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Nothing makes J.B. Handley laugh more quickly than the suggestion that he and other parents who question the safety of the American vaccine schedule are "radicals." The Portland, Oregon, businessman is a managing partner in a leverage buyout fund. And when it came to vaccinating their first two children, he and wife Lisa religiously followed the vaccination schedule set by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
"We were as mainstream as they come," the father of three said during a telephone interview. "We were the ones who followed the letter of the law."
Questioning their doctor about the risks of vaccination never occurred to them, Handley continued. The same goes for hundreds of parents he has spoken with who watched their children’s health steadily decline following their vaccinations, eventually regressing into autism, like 7-year-old Jamie Handley did as an infant.
"Almost to a person, we were the ones who fully vaccinated," he said. "You know?"
It’s not like Handley doesn’t understand the vitriol regularly aimed at him by what he routinely calls "the other side." He is a pointed, straight-talking pain in their asses.
In 2005, a year after Jamie was diagnosed with autism following a "stair-step physical decline" timed to each vaccination, J.B. and Lisa created a nonprofit organization and Web site called Generation Rescue. They dedicated it to "those who came before us and pioneered a lot of the work," he said, a place where "parents who could help other parents were all in one place."
And from their efforts emerged an influential organization with a celebrity-mother voice that has kept the issue of vaccine-induced autism in the public eye, to the eternal chagrin of, and cost to, the medical-industrial complex. "Dumb luck happened in the form of Jenny McCarthy finding our site, literally six weeks after it launched, and using it as a guide to treat her son, who then recovered fully," Handley said.
McCarthy quickly took the helm and has been responsible for its exponential growth the past several years, he said. "She’s now, literally, not only the spokesperson, not only a board member, but she really runs the day-to-day operations. Jenny is the engine, life, chief fundraiser, bottle washer, you name it. She is the lifeblood of the organization and the public face."
McCarthy’s presence, Handley said, allows him to "hang out in the cheap seats and opine and write my own stuff and challenge people." And in that regard, his style doesn’t earn him any props with the vaccines-are-sacrosanct crowd — the AAP, the pharmaceutical companies, and the government officials and researchers they financially support. He’s described their positions as "atomic stupidity" in articles he has written. Moron is a term he uses often, in print and in conversation.
"I can be vitriolic and hyperbolic," he said.
Even over the telephone from two-thirds of a continent away, J.B. Handley exudes a large personality and supreme confidence in his experiences and conclusions about his son’s autism. And, as he points out often, his story is not unique, by any stretch.
"I’ll speak both from personal experience and from literally hundreds of extensive phone calls with other parents," he said early in a 45-minute interview, "… all of us trying to piece things together and understand what happened to our kids."
While Handley said he is encouraged to see the emerging consensus that the autism epidemic is real and caused by environmental toxins, the number of toxic exposures autism parents do not have in common dwarf the number they do.
"Some of us have wives with silver fillings in their teeth, but some don’t," he said. "Some of us live near coal plants, but some of us don’t. Some of us live in houses with lead paint, but some of us don’t. Some of us didn’t know plastics were bad for you, but some of us did."
The exposures their children all shared were multiple vaccines containing the neurotoxins mercury and aluminum and dozens of other chemicals injected directly into their bodies. "All the parents are telling me the same damned story," he said. "The kid goes on a stair-step physical decline after each shot appointment and ultimately is diagnosed with autism."
Handley prefaces the tale of son Jamie’s regression with what he calls his five-minute monologue, which begins: "Autism is a process. It is not an event. Every parent
I know had a child who was developing normally and was healthy and whose health took a substantial decline over time."
Jamie’s first vaccinations came at his two-month visit, when he received the typical "six vaccines in about three or four minutes … exactly what the CDC schedule recommended," Handley said. Within two days, Lisa was back in the doctor’s office with him, complaining of eczema, diarrhea and poor sleep, none of which had previously been issues.
The CDC/AAP schedule then calls for four-month, six-month and 12-month appointments with 19 more shots. And with each round of injections, Handley said, symptoms appeared and worsened — fevers, diarrhea and ear infections immediately afterward, followed by rounds of antibiotics and cognitive declines. Jamie’s pediatric records indicate that after one appointment he couldn’t recognize his name.
"This chronic decline and this alignment with vaccine appointments is not something we’re conjuring up retrospectively," the Stanford-educated Handley insisted. "The overwhelming majority of us were literally sitting there looking at our pediatric records and looking for cause and effect."
Among the possible side effects from vaccines the CDC lists are diarrhea, stomach aches, fevers, vomiting and brain injury. "I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to wonder if something might be going on," he said.
Throughout the interview, Handley repeatedly emphasized that he has no idea what causes autism. And he knows he couldn’t prove vaccines contributed to his son’s in a court of law. But he could document the regression.
"What I can prove is my son experienced a chronic decline in health, in a stair-step fashion, immediately after each of his vaccine appointments and subsequently was diagnosed with autism. That’s what I know for sure."
Among the subjects that inflate Handley’s voice is the mainstream media and "how ignorant they are" when they report on vaccines and autism. They don’t even know how many shots kids get, he said, citing coverage of the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines as the classic case in point.
Of the 11 vaccines American children are given before first grade, MMR is the only one that has been studied, albeit faultily, Handley said. But when the media report stories relating to MMR and autism, the implicit and usually explicit message is that vaccines in general have been exonerated as a causative factor.
What reporters don’t understand, or at least don’t report, is that the CDC/AAP immunization schedule requires 36 vaccinations by the time a child is five, with 55 percent of them by the first birthday, he said. The vaccine schedule begins at birth for children who are born in hospitals, with a vaccination for hepatitis B. By 6 months, a child religiously following the program has received 19 shots.
And while there are pockets of unimmunized children around the country, schools require children be immunized as a condition of enrollment. "Pediatricians who aren’t on that schedule have to explain it to health insurers and the AAP," Handley said.
Never reported is the fact that only two of the three dozen shots kids receive are MMR, and the first one isn’t scheduled until the 12-month visit, and then it’s given in combination with five other vaccines. "MMR is the 20th shot that they get," Handley said, noting that the second is given at 48 months, well after autistic symptoms appear in the vast majority of children. "To think for a moment that solely isolating that shot exonerates the other shots is foolishness."
The journalistic malfeasance that characterizes media coverage of vaccines was acutely evident in the recent decision in Great Britain to censure Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist whose 1998 study in the British medical journal The Lancet suggested possible links between autism, a rare bowel disease and the MMR vaccine.
"I mean, before you knew it, the headline basically read, ‘Wakefield lied, all vaccines are safe,’" Handley said, expressing awe at the other side’s ability to manipulate the media with such blatant, transparent lies. "What a remarkable spin job. But what a remarkably dishonest thing to say."
Handley said he has personally read the Wakefield study 10 times. It followed 12 kids with autism whose guts swelled to the size of grapefruits, who suffered chronic diarrhea and were in extreme pain all day. All it said was that parents noted a relationship with the MMR shots.
"Onset of behavioural symptoms was associated, by the parents, with measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination in eight of the 12 children," the five-page paper says.
Handley elaborated: "It takes great pains to say, ‘We have no proof that MMR is correlated with anything, but it merits further study,’ which is what you typically do in scientific inquiry." At a news conference, Wakefield said he didn’t believe that the combined MMR vaccine had been adequately studied and recommended parents have their children immunized against measles, mumps and rubella individually.
"I am as sure as the day is long that what I’ve given you is 100 percent factually accurate," he said. "You can read The Lancet study to confirm what I’ve told you. Everything else from there is all uproar."
As a result of the misinformed media coverage, Handley said, many believe those who challenge the wisdom of America’s vaccination program have lost the debate, that they must be devastated. "No," he said, "when you understand the issues as well as we do, all it tells us is how devious the other side is willing to behave, and it makes us more angry."
The fact that any reporter would imply that vaccines are 100 percent safe is a testament to their laziness and ignorance, he added.
Before the industry began dramatically increasing the American vaccination schedule in 1989, Congressman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., engineered legislation that "indemnified vaccine makers from any liability from vaccines," Handley said. The law, which became effective Oct. 1, 1988, created a judicial system under which all claims of vaccine-induced injury, be they autism or otherwise, are heard by a special federal court in Washington, D.C.
"You can go to their Web site," Handley said. "You can look it up for yourself. We’ve paid $1.9 billion for vaccine injuries, over 80 percent of which are to children. So it’s unequivocal that vaccines hurt some kids."
As recently as two years ago, Handley said, parents were told they were imagining their children’s regression from normality to autism. But validation for their arguments recently came from the most unlikely of sources, Yale neurologist Dr. Steven Novella, whom Handley describes in an article in the Age of Autism as a "major league hater of our community."
"Dr. Novella’s piece details a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry titled ‘A Prospective Study of the Emergence of Early Behavioral Signs of Autism’ that tried to figure out when signs of autism first emerge in babies," Handley wrote. "Ironically, the study Novella references is quite supportive of the theory that autism is caused by the environment and most notably vaccines."
The March 2010 study compared two groups of children, one at high risk for autism and one at low risk, and noted the onset of symptoms in children who developed autism. It found no difference in the frequency of visual contact, shared smiles and vocalizations at 6 months. The differences, however, "were significant by 12 months of age on most variables."
In a blog post on the Web site Science-Based Medicine, Novella wrote, "What these results indicate is that clear signs of autism emerge between 6 and 12 months of age."
Novella concluded that the study disproved a link between autism and vaccines. "Many children are diagnosed between the age of 2 and 3, during the height of the childhood vaccine schedule. This lends itself to the assumption of correlation and causation on the part of some parents."
In an addendum to the blog, Novella acknowledged that he erred when he wrote that line, but he insisted, "Many parents blame their children’s autism on vaccines they received after the true onset of symptoms."
While Handley didn’t comment on the addendum in his Age of Autism counterpost, he said the original line made him "shout and laugh at the same time." Children have received 19 shots by 6 months — 52 percent of the total vaccination schedule — when the study says early symptoms of autism begin to appear.
"Between 6 and 12 months, that’s when Jamie started going awry," he said. "So, it makes perfect sense to me. … Their point was that between 6 and 12 months the kids started to exhibit the symptoms.
"Remember, it’s a process, it’s not an event."