Scenes of dissent and disunity at the July 2016 Democratic National Convention raised the profile of Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein, considered a secondary choice by some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.
While Stein’s campaign made inroads with disgruntled progressives, a counterpoint repeatedly emerged: According to some opinion pieces and rumors, Dr. Stein (an internist with 17 years of field experience) opposes the use of vaccines. The rumor stemmed from an 11 May 2016 Reddit AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) hosted by Stein, in which she fielded questions from site users, during which she was asked “What is your campaign’s official stance on vaccines and homeopathic medicine?”
Stein responded at length, but she mostly offered her views on the “medical-industrial complex” rather than addressing the subject of vaccinations and homeopathic medicine. She praised vaccines’ “huge contribution to public health” while tacitly criticizing mandatory vaccination policies and U.S. regulatory agencies:
I don’t know if we have an “official” stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn’t allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the US, however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn’t be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-industrial complex.
Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like smallpox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure — each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, its no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice. Monsanto lobbyists and CEOs like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat. Same goes for vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We need to take the corporate influence out of government so people will trust our health authorities, and the rest of the government for that matter. End the revolving door. Appoint qualified professionals without a financial interest in the product being regulated. Create public funding of elections to stop the buying of elections by corporations and the super-rich.
(It is true that the Green Party [not Dr. Stein herself] once included homeopathic and alternative medicine prominently in their platform, but that stance was officially dialed back in April 2016.)
We contacted Dr. Jill Stein’s campaign for clarification on her position regarding vaccinations, and while we did not receive an immediate response, Stein shared our article and tweeted to proclaim that “of course I support vaccinations”:
As a medical doctor of course I support vaccinations. I have a problem with the FDA being controlled by drug companies.
— Dr. Jill Stein (@DrJillStein) July 29, 2016
On 30 July 2016, we received a response to our query from Press Director Meleiza Figueroa, who provided a statement from Dr. Stein to clarify her stance on vaccines:
I think there’s no question that vaccines have been absolutely critical in ridding us of the scourge of many diseases — smallpox, polio, etc. So vaccines are an invaluable medication … We have a real compelling need for vaccinations.
Nonetheless, David Weigel noted in the Washington Post that Dr. Stein’s statements echo language used by vaccination opponents, and that her call for vaccines “to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them” may be misplaced:
Stein’s warning about corporate influence in the vaccine approval process is often voiced by “anti-vaxxers.” In reality, most members of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee work at academic or medical institutions, not drug companies. But for Stein, the fact that people saw corporate and lobbying influence running rampant meant that some skepticism was warranted.
Dr. Stein’s stated position is that she “supports vaccinations” and acknowledges that “we have a real compelling need for vaccinations,” so it’s not true to say that she is on record as holding an anti-vaccination political position. However, her somewhat equivocal statements surrounding that issue allow for a fair bit of leeway and interpretation — many others who proclaim to “support vaccinations” in concept effectively undercut their positions by raising objections to the “vaccination process” or the “vaccination industry.”