One wealthy couple has financed a large portion of the anti-vaccine rhetoric in the U.S. Their influence reaches from Manhattan to Salem, Ore.
The chief executive of the Selz Foundation, Del Bigtree, used the financial support of a wealthy Manhattan couple to spread anti-vaccine propaganda in Oregon, speaking at a rally in Salem opposing a bill that would have banned non-medical vaccine exemptions.
The Washington Post reported last week that wealthy hedge fund manager Bernard Selz and his wife Lisa Selz began funding anti-vaccine groups about seven years ago. Bigtree, who runs the couple's philanthropic foundation, got his start as a daytime television producer and has called the measles a "trivial childhood illness."
Bigtree, one of the nation's most prominent anti-vaxx advocates, attended an April rally in Salem, the Post reported, to oppose House Bill 3063, which would have done away with personal exemptions to required vaccines for children who attend public school.
At the Oregon rally April 23, Bigtree compared doctors giving vaccines to children to Nazis prosecuted for performing medical experiments on people forced into concentration camps in Germany. He promoted several vaccine-related conspiracy theories and railed against the pharmaceutical industry.
"They want to tell us how much money they've saved America by stopping a rash that lasts for four days," he said. "We're going to sue their balls off. They have lied to you. They have poisoned you."
He also spoke at a similar rallies in Washington and California to oppose vaccine-related legislation there.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before the vaccine became widely available in 1963, between 400 and 500 people died in America from the virus each year. Another 48,000 became so ill, they had to be hospitalized. After the vaccine became widely used, the disease was effectively eliminated in 2000.
Flagging vaccination rates have led to outbreaks across the U.S. in recent years, including in southwest Washington and Portland.
House Bill 3063 died in May, when Democrats agreed to drop it in a deal to bring Republicans back to the Capitol to pass a tax increase to fund schools. The tax increase passed—but business interests plan to refer it to voters, and Republican senators have left the Capitol again to prevent a vote on a carbon cap.