False Authorities & the Anti-Vaccine Movement


You may not be familiar with the term “false authority,” but there’s no doubt you’ve come across one. A false authority is someone who presents themselves as an expert on something but who does not actually have the knowledge or expertise to be considered an authority. False authorities can often be found promoting products or services or spreading misinformation using their name or fame.

Many false authorities have found a home in the anti-vaccine movement. Here are five to look out for. 

Del Bigtree

Del Bigtree is a graduate of the Vancouver Film School and the founder of the non-profit organization, Informed Consent Action Network. His anti-vaccine views have been widely criticized by the medical community and by parents of children with autism. 

Despite the criticism, Bigtree continues to promote his anti-vaccine views on numerous talk shows and at anti-vaccine rallies. 

Ty & Charlene Bollinger

Certified Public Accountant Ty Bollinger, and his wife Charlene, who have no medical training, are known for promoting alternative medical treatments for cancer and vaccine-preventable diseases. Through their website, The Truth About Cancer, they sell books, videos, and nutritional supplements.

Medical professionals have criticized the Bollingers for their promotion of unproven and dangerous treatments. They have been identified by the US/UK non-profit, the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), as one of the top twelve spreaders of COVID-19 misinformation on social media, known as the “Disinformation Dozen.” The Disinformation Dozen were found to be responsible for 65% of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation online. 

Robert F Kennedy JR

The name Kennedy carries a certain gravitas, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has used that to his advantage. Despite continually weighing in on the science of vaccines and immunizations, RFK Jr’s educational background is in law, not medicine. 

In the 1990s, RFK Jr began to argue that some vaccines were linked to allergies in children before pivoting to the claim that thimerosal, a preservative in vaccines, caused autism.

Multiple studies by the CDC and other bodies have found no link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.

Since then, RFK Jr. has compared our government’s use of vaccine mandates to laws in Nazi Germany and promoted unproven COVID-19 treatments such as ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug designed for livestock, and the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

The CCDH has also named him one of the Disinformation Dozen. 

Jenny McCarthy 

Jenny McCarthy is an actress who studied nursing and psychology at Southern Illinois University for two years before dropping out. After her son was diagnosed with autism, she became a vocal critic of vaccines. 

Despite her claims not being supported by any medical evidence, McCarthy has made a profitable career as an anti-vaccine activist. She has written three books linking vaccines to autism and has appeared on several talk shows.

Joseph Mercola

Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician who uses his degree to promote alternative medicine, unproven dietary supplements, and medical devices, growing his net worth to more than $100 million. 

Scientists and public health experts have repeatedly debunked Mercola’s medical claims. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission charged Mercola with making false and unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of his products. 

Mercola has also been identified by the CCDH as one of the biggest spreaders of vaccine misinformation on social media.

Misinformation is dangerous. The debunked claims repeatedly made by these five false authorities have led to an increase in vaccine hesitancy and a decline in vaccination rates, negatively impacting the health of our communities. 

For tips on how to address vaccine hesitancy, read our blog post, How to Talk to People Who are Vaccine Hesitant

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