Guest Contribution from Ohioan and Twitter user @42believer.

@42believer keeps an eye on the anti-vax community in Ohio and recently attended a screening for a propaganda film, Vaxxed 2, and stayed to hear what the most prominent anti-vax advocates in Ohio had to say about their growing influence at the Statehouse. She posted a twitter thread about her experience which you can read here, but here’s a recap which names some of the Ohio lawmakers that have either sought the endorsement or have other done the bidding of anti-vax groups.

Meet the Anti-Vaxxers

Ohio has two main anti-vaccine lobbying groups. They are Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom (OAMF) and Health Freedom Ohio, (HFO). These organizations work somewhat in tandem with each other, although OAMF spends more time on community outreach while HFO focuses on influencing policymakers.

Both of these groups would decry being called anti-vax, instead insisting that they are “vaccine risk aware” or “ex-vaxxers”. They can call themselves that if they wish, but they are 100% anti-vaxxers.

I’ll define what I mean by “anti-vax”: in general, if a person believes that vaccines are more harmful than the diseases they prevent, they are anti-vax. This can be as stereotypical as claiming vaccines cause autism to as outrageous a claim as “everyone who has had a vaccine has been injured.” Some anti-vaxxers really hate being called anti-vaxxers, and will even pretend it’s a slur on par with the n-word. Yes, really.

OAMF and HFO have consistently maintained that vaccines can cause autism and a whole host of other ailments such as allergies, eczema, autoimmune conditions, SIDS, and other more serious conditions for which they similarly lack legitimate evidence. If you asked the people who lead these groups whether any safe vaccine exists, they would tell you no. In fact, OAMF recently had members give out cards at Halloween with messages saying (among other things) that safe vaccines don’t exist. So, they are anti-vax, pure and simple.

OAMF handed out anti-vax flyers at Halloween

OAMF handed out anti-vax flyers at Halloween

But- but- but- FREEDOM! They have FREEDOM in their names, and Ohio politicians do love themselves some good ol’ fashioned FREEDOM!

At the Statehouse

Both Ohio antivax groups regularly meet with Senators and Representatives at the Statehouse, and have succeeded in influencing policy decisions. HFO even hosted a press conference for HB 268, a bill with 7 sponsors and cosponsors, that would prohibit hospitals from taking an “adverse employment action” against employees who refuse to vaccinate. Once upon a time I visited my neutropenic friend in the hospital. If her nurse refused vaccinations, would moving that nurse to a different ward be considered an “adverse employment action”? Who knows, and thankfully it’s not going anywhere, but the fact that enough lawmakers have been so influenced that they introduce legislation that benefits anti-vaxxers is very worrying.

But anti-vaxxers don’t stop there.

If pro-vaccine legislation is introduced, they work quickly to try and quash it. A bill removing nonmedical exemptions to vaccines had bipartisan cosponsorship, but both dropped after the flurry of anti-vax pressuring. It didn’t even get so far as to receive a bill number. In committee I personally witnessed a legislator ask questions about a pro-vax bill at the behest of these anti-vax groups.

The MMS Scam

If it scares you that politicians at the Statehouse are being influenced like this, allow me to make it just a little bit scarier.

As I said before, anti-vaxxers generally believe that vaccines do more harm than good. However, there’s another aspect of anti-vaxxers that gets under my skin. A microeconomy exists to provide anti-vaxxers with “natural” solutions that will replace regular medicine or “cure” a vaccine injury. They whine and moan about how vaccines are not tested against an inert placebo and yet so many of their products or treatments are also not tested this way.

My favorite xample are people who claim that you can cure autism using Miracle Mineral Solution aka “MMS.” MMS is a type of bleach. It’s not the same chemical you find at the store, but it’s functionally the same thing. So now anti-vaxxers all over the world give autistic children oral doses, enemas, and baths using MMS. It is literal child abuse. I have reported at least three people to CPS, but to my knowledge, nothing has been done.

Vaxxed II

Because of things like MMS, I started researching anti-vaxxers because not enough people seem to care that they put children at risk in more ways than preventable disease. I listen to everything anti-vaxxers say, then I go home and research it to see if it holds up. In the case of Vaxxed II – The People’s Truth, I knew I had to do the same thing.

Before Vaxxed II, there was just Vaxxed, a “documentary” made entirely by anti-vaxxers. Again they really, really hate the term anti-vaxxer, but when your movie is literally directed by Andrew Wakefield, the father of the modern anti-vax movement, you should get used to the label.

The first movie claimed the CDC hid data that “proved” African American boys who received MMR vaccines were more likely to get autism. Targeting minorities with misinformation aside, the claim spread, and soon the Vaxxed crew got a bus to tour around and videotape stories of supposed vaccine injury. These stories were then molded into Vaxxed II.

One anti-vaxxer was discussing the Guardian’s review of the second film and was genuinely confused how the reviewer could see it and go on to write a critical article. She had completely closed her mind to the possibility that someone could ever come to a different conclusion than herself.

So to any anti-vaxxers reading this, I know you have a closed mind and that nothing I say will convince you. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do my damndest to educate everyone else on all the unscientific things y’all get up to. 

Vaxxed II starts with a recap of how Vaxxed came to be, how they got the bus, how helpful the news coverage was in getting the word out. The movie is then split into a few sections: one on autism, one on SIDS, and one on the HPV vaccine. At the end is a section on all the unvaccinated children and how none of them have allergies, eczema, ADHD, ear infections, autism, or most any other ailment. If you take them at face value, you might believe it. However, all I could think about was my family member who has two unvaccinated kids. The older has eczema, and the younger is either on the spectrum or close enough.

That’s why I won’t sit here and attempt to debunk all the stories the parents presented, because they are just stories. At times they would include an official diagnosis or “expert” opinion, but none of that is as valid as an actual scientific paper proving a cause and effect relationship. It doesn’t feel good to criticize grieving parents, but just because they say they “saw it with my own eyes and that’s proof” doesn’t actually make it proof. I’m not trying to be a jerk, I just want to be brutally honest.

Lawmakers Under The Influence

After the movie was over, HFO hosted a Q&A session. I stuck around and learned some really interesting things. Apparently, the anti-vaxxers have been so effective that they have actually convinced several Ohio lawmakers not to vaccinate their children. There was also much bragging about how influential they’ve been especially with the House Health Committee. I know for a fact that the President of OAMF volunteers for State Representative Don Manning’s election campaign, and he’s the vice chair of that committee!

OAMF's Stephanie Stock and State Representative and Health Committee Vice Chair, Don Manning

OAMF’s Stephanie Stock and State Representative and Health Committee Vice Chair, Don Manning

HFO also talked about the need to crowdfund for a lobbyist. Apparently the one they want costs $3,000 a month, which is really crazy to me. But it shows that they’re serious, and I think if enough parents are manipulated to this line of thinking that they could very well raise that money.

Most anti-vaxxers are simply misguided. A lot of them have strong opinions about health and lifestyle outside of vaccines. The leader of HFO is a mom, and she posts wonderful photos of food she’s grown in her own garden or eggs their backyard chickens lay. However, she also treats her kids using homeopathy. Homeopathy is literally a placebo. Like sugar pills, it does nothing but make them feel fuzzy inside for taking the “natural” route. What would happen if her kids got tetanus? I pray she never finds out. Her kids are fed healthy food, but they deserve actual healthcare.

Lawmakers Need To Hear From You

If you believe in vaccines, but do so passively, consider making it active. Start with contacting your state senator or representative, ask to meet and share your views, maybe ask them to advance pro-vaccine legislation. Do anything other than just posting funny anti-antivax memes. Organizations like the Ohio AAP chapter do lobby at the Statehouse in favor of vaccines, but they lobby on a variety of other subjects too. Legislators need to understand that normal people support vaccines, and that they’re just as willing to be every bit as passionate about it as an anti-vaxxer.

Below you’ll find a list of all the legislators I could find who were either explicitly endorsed by an anti-vax group, sponsored anti-vax legislation, or who have expressed support for their beliefs.

  • State Representative Scott Lipps – Chairman, House Health Committee and cosponsor of HB132
  • State Representative Don Manning – Vice Chairman, House Health Committee
  • State Representative Niraj Antani – Member, House Health Committee
  • State Representative Jim Butler – Member, House Health Committee and Cosponsor of HB132
  • State Representative Phil Plummer – Member, House Health Committee
  • State Representative Thomas West – Member House Health Committee
  • State Senator Jay Hottinger – Member, Senate Health Committee
  • State Senator Tina Maharath – Member, Senate Health Committee
  • State Senator Kristina Roegner – Member, Senate Health Committee
  • State Representative John Becker
  • State Representative Tom Brinkman
  • State Representative Bill Dean
  • State Representative Anthony DeVitis
  • State Representative Dave Greenspan
  • State Representative Stephanie Howse
  • State Representative Paula Hicks Hudson
  • State Representative Ron Hood – Sponsor of HB 268 and cosponsor of HB132
  • State Representative Catherine Ingraham – Cosponsor of HB132
  • State Representative Kris Jordan – Cosponsor of HB 268
  • State Representative Bernadine Kennedy Kent – Sponsor of HB 268
  • State Representative Candice Keller – Cosponsor of HB 268
  • State Representative Kyle Koehler
  • State Representative George Lang – Cosponsor of HB 268 and cosponsor of HB132
  • State Representative Susan Manchester
  • State Representative Riordan McClain – Cosponsor of HB132
  • State Representative Derek Merrin
  • State Representative Tracy Richardson
  • State Representative Craig Riedel– Cosponsor of HB 268
  • State Representative J Todd Smith
  • State Representative Dick Stein
  • State Representative Reggie Stoltzfus
  • State Representative Nino Vitale – Cosponsor of HB 268 and HB132 and featured in Vaxxed II
  • State Senator Andrew Brenner
  • State Senator Matt Dolan
  • State Senator Tim Schaffer

It’s worth noting that six Democrats are on this list, and five of them are African American. As mentioned before, the original film suggested that African American boys were particularly at risk. OAMF was invited to the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus Gala in 2017, suggesting its members may be part of an effors to target minority communities. That’s something we should all be outraged about.

From the author: Anti-vaxxers aggressively care about issues surrounding vaccination. Most pro-vaxxers care about vaccination, but only enough to share memes about how “essential oils won’t save your baby”. I am not most pro-vaxxers. Full disclosure, I’ve never worked for a healthcare facility/organization in any way. Nobody from “big pharma” is paying me to say these things. These are my opinions, my observations, and my call to action.

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