There are a few notorious names associated with the anti-vaccination movement, but most people are not aware of the number of famous scientists, writers, activists, doctors, actors, entertainers and human rights leaders who have spoken out about vaccination risks.
From Ghandi to George Bernard Shaw to Mayim Bialik and more, here are some of the more notable people who have spoken out against vaccines and for vaccine choice.
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) was the leader of Indian independence movement in British-ruled India, and is widely referred to by Indians as the father of the nation. Gandhi employed nonviolent civil disobedience to lead India to independence, and also inspired civil rights movements across the world. Among those who have credited Gandhi for inspiration are Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama (who called him his biggest source of inspiration) and Albert Einstein. After his assassination in 1948, over two million people joined the five-mile long funeral procession.
Gandhi was vehemently opposed to vaccination, which he called a “barbarous practice” and “one of the most fatal of all the delusions current in our time.” He maintained that sanitation, hygiene, fresh air, clean water and wholesome food were instead essential for preventing infection and helping the sick to recover.
Speaking out about mandatory vaccination, he said:
Its supporters are not content with its adoption by those who have no objection to it, but seek to impose it with the aid of penal laws and rigorous punishments on all people alike.
In his book, A Guide to Health, he wrote about the smallpox vaccine:
The original theory was that a single vaccination would suffice to keep a man immune from this disease for life; but, when it was found that even vaccinated persons were attacked by the disease, a new theory came into being that the vaccination should be renewed after a certain period, and to-day it has become the rule for all persons–whether already vaccinated or not–to get themselves vaccinated whenever small-pox rages as an epidemic in any locality, so that it is no uncommon thing to come across people who have been vaccinated five or six times, or even more.
Gandhi urged people to speak out against vaccination, writing:
Those who are conscientious objectors to vaccination should, of course, have the courage to face all penalties or persecutions to which they may be subjected by law, and stand alone, if need be, against the whole world, in defence of their conviction.
He also advised:
Those who object to it merely on the grounds of health should acquire a complete mastery of the subject, and should be able to convince others of the correctness of their views, and convert them into adopting those views in practice.
He also admonished:
But those who have neither definite views on the subject nor courage enough to stand up for their convictions should no doubt obey the laws of the state, and shape their conduct in deference to the opinions and practices of the world around them.
Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903) was a renowned English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist and sociologist known for applying evolutionary theory to the study of politics and ethics and for coining the term “survival of the fittest” before it was used by Charles Darwin.
Spencer was once called “the single most famous European intellectual in the closing decades of the nineteenth century,” writing on a wide range of subjects that included ethics, religion, anthropology, economics, political theory, philosophy, literature, biology, sociology and psychology. He was writing about the theory of evolution before Darwin began, and he was the only known philosopher in history to sell over a million copies of his works during his own lifetime.
Spencer was a member of the Anti-Vaccination League in Britain, and spoke out against vaccination. In 1937 he published an article, Vaccination, in the journal Theosophy where he wrote about the increase in infant deaths after vaccination:
A Parliamentary Return issued in 1880 (No. 392) shows that comparing the quinquennial periods 1847-1851 and 1874-1878 there was in the latter a diminution in the deaths from all causes of infants under one year old of 6,600 per million births per annum; while the mortality caused by eight specified diseases, either directly communicable or exacerbated by the effects of vaccination, increased from 20,524 to 41,353 per million births per annum — more than double. It is clear that far more were killed by these other diseases than were saved from small-pox.
He also theorized that vaccinations were leading to weakened immune systems, writing that formerly benign diseases like measles and flu were now more deadly since mass vaccinations for other diseases:
Hence, as a constitution modified by vaccination is not made more able to resist perturbing influences in general, it must be made less able… There are, however, evidences of a general relative debility. Measles is a severer disease than it used to be, and deaths from it are very numerous. Influenza yields proof. Sixty years ago, when at long intervals an epidemic occurred, it seized but few, was not severe, and left no serious sequelae; now it is permanently established, affects multitudes in extreme forms, and often leaves damaged constitutions. The disease is the same, but there is less ability to withstand it.
…the assumption that vaccination changes the constitution in relation to small-pox and does not otherwise change it is sheer folly.
Mayim Bialik is an actress and neuroscientist who is best known for playing the title character in the 1990’s TV series Blossom and Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler (also a neuroscientist) on The Big Bang Theory. She is also a celebrity spokesperson for the Holistic Moms Network.
Bialik has a B.S. degree in neuroscience, Hebrew studies and Jewish studies, and a doctorate in neuroscience.
The mother of two has said in the past that she does not vaccinate her children. In 2009, she told People:
We are a non-vaccinating family, but I make no claims about people’s individual decisions. We based ours on research and discussions with our pediatrician, and we’ve been happy with that decision, but obviously there’s a lot of controversy about it.
After her anti-vaccination statements became more well known, Bialik began getting skewered on “pro-science” blogs and websites around the internet with posts such as Mayim Bialik, You Disappoint Me; Is Mayim Bialik an anti-vaxxer?; Mayim Bialik anti-science and Mayim Bialik is a problematic ambassador for science.
Following the media vitriol and rumors that her anti-vaccine position was putting her publishing and acting jobs at risk, she retracted her earlier statements and said that she did vaccinate her children, though she would not give any more information.
When questioned about vaccines, she told NPR:
What I do say is that we researched every single vaccine, and we spoke about each individual vaccine with our pediatrician. We went to the CDC sources.
The number of vaccines that you and I received when we were kids is a third or a fourth less than what kids get now.
…the things that people choose to vaccinate against are not necessarily things that were vaccinated against 20, 30 years ago. My feeling is everyone gets to decide and do research based on their family and their needs as to what they want to do.
Finally, she addressed the issue (somewhat) on her blog in Vaccinations, and Other Things I Don’t Want to Discuss, saying:
…And to my editor: I’m not biting, except in the way I just did. Please don’t fire me. I love writing for you.
Here’s a nibble, though (sigh): Children today get about four times as many vaccines as the average 35-year-old did when we were kids. Besides visiting the CDC website and finding out who gets diseases the medical establishment vaccinates for (and why and where and when), here are the books we used to research each vaccine and discuss each with several doctors before deciding what was right for our family.
The Parents’ Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations: Practical Medical and Natural Ways to Protect Your Child, by Lauren Feder. Hatherleigh Press, 2007.
The Vaccine Book: Making The Right Decision for Your Child, by Robert Sears. Little Brown, 2011.
Dr. Jay Gordon
Dr. Jay Gordon is a nationally recognized pediatrician, nutritionist, lecturer, teacher, magazine columnist and author of numerous parenting books. He is a member of the International Health Advisory Council of the La Leche League and his website, drjaygordon.com, receives over 10,000 hits a day.
Dr. Gordon is often labeled an anti-vaccination doctor, but he actually supports vaccine choice and cautions parents to do their research and decide individually on each vaccine and when and if it will be administered.
In 2008, he wrote:
In 1980 I abandoned the recommended vaccine schedule. I received dozens and dozens of phone calls from moms and dads reporting that their child had received shots a couple of days ago and they were acting a little different. They couldn’t quite put their finger on it but their child was just not acting quite the same as before I gave the shots. They’d ask if this was okay…was it normal? Initially, as I was trained to do, I replied yes. After dozens and dozens and dozens of phone calls, I decided that I had better listen to these moms a lot more.
I stopped some vaccines. I delayed others.
No, I am not ‘anti-vaccination.’
I am aware of the public health implications of completely abandoning our current vaccine schedule, and I certainly don’t advocate that. What I really want is an honest discussion of the risks and benefits of each vaccine and combinations of vaccines for your child. Just your child. My experience is that many parents don’t have the opportunity to discuss these concepts and these details with their doctors.
Gordon condemns those doctors and scientists who claim that vaccinations (and the current schedule) are proven safe. In a 2009 editorial on Huffington Post (updated in 2011), he wrote:
We have increased the number of vaccines and the combinations of vaccines (initially rejected) given to babies and children. Adequate testing has not been done. I have seen a huge rise in the number of children with autism… Vaccines may play a large role in triggering autism in susceptible children or they may play a minor role. Until we’re sure we can’t possibly coerce parents into vaccinating their babies…
While waiting for scientific proof, we have to tolerate families’ completely legal and scientific desire to have or not have their children given vaccines according to the current schedule.
Aidan Quinn (born March 8, 1959) is an Irish-American actor whose films include The Mission, Stakeout, Benny and Joon, Legends of the Fall, Desperately Seeking Susan, Frankenstein, The Handmaid’s Tale and Michael Collins. He currently plays Captain Thomas “Tommy” Gregson in the CBS television series Elementary.
In 2015, Quinn talked to the Sunday Independent about his grown daughter, Ava, who is non-verbal and has autism. The newspaper reported:
He talks about the enormity of trying to deal with the first realisation that his daughter’s immune system is “breaking down and she is crying uncontrollably and in pain and nobody can tell you what to do to help. And there is nothing showing up on any of the tests.” He pauses. “But you know your daughter is in pain,” he says, adding, “the strain that puts on a marriage. That was the tough part”. But it wasn’t the toughest part. The toughest part, he says, was knowing that their child’s autism came from as a result of a vaccination. “So we had a normal child that was walking, talking, doing everything way faster than she was supposed to. Then, after an MMR, she got a 106° fever and turned blue and woke up the next day with dark circles and not knowing who she was. And uncoordinated. And her arm lifted up. Of course the doctors are all saying, ‘Oh, that’s normal.'”
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950) was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. He wrote more than 60 plays and was also an essayist, novelist and short story writer.
He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize in Literature and an Academy Award. He was also offered a knighthood, which he refused.
Shaw was outspoken against vaccinations. In 1944, he wrote in the Irish Times:
At present, intelligent people do not have their children vaccinated, nor does the law now compel them to. The result is not, as the Jennerians prophesied, the extermination of the human race by smallpox; on the contrary more people are now killed by vaccination than by smallpox.
He also spoke out about the habit by the medical establishment to reclassify illnesses under new names in order to skew statistics (a tactic that was allegedly used to alter polio statistics later in the United States in order to make the polio vaccine appear more effective), stating:
During the last considerable epidemic at the turn of the century, I was a member of the Health Committee of London Borough Council, and I learned how the credit of vaccination is kept up statistically by diagnosing all the revaccinated cases (of smallpox) as pustular eczema, varioloid or what not—except smallpox.
Shaw was well known for his quotes, two of which could be used today about vaccines:
All great truths begin as blasphemies.
All evolution in thought and conduct must at first appear as heresy and misconduct.
Robert Kennedy, Jr.
Robert Kennedy, Jr. is an author, radio host, environmental activist and attorney specializing in environmental law. He is the son of Robert “Bobby” Kennedy, the assassinated New York United States Senator and 64th U.S. Attorney General, and the nephew of the assassinated U.S. President John Fitzgerald “Jack” Kennedy. He serves as President of the Board of Waterkeeper Alliance, a non-profit focused on grass-roots efforts to protect and enhance waterways worldwide, and co-hosts Ring of Fire, a nationally syndicated American radio program. He has written three political books and two children’s books.
Kennedy has served as a Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and co-director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law since 1987. He also serves as a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit organization based in New York which works to expand environmental laws and restrict land use. In 2010, Kennedy was named one of Time.com’s “Heroes for the Planet.”
Kennedy has long spoken out about health risks of vaccine ingredients such as thimerosal, and edited the book, “Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak: The Evidence Supporting the Immediate Removal of Mercury–a Known Neurotoxin–from Vaccines.”
Kennedy has reportedly called the CDC “cesspool of corruption” and has expressed concerns about moves to eliminate vaccine choice for parents, saying:
They’ve taken a garden-variety measles outbreak that is actually on the low side — we have measles outbreaks every year in this country — and turned it into an orchestrated effort at getting rid of all of the exemptions.
He recently undertook a national barnstorming tour to speak out in states where legislators are considering measures to make it tougher to opt out of childhood immunizations.
Kennedy told KOIN-TV in Salem:
I don’t think it’s appropriate to force people to undergo, to have their children undergo a medical procedure in this country. I think it’s against the tenets of our country.
His presence seems to have helped in Oregon, where the Washington Times reported:
Mr. Kennedy’s star power, combined with a huge push from the ‘medical freedom’ movement, proved too much for the coalition of state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward. The Democrat, physician and sponsor of S.B. 442 pulled the bill Thursday amid crumbling support, saying she no longer had the votes despite the backing of the Oregon Health Policy Board.
They further reported:
As many as 36 states are considering vaccine-related bills, about a dozen of which would eliminate nonmedical exemptions. Mr. Kennedy plans to hit as many of those states as possible.
Kennedy told the Times:
All we’re doing is education. I mean, we’re just educating and not proposing particular legislation, but we’re letting the legislatures know that some of their assumptions are not correct.
He stresses that he does not identify as an anti-vaxxer, but instead says that he supports safe vaccines and personal freedoms regarding vaccine choice:
I’m fiercely pro-vaccine. But I want safe vaccines, and I want a safe regulatory system.
Bil Maher is a comedian, writer, producer, political commentator, actor, media critic and television host. He is well known for his television shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher and Politically Incorrect. He is also outspoken on many subjects, including vaccinations.
In 2009, he told a doctor on his talk show that he wouldn’t want the new H1N1 vaccine that the government was recommending, saying:
Why would you let them be the ones to stick a disease into your arm? I would never get a swine flu vaccine or any vaccine. I don’t trust the government, especially with my health.
In 2010, Maher wrote an excellent editorial at the Huffington Post, Vaccination: A Conversation Worth Having, in which he wrote:
There is a movement to stop people from asking any questions about vaccines — they’re a miracle, that’s it, debate over. I don’t think its that simple, and neither do millions of other people. The British Medical Journal from August 25 says half the doctors and medical workers in the U.K. are not taking the flu shot — are they all crazy too?
Maher also noted:
I feel its unnecessary and counterproductive to try and silence people with condescension. Michael Shermer wrote me an open letter and felt I needed to be told that “vaccinations work by tricking the body’s immune system into thinking that it has already had the disease for which the vaccination was given.” Thanks, Doc, I thought there might be a little man inside the needle. Yes, I read Microbe Hunters when I was eight, I have a basic idea how vaccines work.
As for claims that he is a conspiracy theorist for his views, Maher answered:
I believe in science and I believe in studies to determine the truth. I also believe Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon was correct when he said recently on MSNBC: ‘If you’ve got a checkbook in this town, you can get just about any set of facts you want.’ So if I remind you of a conspiracy theorist, you sometimes remind me of Britney Spears when she said ‘we should just do whatever the president says to do, and not ask questions and just support him.’ The medical community can be brutal on dissent, which would hold more weight if I thought this was a terribly healthy country, which it isn’t.
Holly Robinson-Peete is an actress, model, author, talk show host and singer. She attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she majored in psychology and French, and spent a year abroad at the Sorbonne in Paris. She acted in television series such as 21 Jump Street and co-hosted The Talk. She is also the author of a children’s book, My Brother Charlie, won her an NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Literary Work” in 2011.
Robinson-Peete has said that she is not anti-vaccination, but she is also outspoken about vaccine risks and her belief that vaccines triggered her son’s autism.
In an interview for World Autism Day, she said:
I believe that we need to look at the vaccine schedule, especially for boys, because boys will get this disorder four times more than girls will. And I think we need to study susceptibility, which children are more susceptible to falling into autism, so to speak, if they get overloaded.
I think my son, for instance, had a compromised immune system on the day he was given way too many shots. This was before thimerosal was removed. I think we have to revisit and study susceptibility when it comes to vaccines.
She went on to say:
I am not anti vaccine, but it needs to change. It is not a perfect science. I have four kids. I have a pediatrician that I work with and I pick and chose what we feel my kids need to get and when they need to get them. Vaccines have saved millions of lives and continue to save millions of lives, but I am not going to sit back and have someone tell me that a shot like an MMR shot (measles, mumps and rubella), which was given to my son when he went in as a totally healthy boy and had a horrible reaction, and then I lost him to autism. I am not going to have someone tell me, ‘Okay, now go give them to your two other young boys’ without asking a lot of questions, or getting the shot split up. I think there is gray area and we need to get out of the black-and-white scenario.
Regarding measles scares in the media and people who say the risk of autism is worth it to prevent measles, she responded:
There are 33 vaccines that are basically recommended right now. There were only 10 in 1988. I think the kids are being loaded up a little too much. I don’t like the concept that you can’t talk about it, or if you talk about the fact that it needs to change, you are labeled ‘anti vaccine.’ I know that my child had a terrible reaction. I saw what I saw. I have talked to some pediatricians who have told me that some kids can’t tolerate them, so we need to be studying who those kids are.
Rob Schneider is an actor, comedian, screenwriter and director. Schneider is best known as a stand-up comic and veteran of the comedy series Saturday Night Live, along with his roles in many films. Schneider has been outspoken against mandatory vaccination laws, which caused State Farm to drop advertisements that featured him after a Twitter campaign was launched against State Farm by pro-vaccinationists.
In an open letter to the political leadership of California, he urged lawmakers not to take away parents’ rights to make decisions regarding their children’s vaccinations, writing:
This policy of one size fits all Vaccine schedule for every child is as absurd as giving the same eye prescription glasses to every child. The fact is EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT and there is currently NO SYSTEM or thought to which child could be more susceptible to adverse reactions including permanent injury and death from any Vaccine or Vaccine ingredients.
Since I have opposed this undemocratic and onerous legislation (and Law) from its inception, I have kept up on how it has affected families in California. Now there is more reason than ever to be concerned, even outraged, by the CDC and by AB 2109.
A top Scientist and Researcher for the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Dr. William Thompson PHD, who did the major research safety study for the Measles Mumps and Rubella Vaccine (MMR) has come forward as a whistleblower and admitted that the MMR study was in fact fraudulent. (I have attached a link of the news story from CNN for your convenience).
Alicia Silverstone is an actress, producer, author and activist. She has starred in numerous movies such as Clueless and Batman & Robin, and also acts on television and on stage. She is the author of a bestselling book “The Kind Diet” and the accompanying book, “The Kind Mama,” with a related website. She is noted for being an animal rights and environmental activist.
In her book, “The Kind Mama,” she wrote:
While there has not been a conclusive study of the negative effects of such a rigorous one-size-fits-all, shoot-’em-up schedule, there is increasing anecdotal evidence from doctors who have gotten distressed phone calls from parents claiming their child was ‘never the same’ after receiving a vaccine… And I personally have friends whose babies were drastically affected in this way.
Johnny Gruelle was an American artist, political cartoonist, songwriter, children’s book author and illustrator. He is best known as the creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy.
Raggedy Ann has been historically associated with the anti-vaccination movement because Mr. Gruelle lost his daughter to a vaccine injury. He was a vocal opponent of vaccination for the rest of his life.
Doll Kind says:
The tragic truth that still wrenches our hearts to this day is that Johnny Gruelle’s little daughter died after being given a mandatory smallpox vaccination at school. The child was just 13 years old, and her loss was devastating to Johnny Gruelle, who then became a proponent of the anti-vaccination movement.
Regarding the use of Raggedy Ann as an anti-vaccination symbol, the site notes that Mr. Gruelle did famously send a grim cartoon to the editors of a popular magazine when they asked him to illustrate an article about vaccines:
I have never seen any documentary evidence that Johnny Gruelle, himself, used the image of Raggedy Ann to protest mandatory vaccinations. However, he did make his stance quite well known to the publishers of Physical Culture magazine, who asked him to illustrate an article about vaccinations. He responded to the request with a grim, political-style cartoon showing a small child hanging in the balance of a scale held by an ape-like figure.
The cartoon can be viewed here, along with the note that he wrote at the bottom of the cartoon. He wrote:
Dear Mrs. Williams,
Having recently lost our only daughter through Vaccination (In public school, without our consent), You may realize how terribly HUMOROUS the Subject of vaccination appears to Mrs. Gruelle and Myself. Of the seven physicians called in on the Case, six pronounced it in emphatic terms MALPRACTICE. The seventh did not commit himself, being at the head of School Board and a firm advocate of Vaccination.
Sincerely, Johnny Gruelle
Doug Flutie is a former player of American and Canadian football who was a quarterback in the National Football League (NFL), Canadian Football League (CFL), and United States Football League (USFL). He was awarded the Heisman Trophy and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. Flutie has served as a college football analyst and broadcaster for stations such as ESPN, ABC, and NBC Sports.
Flutie’s son, Doug Jr, has autism. The Fluties established The Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism in honor of him.
Flutie said on CNN’s Larry King show that his son was developing normally until around age two and a half, shortly after his MMR vaccination. He told the host:
I think, you know, the most frustrating part about it was when he was two to two-and-a-half, Dougie spoke in full sentences. He could put his jacket on and…
…you know, he had a lot of those skills. He could hit a ball off a tee. He could shoot a little hoop in his room, that type of stuff…
And that was the frustrating part. You got a taste of his personality, what he was like and all that. And then all of a sudden he was gone from us.
Flutie further said that he believes there is a link between vaccines and autism:
Well, Larry, back in ’88 they combined the MMR. They gave all three shots at the same time. Around that time, there was something like one out of 2,000 or 2,200 children who were diagnosed with autism. In ’97, 10 years later or so, when we started our foundation, it was one in like 600. Today, it’s one out of 150. And the common thread was the combination of those shots. That’s when it started to accelerate and take off. So over the last 20 years, it’s gone to one in 150 kids. And it’s more prevalent in boys. It’s like one in 100 in Massachusetts in boys.
So I draw a parallel there. I don’t think that there will ever be conclusive proof. And I think the government would be afraid to admit it, because it’d have a heck of a lot of lawsuits on their hands.
These are just a few of the famous scientists, writers, activists, doctors, actors, entertainers, human rights leaders and others who have spoken out against vaccinations, both in our present day and throughout history.
Many modern celebrities are also rumored to avoid vaccinations for their own children, such as Justin Timberlake, Jessica Biel and Jessica Alba. Most celebrities are choosing to remain silent on the subject even if they support vaccine choice, for fear of public backlash.
Some celebrities have publicly questioned vaccine safety, despite the career risks. These include actress Lisa Bonet (who told Phil Donahue that she didn’t vaccinate any of her children), singer Toni Braxton, actress Tisha Campbell-Martin, director Robert Rodriguez, talk show host and actress Ricki Lake, musician Billy Corgan, and many others. Other celebrities also publicly praise vaccination.
Of course, no parent ever makes a decision as important as whether to vaccinate based on what a celebrity says. Medical decisions concerning vaccines and vaccine schedules are private decisions generally made by parents after a great deal of research that may include reading books and studies, discussions with doctors and other parents, and conducting their own research. Parents often take family history into consideration, such as previous vaccine reactions or known genetic mutations that may increase the risk of vaccine injury.
A careful look at history reveals that the same arguments and concerns have come up for hundreds of years, and there have always been prominent and respected people who spoke out about them. There continue to be voices on all sides of the issue.