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Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson (yeah, still) doesn’t want you to know it, but she is an anti-vaxxer. In a Facebook post in which she vehemently denies that she is anti-vaxx, she demonstrates unequivocally that she is. Here it is:

As president, I would order the Centers for Disease Control to establish an independent commission to review/reform vaccine safety. Calling people who express any concern or questions about bundling, number of vaccines, neuro-toxins and so forth “anti-vaxx” is both incorrect and unfair. All parents want only that their children be safe. Given that as of 2019, over $4B has been paid out in compensation for vaccine injury (the National Vaccine Injury Protection Act was passed in 1986), concerned parents should not be demonized nor their questions minimized. While vaccines are very important and often save lives, concerns arise from the fact that they are the only medical product not required to have the safety testing required of other drugs. The call for certitude that vaccines are safe and responsible is not “anti-science” but rather “pro-science,” as it is a call for independent scientific research to review and establish vaccine safety.

These are all common anti-vaccine tropes, so let’s dissect it. First, the CDC already has experts who review vaccine safety, approve vaccine schedules, monitor side effects, and make recommendations based upon the best current science. Saying that she will create an “independent commission” to do what the CDC is already doing is essentially accusing the CDC of some combination of not doing its job, or being compromised. This is the core of anti-vaxx conspiracy theories about the CDC.

Next she talks about, “bundling, number of vaccines, neuro-toxins and so forth…” She tries to say expressing concerns about these issues are not being “antivaxx” but actually these are all antivaxx talking points. That’s like saying that having questions about the fossil record doesn’t make you an evolution denier. Well, it does if you are going against the consensus of expert opinion, and if your questions are not sincere but designed to sow doubt and confusion. Concerns about the “number of vaccines” is the “too many, too soon” trope. But we already have evidence that the vaccine schedule is safe, that the number of antigens exposed through vaccines is actually negligible compared to just going through your life, and we know that vaccines do not cause neurotoxicity. In fact, when the vaccine schedule is slowed down based on such false concerns, there is no decrease in any negative health outcome, there is only an increase in vaccine-preventable diseases.

So yes, when you ignore and go against the scientific evidence in order to endorse false fears about vaccines, you are an anti-vaxxer.

She then plays the NVIC card, another common anti-vaccine trope. The vaccine court pays out based upon adverse outcomes without (and this is key) the need to establish cause and effect. They don’t even investigate whether or not a vaccine caused the negative outcome, if it is on the list and occurred after getting vaccinated, payment is made. Alleged victims are basically given the benefit of the doubt. But this also means that such payments are not evidence for actual vaccine adverse events. It is highly deceptive to suggest otherwise – and is just another way to stoke fear about vaccines.

Next up is a fairly straightforward lie. She says that vaccines do not require safety testing, but this is patently not true. Here is a description of the vaccine approval process by the FDA. After describing phase 1-3 clinical trials, they state:

The results of the clinical trials are a part of FDA’s evaluation to assess the safety and effectiveness of each vaccine. In addition to evaluating the results of the clinical trials, FDA scientists and medical professionals carefully evaluate a wide range of information including results of studies on the vaccine’s physical, chemical, and biological properties, as well as how it is manufactured, to ensure that it can be made consistently safe, pure, and potent.

Studies are published and in the public domain. Such statements are willfully misinformed, which is irresponsible for anyone commenting publicly about vaccines, and downright shocking for a presidential candidate who wishes to be put in charge of the FDA.

She finishes with, “The call for certitude that vaccines are safe and responsible is not ‘anti-science.'” Yes, it is. There is no such thing as “certitude” in science, and demanding it is a classic denialist anti-science strategy. Scientific medicine deals with risks vs benefits, with the knowledge that all our information is always going to be imperfect and incomplete. There is no such thing as certainty or zero risk. But we do have copious evidence that the benefits of vaccines outweigh, by many orders of magnitude, the risks both for the individual receiving the vaccines and for society.

None of this is surprising from Williamson, who also endorses alternative medicine in general. As her website states:

Today’s healthcare system puts an unbalanced focus on treating the symptoms of illness at the expense of treating their cause.

That is also an anti-science trope that we commonly encounter. Scientific medicine does not just treat symptoms, and CAM does not treat “real” causes (generally they target fake pseudoscientific causes). But this is the most concerning line in her proposed health policy:

It requires health professionals to inform patients of different options for treatment.

There is already a mechanism to maintain the standard of care in medicine. In fact, the greatest threat to the standard of care is from CAM advocates. Whenever the government gets directly involved in the standard of care involving physician practice, it is generally a bad thing, done for ideological purposes. I don’t need an anti-scientist guru like Williamson looking over my shoulder when I give evidence-based advice to my patients. She also wants to mandate coverage for “holistic” treatments, which in practice would mean quackery. There are already many states that mandate that insurance companies cover one form or another of quackery, again legislating the standard of care, always to detrimental ends.

All these ideas need to be exposed for what they are – they are anti-vaccine and they are anti-science.

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Posted by Steven Novella

Founder and currently Executive Editor of Science-Based Medicine Steven Novella, MD is an academic clinical neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is also the host and producer of the popular weekly science podcast, The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, and the author of the NeuroLogicaBlog, a daily blog that covers news and issues in neuroscience, but also general science, scientific skepticism, philosophy of science, critical thinking, and the intersection of science with the media and society. Dr. Novella also has produced two courses with The Great Courses, and published a book on critical thinking - also called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe.