Presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, an author and self-help guru who will appear on the Democratic debate stage next week, apologized Wednesday night after she attacked mandatory vaccinations as “draconian” and “Orwellian” at a Manchester, N.H., event.
“To me, it’s no different than the abortion debate,” Williamson said at the event, according to a tweet from an NBC News reporter. “The U.S. government doesn’t tell any citizen, in my book, what they have to do with their body or their child.”
After a request for comment from the Los Angeles Times, Williamson acknowledged making the remarks and said she misspoke.
“I understand that many vaccines are important and save lives,” Williamson said. “I also understand some of the skepticism that abounds today about drugs which are rushed to market by Big Pharma. I am sorry that I made comments which sounded as though I question the validity of life-saving vaccines. That is not my feeling and I realize that I misspoke.”
When asked about her stance on religious and personal belief exemptions for vaccinations, Williamson replied through a spokeswoman: “I support vaccines. Public safety must be carefully balanced with the right of individuals to make their own decisions.”
Some states around the U.S., including California, have been debating tightening vaccination requirements for children after low vaccination rates have led to measles outbreaks. The drops in vaccinations have been tied to scientifically disproved beliefs that the shots cause autism.
Williamson has a history of skeptical comments about vaccinations.
“I understand the controversial aspects of vaccinations, and I share many of the concerns,” Williamson wrote in a vague 2011 post on her Facebook page, in which she said she “took down those posts” regarding the issue. “The issue isn’t black and white.”
Williamson reprised those remarks in a 2015 appearance on HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher,” during a segment about measles, in which she said, “I think there’s a skepticism which is actually healthy on this issue of vaccinations.”
In that appearance, Williamson equivocated on vaccine laws, saying that “the facts are in about measles.” She added that she had vaccinated her daughter and that “there’s a public health issue that overrides individual liberty here.”
But she also showed sympathy for vaccine skeptics, and said she was concerned about vaccines when her daughter was a child.
“All of a sudden we’re taking all them together in one shot,” Williamson said. “That’s why people are talking about staggering them.… It is an upside of the American mind that we don’t buy everything we’re told necessarily.”
Williamson also said the government and the medical establishment had “suppressed information and withheld information” about vaccines, but she provided no support for her allegations.
After the Maher appearance in 2015, Williamson defended herself on Twitter when she received criticism from vaccination supporters. “I said I DO support the measles vaccine; just don’t always trust pharmaceutical companies,” Williamson tweeted at one user.
President Trump has previously proudly embraced the disproved theory that vaccines cause autism. In May, Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., faced criticism after initially stating he supported personal belief and religious exemptions for vaccinations. He later said that only medical exemptions should be allowed.