Marianne Williamson dodges questions on vaccine safety

Self-help author Marianne Williamson attempted to dodge questions on vaccine safety at Saturday’s AFSCME Democratic presidential forum, declaring her support for childhood vaccinations while appearing eager to appeal to opponents.

Williamson has cast doubt on vaccination mandates in the past, but has in recent interviews been careful not to portray herself as anti-vaccine. A Minnesota nurse watching the Las Vegas forum, which was co-moderated by HuffPost and The Nevada Independent, asked Williamson to say where she stands on the issue “once and for all.”

“Vaccines work. That has never been my issue,” Williamson began, before immediately pivoting.

“We also, however, have an opioid problem in this country,” she said, expressing her concern for the “over-sale [and] over-marketing of painkillers.”

When HuffPost’s Amanda Terkel asked whether Williamson was comparing vaccines to the opioid crisis, Williamson continued criticizing “Big Pharma,” which she said she would subject to “legitimate and responsible oversight” by the federal government.

Asked to answer a “simple yes or no” to whether she believed school districts should be able to require parents to vaccinate their children, Williamson answered in the affirmative.

“I’m fine with that,” she said. “And when I’m president, we will have far more independent research having to do with the amount of vaccines, having to do with bundling, and none of that will be paid by Big Pharma.”

Asked backstage by HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson whether a President Williamson would tell all American parents to get their children the vaccines recommended by their doctors, she said yes. Then she declared her intention to increase the Food and Drug Administration’s budget to review unspecified drugs, suggesting she holds doubts on their safety. 

Williamson’s dubious take on vaccines goes back at least to 2015, when she appeared on Bill Maher’s HBO talk show and said, “There’s a skepticism which is actually healthy on this issue of vaccinations.” Williamson also drew criticism earlier this year for calling mandatory vaccinations “draconian” and “Orwellian” amid the worst measles outbreak the country has seen in decades. 

She attempted to clarify some of her past comments on health care this week in an MSNBC interview, saying she never intended to “cast skepticism” on vaccines. She also apologized for calling clinical depression a “scam” on Russell Brand’s podcast in November 2018, explaining that she had been “speaking glibly.”

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From left, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Andrew Yang, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are introduced before the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
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Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, participates in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former Vice President Joe Biden are introduced before the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., shake hands before the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) takes the stage at the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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From left, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio participate in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
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DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) (L) and former Vice President Joe Biden (R) speak during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - JULY 31: Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) speaks during the Democratic Presidential Debate at the Fox Theatre July 31, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan. 20 Democratic presidential candidates were split into two groups of 10 to take part in the debate sponsored by CNN held over two nights at Detroit’s Fox Theatre. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator from California Kamala Harris gestures as she speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester unfurls a banner as Democratic presidential hopefuls participate in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester leaves the Fox theatre after being escorted out for interrupting the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator from Colorado Michael Bennet speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopefuls Governor of Washington Jay Inslee (L) and Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio participate in the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., participate in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential hopeful Governor of Washington Jay Inslee gestures as he speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential hopeful US Senator from New York Kirsten Gillibrand speaks during the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Cory Booker speaks as former Vice President Joe Biden gestures on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., talk after the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. talk after the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee chat during a break in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Democratic presidential hopefuls US Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker (L), US Senator from California Kamala Harris (C) and Former Vice President Joe Biden shake hands after the second round of the second Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season hosted by CNN at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Jim WATSON / AFP) (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (2nd L), and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro (2nd R) and U.S. Senator Cory Booker (R) greet each other after the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
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“That was wrong of me to say, and I’m sorry that I said it,” Williamson said on MSNBC.

Williamson found herself playing defense in another interview published just days earlier in The New York Times, where she said she stands by her controversial tweet that followed the June 2018 death of designer Kate Spade. Williamson reacted to Spade’s death by suicide by asking, “How many public personalities on antidepressants have to hang themselves before the FDA does something, Big Pharma cops to what it knows, and the average person stops falling for this?”

Asked by the Times whether she stands by the tweet, Williamson replied, “Yes. What in that statement is not true?”

Williamson clarified in the interview that she knows clinical depression exists, explaining that she has criticized diagnoses of clinical depression because she believes the pharmaceutical industry is corrupt.

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