It’s not infrequent that I come under fire from antivaccinationists for, ironically enough, calling them antivaccinationists. “Oh, no,” they protest, “I’m not antivaccine. How dare you call me that? I’m actually a vaccine safety advocate.” Of course, when you probe more closely and ask a few questions, almost inevitably you’ll find that in reality they believe that no vaccine is safe, no way, no how, making the difference between their view of vaccine safety and being antivaccine a distinction without a real difference. Actually, it’s more a delusion on the part of antivaccinationists, because any reasonable person who looks carefully at their views will see that there is often no vaccine under any circumstance whose use these “vaccine safety activists” will support. No matter how much you probe, you’ll have a hard time getting them to support the use of any vaccine ever. Why?
Because in reality they’re antivaccine, that’s why.
What’s often particularly revealing are the analogies that antivaccinationists will use to describe vaccines and the effects they believe them to be causing. In particular, the most common myth over the last fifteen years or so that’s been driving the fear of vaccines among the antivaccine movement is the now scientifically discredited hypothesis that childhood vaccines (or the thimerosal preservative that used to be in childhood vaccines — or both) cause or predispose infants and children to developing autism. In fact, I can’t remember having encountered a single antivaccinationist active over the last several years who hasn’t strongly believed that vaccines cause, contribute, or predispose to autism. Arguably, the key to the entire modern antivaccine movement is the concept that there is an “autism epidemic” due to — you guessed it — vaccines. It is not my purpose in this particular post to refute that concept given how often I’ve written about the issue before. Suffice it to say that issues such as the broadening of the diagnostic criteria for autism and autism spectrum disorders, diagnostic substitution, increased screening and awareness, and other factors quite likely account for much, if not all of the current apparent increase in autism and ASD prevalence. Indeed, when the CDC announced that autism prevalence is now one in 88, antivaccinationists went wild, pointing to it as “evidence” that there is an autism epidemic.
The analogies used in the wake of that report are most revealing, as you will see, and support the contention that, all their denials that they are antivaccine notwithstanding, “antivaccine” describes such denialists almost perfectly.
The first metaphor I encountered when I first became interested in the vaccine-autism manufactroversy was the “autism tsunami.” That metaphor clearly became popular in early 2005 in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami that in December 2004 killed over 200,000 people. References to the “autism tsunami” are many, as any quick Google search will tell you. It’s a metaphor that antivaccinationists still use. For example, Ann Dachel, media editor for the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, did a post in December entitled Denying the Tsunami — L.A. Times, Meet New Jersey’s Autism Services Crisis. It’s become such a commonly used metaphor among antivaccinationists that even relatively mainstream sources without an antivaccine agenda sometimes use it, for instance in this article entitled simply The Autism Tsunami, or an article entitled Locals Prepare for ‘Tsunami’ of Adults with Autism, or even this press release from the University of Toledo entitled New autism center poised to meet ‘coming tsunami.’
Think about this for a moment. Antivaccinationists are likening autism to a huge wave that engulfs everything it hits and is capable of killing hundreds of thousands of people in a very short period of time. Leaving aside the deaths that tsunamis cause, the image is clearly meant to convey images of an implacable wave that overwhelms everything. That’s autism to antivaccinationists, and the image has seeped into the verbiage used by people who should know better, such as a director of a center of excellence in autism. And that’s arguably the least histrionic metaphor that antivaccinationists use.
April, it turns out, encompasses two anniversaries of tragic events. In the wake of the CDC report, which was released during the last week of March (no doubt in anticipation of April’s being Autism Awareness Month), the antivaccine movement has taken full advantage of the publicity and memories that these dates bring. For example, is anyone out there unaware that we recently passed the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic? There have been news stories, the rerelease of a 3D version of James Cameron’s Titanic, numerous documentaries on The History Channel and several other cable channels, and a new miniseries about the sinking of the Titanic by the creator of Downton Abbey.
Leave it to the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism and the equally cranky antivaccine blog Thinking Moms’ Revolution to liken autism (which they view as being caused by vaccines) as — you guessed it — being like the Titanic sinking. For instance, our old “friend” Jake Crosby wrote a post entitled The Titanic Wave of Autism: “You will lie there and drown!”, in which Jake uses the observation that his great-great-grandfather and mother were passengers on the Titanic and his great-great-grandfather died in the sinking as a jumping off point to write:
As with the Titanic, there are real lives at stake and inaction will cost more lives. There is a modern, manmade epidemic of titanic proportions largely caused by our vaccine program, which shields vaccine makers from personal injury litigation. We do not have anything to fear of challenging people like Seth Mnookin or Paul Offit at their speaking events around the country, only what the consequences of not challenging them will bring. As long as we do not, our nation will lie there and drown in its own complacency.
Meanwhile, over at the Thinking Moms’ Revolution, someone named Mountain Momma puts the lie to her blog’s name by writing a post entitled Abandoning ship:
As the mother of a child with vaccine injury and autism, my perspective is a little less cerebral:
I am standing on a pier surrounded by thousands of onlookers, oblivious of impending doom. I see my friends and family and their beautiful children board the ship and wave from the deck. I frantically push my way through the crowd screaming warnings, “Get off the ship. It’s not safe. PLEASE get off the boat.” The crowd is loud; they can’t hear me. I know there aren’t enough lifeboats. I know the ship is going down. I know there will be casualties. My loved ones blow kisses as the confetti drops and the band plays on. With a crack of a bottle, the ship sets sail.
This is how it feels to me when I try to tell the people I love about vaccine damage. No matter what has happened to my child, no matter what my personal experience has taught me, I am only one tiny voice in a very loud crowd – a crowd that has only heard of the grandeur of this magnificent voyage. They believe they have boarded an unsinkable ship.
So let’s see: Vaccines and autism are like the sinking of a ship in which 1,500 people died. And this isn’t antivaccine? I call bullshit.
But even that’s not the worst of it. On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed, with heavy casualties. A massive explosion due to a truck bomb devastated the building, killing 168 people, including children in the daycare center in the building. It wasn’t long before Timothy McVeigh was arrested for the crime. Ultimately, he was executed for his terrorist act.
I bet you can predict what’s coming.
That’s right, over at everybody’s favorite antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism, Kim Stagliano makes a most offensive comparison in a post entitled April Is Not OK, in which she notes that April is Autism Awareness Month and uses this most horrific April event as a metaphor for the “autism tsunami” or the “autism Titanic.” Yes, now we have the autism Oklahoma City bombing:
Our government has sat by and calculated how to sugarcoat the unfolding catastrophe that is swallowing families as greedily as the brick and mortar crushed so many in Oklahoma on that terrible day. Autism rates have skyrocketed from 1 in 250 just a few years ago to at least 1 in 88 today. 1 in 54 boys.
If you are a woman of childbearing years you should be quaking in your boots. Autism takes the entire family like a bomb. Nothing is ever the same even where there is joy and happiness. NOTHING is ever the same.
There are Tim McVeighs behind this epidemic. They hide in high places. We’ve elected them. They work in the media. They are physicians. They create laws and medical edicts you must follow. They set policy. They know.
They loaded the truck and haven’t taken their foot off the gas pedal yet.
This is a woman who oh-so-piously denies oh-so-self-righteously that she is “antivaccine.” Yet she likens what she views as vaccine-induced autism to what was, at least before the September 11 terrorist attacks, the worst act of terrorism on U.S. soil. I also must admit that I am pleasantly surprised that I have yet to see antivaccinationists use the September 11 attacks as a metaphor for “vaccine-induced autism,” but it’s probably just because I’ve been lucky enough to avoid it and not sufficiently persistent on Google not to have encountered it yet. I don’t plan on looking hard. Be that as it may, I have to call bullshit again. There’s no other word to describe Stagliano’s claim that she is pro-safety and not antivaccine. Come to think of it, that’s true of nearly every antivaccine activist I’ve encountered.
Indeed, just yesterday, the antivaccine crank blog AoA demonstrated to me yet again why I am correct in referring to it as the antivaccine crank blog when it published a post by Cathy Jameson entitled Trifecta! In this post, Jameson notes that this week (April 21 to 28) is National Infant Immunization Week. Now, to most people, NIIW is something entirely uncontroversial, as well it should be. Vaccines are arguably the single greatest development of modern, science-based medicine in that they have arguably saved more lives and prevented more morbidity than any single intervention devised by human minds. Not to Jameson. To her, vaccines are pure evil and to be feared:
That’s okay. The CDC still gets to pat themselves on the back this week. The second half of their “celebration” is all about them as they “…celebrate the achievements of immunization programs and their partners in promoting healthy communities…” Hmmmm. Vax programs and their partners? Partners in what, crime? Or partners like you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours? Here’s how this plays out in my head: We (the vax promoting people) will grab and stab the baby and then pawn lil Johnny off to you (the partners) when he falls ill from the vaccines we pump into him. We’ll then send sick, distressed lil Johnny to your practice so you can write script after script after script that we endorse. We’ll both make money here, there and everywhere! Just don’t tell Unsuspecting Mumsy what’s really going on. And, never tell her that the 1 in a million adverse reactions is really more like 1 in 88.
Why on God’s green earth did it become common place to take healthy infants and inject them with rounds and rounds of vaccines? After all these years I am still trying to figure out the logical behind that practice. It doesn’t make sense when other natural preventative practices can help boost the immune system quite nicely. But, that’s not what the CDC is promoting.
Yes, because all those “natural preventative practices” worked so well against vaccine-preventable diseases and it took vaccines to cause their incidence to plummet. Of course, this is the same woman who has been known to liken vaccination to a “medical assault” and a “criminal act.
So let me see. Antivaccinationists get very indignant when it is pointed out to them that they are, in fact, antivaccinationists. This characterization bothers them because they perceive themselves as somehow being “pro-safety” or “vaccine safety activists.” Oh, sure, a few of them openly proclaim themselves antivacicne, but most of them appear not to, mainly because at some level they must realize that most people don’t think that being antivaccine is a good thing. Yet, each and every day, they belie that claim not to be antivaccine by using as their favorite metaphors for vaccination and the health problems they believe it to cause a tsunami, the Titanic, or the Oklahoma City bombing, while lamenting that there is such a think as NIIW. I’ve even started finding references to autism being a “plague.” I suppose I should be grateful that they don’t use Holocaust analogies.
“Vaccine safety activists” or antivaccine activists? I think the answer is obvious, which is why I call…well, you know what I call when I see an antivaccinationist claiming she is “not antivaccine.”