Texas Republican Says Vaccines Are 'Sorcery,' Claims 'Parental Rights' Are More Important Than Science

An anti-vaxxer Texas lawmaker is facing criticism for attacking a prominent vaccinologist and branding inoculations "sorcery."

Republican Rep. Jonathan Stickland—who left the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus last week—began a Twitter spat with Peter Hotez, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, on Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Hotez had been lamenting an increase in vaccine exemptions, which he said put children "in harm's way for the financial gain of special and outside interest groups." But Stickland accused Hotez of hypocrisy and suggested that parental rights to reject vaccinations were paramount.

"You are bought and paid for by the biggest special interest in politics," Stickland wrote to Hotez. "Do our state a favor and mind your own business. Parental rights mean more to us than your self enriching 'science.'"

Hotez rejected the assertion. "I don't take a dime from the vaccine industry," he wrote. "I develop neglected disease vaccines for the world's poorest people. And as a Texas pediatrician-scientist it is most certainly my business." Hotez also said that such an outlandish accusation was "impressive, from a member of the Texas House of Representatives."

But Stickland stuck to his guns. "Make the case for your sorcery to consumers on your own dime," he replied. "Like every other business. Quit using the heavy hand of government to make your business profitable through mandates and immunity. It's disgusting."

Other Twitter users began sending messages of support to Hotez, who later thanked all those who rallied around him. "Never thought I would see a Texas legislator launch an unfounded personal attack. Time for some House ethics rules (and some adult supervision)," he wrote.

Hotez told Newsweek that Texas is in a "dire situation," with more than 64,000 children denied vaccinations "due to an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby here tied big dollars in PAC funds." He noted anti-vaxxers are being given momentum through the advocacy of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—the son of assassinated presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy—who heads up the anti-vax Children's Health Defense organization.

"It looks as though there are a few bad apples in the legislature who will do almost anything for those funds and recognition, including the endangerment of children and attacks on pediatricians and medical school professors," Hotez added. "Hopefully order and decency will be restored soon."

Stickland, whose Twitter profile says he is a "Christian Conservative Liberty Loving Republican," engaged in arguments with several other Twitter users off the back of his debate with Hotez. In one, the representative asked a user, "Vaccines are dangerous,don't you agree?" and in another attacked "another guy in a white coat who thinks he's a better parent than everyone else!"

"I will fight—with everything in me—against the big government you desire," he wrote to another doctor. "One where you can force me to do things against my will. One where the state owns my children. Take a hike communist."

Stickland did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment on his anti-vax stance.

Vaccination skepticism is a growing trend in the U.S. and in many other parts of the world. Unfounded conspiracy theories allege—among other things—that vaccines can cause autism and other health issues in children. The supposed link between vaccines and autism was propagated by disgraced scientist Andrew Wakefield, whose 1998 study claiming association was debunked and retracted. Wakefield was later stripped of his medical license.

But the effects of anti-vax ideology are already evident. Measles, for example, was eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. But last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the country is experiencing its highest number of measles cases for 25 years, with 704 cases identified across 22 states in 2019 thus far.

More than 500 of those infected had not been vaccinated against the disease, while more than one third of cases involved children under the age of 5.

The U.S. trend is being replicated in many nations. The CDC said around 7 million measles cases occur around the world annually, and that since 2016 the rate of infection has increased in five of the six World Health Organization regions.

Texas Rep Jonathan Stickland anti-vaxx vaccination sorcery
This file photo shows Jonathan Stickland during a hearing at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas, on July 30, 2015. Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images
Texas Republican Says Vaccines Are 'Sorcery,' Claims 'Parental Rights' Are More Important Than Science | U.S.