Last week in Washington, DC, parents got a chance to present their side alleging that vaccines caused their child’s autism. This is the most heated medical controversy in the nation and it has no signs of going away.
Part of the reason the debate is guaranteed to continue is because of what officials can’t tell about us about autism. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has downplayed autism at every opportunity. It is infuriating to parents who have no reasonable explanation for why their child has autism and who are going broke paying for therapy and treatment to continually hear about what the CDC doesn’t know. They don’t know the cause or the cure for the disorder. They don’t even know if there are more kids with autism, despite counting affected children for the last ten years. Federal officials are convinced of only one thing: Vaccines don’t cause autism.
The CDC has their studies as proof of their claim, but these are rife with charges of manipulated data and conflicts of interest that reduce them to the “cigarette science” used to disprove that smoking caused lung cancer half a century ago. An official Institute of Medicine Report in 2004 settled nothing and the battle continues now in federal claims court in Washington, DC.
According to the media, the parents have no case and if they win, it won’t be because they had any real proof of their claim, just that they managed to sway the minds of the three masters on the panel with their story of personal tragedy. For the public watching the coverage, it’s unprecedented. The parents presented their case last week, but almost all the major news stories already had the verdict announced.
On Monday June 11th, NBC News had Pete Williams confusing the MMR vaccine with thimerosal-containing vaccines, yet adamant that “repeated studies have found no evidence linking autism to the vaccines.”
Gardiner Harris at the New York Times that day also told us, “Every major study and scientific organization examining this issue has found no link between vaccination and autism but the parents and their advocates have persisted. ” His story was picked up by other big city papers.
Newsday conclusively stated, “Large scientific studies have found no association between autism and vaccines containing thimerosal.”
Tuesday, June 12th, ABC News earned the week’s prize for saying that science doesn’t support a link in more ways and with more experts than any other news source:
Dr. Susan Fisher-Hoch, professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Brownsville: “Awarding a claim would fly in the face of reason and science.” Dr. Robert Schooley, professor of medicine and head of infectious diseases at the University of California at San Diego: If parents win it “would only further increase the cost of vaccines and lead to worsening of the public health.”
Dr. Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute in Washington D.C.: “Focusing on vaccines is really misplaced energy.”
Dr. David Witt, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco: “My personal opinion is that if there is a victory, it is a sad comment on how energy can be diverted from real health issues and causes, to faddish beliefs and diverted angst toward a handy target,”
Dr. Pascal James Imperato, chairman of preventive medicine and community health at State University of New York Downstate Medical Center: “The scientific evidence to date does not support their claim.”
If names of prominent institutions and well-credentialed experts could have settled the issue, that ABC News story would have done it. There didn’t seem to be any scientist or doctor worth quoting on the parents’ side, or maybe ABC News is so convinced about who’s right that they didn’t bother to look.
One has to wonder how the claims of 4,800 parents ever made it to federal court when it seems there is nothing to support their side.
As the week wore on, the coverage droned on. A Washington Post story on June 16th reported , “To date, no major studies have shown any connection between vaccines and autism, and the Institute of Medicine has rejected any causal relationship.”
The Albuquerque Tribune reported, “Every major study and scientific organization examining this issue has found no link between vaccination and autism.”
The San Francisco Chronicle ran the story, The Truth About Autism in which we were told by Dr. Rahul K. Parikh that “large, well-conducted studies have shown no link between thimerosal and autism.”
Sunday, June 17th, the Boston Herald published an editorial, Autism suit puts others at risk. There the unnamed writer dismissed the parents’ case as absolutely without merit. “We are aware of nothing that justifies changing the conclusion of a special committee of the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, three years ago: ‘The body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism,’ and ditto for vaccines containing the preservative in question, thimerosal. In plain English, children get autism at the same rate whether vaccinated or not, whether the vaccine contains thimerosal or not. The committee could find no evidence to support various postulated mechanisms by which autism might result from vaccination.”
Monday, June 18th ABC Nightly News ran a story about how the autism controversy is affecting the Wright family. The founders of Autism Speaks and their daughter Katie epitomize how deep the divide is. ABC News of course had to note in the report that with regard to vaccines causing autism, “There is no scientific evidence that is the case. None.”
Every time I hear that pronouncement I want to shout, “How can you defend injecting mercury into children when it was never tested and approved by the FDA before it was put into use?” I’ve asked that question of countless reporters and no one has ever answered it.
These news reports all week sounded like press releases for those with everything at stake in the fight and not objective journalism. Readers would sadly come up empty if they were to search for major stories quoting any of the expert witnesses for the parents. What’s implied of course is that there were none. It seemed as if news outlets were beating themselves over the head trying to put the claim that vaccines cause autism on a par with the flat Earth theory.
It was never noted in these articles that if the parents were proved right and the explosion in the autism rate is connected to the coincidental increase in the childhood vaccine schedule, especially the increase in mercury-containing vaccines, this will go down as the worst medical mistake in history. The implications are enormous.
On June 15th, CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson posted an online article, Autism: Why The Debate Rages. She outlined the suspicions, the obfuscation, and the denials that parents have had to deal with in this issue. This argument is never going quietly away no matter how many newspapers and TV networks find willing experts to tell the public that injecting mercury into children hasn’t hurt them.
This week David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm had a perfectly timed piece on the Huffington Post. In Tired of Autism Yet? he tells us this war will wage on until one side concedes and he proposes a logical way to settle things. This suggestion has come out before and it would seem a simple solution: Compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children of the same birth cohort who were born at the time of the greatest mercury exposure in the vaccine schedule.
Dan Olmsted has already shown us that it’s possible. He found unvaccinated Amish and he found unvaccinated kids in a medical group in Chicago. He also found no autism in those groups and that may be why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t jumped at the chance to settle this heated issue once and for all.
David Kirby says he’d welcome such a study. “If the drug companies, and the Bush Administration, and Congress, and the public health establishment, are so very confident in the total safety of all childhood vaccines (and their components, including mercury), then why would they reasonably object to such a study.” This may become the rallying cry of thousands of parents: “Why are they afraid to look?”
Parents of autistic children see officials paralyzed in addressing autism. They will only continue to demand this issue be dealt with openly and fairly. There is no patience left with those who can only come up with new ways of repeating the same tired claims that have been around for years.
Autism can’t continue to be referred to as some mystery or puzzle while we pretend that one in every 150 children has always had this disorder. It’s bankrupting families and school districts. I personally know the autism controversy isn’t going away because there are now far too many parents who are devoting their lives to public recognition of the disaster.
Anne McElroy Dachel lives in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org