Je ne suis pas Sherri Tenpenny and the Anti-Vax Brigade

There are no parallels between Sherri Tenpenny’s anti-vax talks being cancelled and the Charlie Hebdo massacre – it’s not free speech,  proclaims Jack Howes, it’s snake-oil selling.


sherri tenpenny


In case you were unclear, that is indeed a supporter of famous anti-vaccination advocate Dr. Sherri Tenpenny trying to draw a parallel between the protests against the good Doctor and the barbaric attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

If this is wildly unsurprising news, you’re probably already fairly familiar with the anti-vax movement and the mouth-breathing lunatics it drags in. If you’re feeling mildly sickened and a bit outraged, don’t worry, I’ll get you all the way there soon enough. If you’re nodding along and not really seeing a problem, I can only suggest you stop trying to treat your child’s pneumonia with garlic and essential oils and get them to an actual doctor ASAP.

There are five broad tribes you’ll find within the anti-vax community, although there is certainly plenty of crossover:

  • The desperate and gullible

    These tend to be well-meaning types who genuinely think they’re doing the right thing by their child; that vaccines are dangerous and are harmful to not only the individual, but society as a whole. The most at risk from the misinformation spread by loons like Sherri Tenpenny.

  •  The hippy/religious naturalists

    God/Mother Nature/Allah/Gaia/take your pick created humanity this way. We were never intended to inject our bodies with (insert paranoid delusion of choice here), so why would we? Disease is natural, let nature take its course.

  •  The conspiracy theorists

    The conspiracy theorist sees vaccines as part of a broader industrial-medical-military complex. They don’t do any good, are merely a money-making scam, where’s the proof vaccines have eradicated smallpox, the doctors might be inserting tracking devices and have you heard about chemtrails? To be treated with as much credibility and respect as 9/11 truthers.

  •  The aware, but selfish

    Tend to be upper middle-class yups who are perfectly aware of the good vaccines have done for the world, but prefer not to vaccinate darling Sebastian on the minute chance he has an adverse reaction.

  • The snake-oil salesmen

    This group includes, but is certainly not limited to, homeopaths, soul healers, chiropractors, and anyone making money off the desperate and gullible group mentioned above. Think Andrew Wakefield and Sherri Tenpenny. They are dangerous swine that should be called out as such at every possible opportunity.

So who is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, and what’s all the fuss about?

Tenpenny is an American osteopath who holds no qualifications of any sort relating to vaccines or the diseases they help to prevent. She’s the author of two books, one of which is entitled Saying No To Vaccines and has become somewhat of a bible for the movement. The second, FOWL! Bird Flu: It’s Not What You Think argues that bird flu has links to vaccines and is part of a “‘world government drama”.

Tenpenny had been engaged to speak on an anti-vaccination advocacy tour by Australian anti-vax campaigner Stephanie Messenger. With 11 venues booked, and tickets selling at $200 a pop, Tenpenny and Messenger looked set to reap a windfall. However, public pressure, led by a pro-vaccination group called Stop the Australian Anti Vaccination Network, picked up steam and has led to nine of the 11 venues pulling out.

There is a further campaign to deny Tenpenny a visa, on the grounds that she is a danger to the public. While this in turn has provoked a backlash by the usual champions of free-speech and the supporters of the anti-vaccination movement, it’s hard to feel much sympathy.

Whatever the outcome of the visa situation, it’s been gratifying to see mainstream Australia standing up to reject the pseudoscientific, and downright harmful, nonsense that Tenpenny would bring.

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