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Show Notes - Episode 53

February 27, 2021

Jenner... Jenny... Jesus

Anti-Vaxx Culture Then and Now


Smallpox and the Anti-vaccination Leagues in England


SOURCE: https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/history-anti-vaccination-movements#Source%209


Widespread smallpox vaccination began in the early 1800s


Edward Jenner – English physician and scientist who developed the vaccine for smallpox. He discovered that children could be inoculated from smallpox using the lymph from an infected person who had been vaccinated at least a week earlier and also from the pus from cowpox. The lymph was harvested from smallpox blisters and applied to scores in the arm skin which acted as a primitive vaccine.


Even before Edward Jenner began his landmark efforts to develop a smallpox vaccine in the 1790s, the practice of variolation—inoculating an uninfected person with pus from someone with smallpox—was used for centuries to prevent the disease in Africa, China, India, and the Ottoman Empire. In fact, Onesimus, an African slave, was said to have taught Cotton Mather, the Puritan pamphleteer, about the technique in 1706.


Lady Mary Wortley Montagu introduced variolation to England (referred to as inoculation in the West), having witnessed the practice in Turkey in 1717. As she encouraged the government to inoculate children against the deadly disease, an increasingly vicious debate ensued between proponents and opponents of the practice.


It is reported that "Pro-inoculators tended to write in the cool and factual tones encouraged by the Royal Society, with frequent appeals to reason, the modern progress of science and the courtesy subsisting among gentlemen. Anti-inoculators purposely wrote like demagogues, using heated tones and lurid scare stories to promote paranoia." It is a dynamic that differs little from the vaccine debate seen today.” source: https://www.verywellhealth.com/history-anti-vaccine-movement-4054321


From HistoryOfVaccines.org:


Reasons why people were against it:


  • Local clergy called it “unchristian.” Why? Because it came cowpox blisters and shouldn't enter the human body because it came from an animal. Does that principle apply to your lunch? Asking for an omnivorous friend...

  • General distrust in medicine

  • Spreading of a rumor that that smallpox was the result of “decaying matter in the atmosphere” and other primitive conspiracy theories

  • Personal liberty


“The Vaccination Act of 1853 ordered mandatory vaccination for infants up to 3 months old, and the Act of 1867 extended this age requirement to 14 years, adding penalties for vaccine refusal. The laws were met with immediate resistance from citizens who demanded the right to control their bodies and those of their children. The Anti Vaccination League and the Anti-Compulsory Vaccination League formed in response to the mandatory laws, and numerous anti-vaccination journals sprang up.”


“The town of Leicester was a particular hotbed of anti vaccine activity and the site of many anti-vaccine rallies. The local paper described the details of a rally: “An escort was formed, preceded by a banner, to escort a young mother and two men, all of whom had resolved to give themselves up to the police and undergo imprisonment in preference to having their children vaccinated…The three were attended by a numerous crowd…three hearty cheers were given for them, which were renewed with increased vigor as they entered the doors of the police cells.”[5]


The Leicester Demonstration March of 1885: 80,000-100,000 anti-vaxers marched in protest, raising banners, parading a child’s coffin, and carrying an effigy of Edward Jenner.[3]


1895 – A commission is formed to study the effectiveness and safety of vaccination


1896 – the commission ruled that vaccination protected against smallpox, but suggested removing penalties for failure to vaccinate.


1898 – The Vaccination Act removed penalties and also included a “conscientious objector” clause, giving parents the right to refuse vaccinations for their kids with an exemption certificate.


Smallpox and the Anti-vaccination Leagues in the United States


Smallpox outbreaks in the United States around the same time led to vaccine campaigns and related anti-vaccine activity.


1879 – The Anti Vaccination Society of America founded in 1879 following a visit from British anti-vaxer William Tebb.


1882 – Anti Compulsory Vaccination League is formed in the U.S.


1885 – Formation of the Anti-Vaccination League of New York City


Also around the same time, American anti-vaxers sued to repeal compulsory vaccination laws in various states, notably CA, IL, and WI.


1902 – Cambridge, MA mandates smallpox vaccination for all city residents. Henning Jacobson refused vaccination under what would become the “my body, my choice” mantra we hear today on issues that range from abortion to masking to vaccination. The city filed criminal charges against him. And he lost his battle in court. He then appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court who, in 1905 found in favor of the commonwealth ruling that compulsory laws could be enacted to protect the public in instances of outbreaks of communicable disease.


The Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis (DTP) Vaccine Controversy


Mid 1970s – Controversy over DTP vaccines arose throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and, of course, North America.


UK – opposition in response to a report issued by the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children in London. The report claimed that 36 children had adverse neurological reactions following DTP immunization. There were television documentaries and numerous print media reports drawing public attention and inciting hysteria. An advocacy group called the Association of Parents of Vaccine Damaged Children (APVDC) formed as a result of the reports also and generated even wider public reactions that ranged from concern to hysteria.


Vaccination rates in the UK went down, of course and then came three major whooping cough (Pertussis) epidemics! The UK formed an independent expert advisory called the JCVI (the Joint Commission on Vaccination and Immunization. The commission once again confirmed that the vaccines were safe.


But public confidence this time was actually started within the medical community. In the late 1970s, certain surveys of medical providers in the UK showed that some doctors were reluctant to recommend across-the-board immunization for all patients.


Then, Dr. Gordon Stewart published several case studies that he believed linked neurological disorders with the DTP vaccine. The JCVI countered with the National Childhood Encephalopathy Study (NCES) which concluded that risk of neurological disorders might not be nil, but was, in fact, very low risk, much lower than anti-vaxers like Dr. Stewart wanted the public to believe.


This led to a nationwide campaign in the UK to educate the public and answer a list of major concerns from the standpoint of science. The APVDC continued clogging the courts seeking personal injury-related compensation but were unsuccessful owing to the sheer lack of evidence linking the DTP vaccine to any kind of harm to the health and wellbeing of the recipient.


The U.S. controversy began when the national media drew attention to the same alleged risks of DTP that had been refuted and proven false overseas.


1982 – A documentary titled DPT: Vaccination Roulette is produced and released describing allegations of adverse reactions to the DTP vaccine and effectively downplayed any reporting of the benefits of getting it.


1991 – a book titled A Shot in the Dark once again attempted to assert various risks with the vaccine. Parents formed victim advocacy groups to keep the vaccine away from their children, but scientific bodies like the CDCP and Academy of Pediatrics presented strong counter-arguments.


Like in the UK, the controversy sparked a number of court cases that had absolutely no positive effect, but DID manage to drive the price of the DTP vaccine sky high when various drug manufacturers stopped making it to avoid public scrutiny.


The Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) Controversy


1998 – Andrew Wakefield, another doctor, called for a thorough investigation of possible links between the MMR vaccine and things like bowel disease and autism. He later alleged that the vaccine had not undergone adequate testing prior to its distribution. The media descended upon these stories, which created yet another public panic. Wakefield's findings were published in a medical journal called The Lancet, which, in 2004 stated publicly that it the report should never have been published.


“The General Medical Council, an independent regulator for doctors in the UK, found that Wakefield had a “fatal conflict of interest.” He had been paid by a law board to find out if there was evidence to support a litigation case by parents who believed that the vaccine had harmed their children.”


2010 – Formal retraction of the Wakefield study, Wakefield loses his medical license


2011, BMJ publishes a series of reports that showed that Wakefield was guilty of scientific fraud by way of falsifying data, AND that he saw potential for personal gain by making his false claims.


No study since has found any link whatsoever between the MMR vaccine and Autism


Thimerosal and Autism


Thimerosal was also a point of controversy surrounding vaccines and autism in the late 90s into the early 00s. It's a preservative that has now been phased out of newer vaccines that came under a lot of scrutiny but had nothing but anecdotal evidence to back up the claims. But here is how that one panned out:

1999 – Leading public health organizations call for the reduction and eventual elimination of thimerosal “as a precautionary measure.” Read that as, “look, kids need these vaccines and we don't want parents having any excuse not to get them.” But the preservative was not in any way, shape, or form harmful.


2001 – The Institute of Medicine’s Immunization Safety Review Committee issues a report stating that there not enough evidence existed to either prove or disprove that thimerosal causes autism or any of the other things it was blamed for like hypersensitivity disorder, or speech and language delay (both features of Autism).


Only certain flu vaccines still contain thimerosal.


“Although the time periods have changed, the emotions and deep-rooted beliefs—whether philosophical, political, or spiritual—that underlie vaccine opposition have remained relatively consistent since Edward Jenner introduced vaccination.”


Jenny McCarthy


There have been a number of celebrity anti-vaxxers, but none with a bigger voice than Jenny McCarthy. For those who don't know, Jenny McCarthy found her spotlight first as a Playboy Centerfold in the 1990s. She has tried her hand at acting, hosting talk shows, game shows, etc. since.


Her involvement in the anti-vaxx movement started around 2007 and she takes many of her cues from Andrew Wakefield even though it's VERY common knowledge that he was a fraud. She also likes to talk about how she “cured” her son's autism which, as a parent of an autistic adult, I find patently offensive. Autism isn't a disease. It can't be “cured” and doesn't need to be.


The CDC declared Measles as eliminated in the year 2000. Since then, with anti-vaxing becoming more mainstream, current numbers show over 700 cases of Measles in the U.S. alone, the highest number since 1994.


In a 2010 statement, McCarthy openly voiced her support of Dr. Wakefield, stating that he was "being discredited to prevent an historic study from being published." She went on to describe him as "one of the world's most respected and well-published gastroenterologists."


In 2013 Jenny McCarthy joined "The View" as a co-host. This started a firestorm of criticism from journalists, doctors, and other actual experts in the fields of vaccination and autism research. They rightly feared that giving her that kind of a mouthpiece would lead to the further spread of errant information on vaccinations. Source: https://archives.cjr.org/united_states_project/media_errs_giving_balanced_coverage_to_jenny_mccarthys_discredited_views.php?page=all


From Insider.com: In a letter to ABC at the time, Slate writer Phil Plait said that "Ms. McCarthy is a vocal activist for highly dangerous health ideas, including the mistaken belief that vaccines cause autism. While the world suffers outbreaks of measles and pertussis, Ms. McCarthy continues to advocate against vaccines. Having her host a respected show like 'The View' would damage its reputation.


“Michael Specter, of The New Yorker, also stated that McCarthy was “the show's first co-host whose dangerous views on childhood vaccination may — if only indirectly — have contributed to the sickness and death of people throughout the Western world."


Katrina vanden Heuvel from The Nation also wrote that McCarthy's anti-vaxx beliefs, "have been roundly dismissed and discredited by doctors and scientists, who insist that her claims are based on no scientific data or research." Source: https://www.insider.com/jenny-mccarthy-became-the-face-of-the-anti-vaxx-movement-2019-4


I want for us all to bookmark this as a precursory comment on the dangers of belief as it relates to this subject. Jenny McCarthy may not be an evangelical (her background is actually Catholic) but she is the perfect avatar for how evangelicals think and behave. Even with the truth literally in front of her in black and white, she chooses to believe the charismatic self-proclaimed expert over the sound findings of trusted medical and scientific bodies on at least two continents. She also has enough momentum behind her to fuel widespread rejection of sound, observable, scientific evidence in favor of messaging based on nothing more than the signature emotionalism and sensationalism that drives evangelical thought and behavior. It's nice to know that her stint on The View was relatively short. Barbara Walters couldn't put up with her bullshit and was vocal about not wanting her on the show anymore.


One significant thing that I have learned about evangelicals is that their specific agenda is a very small platform. Their key initiative is spreading their beliefs and continuously broadening their audience to reach more people with their messaging.


They almost never start conspiracies. Instead, they latch onto things that already have widespread attention throughout society and perpetuate the worst kinds of thinking about them. Why? Because they know that their biggest demographic is always going to be people who prefer to let other people do their thinking for them, and I think we all know that that accounts for an alarming number of people out there. So when they find issues like anti-masking and anti-vaxxing, they jump on the conspiracy bandwagon and start touting conspiracy as truth...


...and people believe them.


And once they have people's attention, they follow through with their spiritual messaging and, having already established trust with the people they want to influence, they watch their support base grow, church attendance numbers rise, and, most importantly, donations increase, even if it's only temporary. Because, at the end of the day, they don't care about the people. They care about what those people can do for them.


Evangelical Hysteria


Source: https://www.dw.com/en/american-evangelicals-and-the-resistance-to-covid-vaccines/a-55957915


“Critics have accused right-wing fundamentalist pastors of perpetuating baseless theories that encourage their flock to ignore public health data and experts fighting the coronavirus. Some unfounded claims include the assertion that the vaccine is the mark of the beast, or will cause sterilization in women.”


  • They continue asserting that the virus isn't real

  • Pastors and televangelists who acknowledge it continue promising protection in exchange for continued loyalty and financial support

  • It is in the best interest of pastors of large churches to acknowledge it because it creates another avenue of fear that they can allay with baseless promises of protection and immunity

  • They perpetuate distrust of any scientific, social, or governmental body that refutes the validity of any of those promises

  • Many sects, especially white evangelicals, take their good-versus-evil delusion to extremes with anything that has a good conspiracy theory (or any conspiracy theory) behind it

  • Evangelicals in general distrust and reject science at every turn


Pastor Tony Spell of the Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been noted for defying pandemic guidelines since the coronavirus reached US soil. He has held mass church gatherings when state regulations deemed them illegal — and also rejects warnings that the pandemic is dangerous.


"We're anti-mask, anti-social distancing, and anti-vaccine," Spell [said]. He believes the vaccine is politically motivated and will ultimately make you sick, even though available evidence points to the contrary. Spell says he will continue to discourage his followers from taking the vaccine as it is distributed throughout the country.” (ibid)


A Pew Research survey in July 2020 revealed that nearly “70% of the public have at least heard the pandemic was planned by so-called elites and 36% of those polled believed it was true.” (ibid)


Suspicion among Christian conservatives surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine is a culmination of decades of growing distrust in science, modern medicine, and what is described as the global elite. It's also the root of the larger rejection of vaccines that have for decades helped nearly eradicate several serious diseases, including measles and polio.” (ibid)


“The fear among many right-wing evangelicals is that global leaders are making decisions without biblical input and against the will of the Christian God.”


Let's not forget that Donald Trump was (and continues to be) a major influencer in the minds of evangelicals about this...


  • Called COVID a hoax more than once

  • Made light of wearing masks

  • Was almost never seen wearing a mask

  • Received the best possible medical care when he got it and told people who couldn't possibly afford or even gain access to some of the services and treatments he did that it wasn't all that serious

  • Also believes that vaccines cause Autism and tweeted about that more than once


Evangelicals have been perpetuating a multitude of conspiracy theories about the vaccine, beginning in Summer of 2020 when the major vaccines currently available were still largely in various stages of testing and development. They have picked up on some of these more than others, but all have gotten the attention of evangelicals, particularly evangelical leaders. Remember, if your pastor says it's true, it's true. Period...


Disappearing Needles – this one hit twitter after a video uploaded by the BBC shows a patient getting a shot with a SELF-RETRACTING SAFETY NEEDLE. The video shows the needle going in and “disappearing” which many decided was a CGI blunder or the use of a low-budget prop syringe.


The Invisible Dead Nurse – Facebook and Twitter posts alleging that a nurse died hours after getting the vaccine. No names, pictures, news links, OR AVAILABLE VACCINES. That's right... this one started BEFORE vaccines began being distributed to first responders and healthcare workers.


Bells Palsy – Another rumor alleges that the vaccine carries the possible side effect of Bells Palsy – a condition that weakens or paralyzes facial muscles


The Ask The Experts Video – Good luck finding this one anymore because it's been banned basically everywhere, but it included fake testimonials and information sources presented to scare people out of getting vaccinated. https://apnews.com/article/fact-checking-afs:Content:9837440018


Microchip tracking – Don't take the vaccine! It's got tracking chips in it that the government can use to track your every move! You mean like your cell phone?


Bill Gates – This conspiracy theory asserts that the founder of Microsoft funded development and deployment of COVID 19 to sell vaccines from companies in which he has heavily invested. Um... Bill Gates has more money than his great grandchildren's great grandchildren will ever be able to spend. The notion that he would unleash a virus on the entire world to make money is ludicrous. That and the theory lacks that one thing that evangelicals like to avoid at all costs: PROOF.


The vaccine alters your DNA – and does what? Turns us all into ninja turtles? OK, here's the real answer from The Atlantic:

“A public hesitance to purchase genetically modified foods, combined with concerns about the nature of gene-editing technologies such as CRISPR, might have influenced the “altered DNA” narrative, especially given the newness of the vaccine’s mRNA technology.” Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/01/familiarity-strangest-vaccine-conspiracy-theories/617572/


You'll get COVID!!!! - How? There's no COVID in the vaccine.


But like we've talked about before, people are going to latch onto anything that validates their position, even if they have to resort to the worst kind of confirmation bias in their “research.” And with the group in question, “research” typically means words that come from the other side of a pulpit.


Now, I've issued calls to action to pastors before on topics like masking and Christian counseling, for all the good it does. There are many evangelical ministers out there, particularly in larger churches with lots of faithful tithers, keep proving over and over again that they don't care about individuals. I mean, they've been taught to care about individuals (Luke 15 – parable of the lost sheep is a prime example), but at the end of the day, most are far more concerned with advancing agendas than they are advancing the Gospel even if it means people are hurt or killed.


A humanitarian response to all of this would be to simply look at the data, get your information from good sources, and make intelligent decisions about what you say from the pulpit. But that's not at all what happens, is it? Nope. The agenda wins out every single time, and in this instance, the anti-vaxx agenda WILL result in deaths if left onchecked. Lots of deaths.


People, the vaccines are safe. They have some side effects but no one has died as a result of getting them. There are no microchips in them. Your pastor is not a biologist, chemist, or any other type of science or medical professional. He has ZERO business giving you advice about ANY of this. Bill Gates doesn't need your money, and Donald Trump is a fucking idiot.


If you're making your decision about whether or not to vax up based on conspiracy or blind loyalty to a failed demagogue, OR at the behest of a pastor who is STILL out there promising that you'll be immune by no other means than God's grace, it's time to wake up. The numbers are dropping rapidly in locales that have easy, consistent access to the vaccines. And while current projections seem to indicate another summer of masking up at the beach, this can, and should, be done by the end of this year if we all pull together and do what we need to do to keep ourselves and others around us safe.


To the evangelicals out there who are trying to decide whether or not to get the vaccine, let me give you a few things to think about. First, forget what your pastor says. He's a man. What would JESUS do? The Jesus YOU worship. The one with enough love and compassion for humanity to sacrifice his life to save it. The one who put people ahead of politics. The one who overturned the tables in the temple when people tried to profit off of other people's faith. What would HE do? Would he latch on to conspiracy theories or would he simply extend his arm and take that needle to save as many people as he could. He took nails to do that once, didn't he?


And, no, I haven't suddenly re-developed a belief in any of this, but when viewed from that perspective, I do think you're being given a few glaring examples of what YOU should be emulating as part of your faith. It is, of course, my sincere hope that you eventually learn the value of doing right for right's sake, but right now, while you still need a reason, look to the example of your savior. You'll get better advice from him than you will any pastor.


Also think about how badly you want all of this COVID nonsense to be over. Think about how amazing it's going to be to actually see people smile again. Think of what it will be like to not have to worry about social distancing anymore. Think about what it would be like to not be afraid of getting this awful thing anymore. Think about not worrying every time your child leaves for school and wondering what he or she is going to bring home with them. How badly do you want these things?


The good news is that you can do more than pray for it. You can roll up your sleeve, extend your arm, and make a small personal sacrifice for the good of your family, your friends, and the girl who is still checking out your groceries while she battles with crippling stress and anxiety, wondering when she, too, will test positive. Alleviate a little of that for her. Protect her. And protect yourself. It's the best way to emulate the attitudes and actions of your savior.


For the rest of us, get the facts and get the vax. We're going to be the ones that move those numbers most significantly. I, myself, hate needles. But I get a flu shot every year, and I'll get poked twice for this to not have to mask up in public anymore. Let's help bring back smiles and civility. Let's do our part to lessen the unrest that's just been building up for over a year and the anger, rage, and violence that comes with it.


See, we talk about getting unbound on this show as breaking free from the bondage of oppression that evangelical faith keeps us under, but we have an even bigger opportunity right now. We have the opportunity to stop this thing in its tracks and we should be using it. We should be showing the anti-vaxxers, many of whom are part of this religion, how easy it is to just be a little compassionate and empathetic to our fellow humans. We should be showing them just how easy it is to follow their perceived example of christlikeness and not need Christ to pull it off.


Because if we do all these things and take two tiny jabs to the arm in the name of public safety, this entire country, and the rest of our world can make COVID a thing of the past. And I can't think of a single more important, mature, compassionate, and PATRIOTIC way right now that we can do that than to just get this very safe, very effective, and very necessary vaccine as soon as we possibly can. We have the opportunity – and we should take it – to help heal our world of this awful virus, and get ourselves and the people around us finally, effectively, and completely unbound from it once and for all.