The Frick Collection, New York.

Frick Collection Trustee Bernard Selz Has Donated Millions to the Anti-Vaccination Movement

A report in the Washington Post has revealed that longtime arts supporters Bernard and Lisa Selz have contributed more than $3 million in recent years to organizations supporting the anti-vaccination movement. Lisa Selz also serves as president of the anti-vaccination organization Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), which has received three fourths of its funding from the Selz Foundation.

The anti-vaccination movement has been spurred by the research of discredited doctor Andrew Wakefield, who published a paper linking the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism in the influential British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. The paper was retracted in January 2010, and Wakefield, formerly a gastroenterologist, has had his medical license revoked. (Twenty-one studies since have also failed to find evidence to support any connection between vaccines and autism, including a study published this spring involving 657,461 Danish children.)

According to the Washington Post, the Selz Foundation gave $200,000 to a legal fund for Wakefield in 2012 as well as $1.6 million to his nonprofit organizations. ICAN founder Del Bigtree, a former daytime-TV show producer with no medical credentials, is also a leading lobbyist of the anti-vaccination movement. At an event this spring, he drew criticism for wearing a yellow Star of David, which he said was in solidarity with the members of the Orthodox Jewish community who claim that vaccinations are against Jewish law.

“They should be allowed to have the measles if they want the measles,” Bigtree told reporters in Brooklyn on June 4. “It’s crazy that there’s this level of intensity around a trivial childhood illness.”

In April, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency following a measles outbreak in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. The city ordered unvaccinated residents of the area, which he described as the epicenter of the outbreak, to get vaccinated or face fines of up to $1,000. California, Mississippi, and Arizona have passed similar legislation banning vaccine exemptions for religious reasons.

Before the MMR vaccination was developed in 1963, more than four hundred Americans died every year from the disease, and three to four million Americans were infected. Hundreds of people from countries including Madagascar, Ukraine, and the Philippines have died from the disease this year, which saw the highest number of measles cases in nearly three decades, reports the Washington Post.

Bernard Selz is a trustee of the Frick Collection, the World Monuments Fund, and the American Friends of the Victoria and Albert Museum, Inc., as well as a member of the director’s council of New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. The couple has also endowed a number of curatorial and academic positions at institutions such as the Brooklyn Museum and Columbia University, and has made significant donations to the Dallas Museum of Art, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, among other institutions.