Covid and the Rise of the Anti-Vaxxing Movement
Until the last year or two, I’d never paid any attention to the anti-vaxxing movement, which very occasionally received some coverage in my newspapers. It seemed to mostly consist of a small slice of agitated women from affluent suburbs, morbidly fearful that the standard series of childhood vaccinations would injure their infants, perhaps producing autism or other serious disabilities. I regarded them almost as an eccentric cult that I mentally filed away with Scientologists or UFO adherents.
That all changed in 2020 as the massive Covid epidemic led the Trump Administration to propose an equally massive roll-out of mRNA vaccines, which were rushed into release without undergoing the usual years of careful clinical trials. Given the new technology employed—which effectively hijacked the body’s own cellular machinery into producing portions of the Covid spike-protein—and the lack of testing, it’s hardly surprising that many individuals were fearful of such injections. Indeed, there were plausible claims that the heavy media campaign against alternative Covid treatments relying upon HCQ and IVM had actually been orchestrated, intended to ensure that the lack of effective alternative drugs would allow the government to use its emergency powers to deploy the Covid vaccines without the lengthy normal testing process. This government-sponsored vaccination project had raised the market value of the large vaccine manufacturers by hundreds of billions of dollars, provoking the reasonable suspicions of cynical observers.
So by 2021 our website was flooded by waves of militant anti-vaxxers, while many of our existing writers and commenters also latched onto that same issue, sometimes to the near-exclusion of most others, a situation that greatly irritated me. Their wild outcries warned that the mRNA vaccines would kill millions—or even billions—perhaps as part of a diabolical globalist plot by Bill Gates to depopulate the earth. All of this seemed like stark, raving lunacy to me, and I regularly said so, incurring their ferocious outrage.
I felt that their basic concern about the widespread use of a relatively untested medical technology might have possible merit. But on balance, the risks appeared smaller than the dangerous Covid epidemic it was intended to mitigate, at least according to an overwhelming large majority of medical professionals. Given my lack of personal expertise, that was the most I could say. So I got my shots, stopped paying any attention to the issue, and hoped for the best.
Fortunately, two years of statistical data now seems to indicate that the medical establishment had mostly been correct and its fervent critics mistaken, and in several recent articles I’d shown that across numerous countries, the number of non-elderly vaccine deaths seems almost invisibly low, too small to be noticeable in the mortality statistics. Anti-vaxxers frequently claim that the vaccines are responsible for a large wave of sudden deaths among youthful individuals and athletes; but the evidence suggests that these are much more likely due to the lingering consequences of Covid infections rather than the vaccines intended to combat the virus, as I’ve discussed in several recent articles:
- Vaxxing Deaths or Covid Deaths?
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • January 2, 2023 • 3,300 Words
- Obesity and the End of the Vaxxing Debate?
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • January 9, 2023 • 2,800 Words
- Vaxxing, Covid, and International Mortality Rates
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • January 23, 2023 • 4,500 Words
It’s certainly not impossible that the long-term consequences of mRNA injections might be harmful, but at least so far there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of this, which is the most we can expect at this stage.
The Surprising Flaws in Vaccine Safety Testing
To a huge extent, concerns about mRNA-based Covid vaccines have come to define today’s anti-vaxxing movement, so much so that they seem to be the main focus of perhaps 95% or 98% of all the angry anti-vaxxers I’ve encountered over the last couple of years. Indeed, many of these activists have explicitly said that they’d feel fairly comfortable with the more traditional Covid vaccines released by Russia and various other countries. Although I’m sure that most of the original anti-vaxxers of 2019 are still around, they seem to have been reduced to a tiny minority in the movement that they once pioneered.
However, those earlier vaxxing concerns still have a presence here and there, and a few months ago I received a book on exactly that broader subject, published under the auspices of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s Children’s Health Defense organization. It had originally been released in 2019, long before anyone had ever heard of Covid or Wuhan, so it had nothing to do with this current issues, but addressed the previous vaccine controversy. The authors were anonymous—supposedly a couple of Israeli medical doctors—and their work had originally been published in their own country, but had now been released in an English-language American edition. Except for a few simple charts, the contents consisted entirely of text, and the title was a puzzling one: Turtles All the Way Down. But the explanatory subtitle of “Vaccine Science and Myth” alerted me to the topic, and given my lack of interest in the vaxxing issue, I put it on the shelf, never intending to read it. After all, since I’d concluded that the radically new mRNA Covid vaccines probably seemed harmless, how likely was it that the traditional ones that had been used for so many decades were actually dangerous?
However, in early October I happened to listen to Kevin Barrett’s interview with Zoey O’Toole, one of the editors of the American edition of Turtles. To my considerable surprise, she came across as quite rational and persuasive, making all sorts of very reasonable points, and raising important issues that I’d never previously considered, so I dug out the book and decided to spend a couple of days reading it.
I was really quite impressed. Most of the Covid anti-vaxxers I’d encountered on the Internet were prone to making wild, very doubtful charges involving gigantic body-counts but I encountered very little of such grandiosity in this extremely sober 500 page discussion of the subject.
Yet although the tone and the factual claims were quite restrained, in many other respects this book constituted a far more radical critique of vaccines than anything I’d previously seen, amounting to a frontal assault against their traditional role in modern medicine. Turtles aimed at overthrowing what most of us had long assumed we knew about those established public health measures, so I was hardly surprised that the authors chose to conceal their names for fear of professional retribution. According to the foreword to the American edition, some months after its original publication the book had received a strongly favorable review in Israel’s leading medical journal, but the senior academics who praised it were then harshly vilified by a medical establishment that was unwilling to directly challenge the substance of the text they had applauded. The front of the book is studded with lengthy endorsements by nearly a dozen medical professionals and other academics, certainly enough support for me to take the book seriously rather than merely dismissing it out of hand. Just over a year ago, I’d been stunned by the contents of Kennedy’s own #1 Amazon best-seller, and since then I’ve grown much more cautious in accepting the conventional wisdom of the medical establishment.
Turtles provides some 1,200 references, which fill 273 pages of an online document, but just as in the case of the Kennedy book, I haven’t attempted to check any of them, partly because I lack the technical expertise to properly do so. According to the editors, the claims of the authors have not been obviously refuted in the three years since publication. So without taking any position on the issues, I’ll merely do my best to summarize some of their main arguments, encouraging those so interested to read the book and decide for themselves.
A central theme of anti-vaxxers has been that many of the vaccines they criticize actually have serious adverse side effects, sometimes doing more harm than good, and I’d always been quite skeptical of this claim. After all, I’d known that prior to their general release new vaccines must typically go through a long period of clinical trials, in which they are matched in randomized, blinded large-scale tests against placebos. But the very first chapter of Turtles claimed that this was mostly a myth and a deception.
According to the authors, such vaccine trials are not conducted against true placebos such as saline solutions, but only against previously approved vaccines. So a new treatment is considered safe if its rate of harmful side-effects is no worse than those of previously approved versions rather than no treatment at all, an illogical approach that seems to make little sense. Thus, the supposed safety and efficacy of current vaccines has only been established relative to a long series of their predecessors, often stretching back decades, and this constitutes the “Turtles All the Way Down” metaphor of the book’s title. This sort of very simple factual claim seems unlikely to have been made unless it were actually true.
Surprisingly enough, the tested rate of adverse vaccine side-effects is sometimes quite significant. For example, during the clinical trials of the Prevnar vaccine, about 6% of the 17,000 infants tested needed emergency room visits and 3% required hospitalization. But because the previous vaccine used for comparison purposes had similarly high rates of negative side-effects, Prevnar was judged safe and effective, a shocking verdict.
There are also cases in which no previously approved version of the vaccine existed for use in such a comparison trial, and one might naturally assume that the only possible choice would be to use a true placebo such a saline solution. Yet as Turtles reveals, in that situation a deliberately crippled version of the vaccine itself is given to the other half of the trial population, a compound which could not provide any benefits but would still probably produce all the same adverse side-effects. The most plausible reason for this strange methodology would be to mask the existence of those adverse side-effects, thereby ensuring the vaccine’s approval.
Turtles summarizes this outrageous situation by stating that each year tens of millions of vaccine doses are administered to infants and toddlers in America, and not a single one of them has ever been tested in clinical trials against an inert placebo. None of this proves that any of these vaccines are dangerous, but it certainly raises that serious possibility. Pilots who fly blind may not necessarily crash, but they probably have a much greater chance of doing so.
Once a vaccine has passed its clinical trials and been approved for general use, any future problems that might appear are supposedly covered by VAERS, the “Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System,” whose name indicates its role of bringing any such problems to the attention of public health authorities. Turtles devotes a full chapter to this system, which the authors claim is very poorly designed and quite unreliable.
In particular, the reporting system is entirely voluntary, so that medical professionals are not obligated to file reports regarding harmful results they have encountered, even those involving the most severe reactions. This suggests that a large degree of under-reporting may be occurring, while at the same time false or misleading reports can also be filed by anyone, without any verification process.
As a result, the data collected by VAERS is statistically suspect and probably quite unreliable, and the authors are suspicious as to why those huge defects in such a seemingly vital system have been left uncorrected for decades. They suspect that these flaws may be deliberate, intended to mask the dangers of the vaccines the system is supposedly meant to monitor.
The authors recognize that skeptical readers may find it difficult to believe that ill-effects from so widespread a product as vaccines might have remained concealed for decades, so they take a short digression into the past history of disease epidemiology. They note that lung cancer was once extremely rare, but then suddenly began to appear in the early part of the twentieth century around the same time that cigarette smoking became widespread, and did so in many of the same populations. But although scientists began pointing to the possible connection and the supporting statistical evidence, that causal relationship was fiercely disputed for decades, partly because of the wealth and power of the industry responsible. Turtles suggests that this tragic history, which led to the premature deaths of millions of lung cancer victims, should be kept carefully in mind as we consider the issue of vaccine safety.
By the late 1990s, renewed questions regarding the safety of vaccines were beginning to appear in the scientific literature, notably the 1998 publication of a hugely controversial study concerning the safety of the MMR vaccine by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues in the Lancet, a leading medical journal. In addition, the appearance of the Internet for the first time allowed ordinary individuals to share their experiences and concerns, and organize themselves to investigate these issues.
But according to Turtles, the response of the vaccine establishment was to release a series of studies debunking these concerns, studies that the authors argue were severely flawed, biased, and possibly even corrupt, but which were heavily promoted by the medical establishment and its subservient media allies. They devote most of a long chapter to analyzing five of these major studies in considerable detail, noting that some of the most influential contained errors that seemed to severely damage their credibility. Remarkably enough, the raw data presented in one of the most important, the 2002 Madsen study of Danish children, actually seemed to support the opposite conclusion, suggesting that the vaccine indeed had dangerous side-effects, but various dubious statistical “adjustments” were then employed to produce the desired, reassuring result.
At this point the authors raised a very simple question. The easiest and most convincing means of demonstrating that vaccines are actually safe and beneficial with few serious side-effects, would obviously be to conduct a large randomized trial study comparing the total health consequences of vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, what they call a “Vaccinated vs. Unvaccinated” (VU) study. Yet according to Turtles, no such study has ever been conducted: “It seems inexplicable that VU studies have not been initiated by the vaccine establishment for so many years.”
Indeed, there already exist substantial populations such as the Amish which forego vaccinations and whose health outcomes could easily be compared with a matched control group of the general, fully-vaccinated public, and Turtles notes some disturbing indications in this regard. A journalistic investigation found that the rate of autism in the Amish was just a small fraction of that in the general population, and the same condition was non-existent in unvaccinated Ethiopian-born children in Israel, while their fully-vaccinated Israeli-born siblings showed normal levels. A similar pattern occurred with Somali immigrant families to both Minnesota and Sweden. Given that those autism-vaccine concerns have for years been such a flashpoint among anti-vaccine activists, it does seem quite suspicious that the public health authorities have been unwilling to respond with a large-scale VU study to conclusively settle the issue.
There have been repeated demands for such VU studies but the regular response of the medical establishment has been to dismiss the proposal as unethical, claiming that it would require denying a large group of children access to beneficial vaccinations; but this is obvious nonsense. A non-randomized study could be based upon unvaccinated groups or a retrospective study could use the health history of large numbers of children who had been unvaccinated in the past. Turtles notes that 0.8% of all American children are today completely unvaccinated, thereby providing 30,000 potential subjects in each birth cohort, while in Australia the rate is 1.5%. These would obviously provide large enough numbers to conclusively determine the relative health benefits of vaccinations, so various other doubtful or entirely specious excuses are typically made.
So why has there been such strong opposition to conducting a comprehensive VU study? Turtles offers a simple answer.
There can be only one explanation: The results were markedly in favor of the unvaccinated. [boldface in original]
The authors argue that such studies have indeed almost certainly been quietly conducted, probably many times, but the results have never been made public because they pointed in the wrong direction. After all, the data has been accessible to government authorities for many years and it seems inconceivable that no analysis was ever performed, only that the findings were never released. While I can’t be certain that the authors are right, I do think that their deeply cynical suspicion is more likely correct than not.