UPDATE: The Orlando Sentinel will not be asking a childhood vaccination foe to participate in its Front Burner series. “Just wanted to let you know after careful consideration, we decided to listen to your wise counsel,” wrote Darryl Owens. On behalf of parents and public health advocates everywhere, AutismNewsBeat would like to thank Mr. Owens and the Orlando Sentinel.
AutismNewsBeat has learned that the Orlando Sentinel is looking for two one-time guest columnists to produce an op-ed columns on the “pro” and “con” of childhood vaccinations for the newspaper’s Front Burner series. Here is my response to the editor, Darryl Owens, who can be reached at deowens at tribune.com .
Dear Mr. Owens,
I understand you are soliciting one-time guest columnists to write an op-ed column on the “pro and cons” of childhood vaccines. May I respectively suggest that you not invite the anti-vaccine point of view, just as you would not solicit the views of someone who says the moon landings were faked, or that the Earth was fully formed 6,000 years ago.
I’ve been monitoring and writing about the anti-vaccine movement for over six years, and I have yet to see evidence which suggests that the risks of childhood vaccines are worse than the diseases they prevent. I have seen countless anti-vaccine talking points which blame vaccines for autism, asthma, cerebral palsy, SIDS, arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, and other medical conditions, based on the flimsiest of evidence, or no evidence at all.
I’ve read so many anti-vaccine rants that I can predict some of what your guest columnist will write:
If vaccines are so safe, then why has the government paid billions of dollars to the families with children injured or killed by vaccines? The answer, which your guest columnist won’t tell us, is that the standard of proof in federal “Vaccine Court” is far more lenient than what is found in civil court. Of the 3,000 plus cases settled since 1986, nearly a third were for brain damage and seizure disorders caused by the old DTP vaccine. Today scientists know that DTP did not cause those disorders.
Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research, which showed the MMR vaccine causes autism, has been replicated many times around the world. Mr. Andrew Wakefield (he is not a physician in the US) lost his medical license in the UK over a study he published in The Lancet. The results of his research have never been replicated, and when given the opportunity to so himself, Wakefield declined.
There are (some random number) of peer-reviewed scientific studies which show vaccines cause autism.That list was cobbled together by anti-vaccine activists with a poor understanding of the science. The studies listed either don’t say what are claimed, have never been published, or are found in low impact journals known for publishing highly speculative hypotheses.
Vaccines are a huge moneymaker for drug makers and doctors, so they have an incentive to lie and cover up vaccine injury. Pediatricians and family doctors make very little from storing and administering vaccines, if they make any money at all. If doctors and drug companies were as evil as anti-vaccine folks suggest, they would be against preventing disease. There’s way more money to be made treating measles, pertussis, and other nasty germs than in preventing them.
The ever -expanding vaccine schedule explains the autism epidemic, since both started around the same time. There is little empirical evidence for an increase in the actual number of children born with autism. The increase is for diagnoses of autism and related disorders, for which there are several sensible explanations. But the notion of an autism epidemic is an article of faith among anti-vaccine activists. Any reference to “skyrocketing autism rates” is mistaken at best.
A more interesting vaccine-related debate might be between two doctors who differ on how to handle vaccine-rejecting parents. One camp will not allow unvaccinated children in their practice out of concern for infants and children in the waiting rooms. Infants are too young for some vaccines, and some children cannot be vaccinated due to very real medical conditions. The other camp chooses to work with those parents out of concern they will take their children to an unqualified “alternative” medical provider, or reject medical care altogether. This is a very real debate among family physicians, and there is no perfect answer.
In a perfect world anti-vaccine conspiracy mongers wouldn’t find it so easy to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt on the internet and on the pages of major newspapers. There’s not much we can do about internet-based paranoia, which flourishes in the absence of gatekeepers who understand and respect the scientific method. Fortunately, most print and broadcast media are skeptical enough these days to do the right thing.
Listen to the parents! That’s what discredited and cult-like autism advocacy groups tell us. What they really mean is “pay no attention to the science – just listen to our unconfirmed anecdotes!”
Groups such as Talk About Curing Autism (TACA) and Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue are notorious for excluding or ejecting skeptics and neutral observers from their events, one part revival meeting, one part trade fair, wrapped in the respectability of science. In their world, a scientific conference is not about challenging speakers with conflicting data, or pointing out biases. It’s about providing a “safe and nurturing atmosphere” where parents feel comfortable to speak their minds. In such a setting, there are no bad ideas, save one: asking important questions.
So it was no surprise when TACA rejected my registration for its upcoming conference in Madison, Wisconsin. I registered online a few weeks ago, and paid my $35 with a credit card. The last time I registered for a TACA conference was February, 2010. My registration was denied then as well.
Here’s the email TACA sent me yesterday:
From: webmaster <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: TACA Order # 9273
Date: September 18, 2013 4:04:50 PM CDT
The purpose of our Wisconsin Real Help Now Conference on Friday and Saturday, September 27th & 28th is to bring together members in the autism community in order to educate and support families and facilitate dialogue on important issues related to autism. As such we want to nurture an environment that is conflict free and allows open communication.
We regret that we will not be able to accept your registration to this event. We are refunding your registration fee today.
Talk About Curing Autism
When TACA barred me in 2010, it followed up the email with an over-night letter that I had to sign for. This is what the email said then:
Dear Mr. Reibel,
The purpose of our Wisconsin Real Help Now Conference on Saturday, February 27, 2010 is to bring together members in the autism community in order to educate and support families and facilitate dialogue on important issues related to autism. As such we want to nurture an environment that is conflict free and allows open communication.
Your attendance at a previous national autism conference was disruptive to the mission and purpose of that conference. We want to ensure the focus of the conference is on education and support and that the environment is safe and supportive for conference attendees.
We have given you a full refund of the purchase price. You will not be admitted to this conference.
The “previous national autism conference” was the AutismOne conference in May, 2008. I had asked for, and received a press pass to that event. My “disruptive” behavior was to stay silent for two days, then ask a question during a Q&A on day three. The organizers’ disruptive behavior included calling hotel security to frog march me to the parking lot.
TACA organizers boast that their conference “brings together highly regarded experts in autism.” On such expert is Bob Sears, MD, FAAP, the pediatrician best known for fabricating and promoting his own untested vaccine schedule. It calls for twice the number of office visits in a child’s first year of life than the schedule that is recommended by real scientists. Pediatricians are not amused.
TACA says parents will leave the conference “with a positive action plan for their child with autism.” Sears advises parents to avoid vaccinating their autistic children until they are “recovered” from the disorder. So presumably TACA’s positive action plan includes positive test results for some nasty viruses.
Another TACA luminary and perennial AutismOne favorite is Anju Usman of Naperville, Illinois. You may know her as the physician who diagnosed aluminum poisoning in a five-year-old autistic boy in 2005, then referred him to another “alternative” practitioner. That doctor, Roy Kerry, killed the boy, in front of the mother. He was trying to chelate lead from the boy’s body, which stopped the child’s heart. A few months later, the Autism Research Institute awarded Kerry with membership into DAN! , which stands for Defeat Autism Now. DAN! practitioners used to earn their cred by completing a grueling eight-hour seminar. Now it takes three days.
There’s something unsettling and cult-like about an organization that treats autistic children like lab rats, then boasts that its conferences are nurturing and safe, where parents are free to speak their minds. But only when everybody is of one mind.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the scion of political liberalism cum environmental activist cum anti-vaccine warrior told an AutismOne audience last Friday that living with autism is the same as life in a Nazi death camp. This is how Dan “Clinic for Special Children” Olmsted reports Kennedy’s remarks:
Each of us will have our highlights from last weekend’s extraordinary Autism One gathering in Chicago, but for me it was Bobby Kennedy Jr. saying, “To my mind this is like the Nazi death camps.”
“This” is the imprisonment of so many of our children in the grip of autism. Talk about cutting through the neurodiverse claptrap! When Bobby Kennedy says something, it gives “cover,” in a sense, for others to use the same kind of language and frame the debate in the same kind of way. (Language that reminds me of David Kirby’s phrase, “the shuttered hell” of autism, in Evidence of Harm.)
Those who can advocate for themselves should do so. Move right along, please. Those who cannot have advocates like their parents and RFK Jr. who are sick of mincing words.
Kennedy made his odious comparison during the conference’s keynote address, a spot held by Jenny McCarthy every year since 2008. McCarthy took her own star turn Saturday, rubbing elbows with with a “celebrity panel” that included neurodiversity advocate Alexis Wineman, of Buchenwald Cut Bank, Montana, the first-ever autistic Miss America contestant. For the past year, Wineman has been telling everyone she meets that she doesn’t need to be cured. “Autism is not a death sentence, but a life adventure,” she says, “and one that has been given me for a reason.”
Courageously spoken words or neurodiverse clap trap – you decide. We know where Kennedy and Olmsted stand.
Contradictory messages are nothing new at AutismOne. Vaccine rejectionism has always been a big tent movement, “a mishmash of libertarians, health nuts and quack medicine vendors, conspiracy theorists, ambulance chasers, ‘investigative’ journalists, advocates of the theory of harm du jour, and, always, a few scientists – who range from the disbarred quack to the clueless semi-mainstream specialist,” says Arthur Allen, author of Vaccines, a must-read history anti-vaccine movements. Members contradict each other, and themselves, all the time. Its followers span the political spectrum, from back-to-nature granola moms to hard-core Christianists. When your case rests on the shaky ground of unconfirmed anecdotes and magical thinking, throwing mud and yelling at shadows is all you have.
But the disconnect between RFK’s death camp slur and Wineman’s sunny optimism is still noteworthy, if only for the lengths that McCarthy has gone to cultivate the relationship.
McCarthy herself reached out to Wineman, first with a Tweet when Miss Montana was still competing for the crown in Las Vegas. Phone calls followed, and last Friday evening, the two women attended a Generation Rescue fundraiser in a swanky Chicago night club, which raised $200,000 for questionable medical treatments. From her red carpet, Wineman told assembled reporters “I want to tell (children with autism) to accept themselves. Autism can be a life adventure if they want it to be, but they have to open the door to get out of their comfort zone. Never underestimate yourself. No matter what your challenges are nothing is stopping you from trying.”
Wineman couldn’t be more out of step with McCarthy’s angry mob if she called Wakefield a fraud and a liar, or said the evidence for an autism epidemic is only anecdotal. And if she said those things the angry mob would rip the crown from Wineman’s head before hotel security frog-marched her out of the Lombard Westin. But what Wineman did say, has been saying, and will no doubt continue to say, is every bit as subversive to the anti-vaccine movement’s flagship annual event. Maybe more so.
The next day, Wineman and McCarthy “shared experiences, insights, advice, along with trials and tribulations, growth, courage and success,” at a celebrity panel dubbed “No Limits.” Afterwards the two sat at adjoining tables, shoulder to shoulder, and signed autographs. Later Wineman tweeted “Who would have thought me signing autographs with Jenny McCarthy. Too sweet Love my life.”
From the bottom of the ocean
To the mountains on the moon
Won’t you please come to Chicago
No one else can take your place
-Graham Nash, “Chicago”
* * *
The first autistic Miss America contestant is a cheerful 19-year-old with heart-breaking beauty and a refreshing message. She celebrates her autism, telling reporters and talk show hosts that “Being on the spectrum is not a death sentence, but a life adventure, and one that I realize has been given to me for a reason,” and “It’s amazing how people don’t accept other people just because they’re different. Being different is not something to look down on, but to be embraced. People need to understand.”
She once told Jeff Probst “There is nothing wrong with being autistic,” and “My autism doesn’t define who I am, I define my autism.”
So why has Alexis Wineman accepted Jenny McCarthy’s invitation to join a “celebrity panel” at a notorious anti-vaccine conference, breaking gluten-free bread with people who compare autism to a death sentence, and something to be despised? One possible answer can be found in her interview published on Disability Scoop last October:
‘Socializing with my classmates, even when I wanted to, was awkward to say the least. I wouldn’t get their jokes half the time. I took everything so literally,’ she told the site.
Here’s what Alexis posted on her Facebook page in January, after receiving a phone call from McCarthy:
Could it be that Alexis is following mean girl McCarthy into the lavatory for a humiliating makeover? Does she literally believe that autistic children can be “rescued” with bleach enemas, chelation, and chemical castration, all of which are “treatments” promoted by other invited speakers the AutismOne conference?
Wineman grew up in Cut Bank, Montana, one square mile of treeless plain and 2,800 hopeful souls. After second grade, Alexis’s twin sister, Amanda skipped ahead into fourth, but not Alexis. “That’s enough to make anyone feel dumb. But I got called “retarded” a lot. I really hate that word,” Alexis told Glamour Magazine. Her behavior deteriorated.
“The meltdowns lasted hours and became more frequent,” says her mother, Kim Butterworth. “We’d have to grab and hold her; she’d be as stiff as a board. It was scary. And she started melting down at school. I’d get the call: ‘We’re having a problem.’”
At age 11 she was diagnosed with PDD-NOS, after the family consulted their pastor and a therapist. “I felt so alone growing up, and I still do at times,” she told a conference on autism at the Montana State University Billings last fall. “Nobody understood what I was going through. I separated myself from my classmates and spent most of my time alone. I stayed quiet to hide my speech problems. Due to these overwhelming and daily struggles, I looked at myself as a punching bag for others, and a burden to my family.”
Her turnaround came in high school, where Alexis ran cross country, joined the drama club, and became a cheerleader. At 18, she entered the Miss Montana contest and won.
Alexis wears her celebrity well. “We cannot cure what is not a sickness,” Miss Montana said in the video shown at the pageant. “But we can begin to understand autism, and help those with the condition to unlock the potential that lies within all of us.”
McCarthy and her business partners disagree. The AutismOne conference is a veritable trade show of unproven and questionable autism “cures”, where the hiss of hyperbaric oxygen chambers lures the credulous, and Mr. Andrew Wakefield tells starry-eyed mothers that “recovery is possible.”
So why did McCarthy reach out to Alexis? Could the invitation be part of McCarthy’s 12-step anger recovery program? The nursing school drop out and ex-MTV host is desperate to shed her anti-vaccine past, which means dissing the “angry mob” she once bragged about. She told the AP in January that she hasn’t publicly commented on vaccines in four years (it was more like two years, but oh well). Her 2011 AutismOne keynote address barely mentioned vaccines. In her 2012 speech, she was introduced by a plaintiff’s attorney who told parents “the claim that mercury doesn’t cause autism is a lie,” but McCarthy herself stayed away from the V word. Meanwhile, when she speaks of Generation Rescue (“my foundation!”), she stresses assistance to parents.
All of which raises (not begs) a serious question: Is the anti-vaccine movement growing up? Can the acceptance-and-accommodation virus find willing hosts in McCarthy’s mob? Can Alexis Wineman from Cut Bank, Montana, attract enough autism parents, and generate enough buzz, to turn Generation Rescue into a responsible and respected advocacy group?
Does McCarthy need Miss Montana?
Or is McCarthy’s invitation as cynical as inviting Al Sharpton to a Sons of the Confederacy conference? Not that Sharpton would accept.
Dr. Bob Sears is best known for his 2007 work, The Vaccine Book, ostensibly written “to give parents a balanced look at pros and cons of vaccination so that they can make an educated decision.” In reality, the book has only added to the unnecessary fear, uncertainty and doubt about vaccines that have driven thousands of parents to leave their children vulnerable to preventable diseases. And while America’s medical establishment has caught on to Sears, he still enjoys a following. His book has sold about 50,000 copies, and Sear’s Facebook page lists over 6,000 followers.
Last week Sears told his FB followers that we can only truly know that vaccines are safer than the diseases they protect us from if the CDC studies health outcomes of vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Sears no doubt includes autism in those “health outcomes”, since he has advised parents to avoid vaccinating their autistic children until they are “recovered” from the disorder. Anti-vaccine activists have been agitating for such a study for years, most recently at the shameful Congressional anti-vaccine hearing last November 29. Jenny McCarthy’s Generation Rescue even attempted such a survey by telephone in 2007. It found that autism was more common among unvaccinated children than vaccinated.
Epidemiologists tell us such a study, done well, would be unethical, since it would mean leaving many thousands of children vulnerable to disease, just to prove what medical science already knows – that vaccines don’t cause autism. Sears says there are enough totally unvaccinated children around to conduct such a study, and on Facebook he cited a paper that supposedly shows that 5-10 percent of American children have never been vaccinated.
The IOM and the CDC continue to hide behind the claim that to do a comparative study of unvaccinated versus vaccinated children would be unethical. But as long as they neglect to do this research, many parents will continue to decline vaccines over the concern about lack of safety research.
The IOM states that one challenge of an unvaccinated study is that there is an inadequate number of study subjects, as less than 1% of children are completely unvaccinated. I don’t agree with this statistic. It’s more like 5%, and could even be 10%. One brand new international study revealed that 10% of households surveyed had children who were completely unvaccinated. 10%!!! And it was the more educated and wealthier families that were more likely to be unvaccinated. The IOM’s claim that there aren’t enough unvaccinated children to study simply isn’t true. With over 4 million babies being born in the U.S. every year, they would have their pick of about 400,000 unvaccinated children to study each year.
Sears links to a meta-analysis of vaccine surveys published last summer in the journal Tropical Medicine and International Health. Xavier Bosch-Capblanch from the University of Basel, Switzerland, and his team reviewed 241 nationally representative household vaccination surveys in 96 low and medium income countries. The percentage of unvaccinated children (ages 12-59 months) was 9.9% across all surveys, but ranged from zero percent (Albania,Peru, and Uzbekistan) to 28.5% (Ethiopia). Sears’s claim that ten percent of American children are completely unvaccinated puts the country on par with Namibia (9.2% in 2007), Haiti (10.3% in 2006), and Yemen (10.9% in 2006). It also means that scores of developing countries, including Vietnam (1%) Tajikistan (.9%), and Sierra Leone (1.9%), should think twice before issuing visas for American children.
Anti-vaccine activist “Dr. Bob” Sears reaches out to his fans
Despite Sears’s best efforts, the percent of fully vaccinated children has increased over the past decade. That’s discouraging news for Sears and others who have doubled down on a vaxed v. unvaxed study. But overall rates should not mask the real harm of anti-vaccine propaganda – encouraging community clusters of vaccine rejectionism that have led to unnecessary suffering. One such cluster incubated a measles outbreak in San Diego in 2008. The index patient was a boy who had just returned from a trip to Switzerland. By the time the virus was contained, four others came down with a disease that can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, and even death. His family’s pediatrician? Dr. Bob Sears.
What kind of doctor, you might ask, would encourage parents to withhold an important vaccine? The kind who aligns himself with the worst elements of the antivaccine movement. The kind who misrepresents published science so as to fuel the anti-vaccine movement’s push for an unethical study. The kind to fabricate his own, untested vaccine schedule, then package it in The Vaccine Book.
In a series of articles released today, the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines its opposition to a proposed UN treaty which, if approved, would ban the preservative thimerosal from vaccines worldwide. The ban is also opposed by the World Health Organization and the US Public Health Service. It is estimated that multidose vaccines with thimerosal as a preservative are used in 120 countries to immunize approximately 84 million children, saving about 1.4 million lives each year.
The AAP’s opposition reverses the professional organization’s call in 1999 for the removal of thimerosal from the US pediatric vaccine schedule. That action is frequently cited by anti-vaccine groups as evidence that health officials know that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. But Dr. Louis Z. Cooper and Dr. Samuel L. Katz, co-authors of one of today’s articles, directly take on that concern:
Had the AAP (and, we suspect, the USPHS) known what research has revealed in the intervening 14 years, it is inconceivable to us that these organizations would have made the joint statement of July 7, 1999. The World Health Organization recommendation to delete the ban on thimerosal must be heeded or it will cause tremendous damage to current programs to protect all children from death and disability caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.
The 1999 domestic ban surfaced during a Nov. 29 congressional hearing on autism, where representatives of both parties repeated long-debunked anti-vaccine talking points. Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) asked the CDC’s Dr. Colleen Boyle why thimerosal was taken out of childhood vaccines if there were no concerns about its safety. Boyle wisely agreed to get back to him with an answer. An anti-vaccine hearing is no place for reasoned discussion.
In another article, researchers Katherine King, PhD, MSc; Megan Paterson, and Shane K. Green, PhD; reaffirm that “there is no credible scientific evidence that the use of thimerosal in vaccines presents any risk to human health.” They continue:
Extensive pharmacologic and epidemiological research has shown early, theoretical concerns about links to autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders to be false. Indeed, the exculpatory strength of the data now available on thimerosal is well evidenced by recent statements from the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, US Institute of Medicine, and American Academy of Pediatrics, all of which have concluded that thimerosal exposure through vaccination is not harmful to human health.
The AAP’s latest action is a shot across the bow of anti-vaccine groups. The UN’s proposed thimerosal ban has been championed by Mark Geier, the disgraced Maryland geneticist best known for chemically castrating disabled children. Two years ago, he told a group of African delegates gathered for a session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Japan that thimerosal “is favored by the pharmaceutical industry because it is cheap and enables the industry to keep making vaccines in old and dirty factories.”
Geier is a regular at Jenny McCarthy’s annual anti-vaccine conference, where he receives standing ovations from anti-vaccine parents. Ten states have either revoked his medical license over the last two years, or allowed it to expire, for Geier’s ethical lapses which included lying about his qualifications, and risking children’s health with unproven medical treatments.
3:23 pm CT – The public witnesses are seated. They are:
Mr. Bob Wright, Co-Founder, Autism Speaks
Mr. Scott Badesch, President, Autism Society
Mr. Mark Blaxill, Board Member of SafeMinds, an anti-vaccine advocacy group
Mr. Bradley McGarry, Coordinator of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, Mercyhurst University
Mr. Michael John Carley, Executive Director, Global & Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership
Mr. Ari Ne’eman, President, Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Bob Wright is up first. The former president of NBC Universal is schooled on how to use a microphone.
Wright is playing to the peanut gallery now, slamming Boyle and Guttmacher for their testimony.
“The CDC spends almost no money for autism – only $20 million or $30 million.”
3:32 – Scott Badesch of the Autism Society.
“The services for autism are currently difficult to navigate.” Then he blasts the IACC for not including government officials.
“The need for adult services is extensive. The greatest cliff occurs when somebody with autism turns 21, and there’s no one there to help them.”
Mark Blaxill’s turn. “I wrote a book on autism. It argues that autism is a new condition.” Before 1930, he says, the rate of autism in the US and the world was “effectively zero.”
He’s showing PowerPoint slides. “It’s obvious when somebody is autistic.” This is nonsense.
“It’s absurd to waste money on genetic research in this crisis. There is no such thing as a genetic epidemic.” The “autism gene hunt.”
The CDC has given us securities fraud to avoid accountability for an epidemic.
3:43 – Bradley McGarry. “This is just the beginning of the wave that has been characterized as an epidemic.”
3:48 - Michael John Carley. “Research is based on the future, and not on where the greatest need lies, which is the present.” Adults on the spectrum are starved for housing, jobs, and other opportunities. Yeah!
“We are not amidst a health crisis. We are amidst a services crisis.” This guy rocks.
“Evidence-based conviction, not hope.” He’s appalled that we are still talking about vaccines.
3:55 – Ari Ne’eman. “In God We Trust, everybody else bring data.”
Ne’eman doesn’t buy into the epidemic talk. He asks for a prevalence study looking at adults with autism in the US, similar to the one in the UK which found 1 percent.
Dan Burton again. “I want you to get a copy of this whole hearing, and disseminate it and try to get as many people as possible to take a look at it.”
He says the NVICP isn’t getting money to people who need it. Does he want to raid the fund?
He calls people with autism a burden.
4:05 – Rep. Cummings. “I listened to you Mr. Blaxill, and you feel there’s been a great deal of game playing.”
More epidemic talk. Ne’eman responds. “It stands in contravention to a good deal of science.”
He adds “The perception that autism is a recent new thing is damaging” because it excludes the needs of adults.
“What kind of services are you talking about?” asks Cummings.
Carley: ABA, enforcement of IDEA, housing for adults, job training. “This is not a population short on brain cells.”
Carley addresses the myth of the epidemic. Now Blaxill wants to respond.
“The 1:88 number – the CDC doesn’t break out the categories. We don’t know if Asperger’s is part of the increase.”
DSM-IV, he says, was supposed to be a “corrective narrowing” of the expansion.
The “great unmentionable – vaccines.” An inflection point in 1990 – vaccines explain it.
“Statistical trickery” by the CDC.
Issa asks Bob Wright some questions. “There is such a wide divergence in the science. The IACC seems to be missing the mark. What is your view of what needs to be done?”
Wright: We need a nationwide strategic plan. That includes safety research on vaccines. Somebody has to coordinate all this activity. The CDC and NIH don’t do services.
“What we deal with is a lot of ignorance.” Wright was talking about doctors, not the people who applauded Mark Blaxill.
Rep. Kelly is grilling Blaxill about his criticism of genetic research. “Who else believes what you do? Why haven’t we heard of this before?”
Blaxill blames the IACC and NIH. “They are not accountable in any way. The were only trying to maintain the status quo.”
Rep. Cummings is quoting Sam Cooke – “I was born by the river….Change is going to come.”
The committee seems to have calmed down now. The talk has turned to adults with autism and services.
Spoke too soon. Blaxill is back on the “inflection point.” The beginning of the epidemic. A tsunami of desperate families. The inflection point was in 1990. So those kids are 22 NOW!! OH NOES!
Now Blaxill has been asked to comment on the Brick Township study. Scientists are being punished for being politically incorrect. The NIH enforces the orthodoxy. So does the press.
A boy with autism wanders in front of the witness stand. I predict a strained metaphor from Mark Blaxill.
4:44 – Issa wraps up. A list of things we have learned today. “There is nothing we heard today that is off limits for this committee to explore.”
You can watch the House Committee on Government Operations and Reform online HERE.
12:59 pm CT – Joe Biden is shopping for children’s books at Costco. Welcome to C-Span 3.
1:00 – OK, here we go. Chairman Darrel Issa reminds us that the mission of the committee is to make sure tax money isn’t wasted. The topic today, he tells us, transcends partisan politics.
“If the numbers grow from 1:88, then we will in fact have an epidemic.”
” The committee will be acting as a conduit of information for the rest of congress.
Issa thanks Brian Hooker of Focus Autism for bringing autism to the committee’s attention. Hooker is a regular contributor to AgeOfAutism, Whale. to, NaturalNews and other anti-vaccine websites.
1:10 – Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), promised retiring Dan Burton that his work will be carried on.
1:13 – Burton: “Contrary to how the media have portrayed me, I am not anti-vaccine.” OK, then.
He’s on a roll now. “It wasn’t so bad when a child gets one or two or three vaccines… Mercury accumulates in the brain until it has to be chelated.” This guy is totally unrepentant for the problems he’s caused.
It doesn’t sound like Burton is aware that thimerosal has been absent from childhood vaccines for ten years.
“(Children with vaccine induced autism) will live for another 67 years, and they will be burden on society, and on their parents.”
Burton is so crazy, that the SAFE MINDS guy will come off as calm and rational.
1:20 – Rep.Danny Davis (D-Chicago) thanks Burton for using his position as chairman to bring attention to autism.
1:22 – Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) – He recalls the language snuck into a Homeland Security bill ten years ago that would have shielded drug companies from liability for poisoning people with thimerosal. “This is a new beginning, and I salute the chair for making it, but it goes well beyond thimerosal and includes coal.”
1:26 – Issa introduces Dr. Alan Guttmacher from the NIH, and Dr. Colleen Boyle from the CDC.
The two witnesses are sworn in. A-CHAMP was hand-wringing in its latest press release that the witnesses would be allowed to lie.
Gittmacher is reading an uninspiring statement about the IACC, what it does, etc. He’s justifying the money Congress pours into the IACC, then launches into a long laundry list of studies and programs that Congress has funded.
Colleen Boyle, CDC epidemiologist is next. Her current autism budget is $21 million, and she’s going to tell us how the money is spent.
She names all 12 states of the ADDM network. Fun!
Darrell Issa asks a couple questions. “Is autism in history pre-date all vaccines?”
“Definitely” says Colleen Boyle. Guttmacher talks about Kanner in 1943.
Issa asks if autism has more than one cause. “like cancer.” Yes, says Guttmacher.
“Is it fair to say we can rule nothing out in absolute terms as far as being a contributor? Including things we haven’t yet looked at?”
Guttmacher some factors have been looked at so carefully that we can rule them out (hint: vaccines).
“Are we waiting too long to have children?” asks Issa, noting that medical science has accommodated parents who want to have children later in life.
Rep. Commings notes the “looks of frustration” on the visitors seated at the back of the room. “What can we do to help the folks behind you?” he asks the two government scientists.
Guttmacher reassures the congressman that he shares the frustration of the parents, some of whom can be seen rolling their eyes and laughing in the same camera shot as the government scientists.
Cummings asks about the make up of the IACC.
Burton is going to show a two-minute video. “I know there are manu causes of autism, but the one I’m talking about is vaccines.”
The video slams mercury amalgam, and draws on discredited University of Calgary research.
“This is worse than an epidemic! It’s an absolute disaster! How can anyone watch this video and not be alarmed!”
The peanut gallery applauds when Dan Burton finishes. Then explodes in anger when Colleen Boyle notes that thimerosal is no longer used in schedule pediatric vaccines.
1:58 – Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-Wash. DC) – Asks if there are undiagnosed young adults with autism, and what do we do for them. Norton is a long-time advocate for persons with Down Syndrome.
Is that Katie Wright in Colleen Boyle’s camera frame? She’s very, uh, expressive.
Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-AZ), asks if the CDC looks at diet as a possible cause of autism. He reminds us that he is a dentist.
“We should be listening to the families,” he says, motioning toward the peanut gallery. He’s a GF-CF proponent. “You name a disease, you will find a dietary aspect.”
The small-government Republican wants government to tell parents how to eat. He says he has spent hours walking through a grocery store, looking for gluten free food. He shares an anecdote about an autistic child who was recovered after he was taken off gluten and milk. The peanut gallery swoons.
2:11 - Rep. Kucinich. He’s been researching the association between mercury and autism. He’s gunning for big coal. I sure am glad vaccines don’t contain coal!
Now he’s quoting the Palmer study that supposedly found an association between coal-fired power plant emissions and autism. Kucinich wants more research into mercury from coal and autism.
2:16 – Freshman Congressman Patrick Meehan (R-PA) - says he doesn’t know a subject that has caused do much frustration among his constituents. He cites the latest prevalence numbers. “Has anything accelerated to this degree in your experience?” he asks Boyle.
“As we’ve seen this acceleration in the diagnoses, can you tell us why this isn’t a public health crisis?” Now he’s channeling those frustrated constituents. “Who’s in charge of this?” he asks while stabbing his fingers in the air.
Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass) – He asks Boyle why thimerosal was removed from most vaccines.
Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) – “How do people in impoverished areas get access to services?” Yes!
Rep. Davis asks about prevalence rates of black, white, and Hispanic children. “Are there socioeconomic barriers that prevent parents and physicians from recognizing ASDs in persons of color?” Guttmacher: “There are issues of access here.”
Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) asks if children from Africa have more autism since being vaccinated. He is a big fan of Dave Weldon, an anti-vaccine congressman who retired a few years ago.
Posey asks if the CDC has ever conducted a vaccinated v. unvaccinated population. “You’ve wasted two minutes of my time,” he says to Boyle.
Now he’s asking about Poul Thorsen. “Have you gone back to validate his studies? I mean, he’s an enormous scumbag, one of the most wanted people on earth?”
Now he’s quoting the SAFE MINDS “study” that correlates mortality rate with vaccination schedules.
“Multiple bomb blasts of multiple vaccinations in a short period of time.”
2:46 – Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) – He wears an autism bracelet.
What would the CDC and NIH do with an extra $2 billion or $4 billion?
Guttmacher praises private efforts. “We need to keep that partnership.”
Need more research into environmental and genetic factors. The go together, he says. And more money for intervention.
Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) – Takes credit for funding and establishing the IACC.
“The 1:88 figure – horrible number, terrible number!” He’s been in congress for 32 years, and has considerable experience with Africa, and says he has never seen a spike in autism in Africa. He asks about gut flora and its contribution to autism. Why is the NJ prevalence so high, but other states much lower?
Consistency is not this guy’s strong suit. On one hand he says autism is an epidemic. On the other, he acknowledges that the harder you look for autism, the more you find.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) – “Autism is becoming a growing epidemic in the US, and I want to complement Congressman Burton.”
She wants to know why autism has grown from 1:10,000 to 1:88. The prevalence for autism has never been 1:10,000, but Maloney is on a roll.
Interesting fact: Carolyn Maloney has proposed on several occasions that the CDC research why the Amish don’t get autism. The bill never made it out of committee.
“I’m for vaccinations, they prevent diseases, but why so many when the verbal evidence from so many parents is that they cause problems?”
Verbal evidence = unconfirmed anecdotes.
Peanut gallery applauds.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, (R-FL) – Do we get 40 vaccines these days? Why is it twice what France is, three times what Finland is? The SAFE MINDS lobbying initiative must be awesome!
Buchanan says the care cost for autism is $2.3 million per person.
Now Rep. Cummings is picking up where Buchanan left off. “There’s something wrong with this picture. When the rate goes from 1:10,000 to 1:88.” Now he’s questioning the vaccine schedule. The peanut gallery applauds.
The camera pans the audience, and we see a crying mother.
A Utah congressman wants to know why his state has the highest administrative prevalence in the US. Except he didn’t use the words “administrative prevalence.” And it’s been a year since the CDC numbers came out, and the Utah congressman has apparently never investigated how the ADDM works.
“I’m not a statistician, but I just see big numbers.”
But he plays one on C-SPAN.
Burton is back. “Why did the CDC take out the thimerosal?” What, Burton knows most vaccines don’t use thimerosal? Guttmacher and Boyle wisely say they will look into it.
C-SPAN 3 will broadcast today’s autism hearing live at 2 pm ET. You can watch the House Committee on Government Operations and Reform online HERE.
Here is the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee list of witnesses. Each will have five minutes to present.
Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Mr. Bob Wright, Co-Founder, Autism Speaks
Mr. Scott Badesch, President, Autism Society
Mr. Mark Blaxill, Board Member of SafeMinds, an anti-vaccine advocacy group
Mr. Bradley McGarry, Coordinator of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, Mercyhurst University
Mr. Michael John Carley, Executive Director, Global & Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership
Mr. Ari Ne’eman, President, Autistic Self Advocacy Network
There are so many things wrong with this hearing. First and foremost is the assumption by Rep. Dan Burton and others that autism is an epidemic. The title of the hearing, 1 in 88 Children: A Look Into the Federal Response to Rising Rates of Autism, assumes something for which there is no evidence. In epidemiology, the word “rates” refers to disease incidence, or an increase in the actual number of cases. This is not the same as the number of diagnoses, or prevalence. But Burton cluelessly conflates the two words, using them interchangeably to spread fear about a people like his grandchild.
So we have a congressional hearing predicated on a unproven notion, and a government scientist has five minutes to school a room full of politicians in the math-intensive science of epidemiology. But that doesn’t stop another committee member, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn), from calling the hearing “an opportunity to raise awareness about autism.”
“Autism is something that affects a lot of families,” Kelly recently told the Erie Times-News. “This is a chance to educate ourselves about ASD and then educate our colleagues.”
Inviting Mark Blaxill of SAFE MINDS to educate Congress is like giving a creationist a seat at a science education hearing. Blaxill, who is not a scientist or a doctor, formed his conclusions about vaccines and autism some 13 years ago, and has been looking for evidence to support his beliefs ever since. That is the opposite of how science works. In 2000, he co-wrote a pseudo-scientific paper titled “Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning.” To my knowledge, he has never admitted that his novel hypothesis has failed in every way. But he doesn’t have to, as long as grandstanding politicians such as Rep. Burton confer the title of “expert” on him.
Burton can’t even makes himself sound knowledgeable. He recently told a Roll Call reporter “If you get one shot and it has mercury in it, you get maybe a little bit of mercury in there that may not affect you neurologically. But it stays there, at least a part of it does. So when you have a number of shots, there’s an accumulation of it, and that’s when I think it can be real damaging.”
There are entire books filled with things Burton doesn’t understand about vaccines. For instance: thimerosal, once used as a vaccine preservative, has been absent from the pediatric schedule for ten years. A thimerosal molecule contains a single mercury atom. It is water soluble, and clears the body in about ten days. There is no evidence it accumulates in the brain. Elemental mercury, on the other hand, is found in everything we eat and drink, and our bodies have evolved (a controversial idea for Burton, I am sure) to deal with minute amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic substances. And then there’s this: the symptoms of mercury poisoning are not the same as symptoms of autism.
Rep. Burton has no doubt been told these things over and over, but as any true believer, he just doesn’t care. He formed his conclusion shortly after his grandson was born, and has been looking for confirming evidence ever since.
This man was re-elected to his house seat 14 times. Think about it.
This is how the Chicago Sun-Times quells criticism of the paper’s decision to feature Jenny McCarthy as a family advice columnist.
I would like to reach out as part of the communications team for the Chicago Sun-Times and Splash publications, to share with you the Sun-Times’ statement regarding concerns specifically about the focus of Jenny McCarthy’s column:
“Jenny McCarthy has signed on to share her special brand of humor with fans through her Splash column and daily blog. As our readers know, Jenny’s contributions are lifestyle focused and light-hearted. The vision for the column is not medical advice, therefore medical topics, like vaccination, are not within the scope of the column and will not be addressed.”
This is our response:
Assistant, Public Relations
Wrapports / Chicago Sun-Times
Dear Ms. Weems,
Could Jenny McCarthy’s light-hearted personality make it less likely that the Sun-Times would publish something critical about her, such as how she has persuaded parents to leave their children vulnerable to preventable diseases? Or that her annual AutismOne conference promotes bleach enemas as a treatment for autism? Are you concerned that your newspaper’s de facto endorsement of Jenny McCarthy’s infectious brand of humor may confer legitimacy on vaccine rejectionism and unproven autism treatments? Are you aware that McCarthy’s organization excludes and even expels those who report critically about her autism conference, including newspaper reporters?
You may think your readership doesn’t know McCarthy’s back story, or care. But that will change. Your ill-considered decision to embrace McCarthy’s special brand of humor does not sit well with thousands of medical professionals, parents, academics, child health advocates, bloggers, and others who think McCarthy has much to answer for. Their simmering disappointment is very real. Is the Sun-Times willing to risk alienating so many people, in all walks of life, from coast to coast, just to attract readers who will soon learn of Jenny McCarthy’s special brand of child abuse?
Please reconsider your relationship with home-town girl Jenny McCarthy. Severing ties would be more than just a smart business decision, even if that’s your only concern.
* * *
EveryChildByTwo is asking parents and others to send their own message to the Sun-Times editor-in-chief James Kirk, expressing concern about his paper’s cozy relationship with McCarthy. Here is a sample message:
Dear Mr. Kirk,
It has recently come to my attention that you have hired actress Jenny McCarthy to write a daily blog on parenting, dating and family advice. Jenny McCarthy’s claims that her son became autistic after being vaccinated have resulted in a major decline in the public’s confidence in vaccines. These claims were highly publicized, despite having no scientific merit and were countered by the worldwide scientific community. Families have chosen not to vaccinate their children because of the “advice” provided by Ms. McCarthy, and children have died as a consequence. Our country faces the largest outbreaks of whooping cough in decades and recent outbreaks of measles have een traced back to families who did not vaccinate their children.
[insert personal anecdote here]
I ask you to seriously reconsider your decision to provide a forum for Jenny McCarthy’s unsound beliefs. There are certainly better qualified candidates for this important position.