By Neena Satija and Lena H. Sun, The Washington Post
The nation’s oldest anti-vaccine advocacy group often emphasizes that it is supported primarily by small donations and concerned parents, describing its founder as the leader of a “national, grass roots movement.”
But over the past decade a single donor has contributed more than $2.9 million to the National Vaccine Information Center, accounting for about 40 percent of the organization’s funding, according to the most recent available tax records. That donor, osteopathic physician Joseph Mercola, has amassed a fortune selling natural health products, court records show, including vitamin supplements, some of which he claims are alternatives to vaccines.
In recent years, the center has been at the forefront of a movement that has led some parents to forgo or delay immunizing their children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles. Health officials say falling vaccination rates contributed to the infectious virus sickening more than 1,200 people in the United States this year, the largest number in more than 25 years. Measles outbreaks are surging worldwide, including in Samoa — where nearly 80 people have died since mid-October, the great majority of them young children and infants.
The Northern Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center lists Mercola.com as a partner on its homepage and links to the website, where readers can learn about and purchase Mercola’s merchandise.
Last month, Mercola wrote on his website that measles “continues to be a Trojan Horse for increasing vaccine mandates.” A page that was recently removed said that “vitamin C supplementation is a viable option for measles prevention.” Elsewhere on the site, a page about vitamin D includes the headline, “Avoid Flu Shots With the One Vitamin that Will Stop Flu in Its Tracks.”
Mercola, whose claims about other products have drawn warnings from regulators, has also given at least $4 million to several groups that echo the anti-vaccine message. His net worth, derived largely from his network of private companies, has grown to “in excess of $100 million,” he said in a 2017 affidavit.
Mercola said in emails to The Washington Post that he contributes to the center because he believes in its mission. He said he offers “simple, inexpensive and safe alternatives to the conventional medical system, which is contributing to the premature death of millions and is causing needless pain and suffering in great part because multinational corporations want to increase their revenues.”
He declined to be interviewed and did not respond to questions about how much profit his vitamin D and C supplements generate relative to the rest of his wide-ranging merchandise, which includes organic cotton underwear and pet food. Supplements containing those vitamins are among Mercola’s “top products,” his website says.
In a statement, his media team said the claims on Mercola’s website relate to vitamin D and vitamin C generally and “do not mention Dr. Mercola’s products whatsoever.”