Most of my information comes from the fantastic book “Autism’s False Prophets” by Dr. Paul Offit. Dr Offit helped create the vaccine for the Rotavirus.
Here is a quote: “Every week people send letters and emails calling me ‘stupid,’ ‘callous,’ an ‘SOB,’ or ‘a prostitute.’”
Dr. Offit gets sent threatening letters, phone calls regularly. Even threats on his children’s lives isn’t out of the question. This is the mentality of anti-vaccination movement. Agree…or else.
Since the advent of the vaccine, humanity has successfully been able to eradicate several viruses, including Polio and Smallpox. A remarkable achievement for the human race considering we once used leeches to treat the common cold.
But recently, within the last 20 years, some people have claimed that vaccinations are not only dangerous…but they cause Autism.
Now autism already has a history of drawing out pseudo-scientific cures including the “Bad mother” theory by Bruno Bettelheim or the method by Douglas Biklen of Facilitated communication – a method where a person held an autistic child’s hand and guided their fingers on keyboard to type out words and phrases. CBS Evening News called it a “breakthrough.”
Or Victoria Beck’s idea of injecting secretin intravenously. Dateline NBC marveled that this “miracle” came from parents and not scientists.
All of these treatments were expensive and later disproven. However some are still used to this day.
The situation began in 1998 when Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist (meaning he studies the digestive system) claimed that the MMR vaccine (which is a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella) caused autism. Wakefield claimed that MMR caused inflammation of the large intestines, he looked at eight autistic children and noticed the inflamed intestines. Because they had all had the MMR vaccine their autism must been caused by the vaccine.
Prior to that, Wakefield had claimed that the Measles vaccine caused Crohn’s disease. His shocking claim was later disproven when doctors all over the world failed to reproduce his evidence.
Wakefield’s claim caused a firestorm of activity. He occupied a prestigious position in London’s Royal Free Hospital and published his paper in the Lancet, which is a very respected medical journal.
The British press took this story to amazing heights. All over the country newspapers announced that vaccines were harmful. The result: thousands of children didn’t get the MMR vaccine. Over the next three years MMR becomes public enemy #1 and Wakefield becomes a hero. In fact, a docu-drama TV movie was made about Wakefield being a heroic scientist who stands up and fights for the little person.
By 2002, hundreds of children who weren’t vaccinated were getting ill. Three children died in Ireland because of the measles. In 2006 a thirteen year old boy was the first person to die of the measles in England for more than a decade.
Wakefield had support from several other scientists.
John O’Leary (Coombe Woman’s Hospital), Hisashi Kawashima (Tokyo Medical University), Vijendra Singh (Utah State University), Kenneth Aitken (Royal Hospital for Sick Children), Walter Spitzer (McGill University) John March (Veterinarian at Moredun Research Institute) Also, Marcel Kinsbourne and John Menkes (pediatric neurologist in California) Arthur Krigsman (New York University School of Medicine)
However, it turns out these scientists had other interests. I’ll come back to this in a second.
Wakefield decided to take his case to America next. With the help of a Republican congressman named Dan Burton, known for trying to get legislation passed that would have required AIDS testing for everyone in the U.S.
They set up a series of government trials to find out if MMR caused Autism and if vaccines were safe. During these hearings, Wakefield and the other scientists who supported him all testified. American media outlets took up the story. 60 Minutes did a piece called “MMR Vaccine” in which Wakefield was interviewed where he stated MMR wasn’t safe.
In 2004, an investigative journalist in Britain, Brian Deer uncovered evidence that Wakefield’s study had bypassed medical procedure. Also, for his experiments, he had been paid $800,000 by a personal injury lawyer Richard Barr. In the words of Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of the Lancet, these allegations “were devastating.”
Wakefield hadn’t received ethical clearance for some of the tests he ran on autistic children. One of the children nearly died as result of the experiment. Wakefield had also neglected to mention his study was financed by Richard Barr. At least 5 of the 8 children in Wakefield’s study were his clients.
In fact, it turns out the scientist who supported Wakefield’s study and testified had received a combined amount of 1 million, 5 hundred and 30 thousand dollars from Richard Barr’s legal team.
John O’Leary (Coombe Woman’s Hospital): over 1 million to O’Leary’s company
Kenneth Aitken (Royal Hospital for Sick Children): $400,000
Walter Spitzer (McGill University): $30,000
John March (Veterinarian at Moredun Research Institute): $180,000
Arthur Krigsman (New York University School of Medicine): $890,000
Meanwhile, real scientists were disproving Wakefield’s claims. Studies were done in Helsinki University that with a sample size of 2 million children showed no link between MMR and autism.
That wasn’t the end, the next installment in the anti-vaccination saga was the threat of mercury in vaccines.
Now, vaccinations did contain mercury, but there was a good reason. First, in order to keep vaccines from being contaminated with bacteria, mercury was used as a preservative. However, the form of mercury was ethylmercury, unlike the more harmful methylmercury which can cause serious problems, ethylmercury is far less toxic. In fact, adults could be injected with up to 2 millions micrograms of ethylmercury and not suffer from mercury poisoning.
And the ethylmercury that was in vaccines was actually a combination of other harmless preservatives and it was called thimerosal.
In October of 1999, Neal Halsey (a pediatrician who worked with the CDC on vaccines before) appeared before the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) and asked them to issue a statement that thimerosal was unsafe and as a precautionary measure all vaccine makers were being asked to stop using it. The CDC refused saying there was no link between thimerosal and autism.
A paper was published in the Medical Hypotheses (a journal with a circulation of about 200) that linked mercury poisoning with autism. This theory was followed by experiments by the father-son team of Mark and David Geier. They claimed that mercury from vaccines was causing autism and they had a cure, a form of chelation therapy, they gave a binding agent (DMSA) to autistic children in the hopes that it would bind with the mercury in their system and remove it.
There were a number of studies by other scientists that seemed to confirm a link between thimerosal and autism.
However, soon politicians got involved. Robert F. Kennedy Jr, wrote an article for Rolling Stone titled “Deadly Immunity” he basically claimed a secret government plot involving big pharma and evil scientists had conspired to cover up the danger of thimerosal. Within a couple of weeks, Rolling Stone issued several retractions on the article.
But the damage had been done. Now thimerosal was linked with conspiracy theories.
Next, a journalist named David Kirby wrote a book called “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy.” The American media ran with it just like with Wakefield. Kirby appeared on national radio and talk shows and promoted his claims. Millions of Americans saw or heard him.
The thing was, thimerosal didn’t cause autism. It was removed from vaccines in about 7 years ago and there was no drop in the rate of autism diagnosis. There were dozens of epidemiological studies (studies designed to show links between factors, in this case autism and thimerosal) which showed that there was no connection between children who were given vaccines with thimerosal and children diagnosed with autism.
And there are lot of other holes in the mercury theory. For one, mercury is everywhere. It’s naturally forming on the Earth. Because there is mercury in everything, we all have a small amount of mercury in our system, in fact, a child breast fed will ingest over 400 micrograms of mercury during the first six months of life.
Why were people like David Kirby and the Geiers relentlessly promoting this claim that was completely disproven?
It turns out the Geier’s aren’t what they claimed. They spent their career working as expert witnesses to law firms that sued vaccine makers. In fact, Richard Barr, paid them 14,000 to testify against these vaccine makers. They also sold an expensive and dubious method of cleansing mercury from autistic children. Mark Geier is no longer considered an expert witness, as according to a judge, his testimony bordered on fraud.
David Kirby, who claimed to be a reporter for the New York Times, was in fact, lying. He occasionally worked as a freelancer but was never on staff. When Don Imus was fired for making racist remarks about the Rutgers woman’s basketball team, Kirby claimed Imus had been fired because he talked about vaccines causing autism. According to Kirby, it was all a big conspiracy by big Pharma.
But sadly, that’s not the end. The anti-vaccination movement has continued, now it has celebrity leaders. People like Jenny McCarthy and her husband Jim Carry, meanwhile, disgraced doctors like Andrew Wakefield are considered heroes. The Geier’s are still practicing their dangerous mercury removal therapies. In 2005, a child died while undergoing a similar therapy. Meanwhile, media outlets like Oprah, Larry King and day time talk shows give an open venue and soap box for these people to spread misinformation about vaccines and autism, and promote their dubious medical treatments that are often expensive and potentially dangerous.
In our interview with Phil Plait, he mentions how as the vaccination rate drops “herd immunity” drops as well. This gives viruses a chance to spread across the population and infect those people who can’t be immunized because they’re too young or old or sick.
I can’t state how disgusted and shocked by the speed of this movement. It has reduced vaccination rates in the UK and Europe dramatically. It’s also having similar effects in the United States. I urge our listeners and readers to stand up to this crackpot theory and examine sources like “Autism’s False Prophets” by Paul Offit
Also check out http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/
http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal.htm (centre for disease control)
And the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion http://immunize.cpha.ca/en/default.aspx