T-Cell Party Patriots

Is the anti-vaccine movement looking to Sarah Palin's Tea Party Nation for inspiration? It seems that way, given that Jenny McCarthy's angry mob is calling for "An American Rally for Personal Rights."
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Is the anti-vaccine movement looking to Sarah Palin's Tea Party Nation for inspiration? It seems that way, given that Jenny McCarthy's angry mob is calling its May 26 rally in Chicago's Grant Park "An American Rally for Personal Rights."

It's been two years since McCarthy led 2,500 parents and children through Washington D.C., under the focus-group tested "Green Our Vaccines" banner. The slogan played on parental anxiety over their children's diets and the quality of the natural environment. A Green Vaccine was supposedly a safe vaccine, something you might find in Whole Foods, wrapped in hemp fiber and chilling next to the organic arugula.

But Green Vaccines have a short shelf life, and McCarthy's grasp of the facts was fragile. She was criticized for alleging, among other things, that vaccines contain anti-freeze and ether. They don't, and never have. Layer by layer her arguments peeled away, revealing a silly marketing slogan unrelated to the physical world. That is as it should be, since the question of vaccine safety is scientific at its core, and the science was never on McCarthy's side to begin with.

So the angry mob that will converge on Grant Park next week is switching to plan B - It's About the Constitution, Stupid. Welcome to T-Cell Party Nation, where the tree of liberty is watered with the chelated blood of disabled children. The two-hour rally even has its own house band, The Refusers, who bring on da noize and obligatory Nazi imagery:

Vaccine Gestapo

They have swastikas on their shoulders
They're such patriotic soldiers
They're like a militia in Montana
They're a government agency in Atlanta

Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!

They're a medical military priesthood
Just like Adolf they preach the greater good
Consciencious objectors are just little snots
Why don't you quit complaining and go get your shots

Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!
Vaccine gestapo! Vaccine gestapo!

All that's missing are the tri-corner hats and sidearms. We hope.

I may be giving McCarthy too much credit. Vaccine rejectionism is a big tent movement, encompassing a diverse range of human wiring and bias, where atheist granola moms swap gluten-free recipes with conservative Christian activists.

Staying on message is not a concern, despite McCarthy's efforts to create a brand.

"I think they just throw everything they've got and see where any of it sticks," says Arthur Allen, who chronicled the history of vaccine-rejectionism in his must-read Vaccine. He says these rallies "have always been a mishmash of libertarians, health nuts and quack medicine vendors, conspiracy theorists, ambulance chasers, 'investigative' journalists, advocates of the theory of harm du jour, and, always, a few scientists - who range from the disbarred quack to the clueless semi-mainstream specialist." In other words, the same angry mob that puzzled our great-grandparents at the turn of the last century.

These are dark days for America's anti-vaccine movement. Andrew Wakefield, the movement's eminence gris, has been found guilty of ethical misconduct and may lose his medical license next month. The nation's major news and entertainment media, including the Chicago Tribune, WBCH's Frontline, and even Showtime's Penn and Teller are wise to the danger posed by vaccine rejectionism. What started as an emotional argument ten years ago by a minority of poorly-informed parents and their ethically-challenged gastroenterologist has curdled into a national punchline.

It will take more than cheap populism and an angry soundtrack for McCarthy to recover from this public relations disaster of her own making. Recovery is a long uphill climb, and she needs to admit she has a problem, take an honest inventory of the science, and make amends to the medical and scientific community she has slandered.

If McCarthy can't recover herself, she has no business being near our children.

An anti-vaccine protester at the June, 2008 Green Our Vaccines rally in Washington, DC.

This article is cross-posted at AutismNewsBeat.com

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