It should come as no surprise that the people mainly responsible for bankrolling the anti-vaccine movement are wealthy socialites far removed from the horrors they’re inflicting upon other parts of the country.
This week, the Washington Post profiled hedge fund manager Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, who have donated a combined $3 million to anti-vax groups over the last few years. They have continued spreading their anti-vaxxer propaganda despite massive measles outbreaks throughout their home state of New York and beyond.
The Selz family used to give to causes like art, education, and the environment, but lately they’ve been funneling their funds directly to anti-science causes. They have even given money to Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced fraud who created the fake vaccine-autism connection via a paper that was published in (and later retracted from) The Lancet.
How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The groups’ false claims linking vaccines to autism and other ailments, while downplaying the risks of measles, have led growing numbers of parents to shun the shots. As a result, health officials have said, the potentially deadly disease has surged to at least 1,044 cases this year, the highest number in nearly three decades.
The Selz Foundation provides roughly three-fourths of the funding for the Informed Consent Action Network, a three-year-old charity that describes its mission as promoting drug and vaccine safety and parental choice in vaccine decisions.
“Parental choice,” of course, doesn’t matter when it comes to vaccines. No one should get to choose whether or not to unleash chaos when it comes to public health. Still, the Selzes aren’t doing this alone.
Lisa Selz serves as the group’s president, but its public face and chief executive is Del Bigtree, a former daytime television show producer who draws big crowds to public events. Bigtree has no medical credentials but holds himself out as an expert on vaccine safety and promotes the idea that government officials have colluded with the pharmaceutical industry to cover up grievous harms from the drugs. In recent weeks, Bigtree has headlined forums in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn and Rockland County, N.Y., both areas confronting large measles outbreaks.
“They should be allowed to have the measles if they want the measles,” Bigtree told reporters outside the Brooklyn meeting on June 4. “It’s crazy that there’s this level of intensity around a trivial childhood illness.”
They weren’t trivial before and they’re not trivial now. More than 100,000 children died from measles in 2017. More to the point, by not vaccinating their kids, these parents aren’t just putting their kids in danger, they’re putting everyone in danger because the virus can spread more easily.
The misinformation campaign waged by these anti-science propagandists is deadly. No amount of supposed philanthropy makes up for the fact that the Selzes are indirectly working to kill people by bringing back diseases that could have been eradicated if not for people like them.
(Image via Shutterstock)