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Joe Mercola plays the religion card against vaccines

July 11, 2011

Category: Antivaccination lunacyMedicineQuackeryReligion
Posted on: July 11, 2011 3:00 AM, by Orac

Remember Helen Ratajczak?

A few months ago, CBS News’ resident anti-vaccine reporter Sharyl Attkisson was promoting Ratajczak’s incompetent “analysis” of evidence that she views as implicating vaccines in the pathogenesis of autism entitled Theoretical aspects of autism: causes–A Review (which is available in all its misinforming glory here). I applied some not-so-Respectful Insolence to the idiocy contained within Ratajczak’s article. One aspect of the article that I mentioned was how Ratajczak claimed that DNA from “aborted fetal tissue” in vaccines correlated with the rise of autism. The claim was, of course, utter nonsense, a rank lie promoted by the fundamentalist Christian wing of the anti-vaccine movement, and I’ve dealt with it before. Sometimes, that wing even goes so far as to publish its own crappy studies.

Which brings us to Joe Mercola.

The other day, Joe Mercola published on his very own wretched hive of scum and quackery an article entitled One of the Most Inexcusable Vaccine Revelations of All… In it, Mercola takes what Ratajczak wrote and turns up the stupid to 11 and beyond.

He begins by using the tried-and-true (or tried-and-not-so-true) health freedom method of invoking “informed” consent, or (as I’ve described it before) “misinformed consent”:

If you are struggling to recall how you could have missed this important fact when signing your vaccine consent form, it wasn’t your error–because it wasn’t disclosed on any consent form. Most people are unaware that human cell cultures derived from aborted human fetuses have been used extensively in vaccine production for decades. And vaccine makers are happy that most of the public has remained ignorant of this fact, as awareness of it could blow up in their faces.Setting aside, for the moment, unknown long-term health consequences of DNA contamination and religious beliefs about use of aborted fetal tissues–the ethics of nondisclosure are reprehensible. Drug companies and vaccine policy-makers should not be allowed to decide whether or not to share this information with you. This is information you should have received PRIOR to making a choice about whether or not to vaccinate.

As I pointed out before when deconstructing Ratajczak’s article, the whole bit about human DNA from fetal tissues in vaccines being a cause of anything is utter nonsense. Ratajczak claimed that the DNA from these “fetal cells” somehow got into brain cells, underwent homologous recombination, and then altered the cells to be sufficiently different from self to be recognized as “non-self.” As I pointed out before, I have a lot of experience working with human, mouse, and rat DNA. I know how difficult it is to get naked DNA into cells and to get it to make the protein for which it codes. Moreover, unless you’re using lentiviral vectors or some other retroviral delivery advice, the DNA will not be detectably incorporated into the DNA of the muscle cells. Its gene expression is extranuclear (outside the nucleus).

I can’t resist briefly recapping the implausibility of Dr. Ratajczak’s idea that I listed before. To do what Dr. Ratajczak claims, the minute amount of human DNA in a vaccine would have to:

  • Find its way to the brain in significant quantities.
  • Make it into the neurons in the brain in significant quantities.
  • Make it into the nucleus of the neurons in significant quantities.
  • Undergo homologous recombination at a detectable level, resulting in either the alteration of a cell surface protein or the expression of a foreign cell surface protein that the immune system can recognize.
  • Undergo homologous recombination in many neurons in such a way that results in the neurons having cell surface protein(s) altered sufficiently to be recognized as foreign.

In other words, from a strictly scientific point of view, blaming the DNA from “fetal cells” used to make vaccine is pretty darned implausible. True, it’s not, as I’m wont to say, homeopathy-level implausible, but it wouldn’t take all that much to get there, given that Ratajczak’s view of fetal DNA seems to be not unlike miasmas.

Mercola then goes on:

A recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has led to a question of whether there is a correlation between the abrupt rise in American autism rates with the introduction of fetal cells for use in vaccines (1988). This correlation has prompted researchers to ask the question about how aborted fetal DNA could be causing, or contributing to, the development of autism disorders in children. Thus far, there have been no proposed theories of a mechanism. However, it’s a significant correlation that should at least be investigated. If you care about what you put into your body, and into your child’s body, and you are outraged by this information, you are not alone.How can a person be pro-life and NOT object to the use of these vaccines?

I discussed this “study” before. It’s an amazing example of torturing the data to fit a preconceived hypothesis. Basically, some “researchers” claim to have found that there were “change points” for the incidence of autism in 1980, 1988, and 1995, when autism incidence increased. What happened in these three years to cause these “change points”? Guess. That’s right, it’s the vaccines, as it always is for anti-vaccine activists. In 1979, the rubella vaccine was introduced in the U.S.; there’s change point number one in 1980. Then, in 1988 the second dose of the MMR vaccine was added; there’s change point number two. Then, in 1995, the chickenpox vaccine was introduced, and there you have change point number three. As I described, it’s all nonsense, crappy, ideologically driven “science” of the crappiest, most ideologically driven sort. I guess that makes it appropriate for Mercola to be citing.

Mercola then appeals directly to religion:

The impact of the finding that many vaccines are derived from aborted fetal cell lines is potentially enormous, given the great number of people who define themselves as Pro Life. For someone who is Pro Life to discover that a vaccine contains the DNA from aborted fetuses is like a Muslim finding out that a vaccine is derived from pork.

Actually, that line has been tried before, where fundamentalist Muslims have claimed that vaccines are unclean because of gelatin derived from pork. No less a “luminary” of the anti-vaccine movement than David Kirby has tried this ploy. It’s nonsense; Muslim authorities in, for example, Britain have out and out said, “In terms of ingredients in vaccines, there are so many things that are probably Haram, but in the absence of an alternative we are allowed to take it for the sake of our health.”

Not that this stops Mercola from regurgitating the same attempted fear-mongering with respect to Catholics:

I would anticipate that many of the people who object to use of aborted fetal tissues for scientific research are going to be shocked and outraged when they learn that their children have been secretly injected with vaccines containing DNA, proteins, or related cellular debris from cell cultures derived from aborted human fetuses.This is not a small portion of the population!

The two largest religious preferences in the U.S. are Catholic and Evangelical, representing 50 percent of the population. And those are not the only two groups who typically share Pro Life views. Given these numbers, you could extrapolate that more than one of every two people receiving vaccines might have opted out of them based on religious beliefs alone, had they been given truthful and complete information about how the vaccines were produced.

The Catholic Church objects to “formal cooperation” with abortion. However, in terms of its vaccine policy, there are more gray areas than mandates.

Actually, as anyone with a modicum of knowledge about cell biology should know, cell lines derived from even an aborted fetus are very, very far removed, hundreds of population doublings given that the cell lines in question were first isolated in the 1960s. When there is no other reliable, practical method to make the vaccines in question, the Catholic Church has supported vaccination, as the link provided by Mercola himself demonstrates:

However, if the latter are exposed to considerable dangers to their health, vaccines with moral problems pertaining to them may also be used on a temporary basis. The moral reason is that the duty to avoid passive material cooperation is not obligatory if there is grave inconvenience. Moreover, we find, in such a case, a. proportional reason, in order to accept the use of these vaccines in the presence of the danger of favouring the spread of the pathological agent, due to the lack of vaccination of children. This is particularly true in the case of vaccination against German measles.

In practice, this means that the Church does not discourage vaccination, and indeed most Catholic institutions, such as hospitals and schools, have vaccination policies indistinguishable from those of non-Catholic institutions. A rather interesting discussion of this very issue can be found here, where a parent who wants a religious exemption from having her child vaccinated was shocked to find out that the Catholic school to which she is sending her child refused to let her child attend if she claimed the exemption based on the “Bishop’s Diocesan Policy regarding immunizations.”

Of course, I highly doubt that Mercola gives a rodent’s posterior about religious beliefs. He’s anti-vaccine, and he sees anti-abortion religious beliefs as an opportunity to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines, like any good denialist would. That’s why, like many of the anti-abortion anti-vaccine sources Mercola cites, he tries his hardest to blur the line between cells that were derived long ago from an aborted fetus and aborted fetal tissue, the false implication being that there is aborted fetal tissue in vaccines.

Fortunately, other than for a relatively small number of Catholics and evangelicals, this tactic doesn’t appear to work. Not that that stops anti-vaccine activists like Joe Mercola.

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