Another week, another online and anonymous accusation that I am a “vax shill.” The term means that I am somehow getting money or some other form of material benefit from defending vaccine science. Some weird dude from Pennsylvania would like to take credit for creating that label, but these accusations have been around since the days of Edward Jenner. (Though not online, of course.)
The argument loses steam almost immediately when you start to consider one thing: How much money is enough to “cover-up” an enormously big conspiracy?
It’s no secret that pharmaceutical companies make billions of dollars in profit each year. However, vaccines don’t account for much of that cash:
“In fact, vaccines were so unprofitable that some companies stopped making them altogether. In 1967, there were 26 vaccine manufactures. That number dropped to 17 by 1980. Ten years ago, the financial incentives to produce vaccines were so weak that there was growing concern that pharmaceutical companies were abandoning the vaccine business for selling more-profitable daily drug treatments. Compared with drugs that require daily doses, vaccines are only administered once a year or a lifetime. The pharmaceutical company Wyeth (which has since been acquired by Pfizer) reported that they stopped making the flu vaccine because the margins were so low.”
In other words, it would be more profitable for pharmaceutical companies to pay me to defend erectile dysfunction or hypertension medication than to defend the use of vaccines. Heck, if you think about it, vaccines actually prevent people from using other drugs that are more profitable by preventing long-term complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. So, with that in mind, how much money should I ask for if I really were a “vax shill”?
Can you imagine if it were true that vaccines cause autism and there was some coordinated effort to keep “the sheeple” unaware of this? The level of scandal would be almost unmatched. It would probably fill the 24/7 news cycle for weeks. Congressional hearings would be held. People would march on Washington. Pharmaceutical CEOs would run for their lives, maybe even literally.
All until Donald Trump tweets out something idiotic, then we’d probably go back to paying attention to him.
Anyway, if that is the level of disruption that anyone confessing to being in on the conspiracy would raise, how much money would that person ask for in order to stay quiet about that conspiracy? A million? A billion? Or, as David Wong at Cracked.com put it about 9/11 conspiracists:
“No, they’re just getting started. It’s at this stage of the hypothetical plot when the 9/11 conspiracy guys say the real cover-up began. This is when all of the many, many people who could have blown the lid off the whole thing chose to stay silent because they were paid off by the government.
That includes hundreds of private researchers and government employees who prepared gigantic reports about the collapse of the towers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Also, officials in the New York City Fire Department.
All were written fat checks, say the conspiracy guys, to cover up the murder of 3,000 New Yorkers. Keep in mind, some of them were New Yorkers themselves – all of the FDNY guys were – and some of them had friends who died in the towers. The theory even says it was the commander of the FDNY itself who detonated one of the buildings, and therefore he was in on the decision to kill 343 of his own firefighters and 60 police officers.
For money. If that were you… how big would that check have to be? These are people he saw every day, worked with every day. He went to weddings, birthday parties, to baseball games with these guys. In the mind of the 9/11 conspiracy, he’d kill them all for a big enough pile of cash.
There’s more. We have hundreds, if not thousands, of reporters and writers who researched the collapse, including the nine reporters and dozens of experts for the huge Popular Mechanics article on the subject.
They were paid off, too. And paid enough to walk away from the story of a lifetime, a chance to blow the lid off the conspiracy. Paid enough to refuse a sure Pulitzer and a lifetime of fame and riches as one of history’s greatest heroes. And paid in such a way that no other reporters would notice and get jealous or ask questions. These people do tend to be the curious type, you know.
We’re getting a nice sized payroll here. Now let’s add in the hundreds of people from a dozen different agencies and police departments who claim to have helped clean up flight 93 wreckage, including 300 volunteers. The conspiracy guys say there was no plane, therefore they were paid to lie, along with all of the witnesses in Pennsylvania who claim to have seen the plane go down.
But wait, there’s more. Because there are hundreds of thousands of civil engineers and structural engineers in the world (people who are experts in what makes buildings fall down) and lots of demolitions experts. Approximately zero of them say the 9/11 attacks looked like bombed buildings. All of them either say outright that the demolition theory is asinine, or are silent in the face of what the Loose Changers say is video proof of mass murder so obvious even an uneducated jackass off the street can spot it.
The conspiracy guys’ explanation?
You guessed it. They were paid to stay silent. Hey, why not? Probably half a million people there, but, you know. Since we’ve got the checkbook out anyway…
Also, think of all of the friends and family of these paid conspirators, who suddenly see all this mysterious wealth…
…Wouldn’t some rumors get started?
You’ve got some hypothetical professor who was about to write a paper proving the towers were demolished, suddenly coming into Powerball-sized wealth and abandoning the paper at the same time… his wife never let it slip? His kids didn’t object? All his jealous colleagues who noticed the sudden new cars and new home and elaborate vacations, nobody asked questions? Nobody made an anonymous call to the IRS, just out of spite? All the bank employees who noticed thousands of mysterious deposits, all of which have to be reported to the IRS, that didn’t leave a trail?
I mean, we’re up to a sizeable portion of the US population here. Odds are you’ve passed some of these people on the street.
And keep in mind, this can’t be chump change. Even in a world where every structural engineering desk jockey is okay with mass murder, they’re still not going to risk jail and career ruin and walk away from a huge book deal for ten grand. Oh, no, it’s got to be millions, per person, just to make it worth it. Even a dedicated conspirator would need to know he or she was set for life.
Let’s say they wrote 500,000 checks (hell, you’ve got more than 120,000 people in the American Society of Civil Engineers alone, and they’d be the first ones to speak out). Say the average payout was ten million (barely enough to live rich the rest of your life, but let’s just say). So that’s 500,000 times ten million which is…
…Five TRILLION dollars.
That’s about half of the value of all goods and services produced in the United States last year. Therefore the 9/11 conspiracy was, in terms of payroll, the single largest employer in the history of the world.”
The same can be said about “Big Pharma” and how much they would have to pay everyone in on the “vaccines cause autism” conspiracy. Me? I’d ask for 100 million dollars. How much do you think physicians with student loan debts would ask for? And how about nurses? Physician assistants? What about local, state and federal epidemiologists?
We’re talking a lot of money, to the point that it wouldn’t be profitable at all. And all that to protect a product that isn’t that profitable? It’s amazing that Big Pharma makes any money to begin with if this is the case.
So the next time you see someone accusing someone else of being a “vax shill” or of getting some sort of kickback for debunking anti-vaccine nonsense, just ask them how much they think is spent on this conspiracy… And then watch the goalposts move.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
About History of Vaccines: I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, a project of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Please read the About page on the site for more information.
About Epidemiological: I am the sole contributor to Epidemiological, my personal blog to discuss all sorts of issues. It also has an About page you should check out.