It's that time of year again. The holidays begin. People start planning their travel, their time with families, their escape routes. Oh, and that wonderful time of year when the antivax hordes emerge with insidious anti-public health videos that they talk idiot corporations into running for the public. Yep. In lock-step with the buildup to flu season, it's Anti-Vax Season, again. November is the witching month for antivax groups, bringing out the videos, the shrill misinformation campaigns, the dangerous anti-public health lies. While I get the timing--it's flu season, after all, so the more people we can ensure become ill, severely ill, or die from the flu, presumably the better--but why do they do it? What motivates this November lurch toward the irrational?
Today is November 3, 2011. The National Vaccine Information Center--which is missing the prefix "mis" in there somewhere-- is running an advertisements on Delta flights, videos that are essentially anti-vaccine propaganda and shilling for their misinformation Website. Skepchick et al. have blogged the video in all of its egregiousness and provided a link to a Change.org petition you can sign calling for it not to be shown. On an airplane. Tin tubes of contagion that airplanes are.
Part of their tactic is almost always to tell a half truth, the half that scares the shit out of people. For example, they might say--wait, they have said--that the "flu vaccine contains mercury." Multidose vials contain thimerosal, which introduces trace amounts of mercury into the vaccine. But how do you counter these half-factual claims meant to monger fear while conceding that there is a kernel of truth to them? That's where they get you. They have simplicity, emotion, and buzzwords on their side while all the rational people who are well informed have is information. Sometimes complex, public health information.
An example of the complexity of the information and how easy it is to misrepresent is a widely circulated list in the antivax community of cases involving people who have been "damaged" or killed by vaccines. The list is scary sounding. It involves young children, sometimes in crisis within hours of having received a vaccine. But the details of each case show a far more complex clinical background often with severe pre-existing conditions. These are not things that are easy to say. This is not information that one can convey in a soundbite carrying the necessary counterweight against all the emotions burdening the statement, "A child died within days of receiving a vaccine."
The NVIC website claims that the organization does "not advocate for or against the use of vaccines." That is clearly untrue, but it is an example of the insidious calm-seeming, equitable-appearing presentation that the most clever among the antivaxers will employ. How comforting to come across language like that that assures you of objectivity on the one hand but then types like a concern troll with the other. The primary recompense for those who run NVIC appears to be the same benefit that the Crusaders and all crusaders before and after must have felt: a mix of doggedness, self satisfaction, hysteria, and martyrdom.
Sometimes, though, the motivation is a bit more clear. Mercola, notorious purveyor of eponymous woo products, went after the H1N1 vaccine in 2009 with a list of "facts" about it that were simply breathtaking in their smug half-truthiness. Two years ago today, on November 3, 2009, I posted those "Facts" and what the clearly intended implications were, countering each with the real information and followed by an update of the growing epidemic of the flu that year. Mercola also urges his devoted followers--and purchasers of his products--that "we can win this war on forced vaccination in America." War on preventative medicine? Next, we'll have a war against using umbrellas when it rains.
One year ago on November 9, 2010, I blogged about the just-posted SafeMinds video, a video that SafeMinds wanted to run in movie theaters, and that some chains had agreed to run. (The antivax response, by the way, to the Skepchick who blogged and successfully campaigned against having these videos shown in theaters, was to personally attack her and her infant.) SafeMinds also has taken upon itself to publish confusing and contradictory research articles about vaccines, but that's another story. One I blogged here.
Whatever the motivations--crusader, martyr, moneymaker--there's just something about November, the crisp fall air, the post-Halloween sugar crash, that makes gives the antivax folks that desperate, near-religious urge to spread more misinformation just in time for the holidays. You know, that time of year when people travel, gather with long-missed relatives, meet new, unvaccinated babies for the first time, fly in those tin tubes of contagion known as airplanes. And take their bacteria and the viruses with them, wherever they go. Enjoy your holiday season, but please...enjoy it vaccinated.
[Photo credit, via Flickr: Lego Thanksgiving complete with trolls. Are they concern trolls? Not sure.]