It has been a while since I’ve written about this particular topic, which is why I think it a good time to revisit it, particularly given that over the last month there seems to have been a large uptick in antivaccine rhetoric centered around portraying COVID-19 vaccines as a new Holocaust and the concomitant desire for Nuremberg-style trials—complete with hashtags on Twitter like #Nuremberg2, #NurembergTribunal, the ominous-sounding #Nuremberg2TickTock, and related hashtags targeting Anthony Fauci, Bill Gates, and other perceived “enemies”—for public health officials, with punishment meted out afterwards for their “crimes.” In these calls for “Nuremberg 2.0,” the proposed punishment can range from imprisonment—”lock them up!”—to truly bloodthirsty calls for the gallows or even the guillotine. While I have written about this particular narrative far more extensively at my not-so-super-secret other blog, here I have mostly just alluded to it; so I thought it would be useful to discuss how the Nuremberg Code and Holocaust have been misused by antivaxxers for a long time. What we are seeing is nothing new in terms of content. What is new is the volume and broad reach of the narrative. Basically, calls for retribution disguised as “justice” against public health and vaccine advocates have reached places that I never would have predicted before when I first started writing about them over a decade ago.

First, however, let’s provide a taste of what I mean from antivax websites and social media. I will list quite a few examples, just to give readers an idea of what I’m talking about. First, attorney and long-time antivaccine advocate Mary Holland published an article on Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s website titled “Those Who Violated Nuremberg Code Must Be Prosecuted for Crimes Against Humanity” that was the “inspiration” (if you will) for me to write this post, which is a transcript of her speech given for a conference titled “75 Years of the Nuremberg Code — Never Again Forced Medical Procedures“, a public conference held on August 20 in Nuremberg to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Code. Unsurprisingly, it was hosted by Action Alliance, which appears to be a group of German antivaccine activists. Her speech was amplified by Mike Adams on Natural News, and one of the highlights that you might have seen being shared was a speech by a Holocaust survivor named Vera Sherav, in which she likened the COVID-19 response to the Final Solution and deemed it “the New Eugenics” in which this time “instead of Zyklon B gas, the weapons of mass destruction are genetically engineered injectable bioweapons masquerading as vaccines.” Meanwhile, antivaxxers are promoting narratives that COVID-19 vaccines are killing millions of people, an example being Steve Kirsch (whom I’ve written about before here) claiming that as many as 12 million have been killed by them worldwide, and that “they” are “killing people worldwide at a rate at least 6X faster than the Germans did”. (I kid you not; if you don’t believe me, click on the link.) Unsurprisingly, Mike Adams is amplifying this claim as well, with headlines like “10,000 people A DAY being killed by covid vaccines; worldwide fatalities likely larger than the HOLOCAUST” and “The mass culling of the HUMAN HERD is now under way… here’s exactly how it’s being accomplished to achieve mass extermination“.

Feel free to scroll past if you are one of those readers who so objects to embedded Tweets.

In particular, this narrative has resurfaced since COVID-19 vaccines were approved for children:

It is, of course, not limited to that at all:

I’ll discuss these principles in a moment, in particular how they do not apply to COVID-19 vaccines and vaccine mandates. In the meantime, here are a few more examples:

Such calls are not limited to just vaccine advocates. Unfortunately, COVID-19 conspiracy theorists of all stripes have taken up the call, including those who think that COVID-19 originated in a “lab leak”. This particular example also shows how the narrative of a “Nuremberg 2.0” has reached beyond the antivaccine fringe and been taken up by a number of politicians:

Anecdotally, more and more vaccine advocates, myself included, are reporting to me that they are being targeted with threats, and here are some receipts:

And my favorite, here are threats that everything I Tweet is being “saved” to use as evidence against me:

I note that, even though I now have over 72K followers on Twitter, the threats and abuse that I receive are nothing compared to what a number of other vaccine advocates receive, particularly as a result of the “Nuremberg 2” narrative. So let’s compare what the antivax narrative about the Nuremberg Code, which was promulgated as a result of the Nuremberg Medical Trials in 1947, with reality and discuss why antivaxxers have long abused them, to the point where I once coined the term “Nuremberg Code gambit,” much as I coined the term “pharma shill gambit,” to describe a common false narrative by antivaxxers and medical science deniers. If you understand what the Nuremberg Code actually says, its role in the history of bioethics and evolving protections for human subjects in medical research, and how it has now been largely supplanted by the Helsinki Declaration, you will be better equipped to understand why the antivax narrative is so harmful.

Vera Sharav and Mary Holland

Vera Sharav and Mary Holland appearing at an antivaccine, anti-public health event disguised as a 75th anniversary of the Nuremberg Code.

Mary Holland and Vera Sharav invoke the Nuremberg Code

If you look at the lineup of the event commemorating the 75th anniversary of the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trials, you’ll probably recognize a few names other than Mary Holland. For example, Tess Lawrie, one of the foremost promoters of ivermectin as a highly effective treatment for COVID-19, was a prominent figure at the event, as was Rolf Kron, an antivax homeopath (but I repeat myself) from a COVID-19 “resistance” group called Doctors Stand Up. There were also groups of Holocaust survivors included, which was particularly distressing to me given my online history of combatting Holocaust denial dating back to the 1990s. I didn’t watch the entire event, which is archived at RFK Jr.’s website, but I watched enough and read enough transcripts to get the gist of the overall theme, which was, predictably, that COVID-19 public health responses, particularly the “experimental” vaccines, violate the Nuremberg Code.

I note with some amusement how Mary Holland includes in her talk an expression of disappointment that representatives from the governments of the Allies (the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia) declined to take part:

I am especially honored to be here because the authors of the Nuremberg Code were doctors and lawyers from the United States who sought to prevent future horrors. And they built on medical and legal ethics established here in Germany before the Nazi regime.

I deeply wish that U.S., British, Russian and German government representatives were here to stand with us, as well as representatives of the global mainstream media.

It is a sad commentary that they are absent.

I wonder why these nations didn’t send representatives. Could it be that they recognized this farce for what it was?

Let’s see what Holland’s narrative is, though. It’s pretty predictable if you know anything about the antivaccine movement:

Tragically, in the last two-and-a-half years, we have witnessed a global assault on the Nuremberg Code.

Governments, medical establishments, universities and the media have violated the very first principle and every other principle of the code’s 10 points.

They have coerced people into being human guinea pigs.

They have forced people on penalty of their livelihoods, their identities, their health, their friendships — and even their family relationships — to take inadequately tested, experimental, gene-altering injections as well as experimental tests and medical devices.

Those who have intentionally, knowingly and maliciously violated the principles of the Nuremberg Code must be punished.

They must be called out, prosecuted and punished for crimes against humanity. This is one of our key tasks.

We must stop this. And we must ensure this does not happen again.

See the narrative? Vaccine advocates have committed “crimes against humanity” in supporting vaccination against COVID-19 and vaccine mandates for certain jobs and activities. You can watch the whole thing at RFK Jr.’s website, but there’s no real need given that a complete transcript was published.

Throughout the rest of the talk, Holland portrayed the vaccines as “experimental” and deadly, stating at one point, “In the U.S. and here in Europe, no vaccine has ever remotely compared to these injections — the risk and death profile of these injections is unprecedented.” They are not experimental, and, contrary to the claims of mass death due to vaccines, they are not deadly; indeed, they are amazingly safe.

As I’ve said many times before, even when they were authorized under emergency use authorization (EUA) in the US, they had still undergone large phase 3 randomized clinical trials involving tens of thousands of subjects demonstrating safety and efficacy. Any pharmaceutical or vaccine that has cleared such a hurdle is, scientifically speaking, not “experimental” anymore. The term “investigational” is a legal term specific to the FDA and its mandate; all it means is that the drug or vaccine has not yet gone through the entire regulatory process in order to achieve full FDA approval. The mechanism of an EUA was designed to allow the FDA to act faster in the case of an urgent situation. If a global pandemic killing (then) hundreds of thousands of people didn’t qualify, I don’t know what does. Oddly enough, even after the mRNA-based vaccines achieved full FDA approval, antivaxxers continued to portray them as “experimental”.

Moving on, I’ve been meaning to write about Vera Sharav for a long time. Indeed, she warrants her own post, and what I write about her here will be far briefer than is warranted. Before I go into her background as a Holocaust survivor and founder of a group ostensibly devoted to patient rights, informed consent, and, above all, the protection of human research subjects in medical research, let’s take a look at a bit of what she said in her speech, which can be viewed in its entirety, again, on RFK Jr.’s website, although the antivaccine blog Age of Autism helpfully provided a transcript.

To start out her speech, Sharav recounted her history:

In 1941, I was 31⁄2 when my family was forced from our home in Romania & deported to Ukraine.

We were herded into a concentration camp – essentially left to starve. Death was ever-present. My father died of typhus when I was five.

In 1944, as the Final Solution was being aggressively implemented, Romania retreated from its alliance with Nazi Germany. The government permitted several hundred Jewish orphans under the age of 12 to return to Romania. I was not an orphan; my mother lied to save my life.

I boarded a cattle car train – the same train that continued to transport Jews to the death camps – even as Germany was losing the war.

Four years elapsed before I was reunited with my mother.

Sharav (born Vera Roll) had fallen victim to a move by the fascist government that ruled Romania and was allied with Hitler at the time, in which some 145,000 Romanian and Hungarian Jews were moved to an area known as Transnistria along the Ukraine border, which became one of the most notorious killing fields of the war, with as many as 250,000 Jews were killed or allowed to die of disease and starvation. The Rolls were sent to a town called Mogilev, which had been turned into a concentration camp by the Romanians and Nazis. Her father died there of typhus within weeks of their arrival.

In her speech, Sharav made an explicit parallel between the Final Solution and COVID-19 and more or less correctly blamed eugenics for the Holocaust. I say “more or less” because there was more to it than just eugenics, the belief that Jews were subhuman, and that German Aryans were the “master race”. Hitler also believed that the Jews were working to destroy Germany and had decided that he had to destroy them before they could succeed. In any event, she was correct that the Holocaust didn’t happen all at once, observing that it “did not begin in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka”, had been “preceded by nine years of incremental restrictions on personal freedom, and the suspension of legal rights and civil rights”, and that the stage had been “set by fear-mongering and hate-mongering propaganda”. While this description was correct, unfortunately Sharav then pivoted to liken the current climate to the escalating restrictions and persecutions of the Jews during the Holocaust:

By declaring a state of emergency—in 1933 and in 2020, constitutionally protected personal freedom, legal rights, and civil rights were swept aside. Repressive, discriminatory decrees followed. In 1933, the primary target for discrimination were Jews; today, the target is people who refuse to be injected with experimental, genetically engineered vaccines. Then and now, government dictates were crafted to eliminate segments of the population. In 2020, government dictates forbade hospitals from treating the elderly in nursing homes. The result was mass murder. Government decrees continue to forbid doctors to prescribe life-saving, FDA approved medicines; government-dictated protocols continue to kill.

The media is silent – as it was then. The media broadcasts a single, government-dictated narrative – just as it had under the Nazis. Strict censorship silences opposing views.
In Nazi Germany few individuals objected; those who did were imprisoned in concentration camps. Today, doctors & scientists who challenge the approved narrative are maligned; their reputations trashed. They risk losing their license to practice as well as having their homes and workplace raided by SWAT teams.

What Sharav meant when she mentioned “FDA-approved medicines” was clearly the repurposed and unproven drugs hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, neither of which are actually effective in treating COVID-19. As for the rest, you can see the same narrative that many antivaxxers have promoted that likens pandemic restrictions to another Holocaust at worst or, at minimum, to incipient fascism. I do have to wonder: Who are these physicians arguing against COVID-19 vaccines and for alternative treatments like ivermectin who have had “their homes and workplace raided by SWAT teams”? I like to think that I’m up on all the latest COVID-19 news, particularly about “contrarian” doctors, and I don’t recall ever having encountered a news story in which any of these doctors had their home or office raided by a SWAT team. Is she referring to Dr. Simone Gold, who was sentenced to 60 days in prison for trespassing in the US Capitol Building during the January 6 insurrection? Help me out here.

Of course, Sharav concluded her speech by bringing it back to the Nuremberg Code, warning:

Those who declare that Holocaust analogies are “off limits”—are betraying the victims of the Holocaust by denying the relevance of the Holocaust.

The Nuremberg Code has served as the foundation for ethical clinical research since its publication 75 years ago.

The Covid pandemic is being exploited as an opportunity to overturn the moral and legal parameters laid down by the Nuremberg Code.

The Nuremberg Code is our defense against abusive experimentation.

While it is not incorrect to state that the Nuremberg Code is important as a foundation for ethical human subjects research and that it is a defense against abusive experimentation, it is not complete to say that either, as I will discuss in the next section. In the meantime, I’ll simply quote from near the end of Sharav’s speech:

Transhumanists despise human values, & deny the existence of a human soul. Harari declares that there are too many “useless people.” The Nazi term was “worthless eaters”

This is the New Eugenics.

It is embraced by the most powerful global billionaire technocrats who gather at Davos: Big Tech, Big Pharma, the financial oligarchs, academics, government leaders & the military industrial complex. These megalomaniacs have paved the road to another Holocaust.

This time, the threat of genocide is Global in scale.

This time instead of Zyklon B gas, the weapons of mass destruction are genetically engineered injectable bioweapons masquerading as vaccines.

This time, there will be no rescuers. Unless All of Us Resist, Never Again is Now.

That’s right. Vera Sharav directly compared COVID-19 vaccines to the Zyklon-B gas that Nazis used as one of their main tools of mass extermination of the Jews. She also repeated an old antivaccine claim, namely the portrayal of vaccines as a form of “transhumanism“.

I started this section by mentioning that I had long been meaning to write about Vera Sharav. The reason is that she had aligned herself with antivaxxers years before the pandemic. For example, in this STAT News story from 2016, she expressed her belief that Andrew Wakefield had been railroaded:

But her distrust of the drug industry and medical research institutions has also led her to embrace some dubious heroes, including discredited British physician Andrew Wakefield, who falsified data to imply a link between vaccines and autism.

Wakefield’s medical license was revoked for a series of ethics violations, and most in the mainstream medical community blame him for raising unjustified doubts about the safety of vaccines. Yet Sharav puts him on her “honor roll” of “exemplary professionals,” along with Florence Nightingale.

“My research and my gut tell me that Wakefield has been wronged,” she said. “One thing I’ve learned from early in my life is that if I don’t stay true to my gut feeling, then I’m lost. I don’t have any control.”

That same news story also described her better history, how she had been a force for protecting human subjects in medical experiments, founding the Alliance for Human Research Protection after the death of her son, who had suffered from schizophrenia, from neuroleptic malignant syndrome, an uncommon but frequently deadly side effect of antipsychotic drugs that causes muscle rigidity and fever and can ultimately lead to organ failure and death. I’ve perused that the AHRP website before, but let’s take a look at one of the two articles that greet visitors to its homepage:

AHRP website on 8/28/2022

That illustration by David Dees on the right is a classic antivax conspiracy image that I’ve seen on quack websites going back at least a decade, if not longer.

Let’s just put it this way. If you use an image by David Dees to illustrate your article, you have gone far down the antivaccine road. Worse, the image is blatantly antisemitic. Notice how the “vaccine enforcement” officer has a badge of the Star of David with the word “Zion” in it. As for the article itself, it’s a typical antivaccine-style screed in which adverse events recorded in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database are represented as definitely having been caused by vaccines when, in fact, anyone who understands VAERS knows that you can’t do that. Seriously, both articles are nothing but standard antivax propaganda, and not even antivax propaganda chock full of conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines that could plausibly be portrayed as “human subjects protection”. The same is true of the other article, in which vaccination is described in typical antivax language as a “medical assault”. Throughout the website, vaccines are frequently referred to as “child sacrifice” in articles dating back more than a decade. This “pivot” is not a pivot, and the antivax lean of AHRP is not new, nor is her demonization of COVID-19 vaccines new. She was doing it in 2020, an example of which comes from an interview from October 2020, as COVID-19 vaccines were making their way through the regulatory process. In the interview, titled “Nazism, COVID-19 and the destruction of modern medicine: An interview with Vera Sharav“, Sharav characterized the push for a vaccine as being all about the profit, saying at one point:

You don’t read about it in the media because the media is very much part of the business empire that’s ruling that.

Vaccines are an empire, and now they really want to do a vaccine globally.

Do you know what kind of a market that is? More than 7 billion people for a vaccine. Can you even count the kind of profits, no matter what they charge for it?

That’s what their goal is. That’s the whole allure of this COVID 19 vaccine. It’s that market.

You get the idea. What Vera Sharav was saying nearly two years ago was indistinguishable from the rhetoric I was seeing on hard core antivaccine sites, such as Natural News and, yes, RFK Jr.’s website, where the interview was published. Her antivax rhetoric remains indistinguishable from that of RFK Jr., Mike Adams, Del Bigtree, Andrew Wakefield, and basically all the major antivax “thought leaders” (if you can call it thought). Whatever her achievements in raising awareness of shoddy human subjects research practices, the dangers of certain pharmaceuticals, the frequency of nontherapeutic research, and the increasingly cozy relationship between medical academia and big pharma, Vera Sharav has clearly followed others down the road from skepticism of psychiatric drugs to extreme distrust of pharma to outright antivax.

But what about the Nuremberg Code?

Nuremberg Doctors' Trial

Nazi doctors facing justice in Nuremberg in 1947

COVID-19 vaccines and the Nuremberg Code

With the just completed discussion in mind, let’s circle back again to the Nuremberg Code, a set of principles for human subjects research that published in 1947 as part of USA vs. Brandt et al. (also often called the Doctors’ Trial) as one result of the Nuremberg Trials. The trial involved doctors who had been involved in Nazi human experimentation and mass murder disguised as euthanasia. Of the 23 defendants, seven were acquitted, while seven were sentenced to death. The rest received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.

There are ten points to the code, which was published in the section of the verdict entitled “Permissible medical experiments”:

  1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. This latter element requires that before the acceptance of an affirmative decision by the experimental subject there should be made known to him the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonably to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment. The duty and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon each individual who initiates, directs, or engages in the experiment. It is a personal duty and responsibility which may not be delegated to another with impunity.
  2. The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.
  3. The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.
  4. The experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.
  5. No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.
  6. The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.
  7. Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.
  8. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.
  9. During the course of the experiment the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.
  10. During the course of the experiment the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probable cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgment required of him that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.

It is true that the Nuremberg Code remains one of the foundations of medical ethics governing human subjects research. It is, however, old and has been largely supplanted, for all practical purposes, by newer statements of human research ethics. While it is certainly true that these newer statements (which I’ll discuss in a moment) echo many of the points of the Nuremberg Code, it’s also true they go beyond them.

Before I do that, though, here’s the key deficiency in the arguments that antivaxxers have been using that invoke the Nuremberg Code is actually quite simple, as I once wrote over a year ago on Twitter:

To reiterate, the Nuremberg Code only applies to human experimentation. Notice how each of the ten points of the Nuremberg Code mentions “the experiment” or “experimental” treatments. The Code is not about medical treatment, only medical experimentation involving human subjects. I don’t know how it can be made much simpler than that. Of course, the desire to appeal to the Nuremberg Code is why antivaxxers try so desperately to misrepresent COVID-19 vaccines as being “experimental”. It’s also why I like to retort that no one was forced, coerced, or otherwise mandated to sign up to be a subject in any of the clinical trials of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines (or any of the other currently approved vaccines) that led to their authorization under an EUA and ultimately to their full FDA approval. Again, vaccines that have passed phase 3 clinical trials and been shown to be safe and effective are not, from a scientific viewpoint, “experimental” anymore. They might still be considered “investigational” from a legal standpoint because all that means is that they haven’t gone through the full FDA process yet, but that’s it. Even while they were still being distributed under an EUA and before they were granted full FDA approval, from a scientific and medical standpoint COVID-19 vaccines being used have been legitimate medical preventative treatments, even when they did not yet have full FDA approval.

The second part of the Nuremberg Code gambit most commonly used is the deceptive appeal to “informed consent”. Of course, as I like to point out, while antivaxxers like to think they are really advocating for informed consent (and probably actually do think that), in practice, what they are advocating for is something that I like to refer to as “misinformed refusal”. (I used to call it “misinformed consent” before I realized that this term didn’t quite catch the essence of what antivaxxers do.) It’s an antivaccine trope that I’ve been dealing with at least 17 years, if not longer.

Here’s the idea. Antivaxxers vastly exaggerate the risks of vaccines and even attribute nonexistent risks to them (e.g., autism, autoimmune disease, sudden infant death syndrome) that are not at all supported by science. At the same time, they deny or downplay the benefits of vaccines, portraying them as largely ineffective and claiming that “natural” immunity from the disease is far superior to vaccine-induced immunity. Thus, if parents listen to the antivaccine narrative about the risk-benefit profile of vaccines, they will believe that the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits. They might even believe that vaccines are not only ineffective, but dangerous, deadly even. That’s where my term “misinformed refusal” comes in. It’s the refusal of vaccines based on misinformation that portrays a falsely unfavorable (and even terrifying) risk-benefit ratio.

The Nuremberg Code, as important as it has been in the history and development of human subjects protections during medical research, has largely been supplanted by the Belmont Report (published in 1976) and the Declaration of Helsinki. The Belmont Report, for instance, goes beyond the Nuremberg Code by delineating the boundaries between medical practice and research. It also rests on basic ethical principles of respect for persons, beneficence, and justice, while emphasizing the importance of voluntariness (as the Nuremberg Code), a detailed discussion of benefits and risks (informed consent), and the selection of subjects. The Declaration of Helsinki, last updated in 2013, is similar, but goes into much more detail about informed consent. It also addresses the ethics of the use of placebos, post-trial provisions, and the dissemination of results. It even addresses the use of unproven interventions in clinical practice outside of clinical trials.

Finally, in the US, the federal regulations governing human subjects research are enshrined under the Common Rule, which was originally instituted in 1981 and was last significantly revised in 2018. Basically, the Common Rule is the operationalization of the principles of the Belmont Report and the Declaration of Helsinki into regulations governing human subjects research carried out by the federal government, institutions that receive federal funding, and pharmaceutical and device companies seeking FDA approval for their products. It requires Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval and oversight of human subjects research, among other requirements for ethical human research and lays out the requirements for informed consent, as well as for research compliance by institutions. In effect, the Common Rule lays out the standard of ethics that govern not just human subjects research funded by the federal government or subject to FDA regulation for FDA approval, but in essence nearly all human subjects research. Almost all US academic institutions require their researchers to adhere to the Common Rule regardless of funding sources.

So why do antivaxxers always mention the Nuremberg Code and almost never the Belmont Report, Declaration of Helsinki, or the Common Rule when claiming that vaccine mandates somehow violate human subjects research protections and/or informed consent? The reason is simple. Neither the Belmont Report, the Declaration of Helsinki, nor the Common Rule were written or promulgated in response to Nazi war crimes. The Nuremberg Code, on the other hand, was written as part of the verdict of the Doctors Trial at Nuremberg as a first attempt to codify what principles that should govern ethical human subjects research.

In other words, the simple reason that antivaxxers point to “informed consent” for (or, as I like to call it, misinformed refusal of) vaccines along with the Nuremberg Code is because it’s a Godwin. It not-so-subtly compares physicians, public health officials, and vaccine advocates to Nazis. That’s the one and only purpose of the Nuremberg gambit. If it weren’t, in order to try to portray vaccines as “experimental” or “unproven,” antivaxxers would instead refer to the Helsinki Declaration, which is the most recent and most applicable set of ethical principals governing human subjects research. They don’t. That should tell you all you need to know about the Nuremberg gambit other than that COVID-19 vaccine mandates do not violate the Nuremberg Code anyway.

The Nuremberg gambit: Beyond antivaxxers

Unfortunately, the Nuremberg Code gambit is a Godwin that has permeated not just hard core antivaccine messaging. Indeed, it’s spread to pretty much every corner of COVID-19 contrarianism, minimization, and resistance to any sort of pandemic-related mandate, be it “lockdowns”, vaccines, or masks. (Nuremberg has even infiltrated “gender critical” narrative about gender-affirming care for transgender youths, with one group likening doctors practicing gender-affirming care to Josef Mengele, the infamously cruel Nazi doctor at Auschwitz.) I’ll start by invoking a Tweet that has been cited on this blog before, mainly by Jonathan Howard:

It’s interesting to note that Jeffery Tucker of the Brownstone Institute could have chosen pretty much any other image for his article, but he chose that of a guillotine, the symbol of the Reign of Terror, a series of executions and massacres after the French Revolution, with the guillotine being the favored method of individual executions. In the article, shared by Martin Kulldorff, one of the three writers of the Great Barrington Declaration, that propaganda piece of anti-lockdown hysteria that basically advocated letting COVID-19 rip through the young and healthy population, the better to achieve “natural herd immunity” as fast as possible, while somehow—it’s never really specified how—using “focused protection” to keep safe the elderly and those with chronic health conditions at high risk for serious disease and death due to COVID-19.

The first time that I first saw this image, I couldn’t help but ask: If Tucker wasn’t calling for executions, why did he and the Brownstone Institute choose a very menacing image of a guillotine? They could have chosen literally any other image, but they didn’t. They chose a view of a guillotine that emphasizes the blade ready to fall, a very ominous and threatening image. (It very much looks like the view of a guillotine that someone near the front of the crowd baying for blood during the Reign of Terror might have had—or the view that someone walking up the steps to be executed might have had.) If Tucker and the Brownstone Institute were really interested in portraying justice, instead of retribution, wouldn’t an image of a courtroom or a jury—or of virtually anything other than a guillotine—have been more appropriate? Did Dr. Kulldorff not even see the not-so-subtle message that such an image paired with an article like Tucker’s broadcasts? As an aside, I’ll also ask this question: Does anyone know who else used the guillotine as a method of execution besides le tribunal révolutionnaire during the Reign of Terror? The Nazi regime in Germany! No, seriously, look it up if you don’t believe me. Members of the White Rose resistance, for example, were executed by guillotine after show trials.

Reign of Terror or Nuremberg 2? Does it matter? The idea is vengeance against enemies of antivaxxers disguised as “justice”. This fantasy of retribution is not new, either, as I pointed out, referencing a 2017 post by an antivaxxer named Kent Heckenlively:

Note the same sort of imagery from a man who has in the past demanded the “complete surrender” of vaccine advocates, promising them—maybe—mercy if they recant and confess their “crimes”. These “crimes”? Given that at the time the predominant misinformation believed by antivaxxers was that vaccines cause autism, the “crimes” were advocating policies that make children autistic.

As I often say (admittedly sometimes ad nauseam) in the age of the pandemic, everything old is new again, and the same thing applies to the Nuremberg Code gambit. The difference is not the antivax fantasy of retribution against their perceived enemies, but rather that the language and rhetoric that was, until relatively recently, only associated with the hardest of hardcore antivaxxers, has started to wend its way into the mainstream, with right wing pundits like Tucker Carlson taking up the narrative, likening COVID-19 vaccine mandates to the cruel and grossly unethical experiments that Nazis and Japanese carried out using prisoners during World War II, while mangling what Nuremberg is about by describing such mandates as “forced treatment” rather than abuse of human experimentation. Misunderstanding aside, this gave his interviewee, Robert “inventor of mRNA vaccines” Malone, the opportunity to thank Carlson for bringing up the Nuremberg Code:

Perhaps the most frightening thing about the pandemic is how antivaccine narratives once viewed as fringe even among most antivaxxers, the province of only the hardest of the hardcore, are now being amplified by mainstream pundits with millions of viewers and used by “think tanks” like the Brownstone Institute to stoke fear of vaccines and potential violence against vaccine advocates. That’s always been the purpose of the Nuremberg Code gambit. Unfortunately, today the chance of the Nuremberg Code gambit resulting in actual violence is higher than it’s ever been.


Posted by David Gorski

Dr. Gorski's full information can be found here, along with information for patients. David H. Gorski, MD, PhD, FACS is a surgical oncologist at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute specializing in breast cancer surgery, where he also serves as the American College of Surgeons Committee on Cancer Liaison Physician as well as an Associate Professor of Surgery and member of the faculty of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Wayne State University. If you are a potential patient and found this page through a Google search, please check out Dr. Gorski's biographical information, disclaimers regarding his writings, and notice to patients here.