Monday, May 19, 2014

Big Alterna and the Ties That Bind

By Karen Ernst

Editor's Note: Voices for Vaccines does not and never has accepted any government or pharmaceutical funding. The organization is supported 100% by individual member donations.

Recently, an anti-vaccine blog put together 11 Facts about Voices for Vaccines claiming to show that we are a “front group” for Big Pharma/the CDC. The blogger drew up charts showing the connection between various people (the charts were wrong) and included a map to show how close our fiscal agent was to the CDC (2.6 miles!). Yet, I work in my little (messy) rambler 1,120 miles away from this supposed vortex of evil, busily not being directed or controlled by the Task Force for Global Health, the CDC, Emory, or Big Pharma (or the reptillian overlords).

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All the conspiracy theories and convoluted logic about supposed and unproven influence by the CDC and pharmaceutical companies on a parent-led vaccine advocacy group makes it that much more interesting that the National Vaccine Information Center is indelibly tied to the hugely influential Big Alterna figurehead Joseph Mercola. Unlike any fiscal connection alleged between Voices for Vaccines and the CDC or Pfizer or any pharmaceutical company, the fiscal ties between NVIC and Mercola are factual, and I want to explore them with you here.

If you are a person who lives a normal life and only thinks about immunization when you bring your child in for his well-child check, the National Vaccine Information Center might sound like a good thing. It might sound positive to have information about vaccines in one convenient “center” for the whole nation.  The problem is that NVIC is definitely anti-vaccine. They have even gone as far as promoting a conspiracy theory about high school kids who created a film about immunization in an after school program. (Shockingly, like football and yearbook, this program was advised by adults, thus prompting the conspiracy theory.)

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In addition to the billboards NVIC buys across the United States asking motorists to “Know the Risks and the Failures” of immunization, NVIC also spends a great deal of time and energy opposing a great deal of vaccine-related legislation. They are even opposing proposed legislation that would provide information about vaccines and record students’ vaccination status.

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For an organization that claims it is not anti-vaccine but is rather “pro-informed consent,” opposing information seems odd.

Except that they are anti-vaccine and pro-misinformed consent.

I had assumed for a long time that this was the entire story, until the day (two days actually) the NVIC website went down and in its place:

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If the VFV website went down, I do not know what would appear there, but to be clear, VFV pays for its website from its own funds which comes from individual donors. The Task Force for Global Health is listed as the owner of our domain name because, as our fiscal agent (we are not yet our own 501(c)3 so do not have ready access to our bank account), they actually issued the check using the funds we raised for Voices for Vaccines.

So, which websites does Mercola provide funding for? (A hat tip to the Skeptical Raptor for this next part.)

Most interesting in this list of domains owned by is the number of them selling something. Bath products! Tanning beds! Water filters! Why would someone selling such an odd mish mash of home products care about helping an anti-vaccine organization promote their misinformation?

Perhaps because there is money to be made off of parents who eschew immunizations out of fear of what they see as “unnatural.” Make no mistake, parents seeking natural health alternatives make big bucks for Big Alterna. And Joseph Mercola, the doctor behind, is near the top of those cashing in.


Let’s review: the National Vaccine Information Center claims not to be anti-vaccine, but in favor of informed choice about vaccine, but as an organization they have made documented efforts to make it more difficult for parents to receive information about vaccines. They do not want schools to know who among their students is vaccinated (even in the case of outbreaks), and they do not want high school students to pursue documentary filmmaking about topics that interest them.

I believe Theresa Wrangham or even Barbara Loe Fisher, the women heading NVIC, believe the misinformation they promote, but if they believe they are not anti-vaccine, they are seriously delusional. And if they believe that Joseph Mercola is providing them with a website because he has a heart of gold, they should know that he probably bought that gold.

For a couple years now, I have sat on my slightly-too-tall IKEA chairs at my old computer fielding accusations about my connections to Big Pharma and the CDC, who apparently want to force parents to immunize their children because there’s money in it, and because the’re evil. (Note: you cannot buy tanning beds or supplements from VFV, the CDC, Emory University, or the Task Force for Global Health.) This strange theory is promoted enthusiastically by NVIC.

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And I’m not even sure what that is. Hypocrisy? Willing ignorance? Arrogance? I’m genuinely curious about what drives NVIC’s willingness to schlep out the Pharma Shill gambit while simultaneously being a Big Alterna Shill.

But the public should not be fooled. This isn’t a story of the little guy who is desperately seeking alternative health options in a world of cruel public health bullies trying to take away the little guy’s freedoms. This is a story about a well-oiled, well-funded machine. A machine that wants to keep you scared--that demands that you look at their information but no one else’s. A machine that would harass children and their teachers in order to obscure the truth about immunization and to sell you a tanning bed.

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