Vaccine extremism threatens democracy
In her commentary of April 28, “Why we need vaccinations,” Amanda Naprawa goes to great lengths to characterize the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice as a “virulently anti-vaccine” organization that “seeks to scare individuals off from immunization.” Not only is this false, as VCVC is pro informed consent, not anti-vaccine, but Ms. Naprawa fails to mention her role as a lawyer who last year wrote extensively about ways to legally scare off those who dissent from current orthodoxy regarding vaccine policy, efficacy or safety. In what is arguably a manual for pro-vaccine extremism, Ms. Naprawa proposes to carve out an exception to freedom of speech in the form of a “vaccine disparagement statute” aimed at protecting the “pecuniary interests” of big pharmaceutical corporations. In her view, not only is big pharma entitled to compensation from “anti-vaccine speakers” for lost profits when a vaccine flops, but it should also have the right to collect punitive damage awards for the purpose of permanently silencing critics. To be fair, in Ms. Naprawa’s envisioning of democracy, such special punishment is reserved only for those who “recklessly disregard the truth of the medical or scientific community.” So who precisely are these keepers of the truth by which future vaccine heretics are to be judged?
The vast majority of scientific and medical literature about vaccines is the product of the pharmaceutical industry itself. Parents should understand what this means. This is an industry that routinely engages in criminal behavior. In 2012, GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of at least 25 different vaccines, admitted to bribing doctors and encouraging prescription of an inappropriate anti-depressant to children, for which it paid $3 billion in penalties. In 2009, Pfizer, maker of the vaccine Prevnar, agreed to pay a $2.3 billion criminal fine, the largest in history. Pfizer admitted mislabeling the painkiller Bextra with “the intent to defraud or mislead.” In 2008, Merck, maker of the controversial HPV vaccine Gardasil, paid $650 million for Medicaid fraud and kickbacks. In 2012, Sanofi-Aventis, maker of at least 18 different vaccines, paid $109 million for “illegal sampling arrangements” after a former Sanofi sales agent contacted the Justice Department. The list goes on and on, with fines in the hundreds of millions the rule. Yet Ms. Naprawa expects parents to accept as an article of faith that these same corporations are somehow models of integrity and transparency when it comes to their liability-free vaccine products.
In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth that, since vaccines are by nature “unavoidably unsafe,” pharmaceutical corporations cannot be sued even if a plaintiff claims that an avoidable design defect had caused injury or death. Since then, there has been a steady increase in vaccine marketing, complete with industry-funded “Astroturf” groups and an aggressive nationwide campaign to eliminate exemptions. Having secured near complete protection from liability for their industry, mandatory vaccination proponents are now asking whether censorship is the right answer to continuing vaccine controversies. It is not. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas succinctly stated, “Effective self-government cannot succeed unless the people are immersed in a steady, robust, unimpeded and uncensored flow of opinion and reporting which are continuously subjected to critique, rebuttal and re-examination.”
The writer is a policy analyst for the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice.MORE IN Letters
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