Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
—Melvin A. Benarde
The present book arose from diverse circumstances that were nevertheless related by a common theme: vaccine safety.
Vaccine safety, like the pejorative term “anti-vaxxer,” is a suitcase phrase in that within two simple words are a number of subthemes that span an enormous range. These include the concepts of what science is, and isn’t; what those who are pro- or anti-vaccine—not to mention a vast middle-of-the-road group—actually believe; the fears that people in both pro- and anti-camps harbor; how the questions raised by the various groupings have impacted and, in turn, been impacted by politicians; and, not least, the elephants in the room, the interlocking roles of the pharmaceutical industry (the “pharma”), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The “pharma” is often seen in some circles as somehow a benign player. People, especially those whose stances tend to be highly on the pro-“vax” side, may acknowledge the serious money the industry makes from vaccines, acknowledge the very clear evidence that the same industry is rife with corruption and preventable disasters like Vioxx, and yet fail to see the possibility that money and corruption play a role in how vaccines are developed and rolled out to a public that has been trained to trust vaccine doctrine completely. Governmental agencies in the United States, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and internationally, such as WHO, are often seen as neutral and generally beneficial bodies, even by people normally distrustful of pretty much anything governments do. This odd phenomenon crosses the political divide, often in some very peculiar ways.
I came into research in the vaccine safety area quite by chance. First, I should point out that I am not an ophthalmologist regardless of the medical department I am in at my university. In actual fact, I am a neuroscientist by training and profession who happens to be in an ophthalmology department solely because I once did basic research into eye disorders. Indeed, for much of my career as a scientist, I had pretty much no views on vaccines at all, apart from what I had learned as an undergraduate and graduate student that vaccines were uniformly safe and effective. This was all it seemed that I needed to know for many years. That view did not change until about 2005.
That was the year when a graduate student in my laboratory and I decided to seek another cluster of Lou Gehrig’s disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS). In brief, my laboratory had been studying the cluster of ALS on Guam and decided that, to find more clues to this disorder, we had to broaden our search. To do so, we sought another cluster that might serve to diminish the number of potential causes of the disease.
In due course, we found one in Gulf War Syndrome, the mysterious multisystem disorder that emerged after the American Coalition’s 1991 war against Iraq. In this syndrome, ALS incidence in Coalition soldiers appeared to occur at a much higher incidence, and at a much younger age, than in the general population.
In turn, our reading of the published literature led to the emerging epidemiology on the syndrome that, in some cases, pointed the finger at the anthrax vaccine that most soldiers had received. The correlation with this vaccine seemed to be independent of whether the soldiers actually deployed to the Gulf or not. This fact alone seemed to rule out environmental factors that arose during the war such as exposure to oil well fires or anti-nerve gas agents.
With this as a background, we attempted to purchase the anthrax vaccine, made at that time by a company called BioPort. BioPort refused to sell us the vaccines, so we decided to simply look at the listed ingredients and try the components individually that, based on the scientific literature, seemed most likely to be involved. Two such ingredients stood out, both adjuvants, or helpers, to the vaccine: aluminum salts, such as aluminum hydroxide; and squalene, a tripertene. The first was acknowledged to be in the vaccine; the second was not, but other investigators were able to show that it was there in at least some of the anthrax vaccine vials. Aluminum was recognized as a neurotoxin even then.
We conducted a typical in vivo animal model study in which we injected young male mice with a weight-adjusted amount of aluminum hydroxide or squalene, versus both, and all compared to control mice getting only saline. At this time, we felt that we would fairly rapidly discover that there were no negative effects and go back to look for other possible causal factors for Gulf War Syndrome.
To our surprise, we found that the aluminum, in particular, had a significantly negative impact on motor functions and reflexes. Further, histological examinations showed that the motor cortex and spinal cords of the aluminum-treated mice had significant increases in motor neuron degeneration.
Now intrigued, from that point on we did what scientists are supposed to do and kept following the leads. The emerging data in adult and young mice supported the general notion that aluminum was harmful to the central nervous system (CNS). This alone was not particularly surprising, as we were to discover when we began a detailed survey of the existing experimental literature.
We went on from this early work to publish a number of reviews, experimental studies, and other commentaries on aluminum (see Chapter 5).
In science, provocative results are supposed to be met with attempts by others to replicate the findings in order to see if the data hold up to scrutiny. Indeed, various researchers were finding the same things we had seen. In contrast, agencies like WHO did not have experimental data, but rather simply dismissed our work out of hand using one of their sub-bodies, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS). Here is their comment in reference to several of our studies:
The GACVS reviewed 2 published papers alleging that aluminium in vaccines is associated with autism spectrum disorders 3,4 and the evidence generated from quantitative risk assessment by a US FDA pharmacokinetic model of aluminium-containing vaccines. GACVS considers that these 2 studies 3, 4 are seriously flawed. The core argument made in these studies is based on ecological comparisons of aluminium content in vaccines and rates of autism spectrum disorders in several countries. In general, ecological studies cannot be used to assert a causal association because they do not link exposure to outcome in individuals, and only make correlations of exposure and outcomes on population averages. Therefore, their value is primarily for hypothesis generation. However, there are additional concerns with those studies that limit any potential value for hypothesis generation. These include: incorrect assumptions about known associations of aluminium with neurological disease, uncertainty of the accuracy of the autism spectrum disorder prevalence rates in different countries, and accuracy of vaccination schedules and resulting calculations of aluminium doses in different countries.
In Chapter 5, we will see if the WHO/GAVCS comments are valid or not.
The second convergent event in my personal trajectory into vaccine research was actually a series of events that began to suggest to me that we were not wading into just any “typical” medical controversy such as those that populate ALS or other neurological disease research areas, but rather one that had frankly religious overtones. Actually, as we came to see, it was more cult-like than simply religious.
I had also begun to realize that “talking truth to power” was not sufficient. Power in this case either knew what we knew, that is, that aluminum vaccine adjuvants are harmful, or simply didn’t care. In either case, two possible reasons for the lack of response became clear: dogma and money. The first had served to convince most of the world’s medical professionals that we had to be wrong because, after all, “the science was settled.” And behind much of this was the naked fact of how much money vaccines brought into the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margin.
The combination of these two, in turn, led to a series of actions that I believe have the fingerprints of the various companies smudged all over the question of vaccine safety. These included the demonization of both scientists and lay scholars who raised even the tamest questions about safety and the push for vaccine mandates around the world.
In the first case, we have seen this before when various industries find their products threatened, as will be discussed at length in later chapters. In other words, the attack on independent scientists studying vaccine safety was nothing new.
As so often in history, attempts to suppress people, either with mandates or anything else, tend to have predicable consequences, namely, pushback and outright resistance, actions that were emerging even before the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world.
What had started as a fight for vaccine safety has since rapidly emerged as a fight for basic human rights, in this case that of security of the person.
Whatever the politicians and their pharma backers thought they might achieve by pushing for mandates has hit a wall of resistance, resistance that seemed to be growing then, and even more now, as this book goes to press: the more those in power push, the more they threaten and demean those critical of any aspect of vaccine safety, the greater the resistance grows. Anyone who has ever studied counterinsurgency warfare knows precisely how this process works and what the end result is likely to be. Fear can only be maintained for so long, even if it is increased by pandemics real or imagined.
What was emerging pre-COVID-19 and since can be described, fairly accurately I think, as a war. Not a war involving weapons, thankfully, at least not yet, but one of ideas and about rights. Hence, the title of this book. In the following pages, I will attempt to dissect the various issues that have emerged, and continue to emerge.
Certainly the most dramatic event to emerge since this book was started has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ongoing as I write and which will certainly be with us as the book goes to press and beyond. COVID-19 as a disease and the social and political responses to it, fanned by very accommodating media, are likely to be some of the long range aspects of the “new normal.”
COVID-19, from its origins to the future, is the subject of a separate chapter that was not planned when this book was begun. However, I think readers will see in the pre-COVID-19 history what should have been clues to future events that have since transpired. There are various books critical of vaccines, of course. And there are many books taking the opposite tack. Instead of trying to put myself into either camp, I have chosen to go back to basics and try to see what history and science actually tell us about vaccine safety. In so doing, I expect to find opponents from both camps. Some will think I am too “anti-vax” (many already do) for pointing out the flaws in vaccine theory, development, and administration. Others will find me not critical enough. My feeling is that getting vitriol from both sides is the right place to be. Individual readers will decide for themselves.
Needless to say, none of what follows should be considered to reflect the views of my current employer, the University of British Columbia, as it most certainly does not. I will discuss this point in some detail as I think it illustrates how heavily the pharmaceutical industry influences academia.
There are many people to thank, whose contributions I have already acknowledged. The discerning reader will note that some entities and individuals are deliberately not mentioned.
Last issues: In a book attempting to cover so much territory, there will be omissions and gaps, and not everything that might be cited has been. The subject of vaccines and vaccine safety with all of the associated scientific and social ramifications is just too broad. I apologize for any items that I missed and mean no slight to any of the authors of such articles or books.
Additionally, early on in the process of writing this book, I solicited opinions from a range of individuals on topics such as vaccine mandates. By no means was this a rigorous selection process: I simply sent a questionnaire to people I knew. I viewed this as a “temperature check” on various issues. The verbatim responses are shown in supplementary material.
“Fight the power; do no harm,” the slogan of the late Black Cross Medical Collective, expresses the basics of my social and medical beliefs, and most of what follows in the rest of the book is from this perspective.