine. Further, she is putting other people at risk for terrible diseases, which, to me, runs antithetical to a vegan ethics of reducing suffering in the world.

    I say all of this as a vegan myself, by the way. I advocate for alternatives to animal ingredients and testing, but I’m not going to allow my own health to deteriorate by not taking prescribed medicine or vaccinations.

  3. I guess there’s always the argument that if the child does actually get a vaccine-preventable illness, they might end up hospitalised and taking animal-tested and derived medications anyway. Unless your wife would also refuse to take your kids to the hospital, in which case….

    Edit: Not to mention anyone they potentially transmit it to

  4. Their views on disability are actually unsurprising, since, even assuming Wakefield wasn’t a giant fraud, assuming that thiomersal is still used in vaccines, assuming that C2H5Hg is the same as CH3Hg, assuming that autism is a form of mercury poisoning (even though autism and mercury poisoning present totally different symptoms), an antivax stance, perforce, requires also holding the position that the right of people with immune deficiencies (such as due to chemo or AIDS, or simply age*) to, you know, live, is less important than your right to raise a child without autism.

    *Or genes. Gee, thanks, antivaxxers, for starting up a new round of smallpox blankets!

  5. To BruceGee1962,
    I have been thinking about your problem. You may have to say this is something that you can’t compromise on because it scares you to think about your child suffering through an illness like measles. It sounds like your wife doesn’t want to sacrifice animals but is she ready to possibly sacrifice another child who can’t be vaccinated. These children’s lives depend on others being vaccinated. In the end, We all have to figure out how to live in harmony with the world. How much can reduce our carbon footprint without going all the way of eliminating ourselves. Your wife is putting you in a very difficult situation of having to choose between your children or your marriage. She may not realize that she is doing this.

  6. Jamie Bernstein,

    Thanks for writing this. The anti vaccination movement truly is harmful. Anyone who thinks that vaccines don’t protect against disease is either just plain ignorant or willingly ignorant. People need to vaccinate their children period. Also anyone who could defend the murder of Alex Spourdalakis is a sick person and the fact anyone, even in a movement that promotes pseudoscience could do that is shocking.

  7. Jamie Bernstein,

    I also wrote something on the anti vaccination movement myself awhile back, in case you haven’t seen it.

    Measles, Autism, and the Unhinged Insanity of the Anti Vaccination Movement
    http://littlegreenfootballs.com/page/314908_Measles_Autism_and_the_Unhinge

    Truth is I didn’t realize just how unhinged some of the people within this movement are, at the time I wrote that, and I thought that what I had uncovered at that point was bad.

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