Image via AP.

Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate and also an actual medical doctor, doesn’t appear to be anti-vaccination. But she’s sort of anti-vaxxer adjacent, giving a series of mealy statements to the Washington Post and in a Reddit AMA about whether vaccines are safe. Jill: you don’t have to do this!

It’s popular among a certain segment of establishment-wary liberals to say that it’s not that vaccines are unsafe, necessarily, but that the Food and Drug Administration oversees them. The FDA and other federal regulatory agencies can’t be fully trusted, that argument goes, and so vaccine safety is called into question.

That’s where Stein— who is, again, a physician— appears to land. In a Reddit AMA two months ago, she objected to the concept of “mandatory” vaccines and talked about public distrust when asked about vaccination:

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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-indsutrial [sic] complex.

But Stein did add, thank God, that vaccines “in general have made a huge contribution to public health:”

Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox 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. A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO 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.

For homeopathy, just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe. By the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is also problematic. There’s a lot of snake-oil in this system. We need research and licensing boards that are protected from conflicts of interest. They should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural” or not.

The problem here is that vaccines have been routinely, repeatedly and rigorously tested by scientists who don’t have ties to big pharma or the “medical-industrial complex.” And public distrust about vaccines here is laced with factually wrong beliefs, like the one about vaccines causing autism. Also, the idea that there are no medical exemptions in the U.S. for vaccines is patently wrong; what states like California have had to get rid of are “personal belief” exemptions that were keeping people from inoculating their kids for no conceivable medical reason.

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In a conversation with the Washington Post, Stein took a similar line:

“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,” Stein said. “Like any medication, they also should be — what shall we say? — approved by a regulatory board that people can trust. And I think right now, that is the problem. That people do not trust a Food and Drug Administration, or even the CDC for that matter, where corporate influence and the pharmaceutical industry has a lot of influence.”

The paper notes that actually, most people who sit on the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee aren’t from drug companies, but academics and scientists and public health experts. Here’s a list of them.

She added, too, that she sees unresolved, unnamed issues about vaccines:

“As a medical doctor, there was a time where I looked very closely at those issues, and not all those issues were completely resolved,” Stein said. “There were concerns among physicians about what the vaccination schedule meant, the toxic substances like mercury which used to be rampant in vaccines. There were real questions that needed to be addressed. I think some of them at least have been addressed. I don’t know if all of them have been addressed.”

Again not to nitpick here, but some vaccines used to contain Thimerosal, a drug derived from ethylmercury and used as a preservative. Ethylmercury clears the body quickly and isn’t toxic to humans, unlike methylmercury, a neurotoxin which isn’t used in vaccines. Thimerosal isn’t widely used anymore either, not because it was unsafe, but because people were scared of it, before the study linking vaccines and autism was debunked.

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With one hand, then, Stein tell the Post and the public that there’s a “real, compelling need” for vaccines, and with the other implies that there’s maybe something unsafe or sketchy about them. Very cool. Very responsible. A fun addition to an already deeply depressing election season. Thanks, Dr. Stein.