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Dr. Bernadine Healy talks about vaccines and autism…or does she?

1 Sep

Vaccines and autism: publicity of the topic just got a “shot in the arm” this weekend with a story on Dateline. As part of the story, Dr. Bernadine Healy was interviewed.

Dr. Healy has called for more research into the proposed vaccine-autism link. She has some good credentials (former head of the National Institutes of Health)

Take a look at what she had to say.

I really want people to actually watch her before reading my opinions. I’m very interested in what other people see, untainted by my opinion.

Did you watch? OK, go ahead.

My view: She sounds like a politician on a stump speech. She makes her “constituency” think that she made a commitment when, in fact, she never does.

“…in the area of autism, and in the area of vaccines, there are many many questions that need to be answered and they need a broad base of science.”

Does she ever say, “we need to research vaccines as a cause of autism”? No. She doesn’t. She mentions autism and she mentions vaccines, but doesn’t really put them together.

Another statement, in talking about vaccine safety:

“…it is about understanding if something is happening that we need to address in a small subset”

Her words are very imprecise, letting the reader interpret as he/she will.

“small subset”. Some will hear that and think, “children with autism, that’s the small subset” and the “take away” message will be, “she supports the idea of vaccines causing an epidemic of autism”. It’s possible that “small subset” means a small subset of autistics. In other words, she might be accepting the data that shows vaccines haven’t caused an epidemic of autism. It’s possible that “small subset” is the very small subset of people who are injured by vaccines, some of whom are autistic and some of whom are not. In which case, what she said isn’t controversial at all.

We just can’t tell what she meant from what she said.

And, yet, many would could come away thinking that her statement supports their side.

Perfect politician speak. Very reminiscent of the style Sentator McCain used in his comments courting the autism vote in the last U.S. presidential election.

Dr. Healy has not always been so cautious with her words. When she first appeared on the autism scene, she made accusations against the Institute of Medicine. She also made statements about young children having no risk for Hepatitis B, questioning the need for that vaccine. There are more examples, but these two serve the point: when we make specific statements, we run the risk of being wrong.

The rest of the interview was mostly “mom and apple pie” statements about good communication with parents, pediatricians and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

She also talks about vaccines and how there are “questions that must be addressed”. See what I mean about how that sounds like a politician? What questions must be addressed? The listener is likely to fill in the blank and feel that Dr. Healy made a statement supporting, say, questions about vaccines potentially causing autism.

Contrast Dr. Healy’s non-statements to the statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics on the Dateline website.

August 2009

Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics to “Dateline”

The immunization schedule is considered the ideal schedule for healthy children. It is designed to stimulate children’s immune systems so they will not suffer illness, disability and death from vaccine-preventable diseases. The recommended immunization schedule is based on the latest scientific research. There is no scientific evidence to support the safety or effectiveness of alternative schedules. Delaying vaccines leaves babies unprotected when they are most vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases such as hepatitis B (a liver infection), rotavirus (severe diarrheal disease), whooping cough and bacterial meningitis.

Autism is a devastating, poorly understood neurodevelopmental condition. It is upsetting for families not to know what caused their child’s autism. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports additional research to investigate genetic and environmental factors that may affect the developing brain. While it is likely that there are many environmental factors that influence the development of autism, vaccines are not the cause of autism. We know this because many careful and repeated studies show no link between vaccines and autism. Specifically, numerous studies have refuted Andrew Wakefield’s theory that MMR vaccine is linked to bowel disorders and autism. Every aspect of Dr. Wakefield’s theory has been disproven.

The AAP wants parents to have complete, science-based information so they can make the best decision for their child about immunization. The AAP urges parents who have questions about vaccines to talk to their pediatrician. For more information, visit www.aap.org.

See the difference between Dr. Healy’s interview and the AAP statement? The AAP said something concrete. They said that Wakefield’s theory has been disproven. They say that they support additional research into genetic and environmental factors.

Having done so, the AAP will almost certainly have their message picked apart and misinterpreted.

For example, one common attack I would expect to see is “if they don’t know what causes autism, how can they say that vaccines didn’t cause an autism epidemic?” This comes up enough that I have a handy counterexample: I, for one, feel safe in not applying research funding into the “refrigerator mother” theory, even though we don’t know what causes autism. I will go out on a limb and state that it is likely that most autism parents and autistics would agree with me on that. See, one can reject some ideas even without a complete understanding of autism.

What I really expect is for some people to jump on the “environmental factors” statement by the AAP. David Kirby, for one, has made a mini-career out of collecting such statements. Each time it is evidence of a “new” position on the possibility of environmental causes of autism by one group or another, Mr. Kirby jumps on it and adds it to his list.

I guess this hasn’t happened with this statement by the AAP because because this isn’t a new position. For example, this past May they stated, “A complex collection of variables, both genetic and environmental, have been associated with the development of autism spectrum disorders (ASD).”. This statement is a part of the FAQ (frequently asked questions) on the AAP autism website.

I was amazed then that Mr. Kirby didn’t extrapolate wildly on the “environmental” statements by the AAP.He tends to leave it implied that anyone who accepts “environmental causes” of autism is referring to events that happen to young children and not, as is most often the case in the studied environmental risk factors, prenatal events. Mr. Kirby tends to imply that anyone who agrees that there are environmental risk factors likely supports his contention that mercury causes autism.

In other words, he tends to claim support for his ideas even where there is none.

But, enough about Mr. Kirby. At least he sometimes makes definitive statements. Yes, he likes to hide behind the cloak of “what if” statements that are supposed to be “sparking a national debate”. But, he can and does occasionally make hard statements, unlike Dr. Healy in her interview.


The CDC also submitted a statement to Dateline
. It too has concrete statements:

August 26, 2009

NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
Suite 325W-1
NY, NY 10112

CDC Statement on Vaccine Safety, Thimerosal and Autism

At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention we understand that autism and autism spectrum disorders place a heavy burden on many families.

Despite compelling scientific evidence against a link between vaccines and autism, some parents wonder if vaccines could have caused their children to develop autism. The suggestion that MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine could be related to autism was initially raised in a 1998 article by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues. Several subsequent studies by independent researchers, however, have not found an association. A study that included the same laboratory that was involved in Wakefield’s original studies was not able to replicate the original findings. Concerns have been raised about possible biases in the study by Wakefield, and 10 of the coauthors of the 1998 article have published a formal retraction of the article’s conclusions. A review by the Institute of Medicine in 2004 concluded that the evidence indicates that MMR vaccine does not cause autism.

In early 2000, concerns were raised that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that had been used in some childhood vaccines, could cause autism. Numerous studies have found no association between thimerosal exposure and autism. Since thimerosal was removed from all U.S. childhood vaccines by 2002 (with the exception of the flu vaccine), we have not seen a decline in children being identified with autism, indicating that thimerosal is unlikely to be related to autism.

The CDC supports research to better understand the causes of autism and to develop more effective treatments. Early intervention is critical and research is our best hope for understanding the causes of autism. Through collaborations with partners in government, research centers, and the public, CDC is focusing on three areas: 1) understanding the frequency and trends of autism spectrum disorders, 2) advancing research in the search for causes and 3) improving early detection and diagnosis.

CDC places a high priority on vaccine safety and the integrity and credibility of our vaccine safety research. CDC, along with other federal agencies, is committed to assuring the safety of vaccines through rigorous pre-licensure trials and post-licensure monitoring. This commitment not only stems from our scientific and medical dedication, it is also personal–for most of us who work at CDC are also parents and grandparents. We too, are concerned about the health and safety of children.

Frank Destefano, M.D., M.P.H. Edwin Trevathan, M.D., M.P.H.
Director Director

Immunization Safety Office, CDC National Center on Birth Defects
& Developmental Disabilities, CDC

Again, unlike Dr. Healy, the CDC makes definitive statements. On statement I am surprised I haven’t read people pointing out the “burden” statement.

I also am surprised I haven’t heard people jump on some other statements. Specifically, “understanding the frequency and trends of autism spectrum disorders”. That’s a perfect opening for people to claim that the CDC believes there could be a vaccine-caused epidemic of autism.

Most people tend to just equate the idea of the autism rate increasing with vaccines and or mercury. So, if anyone were to say, “so-and-so thinks the autism rate may be increasing”, they usually are trying to imply, “so-and-so thinks that vaccines cause autism”.

Well, guess what, the CDC does think it is possible that the autism rate is increasing. That’s why they are monitoring the autism rate.

But, bringing this back to Dr. Healy. I am on the one hand pleased that she didn’t make her false statements about the IOM or other unfounded comments. On the other hand, I would hope that if MSNBC thought it valuable to interview her, they would have found it valuable to get her to actually say something concrete.

It is interesting to look at the blog post on the Age of Autism blog about this. They show the video, with no commentary other than the title: “Dr. Bernadine Healy Implies Hubris on Part of Docs Who Deny Vaccine Autism Possibility”.

Even they couldn’t pull a concrete conclusion out of this interview. The strongest statement they are left with is “implies hubris”.

If AoA can’t spin this interview into a strong statement, it’s pretty clearly a fairly empty interview.

Generation Rescue: a dishonest autism charity?

6 May

Generation Rescue has a long history of promoting bad science. They even have tried their hand at it themselves before, with a phone survey that was so bad it would have earned a college freshman in epidemiology a failing grade.

So when they came out with their own “study” of vaccination rates around the world, you can imagine I didn’t expect it to be good. In fact, I just avoided it altogether until they sent me an email telling me how good it was.

So I looked.

It was worse than I expected. Far worse.

The “study” is here. Generation Rescue (GR) looks at the vaccine schedules for multiple countries and compares this with the infant mortality rate and autism rates in those countries.

I read it and, Oh…my…god… I expected bad science and poorly/biased interpretations. Instead, what I found was pretty clear evidence that Generation Rescue is knowingly distributing misleading information.

Before you get worried that this post is way long and question whether you really want to read the details, here’s the short version:

1) They compare infant mortality rates between the US and other countries–even though it is clear (according to their own expert no less!) that the US uses different criteria for infant mortality and it isn’t accurate to compare the US infant mortality to that in other countries.

2) They compare autism rates amongst countries to show the US has the highest rate, suggesting that the higher the number of vaccines the higher the autism rate. They just “forget” to tell you that the prevalences for the other countries are from old studies. We can debate why the reported autism prevalence is going up with time, but no one debates that the older studies report lower prevalences than we see now. So, why does Generation Rescue compare prevalence in the US using 2002 data for kids born in 1994 with, say, a Finnish study using 1997 data on kids born as early as 1979? I consider them very biased, but not incompetent enough to miss those fatal mistakes in their study.

3) They claim that the US has the highest vaccination rates and the highest autism rates. They conveniently ignore prevalence from Canada and the UK, which have comparable prevalences to the US and much much lower numbers of vaccines. Yes, you read that right, they left out the well known studies that would show that their conclusions are nonsense.

The worst part is that it is almost certain that Generation Rescue didn’t make an honest mistake. These are so obvious that whoever wrote that “study” had to know he/she was producing what amounts to the lowest form of junk pseudoscience.

For those who want the gory details, here they are:

Infant Mortality Rates

Generation Rescue points out that the reported infant mortality rate is highest in the United States, which also has the most childhood vaccines. All well and good, but can we really compare the infant mortality rates from country to country?

When I type infant mortality rate into a google search, the first hit is a Wikipedia page which, as it turns out, addresses exactly this question.The answer is a resounding “NO”, we can’t compare the US infant mortality rate with that of other countries.

While the United States reports every case of infant mortality, it has been suggested that some other developed countries do not. A 2006 article in U.S. News & World Report claims that “First, it’s shaky ground to compare U.S. infant mortality with reports from other countries. The United States counts all births as live if they show any sign of life, regardless of prematurity or size. This includes what many other countries report as stillbirths. In Austria and Germany, fetal weight must be at least 500 grams (1 pound) to count as a live birth; in other parts of Europe, such as Switzerland, the fetus must be at least 30 centimeters (12 inches) long. In Belgium and France, births at less than 26 weeks of pregnancy are registered as lifeless.

So, who wrote that 2006 article in US News & World Report?

Bernadine Healy.

Yep, the same Bernadine Healy that is Generation Rescue’s favorite “mainstream” doctor.

One has to believe that GR saw that article in Wikipedia and the US News article. They are, after all, Google Ph.D.’s. Given the author was Bernadine Healy, they have to have considered it accurate, don’t you think? And, yet, GR conveniently forgets to mention the differences in how the US and other countries count infant mortality in their vaccines cause autism “study”.

Autism Rates 1: Autism Prevalence by country

Start with the conclusion of the Generation Rescue “study”:

This study appears to lend credibility to the theory that the U.S. vaccine schedule is linked to the U.S. epidemic of autism, particularly when compared to the published autism rates of other countries.

Given this bold claim, it is critical that they use good data for the autism rates. By “good” I mean that they need data that they can accurately compare to the CDC reported prevalence of 1 in 150. That data was taken in 2002 on 8 year old children. I.e. kids born in 1994. Since reported prevalence numbers are going up with time, it would be very misleading if they were to use, say, prevalence numbers from the early 1990’s, wouldn’t it?

Any prevalence that they use would have to use prevalence numbers from about the same time, on kids of about the same age.

Here’s their table comparing the autism rates.

gr_table3

Let’s take a look at the studies they cited for their numbers, shall we?

Iceland: Prevalence of Autism in Iceland. This 2001 study uses kids from birth years 1984-1993. I.e. most (if not all) of the kids are from the time before the big upsurge in autism diagnoses. Hardly a good comparison to the 2002 CDC study, eh?

For Sweden, they use a paper called, “Is autism more common now than 10 years ago?” from The British Journal of Psychiatry. Published in… 1991. That’s pre DSM-IV. Amongst other problems, they won’t be including the other PDD’s in the autism spectrum, like the CDC study does. Besises, the kids from the CDC study weren’t even born yet, it was so old! Is there any wonder that the Swedish study shows a lower prevalence?

For Japan, they use a paper titled Cumulative incidence and prevalence of childhood autism in children in Japan. The study uses data from 1994 on kids who were born in 1988.

Are you starting to see the pattern here? Time after time, GR is comparing US 2002 prevalence data to much older data from other countries. Let’s go on:

For Norway, they use the paper Autism and related disorders: epidemiological findings in a Norwegian study using ICD-10 diagnostic criteria. The paper was published in 1998 on children 3-14 years of age. Simple math suggests they had kids with birth years going back to at least 1984 in that study. Hardly a good comparison to kids born in 1994.

For Finland, they use Autism in Northern Finland. Here is an updated version from 2005. The study uses data from 1996-97, on kids up to 18 years old. I.e. they are using kids that were born as early as 1979. Also, they are using data on patients from hospital records who used “communal health services”. Sounds a lot like “inpatient”–one of the critiques that GR uses against studies from Denmark. Also, the Finland study didn’t include Aspeger syndrome, as that was a new diagnosis at the time. Hardly a good comparison to the CDC study.

For France, they use Autism and associated medical disorders in a French epidemiological survey. This uses “French children born between 1976 and 1985”.

For Israel, they use Autism in the Haifa area–an epidemiological perspective. This paper looks only at autistic disorder (no PDD-NOS, no Aspergers, no Rett’s no Childhood Degerative Disorder). Right off the bat that reduces the prevalence and makes it impossible to compare the the CDC 2002 study. The Israell study also is, you guessed it, based on kids older than the CDC study: children born between 1989 and 1993.

Last, Denmark. If you’ve been following the thimerosal debate, you know this is going to be ironic. They use Madsen’s paper, Thimerosal and the Occurrence of Autism: Negative Ecological Evidence From Danish Population-Based Data. Generation Rescue refers to this study (incorrectly, I might add) as “This one goes beyond useless”. I guess “useless” is only when it is used to refute the thimerosal hypothesis? Come on, GR, this level of hypocrisy is just painful.

Missing Studies

There are some very well known studies that Generation Rescue somehow forgot to include in their “study”. Could this be due to the fact that they are very good counterexamples to the vaccine-hypothesis ? Let’s look at some and see, shall we?

United Kingdom: Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Preschool Children: Confirmation of High Prevalence ( study performed in 2002 with a prevalence of 1 in 170), and Pervasive developmental disorders in preschool children (study performed in 1998/9 with a prevalence of 1 in 160).

Canada: Pervasive Developmental Disorders in Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Prevalence and Links With Immunizations (birth years 1987 to 1998. Prevalence 1 in 154).

Wow, the United Kingdom and Canada have prevalence numbers comparable to those in the US!

So, let’s complete the comparison, shall we? What is the vaccine schedule like for the UK and Canada? Using the Generation Rescue “study” we get 20 vaccines for Canada and 21 for the UK.

Wow, that’s way less than the US (with 36), and they have the same autism prevalence as the US? How could that be? Is it, perhaps, that the autism is NOT related to the number of vaccines in a given country’s schedule?

Anyone doubt why GR left the UK and Canada off their table of Autism Prevalences Around the Globe? No, I am not giving them a pass that this could be an honest mistake.

To quote Generation Rescue’s top funny guy (Jim Carrey), “How stupid do you think we are?”

Generation Rescue: an autism research organization?

1 May

Generation Rescue has been trying to rebrand itself as a “research” based organization over the past year. This is a tough sell given their track record of promiting junk as science. Even if they didn’t keep touting their phone survey it would be difficult to forget it. Rather than write the effort off as bad, they cherry picked the “results” which support their political and public relations agenda.

I was reminded of this while I was writing a review of the Science Advisory Board for the newly minted Autism Science Foundation. Why not do the same for Generation Rescue?

it is worth noting that it would have been impossible to review GR’s science advisory board a year ago. It didn’t exist from what I recall. I recall checking fairly recently, and the advisory board consisted of one person.

But, that was the past. GR is ramping up their Advisory Board. Below is the current Advisory Board for GR. I use the ISI Web of Knowledge database to check for papers with the Science Adviser as “author” and the topic as “autism”, just as I did for the Autism Science Foundation. I also did a few other checks, as you will see.

S. Jill James

I get 11 autism papers for Dr. James papers in the search. One of which was cited 84 times (which is very respectable), but most of which have been cited 1 or 0 times.

I found something interesting on her website. Under “Research Support” she lists, “CDC: Mechanisms of Oxidative Stress in Children.”

I find it amusing that the top science adviser to Generation Rescue is accepting funding from the CDC. Were she on the “other side” of the fence on the vaccine question, GR would certainly have claimed that accepting money from the CDC is a clear indication of bias and would call for “independent” research.

I guess you can be independent and still accept money from the CDC.

Dr. Richard Deth

Dr. Deth was recently discussed by Kev, by the way. He has two autism papers in the ISI database. One of which was cited 31 times.

Woody R. McGinnis, M.D.

I only get 3 papers from the ISI Web of Knowledge database for McGinnis WR and topic=autism. Apparently they aren’t listing his papers in the Journal of Biochemistry and Biotechnology which came out last year.

Jerry Kartzinel, M.D.

I get no hits for an ISI search on papers for Kartzinel as author and subject=autism. He is, of course, the co-author with Jenny McCarthy on her recent book. Not exactly research, though.

This is not a group of heavy hitters in autism research. As noted, Dr. James has a few papers which have been cited a number of times. But, given the nature of this group (and of Generation Rescue) the question has to be asked–is this a real advisory board or is it for show? In general, this is a pretty lightweight group in the autism world. When Jill James is your “heavy hitter” you aren’t going to impress many people who actively watch autism research.

Besides, when has GR ever really acted like they want “scientific advice”? Seriously–they seem to be an organization which thinks scientists exist to confirm the observations of parents.

Compare this Science Advisory Board to that of the Autism Science Foundation, which we recently discussed. GR, an organization that has been around for years, is just putting together their Advisory Board and, well, the effort is slow to get moving. ASF had a reasonable Advisory Board at their launch.

But, Generation Rescue isn’t an organization to let their glass house stop them from throwing stones. You can imagine that when an organization like the Autism Science Foundation comes out with a stance against the vaccine/autism hypothesis it would see some “heat”. True to form, but I admit later than I expected, Kim Stagliano put forth a mild attack. As attacks go, it’s actually sort of amusing. Ms. Stagliano uses as her theme an idea that the ASF is stuck in the past in their approach to research. I find this attack by Ms. Stagliano amusing given Generation Rescue’s approach to research. GR’s concepts of research are like a neaderthal man found in a glacier: they represent ideas frozen in time, and ideas whose evolutionary path led to nowhere. You know the ideas: MMR and thimerosal caused an autism epidemic.

I am left wondering why Generation Rescue doesn’t have Dr. Andrew Wakefield as a science adviser. Certainly if anyone typifies the antiquated stance on science that Generation Rescue holds, it is Andrew Wakefield. GR certainly shows great admiration for the man who fueled the MMR/autism scare in 1998. But, it is one thing to admire the man, it is another thing to add someone to your advisory board whose research is considered an embarrassment by the vast majority of the research community. Who knows, Perhaps Dr. Wakefield turned GR down?

If I may take another minute on Ms. Stagliano’s blog post. She calls in the spectre of the Tobacco companies. It seems to be a favorite contrivance for her and the entire Generation Rescue/Age of Autism crowd. Favorite and patently ridiculous. Here’s what she had to say.

If the American Lung Association had spun off a new group headed up by those with a strong allegiance to Philip Morris and called themselves, INCS (“It’s Not Cigs Stupid!”) would anyone take them seriously outside of those with a financial interest in cigarettes?

The tobacco gambit is a bad comparison to autism from the outset. Epidemiology showed clearly that tobacco causes cancer. The epidemiology on MMR and thimerosal has shown they didn’t cause an “epidemic” of autism.

What takes the tobacco gambit from bad to ridiculous is when, only a few paragraphs later, Ms. Stagilano cites Bernadine Healy. Dr. Healy accepted tobacco company money as part of an organization which denied the dangers of second hand tobacco smoke. One sure sign that Ms. Stagliano’s post is basically propaganda–she refers to Bernadine Healy as “one of the most trusted doctors in America”. Er. Yeah. I would love to poll the “man on the street” and see how many have even heard of Bernadine Healy. Plus, I guess someone can be accept tobacco company money and still be “trusted”? Wll, at least as long as they support the “vaccines might cause autism” concept, eh Ms. Stagliano?

I actually wish Generation Rescue well with their effort to build a Science Advisory Board. I would hope that they would (a) find real scientists and (b) take their advice.

It would be a new direction for Generation Rescue.

An open letter to Jim Carrey

22 Apr

Today on The Huffngton Post, actor Jim Carrey posted his thoughts about autism and vaccines. With his very first paragraph it became apparent how little Carrey understood the issues involved:

Recently, I was amazed to hear a commentary by CNN’s Campbell Brown on the controversial vaccine issue. After a ruling by the ‘special vaccine court’ saying the Measles, Mumps, Rubella shot wasn’t found to be responsible for the plaintiffs’ autism, she and others in the media began making assertions that the judgment was in, and vaccines had been proven safe. No one would be more relieved than Jenny and I if that were true. But with all due respect to Ms. Brown, a ruling against causation in three cases out of more than 5000 hardly proves that other children won’t be adversely affected by the MMR…

Point one Mr Carrey. The vaccine issue is only controversial to adherents of your belief system. Within scientific, medical, legal, autistic and parental circles its not even slightly controversial.

Point two, the three cases chosen were chosen – by the plaintiffs legal team – to represent their absolute best chance of winning. If they had won, there was an excellent chance all the cases that were suggesting MMR as causation would have just ‘won’ automatically. Thats why its called an Omnibus.

Point three, regarding the MMR, it has been firmly established that:

a) The data supporting the MMR hypothesis was fixed.

b) The science supporting the MMR theory was badly wrong – both badly done and exposed to contaminants.

You might also note that the court was not attempting to see if the children were ‘adversely affected by the MMR’, it was looking to see – using the three cases the legal team representing the families thought were the absolute best – if MMR caused autism. It didn’t. Thats probably why your Campbell Brown found it easy to say the MMR hypothesis was dead and buried.

You go to say Mr Carrey that:

Not everyone gets cancer from smoking, but cigarettes do cause cancer. After 100 years and many rulings in favor of the tobacco companies, we finally figured that out.

Yes, we did – and do you know how? With _good science_ – just like the science that established in the three MMR test cases that the MMR didn’t cause autism. And its fascinating that you bring up this parallel to the smoking issue and then later in your blog post invoke the name of Bernadine Healy. Healy – who’s ‘more sensible voice’ you say you’d rather listen to. Did you know Healy used to be a member of TASSC:

TASSC was created in 1993 by the APCO Worldwide public relations firm, and was funded by tobacco company Philip Morris (now Altria)….

According to Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber in their article How Big Tobacco Helped Create “the Junkman”, one of the forerunners of TASSC at Philip Morris was a 1988 “Proposal for the Whitecoat Project,” named after the white laboratory coats that scientists sometimes wear. The project had four goals: “Resist and roll back smoking restrictions. Restore smoker confidence. Reverse scientific and popular misconception that ETS (passive smoking) is harmful. Restore social acceptability of smoking.”

[own inserts]

Is that what you consider a sensible voice Mr Carrey? Someone who supported the tobacco agenda?

Moving on, you say:

If we are to believe that the ruling of the ‘vaccine court’ in these cases mean that all vaccines are safe, then we must also consider the rulings of that same court in the Hannah Polling and Bailey Banks cases, which ruled vaccines were the cause of autism and therefore assume that all vaccines are unsafe. Clearly both are irresponsible assumptions, and neither option is prudent.

First and foremost, the vaccine court did not rule at all in the Hannah Poling case. HHS conceded. And what they conceded was that Hannah Poling was damaged by vaccines resulting in ‘autism like features’. In fact, when we look at the the one piece of medical science carried out on Hannah Poling (co-authored by her own father), we see that only three of the symptoms described as being the result of vaccine injury appear on the DSM (IV) diagnostic criteria for autism.

As for Bailey Banks, this is a perfect illustration of both how the vaccine court in the USA was designed to work and also how terrible the evidence was in the three MMR test cases.

The Banks ruling (subtitled ‘Non-autistic developmental delay’ by the way) drew a line of causation from vaccine to PDD-NOS. It is able to do this as the burden of proof for any science presented to the vaccine court is ‘50% plus a feather’. In other words, it just has to be plausible, no causation needs to be shown.

What doesn’t seem in doubt is that Bailey was injured by a vaccine which resulted in a condition called ADEM. The judge in the case then went on to accept the plaintiffs position that the ADEM in turn caused PDD-NOS. He did this seemingly because there was no evidence to the contrary – e.g. no evidence that ADEM *doesn’t* cause PDD-NOS.

In any scientific situation – including civil court in the US – this would never have been accepted. The plaintiff would have had to have demonstrated that ADEM *did* cause PDD-NOS. And a search of PubMed reveals nothing for ‘ADEM autism’ or ‘ADEM PDD’.

So, in the Banks case, because there was no evidence that ADEM does not cause PDD-NOS, they won. In every situation bar the vaccine court, the Banks’ would not have won their case. There is no science to support the idea ADEM causes autism.

Bearing this ‘50% plus a feather’ concept in mind it is clear just how utterly dreadful the evidence was to support the idea MMR caused autism. Not only could plaintiffs not provide any evidence that MMR causes autism, respondents produced reams of evidence to show it clearly doesn’t.

You carry on Mr Carrey to say:

I’ve also heard it said that no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism has ever been found. That statement is only true for the CDC, the AAP and the vaccine makers who’ve been ignoring mountains of scientific information and testimony. There’s no evidence of the Lincoln Memorial if you look the other way and refuse to turn around. But if you care to look, it’s really quite impressive. For a sample of vaccine injury evidence go to http://www.generationrescue.org/lincolnmemorial.html.

Your analogy is ridiculous. I could go to any library and find evidence for the Lincoln Memorial without ever seeing it. In fact, what your analogy does is demonstrate exactly how blinkered and able to only face one direction at one time you and your colleagues are.

The evidence you present as that being supportive of evidence between a link between vaccines and autism is equally ridiculous and blinkered. I simply don;t have the time to tackle the mountain of misinformation presented on the page you link to suffice to say there’s not a single section that doesn’t have a major error. Most of them have been tackled on this and other blogs over the years.

Next you say:

In all likelihood the truth about vaccines is that they are both good and bad. While ingredients like aluminum, mercury, ether, formaldehyde and anti-freeze may help preserve and enhance vaccines, they can be toxic as well. The assortment of viruses delivered by multiple immunizations may also be a hazard. I agree with the growing number of voices within the medical and scientific community who believe that vaccines, like every other drug, have risks as well as benefits and that for the sake of profit, American children are being given too many, too soon. One thing is certain. We don’t know enough to announce that all vaccines are safe!

Mr Carrey, *vaccines do not contain anti-freeze* – for goodness sake, even Jay Gordon, Evan’s Paediatrician knows that! Did you also know that (to quote myself):

There’s also Aluminium in breast milk so lets compare the two.

According to this paper (which is from 1990 – any more up to date papers welcomed) the amount of Aluminium in breast milk is 49 ?g/L. The average amount of breast milk expressed per day is 0.85 liters.

This means that 41.65?g Aluminium per day is in breast milk.

Now, according to this paper, there is between 125 – 850?g of Aluminium per dose in a vaccine.

So, for a 6 year old, total Aluminium is between 2,125 – 14,450?g.

In real terms this means that after between 51 and 346 days breast feeding, a 6 year old will have taken onboard the same amount of Aluminium as from the total US vaccine schedule.

Now I couldn’t find out what vaccines contained the lower amount or which contained the higher amount. Even so, this means that if every vaccine a 6 year old has that contains Aluminium contains the highest possible amount, within a year of breast feeding they will have matched that.

Or to put it another way, an anti-vax tree-hugger soccer mom who doesn’t vaccinate her baby will have given him the same amount of Aluminium he would’ve had in six years after one year of breast feeding.

And thats of course, not even touched on the fact that:

In the Earth’s crust, aluminium is the most abundant (8.13%) metallic element, and the third most abundant of all elements (after oxygen and silicon)

And is found naturally occurring in sea water, fresh water, the human body etc etc.

[Regarding Formaldehyde]…There’s also Formaldehyde in Apples, Apricots, Banana’s and….ah, I lost interest. Lots of stuff. Including the human body.

So – how much is in vaccines?

According to this and using it in combination with the US vaccine schedule referenced above, we can see that the total amount of Formaldehyde in vaccines from the vaccine schedule for a 6 year old child is 1.2016mg (again, do your own maths, correct me if I’m wrong).

For comparison to that 1.2mg in all vaccines for a 6 year old, 1 (one) banana contains 16.3mg Formaldehyde.

Mr Carrey, you’ve got to stop throwing these scaremongering nonfacts around. Its damned irresponsible for a start.

Lastly Mr Carrey, you say:

If the CDC, the AAP and Ms. Brown insist that our children take twice as many shots as the rest of the western world, we need more independent vaccine research not done by the drug companies selling the vaccines or by organizations under their influence. Studies that cannot be internally suppressed.

In terms of autism, if you want to make a big deal out of the fact that ‘our children take twice as many shots as the rest of the western world’ then please consider this – the UK has less shots than you. We also have a higher prevalence than you. 1 in 100 vs 1 in 150.

And please also don’t invoke silly conspiracy theories. Think about how science works. A study is done, funded by Eli Lily for example. It is peer reviewed and found to be good quality and it is published in, lets say NEJM. Now, *every single reader of that study* can see exactly what methods and means were used to reach the studies conclusions. I ask you Mr Carrey, how much more independent can you get? How much more transparent? Basically anyone, anywhere can try and replicate that same studies results. If they can and a few others can – the results are good. If nobody can (think Andrew Wakefield) then the results must be bad.

And for goodness sake man, grow up, who is ‘suppressing’ what study exactly? Have you _any_ evidence at all that any study ever has been internally suppressed? Or are you just throwing this stuff out to scare people?

Mr Carrey, I loved the Truman Show but this isn’t it. There’s no god like figure overseeing every aspect of your life and wanting to control it. I ask you – get in contact with an actual scientist and go through your concerns with them. At the very least they’ll be able to stop you saying silly things like there’s anti-freeze in vaccines.

Bernadine Healy and the Hepatitis B myth

18 Apr

Kev has already commented on Dr. Bernadine Healy’s return to the autism world. Besides giving herself a big pat on the back for being part of a “war”, she made a number of mistakes (as Kev has pointed out).

Kev missed one of Dr. Healy’s mistakes–the Hep-B myth.

One of the recurring myths of anti-vaccine groups is that Hepatitis B is only transmitted in one of three ways

1) from an infected mother to a newborn
2) via shared needles
3) via sex

Thus, the logic goes, the Hep-B shot is unnecessary. (followed usually by, and only in the schedule to line the pockets of the evil vaccine manufacturers…but I digress).

As mentioned above, Dr. Healy has picked this theme up in her recent return to the vaccines-cause-autism spotlight.

On her recent visit to the Larry King Live show, she stated,

There are some vaccines here that one — a parent can legitimately question: giving a one-day old baby, or a two-day old baby Hepatitis B vaccine, that has no risk for it. The mother has no risk for it. That’s a heavy duty vaccine given on day two, at two months, at four months.

In her recent US News blog post,

The extras here include protection against the sexually transmitted hepatitis B virus…

Just because it’s sexually transmitted doesn’t mean it’s only sexually transmitted.

From the recent paper (with Dr. Offit as lead author, The Problem With Dr Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule:

Before the hepatitis B vaccine became part of the routine schedule for children, every year ~16 000 children <10 years of age were infected with hepatitis B virus after nonsexual, person-to-person contact.[reference 2] Given that reported cases might not include subclinical infections, this estimate is probably low.

Reference 2 is Childhood Hepatitis B Virus Infections in the United States Before Hepatitis B Immunization.

Let’s face simple facts–if Dr. Healy is really in this discussion, she has to have read the recent Offit paper. More importantly, I would hope that she read the paper Dr. Offit references. I mean, really, how could she not? And, yet, she acts as though no one has publicly refuted the Hep-B myth.

In one of the stranger bits of logic I’ve seen in a while, Dr. Healy suggests putting off the Hep-B vaccinations until “school age”. Hmmm. Don’t give it at birth because it isn’t needed because it is a sexually transmitted disease. But, give it to, what, 5 year olds when they enter school? Did I miss something and our kindergardeners are sexually active drug abusers? Or, maybe she’s thinking we should give it at age 13 to catch the kids before they become sexually or drug active? Would that mean that she’s pro-gardasil?

I will give Dr. Healy credit for one thing–she dropped the misrepresentations of the IOM that permeated her entrance into the world of autism “personalities”.

I guess I should count myself lucky for that small bit of progress.

Bernadine Healy gets it wrong

17 Apr

Following Bernadine Healy’s April 14th post in USNews, Orac dealt her a dollop of respectful insolence which is a very good read, as are the comments.

However, I wanted to do a kind of accounting on Healy’s post, to see just how firm a grasp on the whole situation she has. So, lets start.

McCarthy and Carrey and two colleagues from the autism advocacy group she founded, Generation Rescue…

Oops. Sentence two, first error. McCarthy did not found Generation Rescue, JB and Lisa Handley did.

…and parents are raising legitimate concerns, yet unanswered…

I have been on the front line of this debate for the last six years. Once upon a time the question ‘do vaccines cause autism’ _was_ a legitimate one to ask. But that question has been asked and answered. Since about 2003/4 there have been _no_ legitimate concerns raised by parents or anyone else. The MMR question has turned out to be both a con and the result of bad science. The thiomersal question is just a defunct hypothesis, given that thiomersal was largely removed from vaccines by 2002 and yet autism rates continue to climb. Despite desperate attempts to rebrand the autism/vaccine question (aka when you know you’re right and yet turn out to be wrong, know you’re right with something else) into questions about greening vaccines when simple searching reveals that newborns contain most vaccine ingredients either naturally or via breast feeding. Or the hellacious vaccine schedule despite the fact that the UK for example has a higher rate of autism (1 in 100 vs 1 in 150) but a lower amount of vaccinations.

This controversy might be resolved if we can focus on a few big questions, with an open mind…

Mistake number three. There is no controversy. In the field of _science_ asking the _scientific question_ ‘do vaccines cause autism’, there is no controversy at all. What there is is a very good and well executed media campaign to manufacture one. However, the facts remain the facts – no vaccine, no vaccine ingredient and no vaccine schedule either solely or together cause autism. There is simply no sound science to support that set of ideas. If there is a controversy it is how the media continue to let people stoke the fire of this idea.

Influenza vaccine, mandated here starting at age 6 months…

Mistake number four. As far as I can tell, the flu vaccine is not mandatory in the US. Certainly this article covering the 2008/09 flu season states:

It will not be mandatory for every child to have the flu shot…

Onward.

…a study from Canada last year found that delaying the diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis vaccination just a few months decreased by 50 percent the risk that a child develops asthma…

Mistake number five. This has absolutely no bearing an autism. The article is entitled ‘The Vaccines-Autism War: Détente Needed’. Not ‘vaccines, asthma, maybe other stuff as and when I think of it-autism war’. As such this strawman argument has nothing to do with autism.

(Side note: Healy says we should read two doctors thoughts on the pros and cons of a flexible vaccine schedule. It maybe will come as no surprise that the doctor who thinks the US needs a flexible vaccine schedule is ‘Vice chair, Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine’ of the AAP).

The goal is to get all kids appropriately vaccinated…

Mistake number six. The organisation Healy references at least twice, Generation Rescue, have this on the front page of their Facebook Group

“I found that the whole vaccine business was indeed a gigantic hoax…” –Dr Kalokerinos MD June 1995

“There are significant risks associated with every immunization and numerous contraindications that may make it dangerous for the shots to be given to your child…” — –Dr. Robert Mendelsohn MD, pediatrician

Onward again.

…Hannah Poling, for example, who has an underlying mitochondrial disorder and developed a sudden and dramatic case of regressive autism after receiving nine immunizations, later determined to be the precipitating factor…

Mistake number seven. Nowhere, repeat, nowhere has it been published that Hannah Poling’s vaccines were the ‘precipitating factor’ in her autism. If anyone thinks that it has been published I would like a link to that document. I’ve been asking for this for over a year now and no one has ever managed to show me where this is stated.

What _has_ been said is that following her vaccines hannah showed ‘features of autism’. As I have said numerous times, ‘features’ of autism is not interchangeable with autism. If it was, then the medical report co written by four doctors including Hannah Polings father Jon Poling would have simply said ‘autism’. In fact, this medical case study listed a number of symptoms (over 20) of which only three were found on the DSM (IV) (the official diagnosis for autism). She may well have been autistic and she was determined to have been vaccine damaged but that does not automatically mean one caused the other and in fact by the lack of any of the many other symptoms needed to reach a diagnosis of autism, we can see that they were not.

Amd again, onward:

Other children may have a genetic predisposition to autism, a pre-existing neurological condition worsened by vaccines, or an immune system that is sent into overdrive by too many vaccines, and thus they might deserve special care. This approach challenges the notion that every child must be vaccinated for every pathogen on the government’s schedule with almost no exception…

Not exactly any mistake here but this is very misleading. Its well know _already_ that some kids _do_ have conditions that are not amenable to vaccines. Less than 30 seconds of searching the CDC website led me to the appropriate information. I think it is incredibly disingenuous and very ignorant of Healy to comment in the manner she has.

Onward we trudge through the morass.

Paul Offit, an infectious-disease expert from the University of Pennsylvania who has been a frequent spokesman and adviser on vaccine policy (and by his admission has become wealthy by developing the now mandated rotavirus vaccine)

Mistake number eight. The Rotavirus vaccine has never been mandated anywhere that I can see.

So this is Dr Bernadine Healy, a scientist with 125 records in PubMed. Impressive until you realise that, just like this, they are 125 blog entries from US News. That means we can say that on average Healy has got 1,000 mistakes into PubMed.

Good going Bernadine.

Read Dierdre Imus…lost another irony meter

12 Feb

Dierdre Imus, autism hero? Vampire antivaccine activist sucking the life out of the autism community to further her agenda? Somewhere in between?

I don’t know. I don’t follow her that closely. I did see a really horrible panel discussion she “moderated” last year in New Jersey. “Moderated” in this case being a title, not a good description of her actions. Let’s just say that they gave me an idea of what would have happened if Sharryl Attkisson has been able to “moderate” a panel discussion for the Vaccine court last fall as originally planned. Eew.

Ms. Imus seems to be angry with Paul Offit. You see, Dr. Offit came on to her turf, the Huffington Post, and blogged about vaccines being a good thing. Given the nature of the Huffington Post, the only remarkable part of that exchange was Dr. Offit blogging there. So, it wouldn’t be worth discussing if Ms. Imus didn’t bring up a tired old standard of the anti-vaccine arsenal: comparing other people’s actions (Dr. Offit in this case) to the people who promoted tobacco safety.

In her piece, Ms. Imus states right after a lengthy discussion of the tobacco industry:

We can all learn a great deal by simply looking back on history and remembering how corporations, whose products are linked to serious diseases, employed scientists, physicians and public relation firms to disseminate misinformation and manage the business of “damage control.” By doing so, we realize that we have seen Offit’s act before.

The whole tobacco company thing is annoying. It has been annoying for some time and it will stay annoying for some time to come, I am sure. I recall this tactic being used last year by a blogger at the Age of Autism. He was angry that Dr. Offit was given publicity on the Today Show. The blogger claimed that Dr. Offit was acting like the scientists who backed tobacco safety.

Ah, right. Orac at Respectful Insolence has covered how the logic is just completely false in that sort of argument. So, I will just point out the annoying irony.

The same Today show episode had Dr. Bernadine Healy on it. Dr. Healy has made comments supportive of vaccine-autism research, so you can imagine that the Age of Autism loved her in that episode.

Here’s the irony. Dr. Offit or Dr. Healy, which one is named in documents in the tobacco company document database?

That’s right, Dr. Healy. She was medical advisor to TASSC: The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition. TASSC was funded by tobacco companies directly and through other groups to fight the idea that second hand tobacco smoke causes cancer.

There are a couple of databases on line. I looked through them a big–and, yes, I found documents from TASSC with Dr. Healy’s name on them Here’s a letter I found where TASSC is asking the tobacco company Brown and Williamson for $50,000 in funding. Dr. Healy’s name is right there on the letterhead. Now, she didn’t write that letter presumably, but she’s on the board, so it seems clear that she was paid tobacco money.

So, the vaccines-cause-autism groups have a former tobacco-company paid consultant as a hero. Yet, they claim people who disagree with them are bad people, similar to those who were…well, paid consultants to tobacco companies.

Bang! There goes the irony meter.

Now, I know people will complain about this piece. And, if I could find an apology from Dr. Healy for her actions with TASSC, I would agree. I’ve looked. If someone can point me to it, I’ll gladly post it with my apology.