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Another fax for Ms. Couric

9 Sep

Note: I didn’t do my homework–Ms. Attkisson has discussed the Hornig paper. She manages to do exactly what we would expect: toe the ThoughtfulHouse line. The blog piece by Ms. Attkisson was posted while I was finishing my fax, given the time stamp.

As you will read below, I didn’t find Sharyl Attkisson’s recent blog post to be what I expected. OK, I wasn’t expecting her to be convinced by the recent study by Hornig et al., (paper here) but I at least expected her to comment on it. Instead, she dodged the issue completely. Worse yet, her post boils down to (a) assuming that the government doesn’t do vaccine safety research then (b) apparently implying that she and Dr. Bernadine Healy are somehow responsible for a “new” effort by the government to study vaccine safety.

So, CBS news has two new pages in their fax machine (to go along with a previous fax). In an effort to save their staffers the time of forwarding the fax, I quote it below.

September 8, 2008

Katie Couric, Managing Editor
CBS Television Network
524 West 57th Street
6th Floor
New York, NY 10019-2902


Dear Ms. Couric,

I have faxed you recently about my concerns with the reporting of Ms. Attkisson. I would love to be writing you now with word that things have improved. But, sadly, they have not.

Ms. Attkisson appears to have avoided the key story of the week (if not month) in vaccines and autism: the study by Hornig et al. which shows (again) a lack of a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Instead, Ms. Attkisson ran a blog piece that perpetuates the myth that vaccine safety is not a high priority for the nation’s health researchers.

Hornig et al. is precisely the sort of study that Dr. Bernadine Healy (in an interview by Ms. Attkisson) claimed the research establishment was “afraid” to perform: a study looking not at large populations, but specifically at children with autism. In this paper, the study group critera were very narrow: children with autism who regressed and have significant GI problems. The study sought to answer questions raised by Dr. Wakefield’s flawed study, which has caused much distress in the autism community for 10 years. The study found that MMR is not linked to autism: a conclusion accepted by autism advocate Rick Rollens, one of the most vocal spokespeople for the autism/vaccine link.

You can imagine that, yes, I expected Ms. Attkisson to address this study in her blog or reporting. Instead I read with dismay her blog piece on September 4th, “Vaccine Watch”. In her introduction, she references her interviews with Dr. Healy, but avoids the issue of the Hornig MMR study. Instead, she discusses recent NIH grant solicitations in the area of vaccine safety, and presents them as though vaccine safety research is something new. As noted above, this perpetuates the myth that vaccine safety is not being studied.

In addition to the Hornig et al. study, there is another study soon to be released on autism and thimerosal containing vaccines. Again, a targeted study looking at the exact population of interest. I would hope that this one doesn’t escape Ms. Attkisson’s attention. Also, one need look no further than to find ongoing studies on vaccine safety and adverse events. It is difficult to find a way that will not appear sarcastic to point out that the CDC’s Vaccine Safety Office is a very clear example of the government’s ongoing commitment to tracking vaccine safety.

If you have any question of how important the Hornig study is in the autism community, take a look at the comments on Ms. Attkisson’s own blog post. You will find that, even though Ms. Attkisson avoided the study, the autism community considered the Hornig study to be the news of the week, not the NIH grant solicitations.

Accusations of media bias are often applied too quickly by readers who disagree with the stances taken on certain stories. However, in the case of Ms. Attkisson, I find it difficult to understand how she could avoid a story which not only was so important to the community, but also answered the precise questions she has posed in her previous reporting.

I appreciate your time in this matter, and will gladly clarify any statements above that may not be clear.

Autism Parent

Katie Couric, Sharyl Attkisson, Larry King, and Dr. Jay Gordon

12 Aug

As you may recall, I faxed Katie Couric a while back making some comments and asking for some information.  I find that the CBS coverage of autism is, well, a bit odd.  Sharyl Attkisson seems to be promoting an idea, not following a story where it leads.  The main example I give for that is the total lack of a followup to the assertion made by Bernadine Healy that “[t]here is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.”  Who, precisely, aside from Dr. Healy expressing this concern?

The Voices For Vaccines fax which preceded mine was posted an autism/vaccine advocacy website within hours of being sent, begging the question of who within CBS news sent it, and why there is such a close tie between the two.

Anyway, I shouldn’t rewrite the entire previous blog post–the short version is: I had questions.  I still do.  That’s right, I still do.

I’m not complaining, just pointing out a simple fact: CBS didn’t take the time to respond to simple questions about their reporting.

Now, take a newer event in the autism world.  In preparation for the Every Child By Two press conference last week, some comments were made on the Yahoo group dedicated to the “Green our Vaccines” rally.  One comment in particular by Dr. Jay Gordon struck me as rather bothersome.   The comment was directed at a person named Avrielle Gallagher, who works for Larry King Live.

Being in the mode of wondering about how the media works, especially those apparantly sympathetic to the vaccine/autism causality question, I decided to contact Ms. Gallagher.  I sent the following email to the same address Dr. Gordon used.  For good measure, I used the Larry King Live website to send the same message:


I saw an email from Dr. Jay Gordon to you.  It was posted on the JennDCRally autism list.  The email is listed below.

Could you explain what is meant by the term, “[redacted]?  I see that you work for Larry King Live.  Is he asking you to do a show on the conflicts of interest of these groups?

If so, perhaps you would like to read a few analyses of Dr. Offit’s conflicts of interest.  I looked into the public data and posted my views here:

I rewrote this and faxed it to Katie Couric of CBS, as noted here:

As you will see, I am not in agreement with Dr. Gordon.  You will also see that I am the parent of a young child with autism, one who does not subscribe to the autism/vaccine concept.

Rather than “[redacted comment]”, I would like you to consider going after a good, reasoned story.  I would especially like to see a good, reasoned story on the subject of Dr. Offit’s new book, “Autism’s False Prophets”.   This is causing quite a stir amongst the alt-med subset of the autism community.  They have publicly stated that they have targeted Dr. Offit and those are also promoting vaccination (like Amanda Peet).

As you will see from my posts, Dr. Offit appears to have no more financial conflicts of interest regarding vaccines.  He is actually in a position of high independence.  And, yet, he still promotes the same message as before.  That should tell us all something.  In addition, his book is going to be a big story.

So, I ask a simple question: will you go after the story or the person?

I look forward to a response.

I’m still looking forward to a response.  I’m an optimist that way, I guess. 

Oh, you are no doubt wondering why I redacted Dr. Jay’s exact words.  You see, after a bit I decided to email him.  I admit, I should have emailed him from the start, but I did wait a few days.

Dr. Gordron, I saw the below message from the JennyDCRally autism group.

If I may, could I ask what you mean by “[redacted].”?

Given that Avrielle Gallagher works for Larry King Live, this sounds like you are asking for Larry King to do a show about these people in a poor light.

I am the parent of a child with autism.  Surely you can see that the image of the autism community (or segments of the autism community) as a group that would use the media to “[redacted]” is something that I would like to avoid.  While we as a community may be divided on some issues, I would bet that the majority would agree that we rely heavily on the support of the majority of the public.

I look forward to your response.


Even though I misspelled his name, he responded within a couple of hours:


You’re correct, that was very poorly phrased.

What I meant was that there should be more light shined on the financial conflicts of interest which exist.


(emphasis his)

When I notified him that I intended to include his comments in this piece, he replied:

Dear Sullivan,

The first statement I made reflected my anger. I really do think there is far too much conflict of interest in the lives of many of the vaccine researchers, the CDC and the AAP.

The brief email answer I sent you reflects my true feelings about this.

Please feel free to quote me and, if you do, please also mention that I certainly don’t think that my being immoderate in my comments helps anybody.



Dr. Gordon did what Katie Couric, Sharyl Attkisson, Avrielle Gallagher, and the staffs for CBS News and Larry King Live failed to do: answer simple and (I hope) respectfully posed questions.

I could give a long list of the people who have answered simple, sometimes even complicated, questions, respectfully posed. I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. I would have loved to add CBS News and Larry King Live to the list.

It all just makes me wonder. CBS News and Larry King have spent decades reporting on how this person or that company or some group in the government ignored questions. Invariably, those reports cast a bad light on the groups investigated. And, yet, when presented the opportunity to clarify their own actions, they chose to be silent.

Maybe I’ll send a respectful question to Voices For Vaccines and ask if CBS News responded to their concerns. I know that CBS took the time to respond to the Orange County Register’s blog on Autism.

In their reply to the Inside Autism blog, CBS News noted:

…We believe our report was in no way defamatory of any institution or individual, and that no retraction is warranted…

As I’ve noted before, I like the irony of CBS News deciding for itself whether it was defamatory. Strikes me odd given the complaints alleged against, well, basically everyone the vaccine/autism groups have ever complained about.

But, I digress. I’d like to point out that I didn’t claim CBS was “defamatory”. I only bring this up to point out that even though CBS communicated with the Register blog, they haven’t addressed my questions.

A commenter on the Register’s blog said it best in her response to Lisa Randall of Voices For Vaccines. The Register’s blogger decided to highlight the comment, and I pull out the segment that caught my eye here:

…We expect the press to tell us the truth…

The first step is to tell us anything.

Jon Poling and Bernadine Healy

7 Aug

As Kev has noted, Dr. Jon Poling has a Letter in the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

As I read Kev’s piece I knew I wanted to make a comment. But as I saw that comment would be really long I saw that it would end up looking more like a mini-blog post. Since I have the keys to the car, as it were, I figured I’d go straight to the blog post.

Dr. Poling makes mention of Dr. Bernadine Healy’s interview at CBS. He states that he agrees with her statement:

“I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show. . . . If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion there is a susceptible group . . . what can I say?”

All those dotted lines just begged for someone to look at the parts cut out.  The parts in red below are what Dr. Poling used for his quote. [edit: sorry, the red shows up in the editor, but not the post]

Healy said: “There is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people. “First of all,” Healy said, “I think the public’s smarter than that. The public values vaccines. But more importantly, I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.”


“What we’re seeing in the bulk of the population: vaccines are safe,” said Healy. “But there may be this susceptible group. The fact that there is concern, that you don’t want to know that susceptible group is a real disappointment to me. If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion that there is a susceptible group… what can I say?

Dr. Poling says he agrees with her. A HUGE question in this community involves the parts Dr. Poling left out: that “[t]here is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.

Dr. Healy threw the conspiracy theorists a huge bone with that statement. It was a big statement to make and one that is left completely unsupported.

As an aside–this is my biggest complaint about Sharyl Attkisson. Given the nature of the statement and the ramifications of it, she should have asked Dr. Healy for sources or some way to back that statement up. The fact that Ms. Attkisson didn’t and, in fact, helped lead Dr. Healy through her (unsupported) claims gives a lot of credence to the idea that Ms. Attkisson is promoting her own agenda rather than trying to report a story.

But, back to the post at hand: Does Dr. Poling agree with all the statements? Because, he should realize that people will assume he does and blog posts and internet discussions will appear with people generalizing to “Dr. Poling agrees with Bernadine Healy”.

Consider this, Dr. Healy stated that there “…is a completely expressed concern…”. Note the present tense.

Dr. Poling states in his Letter “Also commendable is the new 5-year research plan of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee, which will entail the study of minority subpopulations, including patients with mitochondrial disorders”. He cites this document: “Draft ISO Scientific Agenda for NVAC Vaccine Safety Working Group, April 4, 2008

Let’s not quibble on the fact that Dr. Poling’s statement implies that the idea of a study is already accepted, when it is a draft. I think we can all agree that the study is very likely going to happen.

Notice the date: April 4, 2008. The Vaccine Safety Working Group recommended looking at people with mitochondrial disorders. (another aside, Dr. Poling makes a big case, joined by Mr. Kirby, that Hannah Poling has a dysfunction, not a disorder. Is the CDC going to look at the wrong subgroup, those with disorders?)

OK, back to the date: April 4, 2008. The date of Dr. Healy’s interview: May 12, 2008.

Dr. Healy’s statement that there (present tense) “…is an expressed concern….”

Not only is the statement completely unsupported….I’m at a loss for the words here. Should I use, “erroneous”, “creates a false impression”, “ignorant of the recent history in the very subject she was discussing”?

So, I, for one, would like to hear Dr. Poling’s opinion on all of Dr. Healy’s statements. I fear that I will not like the result, but at least we’d have all the facts.

(note: I made some edits after posting–just changing a few words to make it read better)

David Kirby vs Accuracy

20 Jul

As I’ve said before, I like David Kirby personally. We exchange friendly emails. We even recently discussed the idea of having a private blog – readable by all but one that allowed only two posters (David and I) and no commenters. This would, I suggested, give us the opportunity to have a civil debate.

Unfortunately, David was too busy, which was a shame. However, the offers always open should he find a bit more time.

He did have time yesterday to blog a piece for the Huffington Post in which he discussed Amanda Peet and said she was ‘against the medical establishment’ for taking the stance she did. He cited a few things to support his point. I’d like to discuss these things but before I do I’d like you Dear Reader to take note: someone who was at the IACC meeting David talks about (he wasn’t there) will hopefully be posting their account of proceedings on LB/RB.

Anyway. Lets proceed. David’s first piece of rhetoric to support the idea Amanda Peet was against the medical establishment was:

A workgroup report of the IACC (the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, which includes HHS, CDC, NIH and others) says that some members want “specific objectives on vaccine research” included in the new, multimillion-dollar national autism research program, as mandated by Congress in the Combatting Autism Act.

I’m sure that some members do want this. Lynn Redwood and Mark Baxhill to be precise. As the upcoming IACC account will show, I don’t think any other IACC workgroup members were interested. (Please see this correction of an ignorant Limey’s take on the US system.)

I would also like to correct David on his characterisation of the Combating Autism Act. The Act contains no mention of vaccines. It specifies environmental research but the words ‘vaccine’, ‘vaccination’ ‘immunize’, ‘immunization’, ‘mmr’ or ‘thimerosal’ appear nowhere in the CAA. I hope David will correct his HuffPo piece accordingly.

Notes from the meeting indicate that workgroup members want federal researchers to consider “shortfalls” in epidemiological studies cited as proof against a vaccine-autism association (by Offit, Peet, et al); as well as a specific plan “for researching vaccines as a potential cause of autism.” The workgroup also says that the final research agenda should “state that the issue is open.”

Once again, David’s notes are coming from two people, Lynn Redwood and Mark Blaxill and indeed – they asked for all these things. The account of the meeting I have heard (from someone who was there) differed somewhat. As a flavour of how much the majority of the working group listened to Redwood and Blaxill, I enclose a teaser quote from chairperson Tom Insel:

“Lyn, your community is not the whole community and there are many people with well thought out concerns about ethics of the concept of prevention and if we want to be inclusive we will not do this.”

Back to David:

July 14, 2008 – Rep. Brad Miller (R-NC), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, (Committe on Science and Technology) writes to HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt to complain that current federal autism research “shows a strong preference to fund genetic-based studies,” even though there is, “growing evidence that suggests a wide range of conditions or environmental exposures may play a role” in autism.

I blogged that episode here. Suffice it to say that a _politician_ is not representative of the medical establishment. I would urge everyone reading this to read that piece as it suggests amongst other things that Generation Rescue and SafeMinds be responsible for a Board that would serve as a liaison between the IACC and parents of autistic people and autistic people themselves!. After reading that I would urge everyone to contact the following people to express your thoughts (politely!) to the decision makers:

HHS Sec Mike Leavitt (
NIMH director/IACC director Tom Insel (
Everyone here:

Once again, back to David:

Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the NIH and the American Red Cross and current Health Editor of US News & World Report tells CBS News that, “Officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational,” and says they “don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.”

I still can’t get over the fact that David is using this person to back up his points! He continues to trumpet the opinion of Bernadine Healy who actually did assert that cigarettes do not cause cancer and worked closely with Philip Morris to do so. She also totally reneged on her stance on fetal tissue research when she found herself in the same camp as President Bush. In AoA language she’s a shill.

David then goes on to cite al three Presidential Candidates – as if a politicians opinion in an election year means anything! I definitely fail to see what any of them have to do with being part of the medical establishment.


March 29, 2008 – Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the CDC, speaking about the Hannah Poling case on CNN says: “If a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines, and was pre-disposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage (including) symptoms that have characteristics of autism.”

Er, so? I’m really not sure how this is a ‘point’ for David (or anyone else who thinks its supportive of the idea vaccines cause autism). If she’d said ‘yes, vaccines caused autism in Hannah Poling’s case’ (which no-one ever has by the way, despite statements to the contrary) than _that_ would be a bombshell. As it was Dr. Gerberding was simply speaking what is obvious.

David again:

The CISA Network (Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment), headed by the CDC, receives a report from top researchers at Johns Hopkins University that 30 typically developing children with mitochondrial dysfunction all regressed into autism between 12 and 24 months of life. At least two of them (6%) showed brain damage within one week of receiving simultaneous multiple vaccinations.

Now, I can’t answer this as much as I’d like to. I have spoken to people involved in the preparation and writing of this report (as has David) and I was given two take home points from our email chat:

1) The science is _not yet complete_ . The paper is not published.
2) The authors feel ‘disappointed’ in the slant David has put on their work and are loth to discuss it with anyone else due to that. I was told that David might be rather surprised when everything comes out later in the year.

David once more:

Medical Personnel at HHS concede an autism case filed by the family of Hannah Poling in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, before the claim can go to trial as a “test case” of the theory that thimerosal causes autism. Though portrayed by some (ie, Dr. Offit) as a legal decision, it is in fact a medical decision. HHS doctors admit that the “cause” of Hannah’s “autistic encephalopathy” was “vaccine-induced fever and immune stimulation that exceeded metabolic reserves,”

First of all, I beg to differ with David. The concession was a legal one. By definition the phrase “autistic encephalopathy” does not exist in mainstream science so if it was used (a fact which has yet to be determined – I invite David once more to link through to the document where this is stated). A simple test of its non-existence is to search for the phrase on PubMed. I got:

Quoted phrase not found.

So we have a multitude of uncertainties here:

1) Nowhere (except in David’s writings) can we find evidence of HHS apparently saying “autistic encephalopathy” caused Hannah Poling’s autism.

2) The phrase itself (“autistic encephalopathy”) does not appear in the entire PubMed database, thus causing me to doubt its use by the medical establishment.

3) Is the concession legal or medical? If a diagnosis does not exist but is used in a legal document then by definition it must be legal – thats my opinion anyway.

David also mentions a HHS Vaccine Safety Working Group meeting but I know next to nothing about that so can’t comment.

I have to say that based on the above, David seems to be attempting nothing more than an intellectual ‘land grab’ i.e. to attempt to paint those who claim vaccines cause autism as part of the medical establishment and those who stand against them as not. Its a good political idea but I don’t think its going to work. There are just too many holes in this particular boat for it to float for long.

Age of Autism get annoyed at Amanda Peet

15 Jul

Remember last week when actress Amanda Peet gave a few people some home truths?

Once we had spoken, I was shocked at the amount of misinformation floating around, particularly in Hollywood,” says Peet, who quickly boned up on the hot-button controversies surrounding the topic, including the unproven link between certain vaccines and autism; the safety of preservatives like mercury-based thimerosal; and the fear that the relatively high number of shots kids receive today can overwhelm young immune systems. Her conclusion? Well, not only is Frankie up-to-date on her vaccines (with no staggering), but her mom will soon appear in public-service announcements for Every Child by Two. “I buy 99 percent organic food for Frankie, and I don’t like to give her medicine or put sunscreen on her,” says Peet. “But now that I’ve done my research, vaccines do not concern me.” What does concern her is the growing number of unvaccinated children who are benefiting from the “shield” created by the inoculated—we are protected from viruses only if everyone, or most everyone, is immunized: “Frankly, I feel that parents who don’t vaccinate their children are parasites.”

Well, today, Age of Autism posted a blog entry that gave full vent to their response:

…you have no idea who you are messing with. You have never seen the power of our numbers, our anger, our commitment, and our conviction. At present, you really have no dog in this fight.

Quite apart from the overtly threatening tone, I would like to remind these people that of _course_ Ms Peet has a ‘dog in this fight’. Everyone does. The collective health of us all clearly affects everyone. Parents who blog on Age of Autism and who blog about Gardasil have ‘no dog in that fight’ according to AoA logic.

The blog post contains one amusing little faux pas:

Ms. Peet’s decision to work with them [CDC] is analogous to the scientists in the 1950s who chose to assert that cigarettes do not cause lung cancer and work closely with Philip Morris to do so…

This is the same blog that continues to trumpet the opinion of Bernadine Healy who actually _did_ assert that cigarettes do not cause cancer and worked closely with Philip Morris to do so. Its either stupidity or a purposeful attempt to obfuscate the truth, I couldn’t possibly say.

The blog post closes with the contact details of Ms Peets advisors, along with the further threat:

…your client has chosen to align herself with him [Paul Offit]. In doing so, Ms. Peet puts herself directly in the line of fire.

If you wish to support Ms Peet’s stance, which I believe is a good one for both public health _and_ which will have a positive impact on autism in terms of moving on from this increasingly desperate and nasty campaign to convince the world vaccines cause autism, then please leave a comment in the comments section of this post, or email me (kevleitchATgmailDOTcom).

I can assure you that unlike the emails that will be sent using the details provided by the AoA blog, your comments will definitely be seen by Ms Peet.

Additional: There’s a nice piece on Amanda Peet and vaccines in today.

AAP and Paul Offit under attack (again)

7 Jul

Over on the Age of Autism, a new post has appeared which goes after the AAP (I thought everyone over there was big friends with the AAP these days?), its representative Dr Renee Jenkins and the AAP in general.

They (AoA) appear concerned about the newly formed Immunization Alliance which is an alliance of groups interested in children’s health and threaten that the formation of this group will put the AAP

<blockquote>… the middle of the line of fire for parent activism.</blockquote>

We have to question, first and foremost, what this has to do with autism. The answer is of course nothing. But that fast becoming the way with AoA. They posted over 100 posts throughout June and about a third of them were explicitly about autism or touched on autism. There were a lot about the speaking engagements of David Kirby, a lot of posts about the green our vaccines rally, a lot of posts about Gardasil and a lot of anti-AAP etc posts.

You have taken your eyes off the ball guys. You’ve forgotten what this is supposed to be about.

Anyway, the post goes on to say that the AAP announcement is;

<blockquote>Breathtaking in its dismissiveness of parent concerns…</blockquote>

Here’s the article in full:


Immunization Alliance to develop compelling messages for parents
Anne Hegland
Editor in Chief

With pediatricians facing an increasing number of parents who question the safety of vaccines, representatives from organizations with a shared interest in advancing children’s health met May 30 to compare notes and develop strategies to help recapture public trust in childhood immunizations.

The newly formed Immunization Alliance, representing 15 groups, agreed that together they must work on short-and long-term solutions before falling immunization rates lead to further outbreaks of once-common and sometimes deadly vaccine-preventable childhood diseases.

Fresh in everyone’s mind were the measles outbreaks in nine states earlier this year.

Framing the challenges

Paul Offit, M.D., FAAP, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, identified some of the factors contributing to the increase in vaccine refusal and the need for quick action:

• parents who have never experienced or seen vaccine-preventable diseases;
• media and Internet reports that are unbalanced;
• decreased trust in the government and health care providers;
• an increasing number of states allowing philosophical exemptions; and
• parent-to-parent spread of misinformation.

Dr. Offit pointed out that the majority of vaccine refusals stem from parents’ fears, with only 10% of refusals associated with parents who strongly oppose vaccines.

“We need to work on public messaging around vaccines — the benefit of vaccines — and to have the right messenger delivering those messages,” said AAP President and meeting co-facilitator Renée R. Jenkins, M.D., FAAP.

Underscoring the need for compelling vaccine messages is the No. 1 ranked resolution from the 2008 Annual Leadership Forum, calling for the Academy to lead a coalition that will develop a media campaign on the value of immunizations that can be marketed to parents, added Dr. Jenkins.

The group agreed that communication strategies must appeal to parents who are Internet and media savvy, and go beyond presentation of the science by engaging consumers on an emotional level. There was acknowledgement among attendees that messages from anti-vaccine groups’ helped erode public confidence in immunizations through their use of celebrities to deliver heartrending first-hand accounts.

“The greatest challenge is getting these messages out in a timely fashion. We’ve got August coming up, which is a big month for kids going to the pediatrician for back-to-school visits and for immunizations,” said Dr. Jenkins.

At press time, Alliance members were prioritizing strategies to be shared with communication experts who will help craft messages promoting the value of immunizations.

Messages for pediatricians

Meeting co-facilitator Margaret Fisher, M.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Section on Infectious Diseases, said the Alliance’s efforts also are an effort to help pediatricians in practice, whose messages have not always been understood by parents.

“We’re all about what’s best for children, and what we’re trying to do is find a way to re-establish our trust with the public. We want to help provide our members with the messages and the method that can regain that trust and make it easier for them on a day-to-day basis.

“The public has lost trust in medicine in general — not in their individual pediatricians,” Dr. Fisher added.

The Immunization Alliance meeting was supported by the Tomorrows Children Endowment of the AAP.

Immunization Alliance

The following groups are represented on the Immunization Alliance:
• American Academy of Family Physicians
• American Academy of Pediatrics
• American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
• American Medical Association
• American Public Health Association
• Association of State and Territorial Health Officials
• Easter Seals
• Every Child By Two
• Immunization Action Coalition
• March of Dimes Foundation
• National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
• National Vaccine Program
• Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDS)
• Rotary International
• Voices for Vaccines


Now maybe its just me but I didn’t see anything there that could be described as ‘breathtaking in its dismissiveness of parent concerns’. In fact, I think the AoA need a little lesson on numbers. You are not the majority, you are not even close. You are however extremely effective at marketing needless fear. But _this_ parents concerns revolve more around the effects of _not_ vaccinating rather than actually vaccinating.

The post goes on to describe how:

<blockquote>The AAP believes the decline in immunization rates is due to “anti-vaccine groups” and “celebrities” as if Jenny and a few websites are the only problem. What they fail to realize is that the message of groups like Generation Rescue would fall flat if there weren’t tens of thousands of parents who agreed with it. 8,000 people don’t march on Washington because of Jenny McCarthy and a few websites, they march on Washington because they know what happened to their child. If parents weren’t hearing our message corroborated in their own communities, there wouldn’t be an impact.</blockquote>

The decline in immunization rates _is_ partly down to ‘anti vaccine groups’ and ‘celebrities’. You pretty much _are_ the only problem. As I said, you are extremely effective at spreading your message. You have the marketing know-how and you have the money to do it. The _way_ parents are hearing your message corroborated is down to your adverts in NYT, down to appearances on Oprah, down to your blogging etc. But what you are doing is winching autism on top of hardcore anti-vaccinationism. People believe you because you have a patina of respectability. They don’t look past the first line appearance and see the multitude of times <a href=”″>your predictions have been wrong</a>, that your <a href=”″>hypotheses have failed</a> and the <a href=”″>threats of violence</a> that you make to those who oppose you.

And lets be honest, even if there were 8,000 people at the ‘green our vaccines’ rally (a figure that is <a href=”″>very doubtful</a>) then you don’t even come close to representing teh autism community.

According to the latest figures, autism is at a rate of about 1 in 150 (0.6%) of the population. For the US that’s about 1,827,219 autistic people. That’s 3,645,438 parents. As you are believers in autism epidemic (and thus don’t believe autism exists in adults in significant numbers) lets be kind and half that number to take us back down to 1,827,219 parents.

That means that your 8,000 parents totals about 0.4% of the US autism parent community. But lets double the attendees (and oh hell, lets add on 100,000 of people we’ll think of as followers but non-attenders) to make 116,000. That means you now account for 6.4% of autism parent community.

To put it another way, 93.6% of US parents of autistic people either don’t know about you (doubtful in this internet and celeb obsessed age) or simply don’t offer you any credence. And that’s being very, very kind to your numerical position indeed.

AoA go on to claim that:

<blockquote>…there are five major problems with the AAP’s new approach:

1. You can’t defend the assertions

The “fewer antigens” argument has been a Paul Offit special for years. Not only is this argument confusing for parents to understand, it also means nothing. Offit’s claim is based exclusively on the removal of an older Pertussis vaccine (which was causing many problems) decades ago.

What parents see clearly is how many more vaccines they are getting.</blockquote>

This reveals the anti-science beating heart of AoA. A vaccine is just a vehicle for its contents. The antigens argument _is_ the point:

<blockquote>”Of course, most vaccines contain far fewer than 100 antigens (for example, the hepatitis B, diphtheria, and tetanus vaccines each contain 1 antigen), so the estimated number of vaccines to which a child could respond is conservative. But using this estimate, we would predict that if 11 vaccines were given to infants at one time, then about 0.1% of the immune system would be “used up.””</blockquote>

<a href=””>Pediatrics</a&gt;


2. The news is making them look very stupid

With the Hannah Poling case, Dr. Bernadine Healy’s recent comments, the potential for an Omnibus decision going our way, Julie Gerberding retreating, the IOM revisiting the “environment’s” role in autism, and the case reports of children falling into autism after vaccines continuing to roll in</blockquote>

The Hannah Poling case? Please demonstrate where that showed that vaccines cause or contribute to autism. Bernadine Healy was at one time (and maybe still is, I don’t know) <a href=”″>a tobacco company shill</a>. Gerderding and the IOM are indeed revisiting the ‘environmental’ roles in autism. What’s that got to do with vaccines? And what case reports of children falling into autism are we talking about?

This is what I meant about a patina of respectability. On the surface, it sounds, _great_ – plausible – to the untrained eye. However, a quick peek beneath the surface and it starts to shake apart.


4. They are not dealing honestly with parent concerns

If you have no safety studies verifying the issue of combination risk of so many vaccines, defending the schedule in its current form will backfire on you. If your best defense is to cite the 600 deaths a year from HIB now being prevented, parents will compare this to the 1 in 150 risk or higher of autism and make their own conclusions. By not acknowledging that the risk-reward of vaccines is potentially wildly out of balance, parents will not listen to you.</blockquote>

Are you seriously suggesting that people will be more worried about autism than _death_ ???

And, as I’ve demonstrated, I don’t think that organisations that speak to less than one percent of autism parents can really claim to have their pulse on what autism parents really care about.

The last one is ‘Offit is a time bomb’. I’m not really sure what the point there is.

Cancelation letter for Judicial Conference Panel

3 Jul

As noted previously, a panel discussion for the Court of Federal Claims judicial conference was canceled. The exact reasons were unknown.

This letter or email from the Court (from Chief Special Master Gary Golkiewicz to the participants) announcing the cancellation has been posted by David Kirby to the EOHarm group (with a statement that Mr. Kirby will shortly post this, presumably to one of his blogs).

I am very sorry to inform you that it was decided to cancel the panel program, on which you were scheduled to participate, as part of the Vaccine session of the Court’s Judicial Conference. By way of explanation, the Court’s planning process starts with defining a broad overarching theme, moves to identifying speakers, and subsequently focuses through meetings and discussions of the planning committee on actual content of the panels. This process moves very quickly as materials must be to the printers by mid-July. As the planning of the vaccine session developed, it became apparent that the discussion anticipated from this panel did not fit the goal of furthering the Bar’s understanding of litigation under the Vaccine Compensation Program before the Special Masters or the Court’s judges (in fact, another non-vaccine related panel was eliminated after discussions determined that it did not meet the Conference goals of focusing on litigation related issues.) While I have no doubt that your discussion of vaccines’ benefits and concerns is extremely important to the overall understanding of the immunization program, and would be enlightening to all, it is simply a discussion not consistent with the Court’s Conference but is better suited to another forum. Thank you for your support and my sincerest apologies, Gary

From my limited perspective, I agree with the above. I’m sure that the panel would have been interesting and given some additional understanding of the varied viewpoints of the immunization program. However, the line I see as the heart of the letter is:

“….it became apparent that the discussion anticipated from this panel did not fit the goal of furthering the Bar’s understanding of litigation under the Vaccine Compensation Program…”

I’m sure that Mr. Kirby could give a condensed version of his recent talk, but would that further the understanding of litigation issues? Dr. Healy could, well again I am not really sure what she could bring other than the opinions of a prominent doctor in another specialty. Mr. Allen could have presented a better researched view of vaccines than Kirby and Dr. Marcuse could have trumped them all with actual research from his specialty. But, again, does this promote an understanding of litigation?

OK, I am being disingenuous. Mr. Kirby definitely could have added to the understanding. He could have added to the understanding of how this subject will not go away, not matter how much science is thrown at it. He could demonstrate how bad science will continue and how people will cling to “Medical Hypotheses” and self-contradictory statements.

It has been said that if you want to study genetics, fruit flies are a great testbed. This is because you can watch many generations in a relatively short period of time. Mr. Kirby, and likely Dr. Healy, would have been able to demonstrate to the Court that if you want to watch the “genetics” of bad science, the “mercury hypothesis” is a great candidate. The more research that is thrown at it, the more in mutates into something new. Mr. Kirby could have taken them through the “novel form of mercury poisoning” to thimerosal in vaccines, to illegal immigrants keeping the CDDS numbers high, to toxic plumes from China. He could have explained how the Verstraeten study was flawed because it was ecological in nature, but how the “generation zero” data is somehow valid in his view. He could have done this without even a hint of irony at his own misuse of the CDDS data for his own simplistic ‘ecological’ based arguments.

I guess that would have been entertaining at least.

The Bernadine Healy Card

31 May

Last month, ex NIH leader, Bernadine Healy came out of her semi-retirement to weigh in on the autism/vaccine hypothesis:

….the rise of this disorder, which shows up before age 3, happens to coincide with the increased number and type of vaccine shots in the first few years of life. So as a trigger, vaccines carry a ring of both historical and biological plausibility.

It was a credulous article designed, I suspect, to have a bit of a snipe at HHS – currently embroiled in the Autism Omnibus. Why do I say that?

Well, being a UK citizen I’d never heard of Bernadine Healy so I did a bit of looking around to see if I could adequately explain to myself why such a luminary would say such plainly silly and unscientific things.

It seems that:

on 10 Feb [1993], Healy, who is known for her bluntness, went to her new boss, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Donna Shalala and asked about her future. Shalala apparently matched Healy for bluntness. “She let me know it wouldn’t work out in the long term.” Said Healy.

So possibly there is some lingering resentment towards HHS. Who knows. It seems doubtful that this would entirely (if at all) explain Healy’s decision to parrot pseudo-science but – people do silly things sometimes.

What I found fascinating was that this is not the first time Healy has taken an active role in direct opposition to science and the scientific process:

…..patients are forced into a one-size-fits-all straitjacket…..EBM [evidence based medicine] carries its own ideological and political agenda separate from its clinical purpose.

Dr. Bernadine Healy, a senior writer for U.S. News & World Report and former director of the National Institutes of Health, falsely claimed that “several” neurologists who “evaluated” Terri Schiavo determined that she had “a functional mind” and was “minimally conscious.”

Dr Bernadine Healey, former director of the National Institute of Health said, “Blenderizing these diverse trials into one giant 232,606-patient-strong study to come up with a seductively simple proclamation is just silly….”

That latter was Healy’s attack on a study that highlighted the dangers of vitamins.

So we can see that Healy has a history that is peppered with leanings toward a credulous approach.

It also seems that she is first and foremost a politician, willing to sacrifice her scientific credibility to support her party (she is a Republican):

Healy was appointed director of the National Institutes of Health in 1991….when Healy assumed control, the agency was beset with problems…..[s]cientists were leaving in record numbers because of…..politicization of scientific agendas (a prime example was the ban on fetal-tissue research because the Republican administration believed it encouraged abortion)

Healy had, at that time expressed support for fetal-tissue research:

….she had been a member of a panel that advised continuation of fetal-tissue research, her appointment was also seen as a move away from politicized science.

So, it must’ve come as something of a shock to NIH scientists when:

….she lobbied against overturning the Bush Administration’s ban on fetal tissue research, despite her previous support for such research.

She also had to defend herself against charges of mishandling a scientific misconduct case:

Healy demanded that OSI (like internal affairs for the NIH) rewrite a draft report that found misconduct on the part of Popovic. The OSI report also severely criticized Gallo.

“When her order for a rewrite was refused, Dr. Healy replaced the chief investigator [Suzanne Hadley] with one more malleable,” the subcommittee report said. The resulting OSI report was “watered down,” the subcommittee document said.


In 1992, the National Academy of Sciences’ panel completed its investigation and produced a report critical of Gallo.

Healy chose to ignore the findings of the NAS panel and commissioned her own ad hoc committee of top NIH scientists, whom she called her “wise men,” the report said. Healy required the members to sign a secrecy agreement.

(Full story also here).

Maybe the biggest question mark against Healy’s scientific credibility and ability to be impartial as this. She was a member of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition:

The Advancement of Sound Science Center (TASSC), formerly the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, is an industry-funded lobby group which promotes the idea that environmental science on issues including smoking, pesticides and global warming is “junk science”, which should be replaced by “sound science”.

Notably, TASSC promote the interests of tobacco companies:

Initially, the primary focus of TASSC was an attempt to discredit research on Environmental Tobacco Smoke [passive smoking] as a long-term cause of increased cancer and heart problem rates in the community — especially among office workers and children living with smoking parents. It subsequently advanced industry-friendly positions on a wide range of topics, including global warming, smoking, phthalates, and pesticides. Later still, they extended the role of TASSC to Europe using Dr George Carlo. TASSC used the label of ‘junk science’ to criticise work that was unfavorable to the interests of its backers.

TASSC’s funders included:

Dow Chemical
General Motors
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Lorillard Tobacco
Louisiana Chemical Association
National Pest Control Association
Occidental Petroleum
Philip Morris
Procter & Gamble
Santa Fe Pacific Gold
W.R. Grace

More can be found here.

So, all in all, I am disposed to not trust the words, or ‘beliefs’ of Bernadine Healy very much. Anyone who campaigns against the dangers of passive smoking to children or who is prepared to block science they allegedly once supported when it is politically expedient doesn’t seem that good a judge of what constitutes good science.