Bioethics, Health, Top Stories, World Affairs

Candace Owens Is Dangerously Misinformed about Vaccines

After Bill Gates criticized the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding to the World Health Organization, right-wing social media personality and America Firster Candace Owens accused Gates of being a “vaccine-criminal.” In a Facebook post on April 15th that has since generated 38,000 reactions and over 6,000 comments—as well as being shared more than 22,000 times—she elaborated:

FACT: Bill and Melinda Gates, along with their partners at the World Health Organization have been unethically experimenting with non-FDA approved vaccines on African and Indian tribes for YEARS… As this information is getting out, Snopes has bent over backwards to try to say that it is technically false. It is not and it is easily researchable and verifiable. I suggest every single person take the time today to educate themselves and read this academic review on the long efforts Bill Gates and the World Health Organization have the taken, under the guise of “philanthropy”, to develop and mandate worldwide vaccines.

In another tweet published the same day, Owens stated:

Owens believes that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (which allocated $4.3 billion to global health, development, and education programs in 2018 alone) works in the world’s most impoverished places to avoid FDA regulations and get rich on global vaccination drives. “Want to be super clear—I am not against vaccinations,” she added minutes later. “I am against human guinea pigs of African tribal children for vaccinations, which means I am necessarily against @BillGates and I am thoroughly celebrating the defunding of @WHO.”

The only evidence I’ve seen her produce for any of this is a 2017 paper she linked to from her Facebook post and Twitter feed, written by Sharmeen Ahmed for a journal published by the Golden Gate University School of Law. Ahmed claims that Gates Foundation-sponsored programs “resulted in numerous deaths and injuries” from which Owens has concluded that the Gates Foundation “used African & Indian tribal children to experiment w/non-FDA approved drug vaccines.” Ahmed’s paper focuses on three Gates-supported vaccination programs in India and Africa to combat HPV, malaria, and meningitis. Let’s examine each of these in turn.

Between 2006 and 2011, PATH (Program for Appropriate Technology in Health) conducted a series of demonstration projects in Peru, Uganda, Vietnam, and India to “provide evidence for decision-making about public-sector introduction of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.” Ahmed primarily discusses the program in India because it “drew investigation by the national government.” HPV can lead to cervical cancer—a disease that kills 60,000 Indian women every year, and which hundreds of millions more are at risk of developing. HPV vaccines were already widely used in private clinics across India, but the study was designed to assess the effectiveness of including the vaccines in the country’s public immunization program.

This program was funded by the Gates Foundation. After around 24,000 Indian girls between the ages of 10 and 14 in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat received HPV vaccines (Gardasil, produced by Merck, and Cervarix, produced by GlaxoSmithKline), local newspapers began reporting that several girls had died. This prompted a public outcry, which led to the suspension of the project in April 2010. A subsequent report commissioned by the government found no link between the deaths and the vaccinations, which isn’t a surprise—these vaccines are used in more than 100 countries, and the WHO reports that 200 million doses were safely administered in the first decade after they were approved.

Contrary to Owens’ assertion that the Gates Foundation was “experimenting” on Indian girls with “non-FDA-approved vaccines,” both of the vaccines in question—Gardasil and Cervarix—have, in fact, received FDA approval. Both were already available in India, and had been approved by the European Medicines Agency and other major regulatory agencies around the world. Dozens of countries include HPV vaccines in their national immunization programs, including the United States and the UK. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that the vaccines “went through years of extensive safety testing before they were licensed by the US Food and Drug Administration” and affirms that they provide “safe, effective, and long-lasting protection against cancers caused by HPV.”

The idea that two of the most common and effective HPV vaccines in the world are “infertilizing poor colored children in Africa and India” is as absurd as it sounds—the CDC reports that there’s “no evidence to suggest that the HPV vaccine causes fertility problems.” (Owens also posted a tweet suggesting that tetanus vaccinations lead to infertility, a conspiracy theory that the WHO has had to address over and over again for years. Despite the dangerous misinformation that often spreads about it, tetanus vaccination has been an overwhelming success—the number of annual deaths from tetanus collapsed from almost 315,000 in 1990 to just over 38,000 in 2017.)

Ahmed’s paper relies heavily on a 2013 report issued by the Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare. But this report is rife with problems, the most serious of which is the assertion that the “safety and well being of subjects were completely jeopardized” by the distribution of vaccines that have never been plausibly linked to a single death, and which are fully supported by public health agencies around the world. Because two of the seven deaths were declared suicides (resulting from the ingestion of pesticides), the committee even suggests that the vaccines could lead to “suicidal ideation,” an entirely speculative claim unsupported by any evidence. Despite the fact that PATH didn’t receive any funding from Merck, GSK, or any other drug company, the committee’s report repeatedly asserts that the program was a “promotional activity for the benefit of [a] manufacturing company” which would “generate windfall profit for the manufacturer(s).” No evidence is offered in support of these claims either.

Ahmed uncritically repeats the committee’s unfounded argument about profit motive: “The HPV vaccine project essentially facilitated low-cost clinical trials and assisted in creating new markets for a drug that underperformed in the U.S.” No documentary evidence is provided to support this allegation, nor is any attempt made to substantiate the implied connection between PATH and pharmaceutical profits. While the committee’s report raises legitimate questions about how consent was obtained (claims that school headmasters were empowered to provide consent instead of parents, for instance, are worthy of investigation), its arguments about the dangers posed by the vaccines contradict years of clinical and observational research.

Ahmed also attacks the Gates-sponsored PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The study in question included more than 15,000 children across seven African countries. Children in two age groups—six to 12 weeks and five to 17 months, respectively—were given “either RTS,S/AS01 or a non-malaria comparator vaccine” to evaluate “vaccine efficacy against severe malaria in both age categories.” The results were clear: RTS,S was successful at reducing the risk of developing clinical and severe malaria. According to the WHO, “RTS,S is the first, and to date, the only vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria, and life-threatening severe malaria, in young African children.” The WHO is now in the process of implementing a large-scale pilot program to vaccinate 360,000 children per year in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

Here’s how Ahmed summarizes the negative effects of RTS,S outlined in the PATH study: “The trials resulted in 151 deaths and caused serious adverse effects, including paralysis and seizure in 1048 of 5949 children aged 5–17 months.” This is a flagrant misrepresentation of the study’s findings. The trials did not “result in” 151 deaths—that number refers to the total number of deaths that occurred for any reason in the period after the vaccine was administered; between 18 and 24 months for children in the older category and nine to 17 months for younger children. In fact, 10 of the children died from malaria—an abnormally low number. “We attribute the very low malaria-specific mortality in this trial,” the researchers wrote, “to the high level of access to high-quality care provided at study facilities.”

Ahmed makes it sound as if the vaccine program itself was responsible for 151 deaths, which is the opposite of the truth—the program likely saved lives. Ahmed makes the same mistake with the number of “adverse events” experienced by the children. While it’s true that 1,048 of the older children suffered adverse events, only 10 of them experienced events related to the vaccine itself. Febrile seizures (which aren’t unique to RTS,S) occurred at a rate of one per 1,000 (.1 percent): “All cases were associated with a history of fever, and all children recovered from the acute event.” As for the claim that children were “paralyzed” by the vaccine—nothing of the sort appears in the study.

Ahmed only devotes two paragraphs to the MenAfriVac campaign, which was supported by a 10-year, $70 million grant from the Gates Foundation. Her paper mentions “reports of informed consent violations,” which Ahmed admits were “unsubstantiated,” and “reports of adverse health effects in Burkina Faso,” which were “deemed by medical researchers as normal and did not warrant safety concerns.” What Ahmed doesn’t mention is that the MenAfriVac program was one of the most successful African health initiatives in decades—between 2010 and late 2019, 315 million people received the vaccine in what’s known as Africa’s “meningitis belt,” and cases of meningitis A have dropped precipitously. According to the WHO, the vaccine is “expected to eliminate meningococcal A epidemics from this region of Africa,” which used to regularly kill thousands of people during outbreaks. Without MenAfriVac, hundreds of millions of Africans would be vulnerable to a disease that can kill within hours and leave survivors paralyzed, blind, and intellectually disabled. The vaccine costs 40 cents per dose.

Recall that Ahmed mentioned unsubstantiated “reports of informed consent violations” in the MenAfriVac campaign. These “reports” originated on a site called Vactruth.com, which (at the time of this writing) displayed front-page stories like “Vaccine Induced Autism and the Fallout: Now What?,” “Baby Foreskin Is Being Used To Make Vaccines,” and “Fertility-Regulating Vaccines Being Tested in India.” Ahmed closed the section on the Gates Foundation’s work in Africa by observing that, while “claims of human rights abuses resulting from these trials across Africa may be unsupported,” it’s worth emphasizing the “ease through which potential abuse(s) can happen, if they did not already.” This is profoundly irresponsible scholarship, which substitutes innuendo from anti-vaccine conspiracy sites for facts and fundamentally misrepresents data to perpetuate a narrative.

Owens describes Ahmed’s paper as an “academic review that everyone should read,” and she has repeatedly recommended it to her millions of followers. She believes the paper demonstrates that Bill Gates—whose work has saved millions of lives, led the way in nearly eradicating polio, and made significant strides toward the elimination of other deadly diseases such as malaria and meningitis—is a “vaccine-criminal” who is using people as “human guinea pigs,” sterilizing and paralyzing children, and exploiting global health crises to force vaccines on his “victims.” Owens says Ahmed’s paper exposes the “long efforts Bill Gates and the World Health Organization have the [sic] taken, under the guise of ‘philanthropy,’ to develop and mandate worldwide vaccines.”

In her Facebook post last Wednesday, Owens wrote:

Ever wonder why a man that builds computers, both predicted the pandemic two months before it happened, is suddenly featured on the news every day instilling fear into hearts of Americans, and is now demanding that nothing be reopened until vaccines are mandated? I cannot reasonably speculate as to why, but I can say the [sic] it is important that EVERY AMERICAN INFORMS THEMSELVES about this [sic] international dealings and insistence on developing a Vaccine ID chip for all humans.

If Owens spent more time educating herself instead of skimming shoddy articles and building ludicrous conspiracy theories around them, she might figure out why the most influential philanthropist in history—who has been warning us about the inevitability of a devastating pandemic for years—is getting a little airtime at the moment.

 

Matt Johnson has written for Stanford Social Innovation Review, the BulwarkEditor & PublisherAreo MagazineArc DigitalSplice TodayForbes, and the Kansas City Star. He was formerly the opinion page editor at the Topeka Capital-Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjj89.

Featured Image: Bill Gates courtesy of World Economic Forum (Flickr) and Candace Owens courtesy of Gage Skidmore (Flickr).

Comments

  1. If Owens spent more time educating her self instead of skimming shoddy articles and building ludicrous conspiracy theories around them, she might figure out why the most influential philanthropist in history—who has been warning us about the inevitability of a devastating pandemic for years—is getting a little airtime at the moment.

    Gates is the most influential philanthropist in history? I think Matt Johnson is dangerously misinformed about philanthropy.

  2. I really don’t appreciate Quillette labeling Owens as right-wing. That’s an ad hominem tactic used to marginalize people and not engage their ideas. Is PragerU right-wing, or is it conservative?

    And, BTW, keeping the world in lockdown until a vaccine comes sounds like a good way to create a worldwide depression.

  3. I am very glad that Quillette published this. Quillette needs to maintain scientific sanity. It needs to fight against both left and right wing. It is hard. But in the long run it will pay off.

  4. what’s the point of this?
    That both, right-wing and leftist pundits peddle half-truths on a good day and bold-faced lies on all other days? We know this very well. At this point in history, I find it scarier if the current crop of left-wingers with their insane PC and social agenda for America, not to mention the economic one, take at least two branches of government, come November.
    So, holding my nose but as a practical matter, I will vote Republican in November. And
    if Candace Owens’ b.s. helps that, so be it.

  5. What I find interesting is that Owens’ take on WHO and Bill Gates is essentially identical to that of my most left-wing friend. There’s a distrust of international institutions and influence-hungry billionaires that transcends politics, and while the beliefs of people like Owens and my friend are silly to me, that distrust is not misplaced.

    WHO helped China cover up the coronavirus epidemic, shut out Taiwan, and in so doing facilitated the spread of the virus. If WHO were not beholden to China, this virus would have been contained a long time ago. It is clear that WHO is thoroughly corrupt, because the paltry sum China pays into it officially does not explain the amount of influence China has over WHO. Guaranteed there are backroom deals enriching WHO officials at the expense of world health.

    If we want conspiracy theories to gain less traction, we should do away with the corrupt unelected bureaucracies that necessitate suspicion. Defunding WHO is not enough. All democracies should leave the UN, and eminent domain should be used to turn the property in New York into a dog park.

  6. Bit of an agitprop piece, I have to say. For the record, whether Owens got things wrong or right, she is allowed to make her claim, and the document she bases her claim on, Sharmeen Ahmed’s 2017 paper, is fairly credible and extensive. Matt Johnson is allowed to debunk it, or attempt to, but I have to say his tone is a little off key. He seems determined to demonize Owens and determined to lionize Gates to virtual Messiah status (“He has saved millions of lives” - what a scientific guesstimate). Also, by the way, Gates is not a doctor. He knows nothing about vaccines. I don’t think Gates is evil, just something of a nincompoop. Vaccines take long to develop, especially as malaria is a highly complex parasite. Mosquirix has a fairly low cure rate. Money would be better spent on schools. Also, be it Gates or Bono, one does get bored of people who pick Africa to be the ground zero of their vanity projects. They seem to think Africa just needs a rich bwana to come along and solve their problems. By the way, people having been helping Africa since the 1960s. Notice the difference that has made? If you solve malaria, then can you solve malnutrition, unemployment, civil war? The big problem is dictatorships. Funnily enough, the one African nation to improve is Rwanda. They screwed up horribly, and then they themselves picked up the pieces.

  7. The article you reference repeats the same falsities that were addressed in the Quillette article. However it raises a few more, which investigation shows are again falsities. A continuing example of the old Cathy Newman "so what your saying is… ".

    For example, the article states: " Gates said in a TED Talk that new vaccines “could reduce population.”
    I watched the TED talk and no, he states that the projection of 9 Billion population could be reduced by 10 or 15% with new vaccines, healthcare and Reproductive Health Services. It’s the RHS which will lower the projected population growth. And this percentage is applied to a future population figure. These people do not exist.
    The more education you provide 3rd world countries, and the more reproductive health services you provide will help women be in control of their fertility. Look at places like Niger, where the average woman has 7 children. They don’t do this because they like large families when they live in poverty, they do it from a lack of control and choice. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/sp.dyn.tfrt.in?most_recent_value_desc=true
    But no, the article frames it as if vaccines will be used to wipe out 15% of the existing population. Purely disingenuous.

    Then the next accusation is that his tetnus program is sterilising mothers. But fails to mention that this claim is being made by a pro-life advocay group. You can read a response to these claims here: https://www.who.int/immunization/monitoring_surveillance/resources/milstien.pdf

    These vaccines are saving hundreds of millions of lives in the third world. These articles that peddle half-truths and falsehoods are the worst example of wantonly ignorant people who are unwilling to check sources and understand science.

    I put Candace Owens in the same category as Donald Trump. Useful idiots who sometimes stumble on a truth, however are more often ignorant bloviators seeking clicks and likes.

  8. I think this article highlights two issues. First, that partisanship more often than not leads to ad hominem- it’s usually the Left which resorts to such tactics, but the Right is not immune. Candace Owens was objectively wrong in her approach to this subject, in that it is actually possible to disagree with someone and dispute their position, without relying on dubious internet research to make your argument, which is, of course, the second problem. Generally, I am somewhat supportive of some of Candace Owens positions on culture, but she does have a tendency to act impulsively, without giving appropriate thought as to the best way to proceed.

    The best way to disagree with Bill Gates on this issue, is to wonder whether his working relationship with the WHO had led him into showing public support, where none is merited. Anti-Trump sentiment might also be an issue. The WHO has made several clear and egregious errors in the handling of COVID-19, from underplaying the efficacy of face masks in the halting of the spread of the disease, to a failure to highlight the very high risk of contracting the infection from unventilated enclosed spaces or those with recycled air, compared to the lesser risk of infection in open spaces or through contact with surfaces, with the possible exception of heavily used objects like door handles or bank machines.

    I will leave it others to criticise the WHO’s clearly supportive role of China during the crisis. It may have been the need to protect medical supply chains, a desire to maintain cordial diplomatic relations, or the simple analysis that the best way to maintain at least some cooperation was to limit criticism and be supportive- but to the impartial observer there does at least appear to be the tendency to be far more critical of countries whose support is a given, compared to others.

    This might in fact be Trump’s endgame objective, after all. His typically bombastic brinkmanship aimed at bringing the WHO into line. Tactically, it is unlikely to illicit a change in stance towards China- they have too much institutional influence within the UN, and a growing core of support amongst developing nations, but it may well force the WHO to reprise their role towards the US.

    As usual, the analysis coming from the media is superficial and partisan at best. They have allowed themselves to be played by Trump, time and again. They will leap on whatever recent absurdity he has happened to tweet, and ignore the fact that he has made it impossible for those seeking asylum to claim it, if they have travelled through a country which is effectively a safe haven. In this instance, it’s not simply electioneering or politics which motivates Trump- although these are certainly considerations worthy of comment- he is also trying to realign the existing international framework in some manner, but I will readily admit I’m not sure how, yet.

    On the subject of Bill Gates, some have been critical on this thread, whilst others more effusive in their praise. Personally, I think he just happens to an individual with a very high IQ, who happens to score particularly high on trait openness, as well as being hyper-conscientious. It’s a potent combination which generally tends to lend itself to the role of autodidact polymath. The fact that he has both extensive logistical experience and extraordinary resources at his disposal for an individual, is probably why his humanitarian efforts have met with successes, where well-resourced Western Governments with considerably deeper pockets have failed.

  9. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

    I’m not sure the author is less biased than the person he described in the article. OK, Owens is stupid, but how smart are you? Is this your article? Read that, please:

    Are Donald Trump, Viktor Orban and Marine Le Pen in the same line with Myanmar government and Erdogan?
    Is it now, during the coronavirus pandemic, the global utopia of the author has not demonstrated how fragile it is?

    Any scientist, any engineer will explain to you in three seconds how much the stability of any system depends on the ability of its subsystems to independently maintain their own stability.

    But no, globalization at all costs will be our happiness! And yes, we must believe in WHO!

  10. I agree with you sadly. While I am coronavirus skeptic, I do not pretend I am the holder of absolute truth. No one actually knows the truth yet. That is something that will reveal itself over time, and probably only in incremental parcels. A truly savvy approach if you are a media organization would be to get a diverse range of opinions. I am not saying publish crackpot detractors, but have one or two writers who question the true danger of the coronavirus and/or the legitimacy of extended lockdowns. That way, whatever the truth eventually turns out to be, you don’t end up with egg on your face. While I admire the fact that Quillette allows open debate in its comments section, the articles it picks are often a little lopsided. It’s like a standard nervous tic that every piece has to start with snipe against Trump as if that automatically lends truth to whatever follows.

  11. It does not bother anybody else that Owens is labeled right-wing in a Quillette article? The label right-wing can keep you from getting a job in large parts of our economy these days: universities, major corporations like Google, Hollywood, foundations, government jobs. This is like labeling somebody a communist back in 1949. This tactic has been used against Quillette and Quillette writers. Like “racist,” it has been watered down. It used to refer to authoritarian governments and people who advocated taking away human rights. Now it is used against groups that take traditional conservative views, like PragerU. This is an illiberal tactic that is a tool for de-platforming. It is extremely distressing to see Quillette using it.
    What does Quillette stand for if it engages in hate-labeling?

  12. The even odder thing is if you type “Quillette” into a Google search bar, then presto (thanks magic algorithm), on the very first page, the majority of links provided are sites that blast Quillette as racist and right wing. And yet when last has Quillette published an article by someone who is recognizably a conservative? By that I mean your actual average conservative not the weird Neo-Nazi nightmare vision the left has conjured in its paranoid puritanical paroxysms.

  13. What disingenuous tripe.

    Owens isn’t questioning vaccines at all.

    She’s questioning Gates’ methods and motives.

    If you need to begin with a lie to make your point, you never had a point to begin with.

  14. I am surprised no one has mentioned the whole Common Core issue to this point. For those who don’t recall, this country has spent decades going round and round and round about how to reform its education system and free it from the mire of mediocrity which it’s been stuck in for nigh on 50 years, but bout ten years ago, the Gates Foundation somehow or other managed to cut through the bureaucratic inertia and differences in opinion to log-roll a significant chunk of state education bureaucracies in the US into implementing a curriculum/teaching method known as Common Core, which supposedly was going to transform America’s state run schools due to its super double-plus good results in pilot studies. Needless to say, the whole thing proved a colossal failure, but only after Gates had spent a lot of money on it and state governments had spent even more money trying to implement and track the results of it.

    Anyway, my point here is that if Gates seems capable of exerting undue influence over education in a developed nation, you can imagine the kind of influence he can exert elsewhere, in places where his money goes a lot further. I don’t question his motives, but it’s perfectly fair to question the man’s judgement, because I don’t care how smart you are, if you’re falling for education schemes that essentially boil down to “schools in Your Area are using this One Weird Trick to improve standardized test scores,” uh…your judgement may be a tad imperfect. That said, it certainly sounds like Owens has her own judgement issues after reading this article.

  15. Of course if pro lifers & others could put their money (& extensive lobbying funds) where their mouths are for the millions of actual living children in need of immunisation & decent nutrition in third world countries this ‘murder’ & ‘genocide’ would cease…

    They do.

    They adopt more, give to charity more, and offer their services pro bono more than their pro-choice counterparts.

    It does not appear to have had any effect on that ‘murder’ and ‘genocide’ besides making it’s proponents even more angry at having their hypocrisy so consistently exposed.

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