Dr. Sherri Tenpenny is one of the anti-vaccine/pro-information movement's loudest voices. She believes that most current vaccines do more harm than good, are insufficiently tested, and simply don't function as one-size-cures-all solutions for the public's health. It's a conviction she took public in September 2000 before really lighting things up in 2008 with her book, Say No To Vaccines.
The difference between her and the MDMA cap Jenny McCarthy is that Sheri is a practicing physician (thanks to the US being the only country in the world where osteopaths are equivalent to MDs). She also directed an Ohio ER for 12 years, so when she speaks, people listen.
This March, Sheri is heading to Australia for a series of speaking engagements, although at the time of writing, five venues have already cancelled events under the weight of outcry. Event organiser and Melanie's Marvellous Measles author, Stephanie Messenger, told VICE there have even been death threats.
But while reactions on both sides are out of control, Dr. Tenpenny remains steadfast. "The Hippocratic Oath says, 'First do no harm,'" she tells me. "I think the most harmful thing is injecting something into the system of a little baby when you don't know what the end result will be."
Obviously things aren't that simple, so we asked for some answers.
VICE: So what do you say to parents who approach you and say, my baby died of whooping cough?
Dr. Sherri Tenpenny: First of all the children who die of whooping cough, a very high percentage of them are under two or three months of age. I feel bad for any child that dies from any sort of communicable disease, but it's not necessarily the vaccine that would've kept them from getting sick. Vaccinating others isn't necessarily going to keep them from getting sick either. I think that's a real false premise, and we've shown that in a lot of studies: Vaccinating me doesn't keep you from getting the flu.
But if there was truth to that, why the global backlash?
I believe a lot of it is the money-driven pharmaceutical industry. They defend and protect the vaccine industry like it was their personal arsenal. In my opinion – and this is my opinion – I believe the vaccine industry drives all health care costs. Out of every 10 kids that get vaccinated, there's going to be at least two or three that are going to have some sort of a serious side effect early on. Then they go to the doctor and get blood tests, X-rays, endoscopies, and see the specialist because they can't quit crying and they're having seizures. Now they go up the specialist tree, and they end up on long term medications. It's my opinion that the pharmaceutical industry defends the vaccines because it creates customers for life.
But on your website you're monetising your message through DVD sales, plus your own brand of vitamins and well-being tablets that aren't FDA-approved.
The sales of the DVDs that we do just pay for the two employees working for me. This is not how I make a living. It's not enough to be self-supporting. The supplements? It's a shopping cart that's shared with my clinical office practice. People can go online and order their supplements as opposed to driving to my office.
I can't understand why everybody thinks it's absolutely sinful to make a living! I make a fraction of the amount of money most doctors make. I can tell you, I make a fraction of what I made as an ER doc. Why is it not OK to make a living? I mean, pediatricians make a living off of seeing children, surgeons make a living off of cutting people—why is it not OK to make a living either as a speaker or as a seller of information?
Okay then, maybe the question then is this: why is some of this money not going towards your own peer-reviewed studies of that information?
You know how much that costs? We're talking millions and millions of dollars to do a study like that. That's why when you read a published study that comes into any of the mainstream journals, when you read who funded the study, they're mostly sponsored by drug companies because they're the ones with the money! I mean, a simple study that would look at a couple hundred people would cost several hundred thousand dollars.
But you've been at this since 2000. It seems overdue.
Everything I've written is based off of what's already been published in mainstream medical journals. Almost every slide of my presentations have a footnote or reference at the bottom. When I wrote Say No To Vaccines, it was bound in a certain way so you could lay it open flat, because for every section that was written there was a footnoted reference from a mainstream medical journal or from a government document right there. What I'm actually doing is pulling out the information that already exists that nobody ever looks at. The things I have brought forth are those hidden things that are there. 90 percent is pro-vaccine, but there is a body of published literature saying, "Wait. Maybe we should look at this."
Do you think a vaccine would be a good idea in any instance, or is there no compromise?
No, I wouldn't say that. For example, the RhoGAM shot is definitely not a vaccine, but it's certainly essential. I think a tetanus shot is probably warranted in certain instances of really dirty crush wounds that you absolutely cannot clean out or with really deep puncture wounds. They also use something called tetanus immune globulin, but they use that more as a treatment vaccine. I think the entire area of cancer vaccines is really fascinating, and how they're developing. That could be incredibly therapeutic down the road, because they're talking about developing an antibody and attaching a drug to it, and then that antibody is targets cancer cells. That could be very beneficial, but I don't think any of the current vaccines are.
So are the risks posed by vaccines preferable to vaccine-preventable diseases becoming endemic again? The mainstream opinion seems to be yes.
I obviously disagree, because I know how many thousands and thousands of children are out there completely unvaccinated they don't have any diseases. With the CDC's budget of over 11 billion USD for the upcoming year, why can't they peel off a million dollars or two to do a research study looking at the actual health of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children? How many medications are they on, how many antibiotics per year do they get, how many missed days of school do they have? They won't do it. We've been petitioning them for nine years.
Have they responded?
They ignore it. They're not interested. What they're saying instead is, "We can't justify doing that study because we know vaccines work and therefore we are withholding legitimate medical treatment in order to look at an unvaccinated population," to which we have responded: "You're not withholding anything. There are thousands of parents out there that would say, 'Hey put my kids in a study. They're unvaccinated, we'll happily donate them to a study.'" And they won't do it.
That will be the cornerstone, the lynchpin to this entire argument — a very well-done, population-based study of girls and boys matched for ages and demographics and all of those things that the really good researchers know how to do. Things that really looked at the health of vaccinated versus unvaccinated kids. Then one side of this argument would have to shut up. Me, or everybody else.
Follow Toby on Twitter: @jane_tobes