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This 6th of August 2020 letter by John Stone to the BMJ is worth re-printing.

Dear Editor

Thank you Karyse Day [1] for drawing attention to the problem of the bias and intimidation inherent in the term "anti-vaxxer".

The term has been around perhaps since the 19th century but has evolved a new context.

Three years ago I drew attention to the remarks of Seth Berkley, director of the vaccine lobby organisation GAVI, in the Spectator proposing that "anti-vaxxers" be excluded from social media, which meant in effect not only that certain people should not be allowed on social media but that criticism of vaccines should not be allowed on a generic basis - an extremely serious matter[2].

Unfortunately, this has also been a hobby-horse of the present Prime Minister.

In August last year Reuter's recorded Boris Johnson as saying [3]:

“I’m afraid people have just been listening to that superstitious mumbo-jumbo on the internet, all that anti-vax stuff..."

On 24 September 2020 he told the UN [4]:

“There are today people who are still actually anti-science, a whole movement called ‘the anti-vaxxers’ who refuse to acknowledge the evidence that vaccinations have eradicated smallpox and who by their prejudices are actually endangering the very children they want to protect."

By February this year the Sunday Telegraph was reporting [5]:

"Posting anti-vaccine propaganda on social media could become criminal offence, Law Commissioner says New Law Commissioner Penney Lewis is leading wide-ranging review into whether UK's offence and abuse laws are fit for the Social Media age..."

And once again the Prime Minister was quoted last month [6]:

“There’s all these anti-vaxxers now,” Johnson told medical workers at a doctor’s surgery in London. “They are nuts, they are nuts.”

While there are a lot of very fed up people I am extremely dubious there is a movement called "the anti-vaxxers" or that they are posting propaganda: at the very best this is a simplistic claim [7,8].

At a time when the government is supposedly trying to earn trust for a range of potential SAR-CoV-2 vaccines the continued disparagement and repression of people who raise questions about a class of products - which after all cannot be inherently safe - speaks for itself.

It creates an atmosphere of prejudice and intimidation - such as described in the Cumberlege review [9] and should be seen and understood for what it is.


[1] Karyse Day, 'Re: Cumberlege review exposes stubborn and dangerous flaws in healthcare', 25 August 2020,

[2] John Stone, ' The Shadow War on Disease: Arbitrary, Oppressive and Unaccountable Medicine', 9 July 2017,

[3] 'UK's Johnson slams 'mumbo-jumbo' about vaccines after measles rates rise', Reuter's 19 August 2020,

[4] United Kingdom - Prime Minister Addresses General Debate, 74th Session (UN 24 September 2019) @ 8.30

[5] Mike Wright, 'Posting anti-vaccine propaganda on social media could become criminal offence, Law Commissioner says', 1 February 2020

[6] 'Johnson says anti-vaxxers 'are nuts'', Reuter's 24 July 2020

[7] John Stone, 'An appeal to authority is not the same as an appeal to knowledge', 15 May

[8] John Stone, 'Brave new World', 17 May 2019,

[9] Helen Haskell, 'Cumberlege review exposes stubborn and dangerous flaws in healthcare' BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 06 August 2020)


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