During a campaign speech she gave in Manchester, New Hampshire on June 19, 2019, Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson characterized government mandates requiring children to get vaccinated as “draconian” and “Orwellian.” According to NBC News reporter Julia Jester who covered the event, Williamson said, “To me, it’s no different than the abortion debate. The U.S. government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.”1 2 3 4 5 6
I’ve met very sincere, very smart people on both sides of the vaccine issue. I understand that infectious diseases are no small deal. But I have to say I know, as a mother, if you’re telling me that I have to put a needle in the arm of my baby and I don’t feel good about what’s in that needle, I’m not sure about that.7
The morning after she made those comments, Williamson was immediately attacked by the media and issued the first of a series of apologies. Via Twitter, she wrote:
I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives. I recognize there are epidemics around the world that are stopped by vaccines. I also understand some of the skepticism that abounds today about drugs which are rushed to market by Big Pharma. I am sorry that I made comments which sounded as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines. That is not my feeling and I realize that I misspoke.1 2 3 4 6
But the media would have none of it. Later in the day, Williamson appeared on the television talk show The View and encountered aggressive questioning from the show’s five hosts, who appeared to be concerned that she was a closet “anti-vaxxer.” Williamson was grilled several times about whether she did or did not support mandatory vaccinations. Each time, she avoided answering the question directly, which had the effect of fueling the talk show hosts’ skepticism about her position.
In response to a question from co-host Meghan McCain regarding Williamson’s “draconian” and “Orwellian” comments on vaccine mandates, Williamson said:
I think I misspoke in that one sentence. But I’d like to express myself. The fact that you have a problem with the revolving door policy by which Big Pharma and the CDC and the FDA are so cozy so that millions of Americans who are not anti-science and are not anti-vaccine have some deep concerns, the days of blind faith in Big Pharma are over, the days of blind faith in the idea that our government agencies are doing the proper oversight and proper advocacy for the American people against, at times, the overreach of profit-making industries that are putting money before people… that is not an irrational or unreasonable thing.8
But McCain was not satisfied with the lengthy answer, so she asked a follow-up question seeking clarification… “Now you’re okay with mandatory vaccinations?”8
Williamson responded: “It’s not that now I’m okay, I haven’t changed since yesterday. I misspoke on that one sentence. But I will say this, when I am president of the United States there will be a commission of scientists, learning so that the American people see what’s going on with these vaccines, who are not paid by Big Pharma.”8
In a roundabout way, what Williamson seemed to be saying is that she is not a fan of vaccine mandates. While she says she regrets having used words like “draconian” and “Orwellian” to describe such mandates, she appears to be wary whether the government is doing a good enough job regulating the safety and effectiveness of vaccines that are produced and sold by drug companies. Williamson’s proposal to set up a commission of independent scientists to “see what’s going on with these vaccines” suggests that she is not entirely sold on the popular narrative that “vaccines are safe and effective” and she believes there is room for improvement.
However, co-host Sunny Hostin was not satisfied with Williamson’s response. She clearly wanted a yes or no answer on the question of vaccine mandates. Hostin followed up, “I don’t know that you’ve answered Meghan’s question. Do you support mandatory vaccination?”8
“I understand that public safety must come first. But I also understand that we must have a balance between public safety and the issue of individual freedom. I do not trust the propaganda on either side, Williamson said.8
At that point, co-host Joy Behar, who was clearly frustrated, interrupted saying, “I know, but this kind of nebulous answer makes people paranoid. Yes or no?”8
Looking exasperated, Williamson gave up trying to make her point and simply offered the most succinct and safest answer she could think of to put an end to grilling: “I support vaccines. I support vaccines.”8
Unfortunately for Williamson, certain media outlets have decided to drill down on her for taking a centrist, rather than a polarized, position. Some journalists and news commentators appear to suspect that, while Williamson may lament her choice of words in describing her opinion about vaccine mandates, if she opposes forcing or coercing people to get vaccinated, then she is “anti-science” and “anti-vaccine.”
Apparently, it is no longer enough to support the availability and use of vaccines. In order to avoid being tagged with the “anti-science” and “anti-vaxxer” labels, one must wholeheartedly believe in and publicly support the idea that government officials and doctors should force people to submit to medical procedures such as vaccination without their consent.
On July 17, 2019, Williamson tweeted, “Misrepresentations of my work are in high gear this morning, so just in case it need be said: I am not anti-vaxx. I am pro-science & medicine.”9
It should be noted that supporting government vaccine recommendations is not exactly the same as supporting forced use of all government recommended vaccines without the informed consent of individuals or parents of minor children.
On July 30, Williamson appeared on MSNBC’s “The Beat With Ari Melber” and, again, her draconian and Orwellian remarks were raised. Williamson responded:
Well, the issue of draconian and Orwellian… This is the issue. When I was a child, we took far fewer vaccines and there was much less bundling and there was much less chronic illness. I don’t know why… you know, this is not a topic that I have consciously chosen to, this is not some big topic for me. … What I’m saying is that in 1986, there was this vaccine protection law, and there have been $4 billion in vaccine compensation payments that have been made, and there was much less chronic [illness]. There was something like 12 percent chronic illness among our children previous to that law and there’s 54 percent now. … You know, what is going on here?10
I want more scientific research [on vaccines]. I want more scientific research that is not paid for by Big Pharma. In a Williamson administration, there will be more scientific review, more science. … I want less scientific review that is paid for by Big Pharma.10
Seeking clarification regarding Williamson’s position on government vaccine mandates, program host Ari Melber pressed, “Just so we’re clear, your view, though, of federal or state government vaccination requirements is they are valid or you may oppose them?”10
Again, Williamson resisted being pigeon-holed…
Absolutely. With any medical intervention, there are benefits and there are risks. The government always has to come down on the side of the public good. Absolutely. I was vaccinated. My daughter was vaccinated. Of course. Of course, I am. I just want to know that when it comes to the review of our drugs and when it comes to all issues related to drugs, just as we have to now learn from what is happening with the opioid crisis, I want independent regulation that is conducted by the government that is not paid for by Big Pharma.10
You can see what Williamson is getting at. While she may, indeed, believe that “no exemptions” mandatory vaccination laws are both draconian and Orwellian, her main beef is with a government drug and vaccine regulatory system that she concludes has been compromised by undue influence from the pharmaceutical industry, which is primarily interested in financial profit. Voicing concern that there is undue influence by vaccine manufacturers on effective government regulation of vaccines to ensure their safety is not being anti-science or anti-vaccine. It merely represents an unwillingness to have blind faith in a rigged system.
As Williamson said on the TV show Real Time with Bill Maher in 2015:
I think that the government has earned our distrust. I think the pharmaceuticals have. This is the problem when institutions lose their moral authority. We know that the government has suppressed information and withheld information. We know that the medical establishment has suppressed information and withheld information. So that, at this point, even when they say something that we should listen to, people have a skepticism, and that’s the real problem. This is what happens when we don’t believe our government enough and we don’t believe our medical establishment enough. The answer is not to tell us we’re kooks but for them to get their act together so that they are more trustworthy again.11
There’s a skepticism which is actually healthy on this issue of vaccinations.11
In her efforts to explain her well-reasoned position on vaccines, the legitimate points Williamson is making have been lost in what has become an all-too-familiar attempt to discredit and label anyone who asks for improvements in government regulation of vaccines or questions the ethics of forced vaccination policies as “anti-vaccine.” It is a convenient way for the media to use name-calling to deflect attention away from intelligent conversations about vaccine safety science and vaccine mandates that are going on behind closed doors despite the media’s attempts to publicly shut them down.
1 Donnelly E. Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson slammed for calling mandatory vaccinations ‘Orwellian’. Yahoo! June 20, 2019.
2 Jones B. Election 2020: Marianne Williamson apologizes for her anti-vaxxer remarks, calling them ‘draconian’ ‘Orwellian. The Global Dispatch June 20, 2019.
3 Kaplan A. 2020 Candidate Marianne Williamson: Vaccine Mandates Are ‘Orwellian’ Daily Beast June 20, 2019.
4 Klar R. 2020 Democrat Marianne Williamson says she misspoke in calling vaccine mandates ‘draconian’. The Hill June 20, 2019.
5 Perper R. Marianne Williamson gives confusing answer on whether she supports anti-vaxxers. MSN Aug. 1, 2019.
6 Stieb M. Where Does Marianne Williamson Actually Stand on Vaccines? New York Intelligencer August 2019.
7 MSNBC. Marianne Williamson on MSNBC. YouTube June 22, 2019.
8 The View. Marianne Williamson Talks Vaccinations. YouTube June 20, 2019.
9 Pitovsky M. Williamson defends her views on vaccines. The Hill July 17, 2019.
10 MSNBC. 2020 Dem Marianne Williamson Addresses Vaccination Controversy. YouTube July 31, 2019.
11 HBO. Maher Real Time with Bill Maher: Vaccination. YouTube Feb. 6, 2015.