Self-help author Marianne Williamson attempted to dodge questions on vaccine safety at Saturday’s AFSCME Democratic presidential forum, declaring her support for childhood vaccinations while appearing eager to appeal to opponents.
Williamson has cast doubt on vaccination mandates in the past, but has in recent interviews been careful not to portray herself as anti-vaccine. A Minnesota nurse watching the Las Vegas forum, which was co-moderated by HuffPost and The Nevada Independent, asked Williamson to say where she stands on the issue “once and for all.”
“Vaccines work. That has never been my issue,” Williamson began, before immediately pivoting.
“We also, however, have an opioid problem in this country,” she said, expressing her concern for the “over-sale [and] over-marketing of painkillers.”
When HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel asked whether Williamson was comparing vaccines to the opioid crisis, Williamson continued criticizing “Big Pharma,” which she said she would subject to “legitimate and responsible oversight” by the federal government.
Asked to answer a “simple yes or no” to whether she believed school districts should be able to require parents to vaccinate their children, Williamson answered in the affirmative.
“I’m fine with that,” she said. “And when I’m president, we will have far more independent research having to do with the amount of vaccines, having to do with bundling, and none of that will be paid by Big Pharma.”
Asked backstage by HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson whether a President Williamson would tell all American parents to get their children the vaccines recommended by their doctors, she said yes. Then she declared her intention to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s budget to review unspecified drugs, suggesting she holds doubts on their safety.
Williamson’s dubious take on vaccines goes back at least to 2015, when she appeared on Bill Maher’s HBO talk show and said, “There’s a skepticism which is actually healthy on this issue of vaccinations.” Williamson also drew criticism earlier this year for calling mandatory vaccinations “draconian” and “Orwellian” amid the worst measles outbreak the country has seen in decades.
She attempted to clarify some of her past comments on health care this week in an MSNBC interview, saying she never intended to “cast skepticism” on vaccines. She also apologized for calling clinical depression a “scam” on Russell Brand’s podcast in November 2018, explaining that she had been “speaking glibly.”
“That was wrong of me to say, and I’m sorry that I said it,” Williamson said on MSNBC.
Williamson found herself playing defense in another interview published just days earlier in The New York Times, where she said she stands by her controversial tweet that followed the June 2018 death of designer Kate Spade. Williamson reacted to Spade’s death by suicide by asking, “How many public personalities on antidepressants have to hang themselves before the FDA does something, Big Pharma cops to what it knows, and the average person stops falling for this?”
Asked by the Times whether she stands by the tweet, Williamson replied, “Yes. What in that statement is not true?”
Williamson clarified in the interview that she knows clinical depression exists, explaining that she has criticized diagnoses of clinical depression because she believes the pharmaceutical industry is corrupt.