Andrew Bridgen and the shrill intolerance of the anti-vaxxers
My final word on the conspiracy-theorist MP – and his shameful smears about spiked.
When I agreed to do a live TV debate with Andrew Bridgen, now an MP for the Reclaim Party, I had no idea how quickly he would prove the point that I wanted to draw out – namely, that he has been spreading anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
On GB News on Sunday evening, I put it to Bridgen that he had branded the rollout of the Covid vaccine a ‘crime against humanity’, comparable with the Holocaust. That he had claimed the US Department of Defence was ‘responsible’ for creating both the Covid virus and the vaccines. That he had argued the vaccines have caused ‘the majority of excess deaths’ from the pandemic. After all, if those are not anti-vax conspiracy theories, then I don’t know what is. ‘Guilty as charged’, was Bridgen’s first response. More absurd still, he claimed he had cast-iron, ‘inarguable’ evidence to prove all of this.
The debate was arranged in response to an article I wrote on spiked earlier this month, taking on some of Bridgen’s increasingly lurid claims about the vaccine. I knew the reaction would not be pretty. In fact, I noted in the article that conspiracy theorists are ‘impervious to reason’ and that ‘anyone who objects to them will be dismissed as part of the conspiracy’. Right on cue, legions of anti-vaxxers came out of the woodwork to tell me I am a liar, in the pay of Big Pharma or the World Economic Forum, and will be spending an eternity in hell for my complicity in a ‘global democide’.
I was also told it is a ‘smear’ to refer to people as ‘conspiracy theorists’, even if they believe in a grand, unevidenced conspiracy involving the US government, Pfizer and presumably now spiked. Similarly, the people who tweet endlessly that the vaccines are killing millions will immediately throw their toys out of the pram if you call them ‘anti-vaxxers’ – even though that is precisely what they are.
It is important to state, in no uncertain terms, that Bridgen’s claims about the vaccines are untrue. There is no evidence whatsoever justifying his claims that the Covid jabs are responsible for mass death and injury.
On GB News on Sunday, he repeated the false claim that the vaccines are ‘experimental’ and have not been properly tested. He even said that ‘they have never gone through phase-three’ clinical trials – even though they have (you can read the results of the Pfizer phase-three trials here). He also repeated the anti-vax canard that the Covid mRNA vaccines are a form of ‘gene therapy’. They are not, because they do not alter a patient’s DNA.
Bridgen claimed to have ‘evidence’, ‘data’ and ‘32 scientific papers’ to prove that the vaccines are killing millions. But the highly questionable papers he was referring to (listed here on his website) do not come close to validating his claims.
One figure Bridgen trotted out in our debate is that ‘one in 800 people’ suffer a serious adverse reaction from the mRNA vaccines. This claim draws on a paper published in the journal, Vaccine, in 2022. Funnily enough, the paper is a ‘re-analysis’ of the phase-three clinical trials – trials, remember, which Bridgen claims did not take place. It shows that of the roughly 35,000 trial participants who were given a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine, 139 experienced an adverse event. But, of those 35,000 or so who took a placebo vaccine, there were 97 adverse events. In other words, in the paper Bridgen cited as proof that the vaccines are leading to mass death, there actually isn’t an enormous difference in adverse outcomes between those who were vaccinated and those who were given a placebo.
More importantly, the authors of the paper have been widely criticised for their methodology, for how they generated their statistics and for being selective in how they chose which ‘serious adverse events’ to include in their analysis. All of this inflated the paper’s tally of vaccine harms and downplayed the benefits.
In any case, even if you were to take the paper’s results at face value, Bridgen’s ‘one in 800 people’ figure is still wrong, because the paper counts adverse events, not the number of people who experienced those events. Generally, when people do experience bad side-effects, they tend to display more than one symptom (such as diarrhoea, abscesses, etc). All this means that Bridgen’s figure is double-counting, if not triple- or quadruple-counting, the number of people suffering from vaccine side-effects. He has taken a questionable scientific paper, which is still a serious outlier from all the other research, and misrepresented and exaggerated its results even further.
Another claim Bridgen made on GB News was that it currently takes hundreds of thousands of vaccinations to prevent one person from being hospitalised from Covid. The insinuation here is that the vaccines are ineffective and have only done harm.
But there is some crucial context missing. The ‘number needed to vaccinate’ is an estimate from the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government on vaccine policy. This particular data set refers to the number of booster vaccinations needed to prevent Covid hospitalisation in 2023 – that is, three years after the pandemic began and well after the vaccine rollout.
What Bridgen neglects to mention is that we’ve now reached a point where Covid itself is milder (thanks to new variants) and is less prevalent. Meanwhile, the UK population has strong immunity to Covid – not only thanks to past infections, but also thanks to the vaccines. This is why the UK’s booster programme was scaled back significantly in March – because the vaccines have largely done their job in bringing the pandemic to an end. For Bridgen to cite this as evidence that the vaccines are useless is a travesty of the data.
On top of these blatant misrepresentations of the vaccine data, Bridgen has made more openly conspiratorial claims about the origins of the pandemic. Back in March, he tweeted that the US Department of Defence was responsible for both ‘the virus and the vaccine’ and that he expected to see ‘the start of criminal proceedings’ against politicians and health officials by the end of that month.
He doubled down on this claim on GB News, even though no arrests have taken place. The only evidence he could provide for this extraordinary allegation was that he had spoken to various unnamed ‘scientists and elected representatives’ who ‘confirmed everything about that’. He then argued that a lot of the work developing the virus was done at Fort Detrick in the US. (Curiously, Fort Detrick is also cited by conspiracy theorists as the origin of HIV / AIDS.)
Bridgen then said that the virus was ‘shipped out by Anthony Fauci’, the leader of Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s coronavirus taskforces, to a lab in Wuhan, China. Here he took a grain of truth, that the virus may well have leaked from a lab, and claimed it as evidence of a plot against humanity, perhaps to make money for Big Pharma. This is a textbook conspiracy-theorist tactic.
Predictably, since my article was published and since Sunday’s debate, both me and spiked have been accused by anti-vaxxers of being bought off by shady actors. (Because if you object to being called a conspiracy theorist, accusing your opponents of being part of a grand conspiracy is obviously the way to go.)
Bridgen himself has tweeted links to a survey conducted by spiked in collaboration with Pfizer in 2006, which asked scientists what inspired them to take up science. (Human endeavour has been one of spiked’s key themes since we launched 22 years ago.) In his tweet, Bridgen was careful not to defame us directly, by explicitly saying we are in the pocket of Big Pharma. But he essentially invited his fanboys to draw that conclusion.
That this brief collaboration took place back in 2006, 14 years before the pandemic, and when I was just 15 years old, hasn’t stopped his crazed hangers-on from claiming I am essentially a paid shill, pushing the ‘plandemic’ on Pfizer’s behalf.
These nudge-wink Pfizer smears were initially made by the HART group, which is notorious for its anti-vax statements. Back in 2021, at the early stages of the vaccine rollout, HART published a report claiming there was a ‘link’ between the high death toll in the winter of 2020-21 and the vaccine rollout. (The real cause of those deaths was the second wave of Covid.) Leaked private messages later revealed that HART co-chair Claire Craig had sought to ‘seed the thought that the vaccines cause Covid’, presumably in order to claim Covid deaths as vaccine deaths. Two papers by HART appear on Bridgen’s list of ‘scientific’ citations.
spiked has come under these kinds of spurious attacks before. Usually, it’s crazed Remoaners or environmentalists who demand to know ‘who funds you?!’, but clearly there are also many anti-vaxxers who simply cannot cope with the knowledge that there are people out there who disagree with them.
The anti-vaxxers’ reflex to allege nefarious motives, to accuse their opponents of being bought-off shills, is not only conspiratorial. It also reflects a pungent form of narcissism and intolerance, an inability to countenance that you might be wrong or that others might come to different conclusions in good faith. It is reminiscent of the worst excesses of the identitarian left.
These smears are all the more strange – or perhaps flattering – considering the size of spiked. We do punch well above our weight in terms of output, reach and impact, but we do so with just five full-time members of staff – funded by our generous, loyal readers and a bit of advertising. If Bridgen wants to ‘follow the money’ in politics, perhaps he could start by asking about the millions of pounds reportedly given by former Tory donors to his new home at the Reclaim Party? Meanwhile, if anyone knows of any fabulously rich people willing to fund our principled journalistic work here at spiked, please send them our way.
The final anti-vaxxer canard we need to deal with here is the idea that calling out Bridgen’s nonsense somehow amounts to an attack on free speech. Those accusing me of ‘cancelling’ Bridgen, or accusing spiked of betraying our free-speech principles, clearly never read my original article. In it, I said explicitly that Bridgen should not be censored or cancelled. He should be free to make his case and to discredit himself while doing so. In turn, he should expect pushback and criticism, which are also key parts of freedom of speech. It says a lot about the psychic fragility of the anti-vaxxers that they interpret any challenge as a form of censorship.
Bridgen and his acolytes might be too far down the rabbit hole to be reasoned with. They are apparently convinced that there has been a grand, genocidal conspiracy and that their enemies will soon get their comeuppance. But the point of my original piece, and the debate on GB News, wasn’t to win them around. It was to challenge their untruths about the vaccines, and to challenge the conspiratorial outlook they spring from.
This mode of thinking has flourished in various fetid corners of politics in recent years. And it is absolute poison, particularly to those of us who actually want to challenge establishment rule and upend disastrous elite groupthink. To do so, we need reason, not irrationality. We need radical scepticism, not harebrained cynicism. We need a reckoning with lockdown authoritarianism, not a spiritual battle against a global cabal that doesn’t exist. Indeed, as I said in my last piece, Bridgen and Co are making it all too easy for the elites to smear all lockdown sceptics and dissidents as a bunch of cranks.
The anti-vaxxers like to pose as original, daring thinkers. They are nothing of the sort. They have merely replaced the mindless dogmas of the establishment with the mindless talking points of a weird online subculture. Anyone who believes in freedom, democracy and reason should oppose them.
Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers
Picture by: YouTube / GB News.
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