ICAN anti-vaccine rhetoric — getting it wrong about informed consent

This article about ICAN and its anti-vaccine rhetoric about informed consent was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about vaccination’s social and legal policies. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

In a misleading “White Paper,” the anti-vaccine organization, Del Bigtree‘s Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) argued that “eliminating vaccine exemptions and curtailing criticism is unethical and un-American” because, they argue, it invalidates vaccination informed consent. The initial statement is wrong, and the arguments brought to support it are wrong. This article corrects the record.

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The vaccine debate — there is no debate, the science is settled

woman shouts on man using megaphone

For years, I’ve seen anti-vaxxers demanding a vaccine debate between the well-known vaccine deniers, like Robert F Kennedy, Jr and Del Bigtree, and legitimate vaccine scientists and experts. I always laugh, and then I always recommend not participating.

The problem is that if you pay attention to any scientific topic, like climate change, evolution, and, yes, vaccines, you’d think that some science behind them was actually being debated by scientists. The unfiltered information about important scientific subjects allows the science deniers to use a false equivalency to make it appear that the minority and scientifically unsupported point of view is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is always based on huge amounts of published evidence.

From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that there is a great vaccine debate. Or an evolution debate. Or a climate change debate. 

There aren’t any debates on any of these (and hundreds of other) scientific topics. Just because someone, like RFK Jr or Bigtree, thinks that there is some “debate,” it doesn’t mean there actually is one. All that happens is one side, almost always the science deniers, use misinformation, lies, anecdotes, and pseudoscience while attempting to scream and yell as loud as possible, then claim they’ve won.

Science can’t be debated. And there is no vaccine debate.

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Science of autism and vaccines – 163 peer-reviewed articles say no link

autism and vaccines

Autism and vaccines are not linked or associated according to real science. This has been published in real scientific journals written by real scientists and physicians. Even though the science is clear to almost everyone, the false claim about vaccines and autism is constantly repeated by anti-vaxxers.

Let’s be clear – the lack of a link between vaccines and autism is settled science. There is overwhelming evidence, as listed in this article, that there is no link. Outside of anecdotes, internet memes, misinformation, and VAERS dumpster-diving, there is no evidence that there is a link. 

Ever since MrAndrew Wakefield published his fraudulent study, which was subsequently retracted, that actually did not show a link between the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the anti-vaccine crowd has embraced it as if it were a scientific fact. 

This Wakefield chicanery has spawned a cottage industry of other anti-vaccine zealots like Del Bigtree and his fraudumentary Vaxxed, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Christopher Exley, Christopher Shaw, James Lyons-Weiler, Tetyana Obukhanych, and many others. 

This article presents 163 scientific articles, published in high-quality, peer-reviewed journals. Almost all of them are either primary studies that include large clinical trials or case-control or cohort studies. They also include numerous systematic reviews, which represent the pinnacle of biomedical research.

All of these articles, from some of the top vaccine scientists in the world, show that there are no links between autism and vaccines. None. 

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The ICAN Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gambit, why it’s dishonest

FOIA ICAN

This article, about the ICAN FOIA gambit, was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

Repeatedly, Del Bigtree’s anti-vaccine organization Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) and others engage in a “FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) gambit” to mislead their followers. Essentially, the FOIA gambit involves asking an agency for something that is not likely to be an agency record, and when the agency said it was not found, claiming that the fact, or point, or something is unproven.

This is misleading because FOIA is only designed to get agency records, not as a tool to ask agencies questions or examine scientific issues. ICAN’s lawyers, at least, should know this, and should so advise their clients. Its repeated use suggests that this is not just ignorance, but dishonesty, and it can work – which is why I am writing this debunking post. 

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VARIVAX chickenpox vaccine — falsely attacked by Del Bigtree and ICAN

VARIVAX chickenpox vaccine

And here we go again with more anti-vaccine nonsense from Del Bigtree‘s Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) – now, it’s the VARIVAX chickenpox vaccine. And, of course, there’s nothing that ICAN claimed that is accurate or worrisome about the chickenpox vaccine. 

VARIVAX is a well-studied vaccine that is both demonstrably safe and demonstrably effective. However, Bigtree and ICAN always think they have some amazing catch that shows that vaccines are bad. And they are never right, so that’s why we have to spend time taking it down.

Let’s see what they have to say, but first a little bit about chickenpox.

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Monkeypox myths — debunking anti-vaccine claims about the virus

monkeypox myths

Within nanoseconds of monkeypox hitting the news, the anti-vaccine activists were pushing myths in force employing their unique brand of conspiracy theories and bad science. Like they did with COVID-19 vaccines, the anti-vaxxers have jumped on monkeypox with all kinds of crackpot ideas and myths that deserve debunking.

As is my policy, I’m not going to point you to any of the crazy websites with these monkeypox myths — I’m not going to send them any traffic. I’m sure I’m missing some good ones, but here’s what I’ve seen.

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The tragic passing of the son of Nick Catone – vaccines are not responsible

person standing near lake

This article about the tragic death of the son of Nick Catone was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On May 12, 2017, the son of retired UFC fighter Nick Catone, Nicholas Catone, by all accounts a healthy, sweet, happy, child, died in his sleep. It’s horrible to lose a child, and I want to start by extending my condolences to the family.

Sadly, I can’t stop there. His parents blame vaccines. The story is being spread in mom groups and understandably scares moms from vaccinating. But Nicholas’ tragic death is not a good reason to refuse vaccines. First, the alleged link to vaccines is extraordinarily weak. There is no good reason to blame vaccines for the boy’s tragic death. Second, even if this was linked to vaccines – and there’s no evidence of that – it’s still safer to vaccinate.

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ICAN lawsuit against CDC statement that vaccines do not cause autism

vaccines autism

This article about another ICAN lawsuit disputing the CDC statement that vaccines do not cause autism was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable diseases. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On March 31, 2022, a federal district judge dismissed the Informed Consent Action Network‘s (ICAN) lawsuit demanding that CDC remove the statement that vaccines do not cause autism. The judge dismissed the lawsuit because ICAN failed to show that the alleged harms it claimed were caused by anything CDC did, or that removing the statement would fix the problem that they claim they identified. 

The claim never got to be examined on the merits, and for the purpose of dismissal at this early stage, the judge is required to treat ICAN’s claims as true. But it’s worth reminding readers that extensive data shows that vaccines do not cause autism.

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Robert F Kennedy Jr is no liberal — he denies vaccines and science

Robert f kennedy jr vaccines

Robert F Kennedy Jr is often portrayed as some liberal icon, but I just think he’s a science-denying anti-vaccines troglodyte that has little evidence supporting any of his points of view. The only reason some people “think” he’s a liberal is because of his family name.

I write a lot about RFK Jr because he’s one of the most famous anti-vaccine activists out there. And he seems to lack any open-mindedness to vaccines, despite being pro-science on some subjects like climate change. It boggles the mind that he accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, yet rejects the settled science of vaccines. Nothing annoys me more than so-called liberals rejecting or accepting scientific facts based on political expediency rather than evidence. That’s what Republicans do.

And just this past weekend, during an offensive speech to anti-vaccine protestors, he claimed that Anne Frank was better off hiding in a wall in a house in Amsterdam than dealing with vaccine mandates in the USA. By ignoring the fact that Anne Frank was eventually murdered by the Nazis, RFK Jr shows himself to be antisemitic much like his buddy, Del Bigtree.

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Why does pseudoscience in medicine and vaccines seem so popular today?

pseudoscience medicine

These days, it appears that pseudoscience in medicine, everything from homeopathy to anti-vaccine beliefs to cancer treatments to chiropractic to naturopathy, has taken hold of many people’s choices. It’s become so frustrating to read stories about people forsaking science-based medicine to use some quack treatment to treat their cancer.

I think there’s a basic reason for it — science is hard. Whether it results from the lack of education in science to a misunderstanding of science is irrelevant, too many people think that science-based medicine doesn’t work. Except it does.

I’ve written about pseudoscience over a hundred times, but I never answered the question of why it grabs the attention of people. I’m going to try to answer that here.

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