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AAP opposes worldwide ban on thimerosal

17 Dec

In a series of articles released today, the American Academy of Pediatrics outlines its opposition to a proposed UN treaty which, if approved, would ban the preservative thimerosal from vaccines worldwide. The ban is also opposed by the World Health Organization and the US Public Health Service. It is estimated that multidose vaccines with thimerosal as a preservative are used in 120 countries to immunize approximately 84 million children, saving about 1.4 million lives each year.

The AAP’s opposition reverses the professional organization’s call in 1999 for the removal of thimerosal from the US pediatric vaccine schedule. That action is frequently cited by anti-vaccine groups as evidence that health officials know that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. But Dr. Louis Z. Cooper and Dr. Samuel L. Katz, co-authors of  one of today’s articles, directly take on that concern:

Had the AAP (and, we suspect, the USPHS) known what research has revealed in the intervening 14 years, it is inconceivable to us that these organizations would have made the joint statement of July 7, 1999. The World Health Organization recommendation to delete the ban on thimerosal must be heeded or it will cause tremendous damage to current programs to protect all children from death and disability caused by vaccine-preventable diseases.

The 1999 domestic ban surfaced during a Nov. 29 congressional hearing on autism, where representatives of both parties repeated long-debunked anti-vaccine talking points. Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) asked the CDC’s Dr. Colleen Boyle why thimerosal was taken out of childhood vaccines if there were no concerns about its safety. Boyle wisely agreed to get back to him with an answer. An anti-vaccine hearing is no place for reasoned discussion.

In another article, researchers Katherine King, PhD, MSc; Megan Paterson, and Shane K. Green, PhD; reaffirm that “there is no credible scientific evidence that the use of thimerosal in vaccines presents any risk to human health.” They continue:

Extensive pharmacologic and epidemiological research has shown early, theoretical concerns about links to autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders to be false. Indeed, the exculpatory strength of the data now available on thimerosal is well evidenced by recent statements from the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, US Institute of Medicine, and American Academy of Pediatrics, all of which have concluded that thimerosal exposure through vaccination is not harmful to human health.

The AAP’s latest action is a shot across the bow to anti-vaccine groups. The UN’s proposed thimerosal ban has been championed by Mark Geier, the disgraced Maryland geneticist best known for chemically castrating disabled children. Two years ago, he told a group of African delegates gathered for a session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Japan that thimerosal “is favored by the pharmaceutical industry because it is cheap and enables the industry to keep making vaccines in old and dirty factories.”

Geier is a regular at Jenny McCarthy’s annual anti-vaccine conference, where he receives standing ovations from anti-vaccine parents. Ten states have either revoked his medical license over the last two years, or allowed it to expire, for Geier’s ethical lapses which included lying about his qualifications risking children’s health with unproven medical treatments.


By AutismNewsBeat

NVIC claims “intimidation” and “censorship” over Delta videos

16 Nov

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is angry with the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is very hard not to follow up a sentence like that with “so, what else is new?” The AAP promotes vaccines and vaccine safety. NVIC, not so much. What caused the present altercation? Both organizations were invited to place advertisements/information segments on Delta Airlines in flight entertainment for this month. After finding out that Delta would also host ads by NVIC, the AAP sent a letter to Delta.

In response, NVIC has issued a press release: “National Vaccine Information Center Calls Out AAP for Using Public Intimidation to Censor NVIC Flu Prevention Video Offered to Delta Travelers”

“Public Intimidation”? AAP sent a letter to Delta. That’s public intimidation? I (and others) obtained a copy of the letter and made it public. I guess that’s the “public” part. A weak argument. “Intimidation”? Sorry, just no evidence to support that word.

“Censor”? Strong words from Barbara Loe Fisher, who attempted to quash public discussion with her lawsuit against Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Conde Nast. (a lawsuit she lost, just to remind you that free speech is still protected in the U.S.).

So, on the one hand we have NVIC and Barbara Loe Fisher who use lawsuits to try to change the public discourse, and the AAP who send letters on the other hand. And we are to believe it is the AAP who are promoting censorship?

Before we get to the NVIC press release, here is the letter that In Flight Media sent to organizations asking them to buy space for their “Lifestlye365-Cold, Flu, and Fall Allergy Season” series. Part of the offer by In Flight Media was the chance to advertise the organization.

Subject: IMA/Delta Air Lines Present “Lifestlye365-Cold, Flu, and Fall Allergy Season” Featuring [REDACTED]

Dear [REDACTED]

We would like to invite [REDACTED] to participate in our in-flight video series called Lifestyle 365, now airing on Delta Air Lines and Virgin America. We work with organizations around the globe creating in-flight video features that raise the profile on important topics affecting every ones lives. “Where you Live”…“How you Live”…and “What you Do”…it’s your Lifestyle 365.

For our November 2011 video segment we are producing a special health spotlight just in time for “Cold, Flu and Fall Allergy Season.” At a time of year when the weather is changing, kids are going back to school, and families are traveling for the holidays, it is important to raise awareness on the latest resources available for preventing and treating cold, flu and allergy symptoms. This is also a perfect time to remind our audience of the importance of adult and childhood vaccination by showing them when and where to go to get caught up on regular immunizations as well as this years’ flu vaccine. Why not take this opportunity to showcase your organization or product in front of millions of captive airline passengers!

We are proud to extend this opportunity to your organization and have attached additional details regarding pricing and exposure options for each airline. We are offering an exclusive 5-minute option for a rate of $49,500 (Standard is $75,000) with commitment by May 30, 2011.

Here’s a bit more on what you can expect by joining us in this program:

·Placement and production of content utilizing your raw footage within our Lifestyle365 program

·IMA to provide script, voice over and video production creative services at no additional charge, excluding all on- location shoot services.

·Delta Air Lines: Segment to air for a full calendar month on over 17,375 flights in front of an average of 2.5 million passengers

·Virgin America: Segment to air for 60 consecutive days, in front of 880,000 passengers on 7,500 flights

·Delta and Virgin America’s fleets are equipped with WIFI, passengers watching the program can log into your website right from their seat using their laptops or smart phones and instantly make a donation and learn more about your cause

·Show reference in Sky magazine and http://entertainment.delta.com/television/ (would link directly to your website).

·Your organization will maintain the rights to the completed piece to use in future marketing initiatives.

·Video placement on IMA’s YouTube channel, Facebook, and other social media sites

For more than a decade in the airline industry, In-Flight Media Associates (IMA) continues to bring the utmost level of innovation and creativity to organizations around the globe looking to reach the captive airline audience. With a core philosophy that entertainment attracts attention…advertising may not; they create and deliver messages that resonate with passengers in a non-intrusive way.

Our portfolio can be viewed at http://www.in-flightmedia.com. I will contact you in a few days to add more details, but please feel free to contact me at 760-944-6575, or via email at allison@in-flightmedia.com should you have any questions.

Thanks in advance for your consideration. We look forward to helping build Your Image in the Sky®.

Sincerely,

Let me draw your attention to two statements in the above:

“Why not take this opportunity to showcase your organization or product in front of millions of captive airline passengers!”

and

Delta and Virgin America’s fleets are equipped with WIFI, passengers watching the program can log into your website right from their seat using their laptops or smart phones and instantly make a donation and learn more about your cause

Clearly, a big piece of the motivation for organizations (NVIC included) to purchase time was to advertise themselves. NVIC acts as though the complaints (including mine) were not about this at all. How can I tell? Well, the NVIC has responded with a press release. A press release quite full of straw-man arguments:

WASHINGTON, Nov 15, 2011 (BUSINESS WIRE) — The non-profit National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is calling public pressure placed on Delta Air Lines by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to censor an NVIC video about flu prevention an “act of intimidation” to block public access to full and accurate health information about influenza.

NVIC was offered the opportunity to be a paid sponsor of a video about staying well during the flu season that would be included in Delta’s in-flight programming during November 2011. On Nov. 7, Forbes magazine published an article with a copy of a letter signed by the AAP President Robert Block, MD, accusing Delta of “putting children’s lives at risk” by showing travelers the NVIC sponsored video because it contains “harmful messages.”

In the AAP letter, the Pharma-funded medical trade association alleged that “The [NVIC] ad urges viewers to become informed about influenza and how to stay well during the flu season without resorting to the influenza vaccine.”

NVIC co-founder and president Barbara Loe Fisher responded, “Without cause, the AAP has used their considerable financial resources and political influence to intimidate Delta for simply showing a video that offers accurate information about ways to stay healthy during the flu season, including talking with doctors about getting a flu shot. Censorship and attacks on consumer advocacy groups working to institute informed consent protections in public health policies should not be tolerated in this or any society that cherishes free speech and the right to self determination.”

The AAP letter stated that “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease,” without acknowledging that a recently published scientific study found that the flu vaccine is less than 70 percent effective in preventing influenza, which confirms previous studies questioning influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. A top flu expert at the CDC has said that about 80 percent of flu-like illness reported in the U.S. every year is not influenza but is caused by other viruses and bacteria.

“The AAP’s leadership is clearly threatened by educated consumers, who have every right to engage in critical thinking when making choices about how to stay healthy,” said Fisher. “Why is the AAP so afraid to admit that washing our hands, covering our mouths when coughing, eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, exercising, and lowering stress are also important ways to stay well during the flu season and all year around?”

In the letter to Delta, the AAP alleged that NVIC “opposes the nation’s recommended childhood immunization schedule and promotes the unscientific practice of delaying or skipping vaccines altogether.” During NVIC’s three-decades of work to secure vaccine safety and informed consent protections in U.S. public health laws, NVIC has criticized one-size-fits-all vaccine mandates and advocated for more and better quality vaccine safety science but has not told individuals to use a particular vaccine schedule or told them not to get vaccinated.

“NVIC is a non-profit charity led by educated health care consumers. We are not doctors and do not tell people how or when to vaccinate or advise people not to vaccinate,” said NVIC’s Fisher. “We have a long public record of promoting well-informed, voluntary health care decision-making.”

This is the second time this year that the AAP has publicly attacked NVIC and taken action to censor information NVIC has made available to the public. In April, the AAP publicized a similar letter sent to CBS in an unsuccessful attempt to strong arm CBS into removing NVIC’s 15-second message shown on the Jumbotron in Times Square through the month of April.

Parent co-founders of NVIC worked with Congress on the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 and were responsible for securing historic informing, recording and reporting safety provisions in that law. The AAP and vaccine manufacturers lobbied Congress to secure a shield from civil liability for vaccine injuries and deaths in the 1986 law.

“Twenty five years ago, the AAP got liability protection for their pediatrician members, who are no longer accountable in a court of law when the liability-free vaccines they give ending up hurting a child,” said Fisher. “Almost immediately following the 1986 law’s passage, the AAP narrowed medical contraindications to vaccination so that, today, almost no child qualifies for a medical exemption to vaccination. Now, the powerful AAP is lobbying in states like California and Washington to strip parents of the legal right to exercise informed consent to medical risk taking for their children or file non-medical vaccine exemptions. This is becoming a civil and human rights issue involving censorship, inequality, discrimination and persecution of citizens by medical doctors wielding too much power.”

The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC.org) is a 501C3 charity founded in 1982 by parents of vaccine injured children and is dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and protecting the informed consent ethic in medicine.

I will say I found this statement amusing: “Without cause, the AAP has used their considerable financial resources and political influence to intimidate Delta …”

Yes, the AAP used “considerable financial resources and political influence”. No ordinary organization could send a letter! Why, they used the United States Government in the form of the Postal Service to deliver their message. Would that I could tap into that sort of “political influence”.

Without cause? Perhaps NVIC could review the AAP letter, or the many complaints others have made about Delta’s decision to host the NVIC video.

Let me put it simply: Delta should consider seriously whether they wish to promote an organization like the NVIC. Playing these advertisements was clearly a promotion of the organization, as spelled out in the letter In Flight Media sent.

“Censorship and attacks on consumer advocacy groups working to institute informed consent protections in public health policies should not be tolerated in this or any society that cherishes free speech and the right to self determination”

I find it hard to give Ms. Fisher the moral high ground on free speech issues after she sued Paul Offit (and lost), Wired Magazine and Conde Nast.

That said, why do I think that Delta should reconsider supporting NVIC? How about the NVIC press release?

The AAP letter stated that “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease,” without acknowledging that a recently published scientific study found that the flu vaccine is less than 70 percent effective in preventing influenza, which confirms previous studies questioning influenza vaccine efficacy and effectiveness. A top flu expert at the CDC has said that about 80 percent of flu-like illness reported in the U.S. every year is not influenza but is caused by other viruses and bacteria.

First off, notice how NVIC glossed over the statement by the AAP that “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease”? They don’t come out and say AAP is right or wrong. What they do is follow it with nonsequiturs which downplay the need for the vaccine.

It’s pretty slick. They get to give the impression that the AAP is incorrect about the statement, and retain deniability.

NVIC: how about a simple statement. Is the flu vaccine the best way to protect against the disease or not?

On with the paragraph. NVIC pose that the 70% efficacy of the flu vaccine as a bad thing that is being kept hidden. Hey, I’d like a flu vaccine that was more than 70% effective, but, 70% is well worth it. 70% less chance of being sick with the flu? 70% less chance of passing the flu on to someone who is vulnerable to injury or death from the illness? I’d say “sign me up” except that I already got my shot this year.

That said, can NVIC offer an alternative which is proven better than 70%? Can they provide a method which is better than the combination of taking care of one’s self, attention to hygiene, plus the vaccine?

The second sentence in that paragraph is also troubling. “A top flu expert at the CDC has said that about 80 percent of flu-like illness reported in the U.S. every year is not influenza but is caused by other viruses and bacteria.” So? The statement was “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease”, not “influenza vaccine continues to be the best way to protect against the disease and every other disease which is similar.”

This is exactly the sort of message I disagree with NVIC about. Downplaying the need for vaccines. Does NVIC say, “80% of flu-like illnesses might be caused by other disease–so, we should be looking for vaccines to protect against those viruses and bacteria as well”? Or, “Influenza vaccines might be only 70% effective, so we want research into a more effective vaccine”? Hardly.

NVIC claims that the AAP is “accusing Delta of “putting children’s lives at risk” by showing travelers the NVIC sponsored video because it contains “harmful messages.”

See how they want to ignore anything outside of their video? Let’s take a look at the paragraph with the “putting children’s lives at risk” phrase:

By providing advertising space to an organization like the NVIC, which opposes the nation’s recommended childhood immunization schedule and promotes the unscientific practice of delaying or skipping vaccines altogether, you are putting the lives of children at risk, leaving them unprotected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

AAP are objecting to promotion of the NVIC in general, not just the video. I guess NVIC didn’t want to address the question of whether they promote delaying or skipping vaccines, and whether this is unscientific.

NVIC tries to frame itself as a “vaccine safety” organization, asking only for “safer vaccines”. As I pointed out in an earlier post, they never define “safe”. They don’t seem to have called any vaccine “safe”.

Frankly, this looks like an effort for NVIC to try to get more publicity. In doing so, they are probably guaranteeing that Delta will not accept their advertisements in the future (or they have given up on any future spots) .This is a public relations nightmare for Delta. Last thing they want is a public debate about how they are contributing to a group who is putting children’s lives at risk. And, let’s face it, the American Academy of Pediatrics is well respected.

I’ll close by responding to a statement in the press release: “NVIC is a non-profit charity led by educated health care consumers’

Left Brain/Right Brain is also a group of educated health care consumers. Educated enough to reject the NVIC’s message. The real message, not the one they hide behind. The message of a group that thinks that vaccines are a “holocaust of poison“.

Blocking immunisation

2 Jun

The rise of a public anti-vaccine movement in the US is partly to blame for blocking effective immunisations according to the AAP today.

A story on WebMD says that the

…rise of a public anti-vaccination movement that uses the Internet as well as standard media outlets to promote its position, which is “wholly unsupported by any scientific evidence” linking vaccines with autism and other childhood conditions.

is at least partly to blame for ensuring that ‘pockets’ of unimmunised children exist throughout the US. Other reasons given include problems with cost.

Read the whole story at Web MD (@WebMd).

Parental Vaccine Safety Concerns in 2009

1 Mar

A paper in today’s issue of pediatrics looks at vaccine safety concerns amongst parents. The paper

Parental Vaccine Safety Concerns in 2009
by
Gary L. Freed, Sarah J. Clark, Amy T. Butchart, Dianne C. Singer, and Matthew M. Davis. All of the University of Michigan.

the abstract states:

OBJECTIVE: Vaccine safety concerns can diminish parents’ willingness to vaccinate their children. The objective of this study was to characterize the current prevalence of parental vaccine refusal and specific vaccine safety concerns and to determine whether such concerns were more common in specific population groups.

METHODS: In January 2009, as part of a larger study of parents and nonparents, 2521 online surveys were sent to a nationally representative sample of parents of children who were aged ?17 years. The main outcome measures were parental opinions on vaccine safety and whether the parent had ever refused a vaccine that a doctor recommended for his or her child.

RESULTS: The response rate was 62%. Most parents agreed that vaccines protect their child(ren) from diseases; however, more than half of the respondents also expressed concerns regarding serious adverse effects. Overall, 11.5% of the parents had refused at least 1 recommended vaccine. Women were more likely to be concerned about serious adverse effects, to believe that some vaccines cause autism, and to have ever refused a vaccine for their child(ren). Hispanic parents were more likely than white or black parents to report that they generally follow their doctor’s recommendations about vaccines for their children and less likely to have ever refused a vaccine. Hispanic parents were also more likely to be concerned about serious adverse effects of vaccines and to believe that some vaccines cause autism.

CONCLUSIONS: Although parents overwhelmingly share the belief that vaccines are a good way to protect their children from disease, these same parents express concerns regarding the potential adverse effects and especially seem to question the safety of newer vaccines. Although information is available to address many vaccine safety concerns, such information is not reaching many parents in an effective or convincing manner. Pediatrics 2010;125:654–659

The study was a survey of households with children. They contacted extra Hispanic and African-American households to get better statistics on those groups. But they normalized the data to account for this “oversampling”.

Table 3 shows that 11.5% of parents have rejected at least one recommended vaccine. Most listed the HPV (human papillomavirus) as the rejected vaccine. HPV is new, and is given to teenage girls to prevent a viral infection known to be a cause of cervical cancer. (click to enlarge)

Parental Vaccine Refusal

Table 4 shows parental attitudes for a number of vaccines. Reasons for rejecting vaccines vary from “I would rather my child got this disease” to “I personally know someone who experienced a harmful adverse event”. (click to enlarge)

Parent experiences and attitudes on childhood vaccines

The survey explored the views of parents on the autism/vaccine question:

One current specific immunization safety concern has been the spurious association of vaccines with autism. Although peer-reviewed original scientific research and multiple expert committees that have reviewed all available data on this issue have failed to show any association between vaccines and autism, anecdotally the concern continues to affect parents. Our study indicates that a disturbingly high proportion of parents, >1 in 5, continue to believe that some vaccines cause autism in otherwise healthy children. This finding indicates that current public health education campaigns on this issue have not been effective in allaying the concerns of many parents. Officials must attempt to develop more effective and targeted education campaigns that focus directly on this issue if their goal is to match parents’ level of concern with the available scientific evidence. Recently, the use of newer social marketing techniques have been suggested as potential strategies to address vaccine safety concerns.

>1 in 5 believe the “vaccines cause autism” story. Amazing. I’m sure that will be seen as a both a victory and a challenge to the groups pushing that message.

I hate to say it, but someone needs to. This study may be the most valuable study the trial lawyers working on autism/vaccine cases have seen. Much more so than the bad science of the Geiers or the speculation in Medical Hypotheses. Where this will be valuable will be in helping select a jury that is as sympathetic to their cause as possible.

AAP launches HealthyChildren.Org

11 Dec

The American Academy of Pediatrics has a new website with medical information: HealthyChildren.org. The site includes a compilation of many AAP articles on various health topics.

AutismNewsBeat has blogged it as AAP launches Healthychildren.org.

US News and World Report has an article about the new site, including comments about using the search engine to find autism information.

The site is still a “beta” release. But I like the general appearance. I like the quick-links on the main page by age group (prenatal, baby, toddler, gradeschool, teen, young adult). For example, the baby link takes you to a page with milestones and articles.

Autism rate of 1 percent, and the embargo that wasn’t

7 Oct

Someone at the CDC screwed up. There, I said it.

That’s the bottom line of the story, in case you don’t want to plow through this rather messy story.

Two stories out today are discussing how the 1% autism prevalence story has been handled by the government, the AAP and the media. An emphasis is being placed on how the information embargo was handled and, possibly, mishandled.

One at the Covering Health blog is titled, Autism news raises question: When is an embargo not an embargo?. The second story, at National Public Radio, is titled When News Breaks On Autism, Who Gets It Out First?

Let’s go through the history of this story to unravel a bit of what happened.

This past summer, two studies were in press discussing the autism prevalence in the United States. The first study, based on data from the National Children’s Health Survey, was to be published in the Journal Pediatrics. (This is the one just published) The second study is a CDC report, in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) series. Previous MMWR’s have given us prevalence numbers of 1 in 166 (based on data taken in 2000) and 1 in 150 (based on data taken in 2002).

Someone at the CDC leaked information about these studies to Lee Grossman. Whether Mr. Grossman approached the CDC employee or the other way around is unknown. There also isn’t any information on whether Mr. Grossman was supposed to keep this information confidential.

What is known is that Mr. Grossman publicly discussed this information at an Autism Society of America meeting in July.

Mr. Grossman also discussed this information with Mr. Kirby. How exactly that exchange came about we don’t know. Mr. Kirby has given a version of the story on his blog, but he has also shown himself willing to lie in order to protect a source.

Mr. Kirby blogged information about the two studies on August 11th. He did not name pediatrics as the journal, but he did note that the study would involve the NCHS data.

The pediatrics study was scheduled to come out this week (Monday, October 5). As is usual, the American Academy of Pediatrics released information to the press the week prior. These releases are made so that the press can prepare well researched stories to be published coincident with the paper. The press are not allowed to disscuss the story until the “embargo” was lifted at 12:01 eastern time, Monday Oct. 5.

The embargo system is actually a quite good one. This insures that the press has the time to put together well researched, thoughtful stories on a given topic. The writer who spends a lot of time on a story isn’t penalized by some guy slapping together a quick story to make a scoop. It’s a win-win: the press get to write better stories, and groups like the AAP get good press coverage.

But what do you do when someone has already leaked part of the story? To make it even more complicated, there were really two stories here: the Pediatrics paper published on Monday and the MMWR that isn’t published yet.

Understanding the high level of interest in the story, the U.S. Government decided to hold a conference call with the press. They planned their own data–the MMWR. In this way, journalists covering the Pediatrics story could include the MMWR without having to rely on the bits and pieces leaked by Mr. Kirby.

This call was scheduled for last Friday (Oct. 2) at 3pm.

The information from this call was embargoed. From the NPR story:

“Both the CDC overview and the HRSA study [in Pediatrics] were embargoed, because the subject nature was obviously so similar,” a spokesman for the National Institute of Mental Health told Covering Health. “It just wouldn’t be appropriate to not have the CDC following the same set of guidelines as the HRSA study as it relates to the embargo.”

This call was at 3pm.

The U.S. Government decided early Friday morning to hold a second conference call for autism advocacy organizations. This call was scheduled for 2pm, and did not include embargoed information. They didn’t discuss the details of the papers, just the new prevalence numbers (about 1%).

The Age of Autism blog posted the announcement and call in number.

According to Andrew Van Dam at Covering Health:

CDC spokeswoman Artealia Gilliard told AHCJ on Tuesday afternoon that everything in the 3 p.m. press call was under embargo, while nothing that would have been covered by that embargo was mentioned in the earlier call with the autism community. In particular, Gilliard said, no specific prevalence rate numbers were given out on the call.

“We basically said ‘On Monday, two studies will come out. They will update the prevalence estimate we previously had.’ … It didn’t actually have any of the information that was embargoed.”

Gilliard, who was on both calls, specified further: “I know they didn’t put out numbers in the advocacy call. I know we didn’t say 1 in 100. What we’ve been saying is ‘approximately 1 percent of children.’”

So, we have two conference calls, discussing much the same information (about 1% prevalence). One was embargoed and the other was not.

David Kirby blogged the story right away on Friday. Mr. Kirby starts his post with:

Washington loves to dump its bad news on a Friday afternoon, and on October 2 it confirmed that 1 percent of American children (and by extension, perhaps 1-in-58 boys) has an autism spectrum disorder.

It is possible that Mr. Kirby didn’t know that the Pediatrics study was to be published on Monday. It is possible that he didn’t know about the second, embargoed conference call.

Possible, but very unlikely.

If he knew (and I believe he did), his introduction is highly irresponsible. It fans the flames of the idea that the government tries to bury autism information. No surprises there, as Mr. Kirby has made a career out of fanning those flames.

Mr. Kirby further fans the flames by indicating that the 2pm call was short:

There was no alarm, and little time for questions from the community that was invited to “visit.” After about 15 minutes, questioning was cut off, and the call abruptly ended. I tried three times to ask a question (via a telephone switching system) and so did many other people on the call, which lasted a total of 39 minutes.

As we now know, the government had to prepare for the 3pm call. Perhaps Mr. Kirby didn’t know about that call. Again, that seems highly unlikely.

Mr. Kirby complains of not being able to pose his question. You can go read it if you want, I am not copying it here. The question, in classic Kirby style, is really a lecture putting out the current talking points of the vaccines-cause-autism groups.

Dan Olmsted at the Age of Autism blog mentioned the conference call as well, but his post was brief and not filled with the leading comments Mr. Kirby chose.

Lisa Jo Rudy at autism.about.com read the Kirby and Olmsted pieces (she mentioned this in her piece) and decided to blog the story herself. Unfortunately, she was a bit confused by what was embargoed and what was not–she discussed the Pediatrics paper (which was embargoed). This was reported to the AAP, who contacted Ms. Rudy and Mr. Rudy pulled the piece. The AAP decided that the embargo breach wasn’t so big as to pull the embargo entirely. In other words, they went ahead and kept the rest of the press to the Monday morning embargo date.

On Sunday, 7 hours before the embargo was lifted, Mr. Kirby ran a copy of his Age of Autism blog piece on the Huffington post.

The Age of Autism blog is still trying to fan the flames, pushing the idea that the mainstream media doesn’t want to cover this story. Mark Blaxill posted a piece today, Autism News: Pathetic Non Coverage, discussing how his home-town newspaper (The Boston Globe) didn’t cover the story when the embargo lifted on Monday. He states that “In the meantime, on Tuesday the Globe posted a link to an abbreviated form of the Associated Press story. A day late and a dollar short.”

I don’t profess to know what methods Mr. Blaxill used when he couldn’t unearth the story on the globe.com webiste. I know that I used “autism” as the search term and quickly found this story, which came out Monday, October 5. There is also the abbreviated AP story that the Globe put out on Tuesday, which Mr. Blaxill references.

What can we say about the whole debacle? It is a big mess. It is a big mess that started when someone at the CDC told Lee Grossman of the Autsim Society of America some confidential information. That person at the CDC screwed up.

Isn’t that just a bit sad? Trusting a prominent representative of a major autism organization has been shown, in this case, to be a mistake.

I won’t say that Mr. Grossman made a mistake by talking to David Kirby. An error in judgment, yes. Mistake, no. Mr. Kirby’s track record of presenting any data in a very biased mode to promote vaccines-causing-autism is quite well established.

I didn’t see any mainstream press coverage that included any of Mr. Kirby’s talking points. He was able to get a prominent spot in the google news searches on autism with his Huffington Post piece.

The main fallout seems to be (a) the CDC will probably clamp down on giving out information and (b) the press has an impression that autism advocates are irresponsible with information.

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.