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  • Writer's pictureGabriel San Roman

Slingshot: The Anti-Vaxxers Among Us

Melissa Floyd and Dr. Bob Sears, co-hosts of the Vaccine Conversation podcast, readied for their first ever national tour last spring when the coronavirus had other plans. The duo of vaccine skeptics from Orange County assured audiences that no fear of infection held them back; the anticipated tour dates would resume in the fall.

The halt never proved to be much of a setback. The pandemic arrived as a watershed moment for the anti-vaxxer movement with the urgent development of new vaccines giving much material to feed off of at the conspiracy trough--a billion dollar engagement industry for social media firms according to the Centre for Countering Digital Hate.

Before readying to return on the road, Sears cast doubt on the mRNA technology employed by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines on an Oct. 1 episode. "This new technology is really scary," said Sears, liking it all to a dystopian sci-fit plot. "The potential to really screw people up on a genetic level, I think, is there. It's hard to ignore it."

Sears, a Capistrano Beach pediatrician, authored The Vaccine Book in 2007, a work that allowed him to position himself as a "pro-vaccine" doctor, albeit one who questioned the soundness of the vaccine schedule for children and encouraged the skipping of select vaccinations altogether. The book became a Bible for parents who protested against vaccine requirements for school children. Former OC Weekly staff writer Michelle Woo wrote a more than balanced cover story on Sears in 2012.

"You can argue with these parents that the decision they're making to not vaccinate is bad for public health, but most parents are trying to make a medical decision that's best for their baby," said Sears. "I think we're all selfish when making any decision for our own children. I can't fault parents for thinking that way."

Sears has been faulted by the Medical Board of California, a group that put "Dr. Bob" on probation for 35 months in 2018. The reason? Medical negligence and invalid vaccine exemptions. He found himself afoul with board again in 2019 following a complaint alleging he exempted two children from vaccination whose medical history included psoriasis and a bee sting allergy.

The complaint came two days before Sears testified against SB 276, which further tightened exemptions from school vaccination requirements.

Floyd protested the proposed law in Sacramento, which was later passed. She first cut her teeth in the anti-vaccine movement when then-governor Jerry Brown signed a similar bill into law in 2015 that removed "personal belief" as an accepted exemption following a rare measles outbreak at Disneyland. Floyd spoke to the press as an Aliso Viejo mother of a daughter she claimed had suffered crying fits and silent seizures following vaccination.

Joining forces with Sears in 2016, Floyd helped form the Immunity Education Group, a non-profit based out of Dana Point. A bangs-sporting maven of misinformation, she has steadily built an online presence since that time. Floyd now commands an audience of 31,000 followers on her Facebook page and 52,000 on Twitter (her Instagram page is unavailable at the time of this reporting).

Prior to the pandemic's hospital capacity straining spike, Floyd routinely asked nurses and other staff to respond to an open thread on her Facebook about what their workplaces really looked like. The comments section became an occasion to undercut the seriousness of the crisis. But now that December proved to be the deadliest month of the pandemic, the activist shifted her narrative.

"You know there is another way to reduce the fear of your local hospital being 'at capacity' if you have [coronavirus]," Floyd recently posted on Facebook, "avoid having a state of health that would make you NEED medical treatment in the first place. Prevent the problem, don't 'treat' it."

Such ableist browbeating discards of susceptible people who are, for example, immunocompromised by chronic conditions that they can manage, at best, but not cure.

Unsurprisingly, Floyd also jumped on the election fraud disinfo fiasco by casting doubt on Biden's election victory. She stated that those who accepted the president-elect's leads in two states where Trump was previously ahead the night before were "delusional." Not content with sounding fact-challenged critiques of vaccines or elections, Floyd also opposes wearing facemasks, a non-pharmaceutical intervention in the pandemic.

"I'm a big believer in hitting something on head on and getting it over with," she said on the Oct. 29 episode of the Vaccine Conversation, "[and] being prepared to go through it--accepting whatever that means--because you have to be honest with yourself about whether or not you really can avoid something."

On that same episode, Sears and Floyd solicited support for re-starting their national tour, including finding venues to accommodate 200 to 300 people. They headed out to Tennessee last month and spoke before an indoor, maskless crowd that filled all available seats.

The tour turns next to Orlando, Florida for a live podcast taping on Jan. 16. The invitation comes courtesy of the Florida Freedom Keepers. In December, the group held a mask burning protest in Ft. Lauderdale against the notion that coronavirus vaccination will become mandatory.

A new year has arrived. How much a misinformation movement on the march is able to warp it remains to be seen.

- Gabriel San Román

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Your Mouse Muckraker / Photo by Federico Medina

Mouse Muckraker

The Mouse House is in mourning. Ron Dominguez, "Mr. Disneyland," passed away on New Year's Day at the age of 85. The moniker is a deserved one. The Dominguez family lived and worked on a ten-acre patch of orange groves that Walt Disney eyed as a piece of his theme park puzzle. He purchased the land in 1954 and moved to family's original home from where Pirates of the Caribbean is now to serve as an administrative building behind Main Street U.S.A. Though no orange trees survived the Mouse's bulldozers, Dominguez had one request that Disney honored: that his favorite palm tree be preserved. Today, the beloved "Dominguez Tree" still stands near the entrance of the Jungle Cruise. Dominguez became a Disney legend beyond the park's founding. He graduated Anaheim High School before going on to attend the University of Arizona. During one summer break, Dominguez worked as a Disneyland ticket taker. So began his ascent within the company, first as a supervisor of the theme park's many storied lands and then, later, serving as its Vice President in 1974. Along with Dick Nunis, another '55er with a long, storied career, Dominguez was pivotal in envisioning the modern Disneyland Resort with California's Adventure as its centerpiece. But before the resort expanded in the early aughts, Anaheim faced a dilemma. The Los Angeles Times ran two stories in February 1994 about rising crime rates in the city. First, Disney announced plans for youth hockey programs in two nearby barrios: Jeffrey-Lynne (now Hermosa Village) and Ponderosa Park. Hockey in the hood? The program styled itself after Ice Hockey in Harlem. The Mouse House ponied up half-a-million dollars to kickstart GOALS (Growth Opportunities Through Athletics, Learning and Service). Dominguez, then an executive vice president of Walt Disney attractions, opined on the program on a wider discussion about tourism and gang violence in the Times later that month. "We're doing everything we can with our programs to make a difference, and keep people moving in the right direction," he said. "We recognize there's a need to help our young people, and give them alternatives to destructive behavior."

But was that all Disney did with regards to Anacrime?

The Times reported that sources close to the resort expansion plans said that the company shifted away from wanting to have Downtown Disney accessible to the public out of crime concerns. Dominguez denied it; the open-air shopping mall was ultimately built outside Disneyland. Another plan to have a direct freeway ramp into the parking structure did proceed; company execs cited traffic, not crime, in the design.

Dominguez retired in 1994 and became a Disney legend in 2000. His name is emblazoned on a Main Street window. The modern Disneyland Resort Dominguez helped conceptualize will remain a legacy of his for years to come, as will "tale of two cities" thought pieces about Anaheim like those penned in the early 90s before it broke ground.

Only now, an early Latino Disney executive from Anaheim has departed from the discussion.

By the Byline

New Year's Day also marked the first Friday of the month.

Surmising that readers would take the holiday to relax from a taxing year while feasting on leftover tamales, my "Off the Page" LibroMobile column is postponed until this Friday.

And speaking of LibroMobile, save the date! On January 23, I'll be doing an online reading as part of its 3rd Annual Literary Arts Festival.

Stay tuned!

Lead photo by Daniel Schludi, Unsplash (doesn't depict actual vaccine vials)

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