WASHINGTON — They’re calling it a “revolution for truth.”
Activists who reject the robust science supporting vaccinations are gathering here Friday for a protest and march, capped off by a speech from Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a noted and vociferous vaccine skeptic.
The demonstrations follow a lobbying push on Thursday, in which activists held 80 meetings on Capitol Hill, many of them with staffers for members of Congress, according to Irene Pi, an organizer from Arizona.
“We’re being heard, and we’re going to enact change,” activist Jena Dalpez told STAT, just before she headed to her fourth congressional office of the day.
A vast body of scientific research shows that vaccines do not cause autism and are essential in preventing the spread of potentially fatal infectious diseases. When too many parents fail to vaccinate their children, it can jeopardize entire communities — with people whose immune systems are compromised due to illness or chemotherapy most at risk.
Advocates who reject that research have gained confidence in recent months, buoyed in part by the election of President Trump, who has a long history of raising unsubstantiated doubts about vaccine safety.
Take, for example, Dalpez, who flew in for the event from Washington state. She became involved in the cause after her two school-aged sons were diagnosed with autism. (Experts say parents often wrongly blame autism on vaccines, but there’s no evidence of a link.) A lifelong liberal, Dalpez said she voted for Trump even though she disagrees with him on just about everything — except for his doubts about vaccine safety.
On Thursday afternoon, half a dozen activists were camped out in a cafeteria in a House office building, with boxed salads and paper printouts splayed around them.
They were dressed in shades of the American flag: Red if they’d had a loved one injured by vaccines, and white if they were there in solidarity. (They were supposed to wear blue if a loved one had died from a vaccine injury, but STAT didn’t see anyone in the group wearing that color.)
Dressed in a red sweater and seated in a wheelchair, activist Marcella Piper-Terry teared up as she talked about her own chronic pain condition and her young adult daughter’s seizures and Asperger’s syndrome. She believes those injuries stem from vaccines.
Then Piper-Terry was off to navigate the tunnels and long hallways of the office building, en route to her first congressional meeting of the day, in the office of a representative from Arizona.
High on the lobbying agenda: Pushing members of Congress to encourage President Trump to establish a new vaccine safety commission. Kennedy emerged from a meeting with Trump in January saying such a commission would be established, and he’d lead it. That announcement set off alarms among public health experts; Trump’s team soon moved to quiet the frenzy by saying no decisions had been made about the panel. Kennedy later said, however, that he was confident the vaccine safety commission would move forward.
The activists organizing the “Revolution for Truth” also want Congress to repeal a Reagan-era law that had the effect of moving lawsuits over vaccine injuries out of the civil courts by setting up a separate compensation system. People can get compensation through that system if they’re able to meet strict requirements in showing a vaccine did, in fact, cause their injury. Activists oppose the system in large part because autism is not on the list of recognized injuries that can sometimes stem from vaccines.
Other key goals: Getting Trump to take vaccine safety out of the purview of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nudging him to issue an executive order banning the government from purchasing vaccines that use the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. That preservative has never been in many key vaccines and was taken out of other childhood vaccines in 2001. Research shows it is not harmful in low doses.