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October 23, 2010

A Shot in the Dark

A Shot in the Dark

This is a blog post that I originally put up on Naked Authors two years ago. There've been some interesting updates to the sage recently, so I hope you'll excuse me for reposting here...

There's a topic I've wanted to blog about here for a long time, but it's pretty heavy stuff--not exactly the bright and breezy fare most people want to skim through online while sipping their morning beverage of choice.

Over the last year or so, every time I said to myself, "hey, maybe this week, if I can just get my head around a way to make the info meaningful and compelling... to personalize it somehow so that it's not a complete drag to ingest, but yet not so bereft of necessary info that it's easy to blow off..." I'd end up scuppering the whole thing as impossible to convey.

I'm still not sure I can make a blog post out of this that won't put you to sleep, but something happened this month that makes me feel like it's really, really important that I give it my very best effort right now, okay?

I'm going to do my damnedest not to make this boring, or strident, or "you can save this child or you can turn the page"-esque.

In fact, I'm not going to start off with the topic itself. I want to just loosely float two ideas first--kind of a warmup. Anedoctal stuff.

The first thing is a story I read some years ago. I don't remember exactly when or where (the New Yorker? The Sunday New York Times?) It was just a snippet from an article about something else, but it's really stuck with me for a lot of reasons.

The gist of it is that there was this guy--a journalist--who happened to be friends with an astonishingly successful investor. This investor had made serious BOATLOADS of money in the stock market, and one day his buddy, the journalist dude, got curious about the way his own line of work might be tied into his friend's success, so asked him which news outlets he'd relied on for accurate information on which to base his buying and selling decisions. Newspapers? Magazines? Television news reports?

Here's what the investor said (I'm paraphrasing more, from here on out), "None."

How can that be? asked his friend, to which the gazillionaire dude replied, "I realized a long time ago that there are two subjects in the world about which I know a great deal. One is sailing, and the other is cabbage varieties. And about twenty years ago, it occured to me that every time either sailing or cabbages were discussed in the mainstream press, the writers got nearly everything wrong.

Well, after a while, I started to wonder why I believed them about things I didn't know about. I mean, what was the likelihood that they were conveying accurate, well-researched information on everythingbut boats and cabbage? So that's when I stopped relying on journalists' information as a basis for my business decisions. And I've made a great deal of money ever since."

So, my Nakeds, do me a favor and think about a subject you reallyknow by heart--I don't care what it is: your hometown, your favorite breed of pet, or classic muscle-car engines or ham radio...

...or a medical condition that you or someone near and dear to you has battled for a long time--something you have a bone-deep, working knowledge of.

Got it?

Now ask yourself... when there's an article on that topic in Time orNewsweek, or even the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, do they get it right?

Or do you, like me, tend to read those pieces expecting to be disappointed, and sometimes skip them altogether because even theheadline is idiotic, because it's just such a goddamn drag to read the fulminations of some J-school grad who skimmed the clips file and/or gave the topic a desultory Google before banging together a cursory overview of same by deadline?

Yeah, I thought so. Please file that feeling away for a bit.

Which leads us to...

Which can basically be summed up: the older I get, the less faith I have in "Miracle Medical Breakthroughs!"

I mean, let's just look at the info propounded by "the experts" on the subject of diet and nutrition since I was in my teens: low-fat one decade, low-carbs the next...eggs will kill you, eggs will save you...Italians don't have heart attacks because they eat olive oil, French people don't have heart attacks because they drink red wine...

blueberries are God, dark chocolate may save your life, monkeys live twice as long if you cut their calorie consumption in half, people in the Caucausus live to be 150 because they eat yogurt, salmon will make you smarter, pregant women shouldn't eat tuna sandwiches because they have too much mercury in them...

And does anyone else remember those ubiquitous Seventies ads in the back of Cosmo and Seventeen about the kelp/B-6/cider vinegar/fourth-ingredient-I-can't-remember miracle weightloss program? That one sounded about as good as eating

I remember one stepfather in the mid-seventies who dumped wheat bran on whatever he ate, because it was supposed to cure everything.

Then after that he wouldn't eat salt. Then it was red meat. The year following was his swiss-chard period, I think. I was thank GOD away at school when he discovered high colonics, because he was also fond of lecturing all of us at the dinner table on the importance of whichever new thing he'd become a devotee of.

He was incredibly boring--not to mention cranky--most of the time.

And guess what? He died anyway, having arrived at the exact median age of life expectancy for an American male that year.

So, you know--all those medical breakthroughs! pronouncements! miracles!...? I tend to reserve judgment.

I'm not against western medicine--I love my penicillin and Excedrin and Motrin and Celexa and suture scars as much as the next person, and it's seriously wonderful that we've got smallpox on the run and don't have a whole lot of use for iron lungs anymore.

But... I also keep in mind the fact that western medical practitioners spent several centuries touting the benefits of leeches and "a good bleeding," while pooh-poohing the radical idea that one might want to wash one's hands (or one's saw) before performing, say, an amputation.

Let's take a look at another health issue that's seen a great deal of "expert" see-sawing over the course of, say, the last seventy years. Anyone remember these ads? I'm a little young to have run across them first hand:

How 'bout we zero in on smoking for a minute, okay? I'm going to cite some stats and a bit of a timeline, briefly (click here if you want backup)

The first study linking cigarettes to lung cancer was published in1939.

The first statement from the Surgeon General on the topic was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November, 1959.

On June 7, 1962, another Surgeon General announced that he was establishing an "expert committee to undertake a comprehensive review of all data on smoking and health."

On January 11, 1964, after some 15 months of intensive study, this committee--half the members of which were smokers-- issued its unanimous report stating that "cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant, appropriate remedial action."

The government recommended that a warning label be printed on all packs of cigarettes sold in this country as of January 1, 1965, and in all cigarette advertising six months later.

The tobacco industry then prevailed upon Congress to change the proposed wording from "Caution: Cigarette 'Smoking is Dangerous to Health. It May Cause Death from Cancer and Other Diseases" to "Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health," with the passage of the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965.

This act also prohibited the Federal Trade Commission and state and local governments from requiring any other label on cigarette packages and any warnings at all in cigarette advertising before1969.

Okay, got that? A reputable, peer-reviewed study links cigarettes to lung cancer in 1939, no official statement was issued by federal health officials until 1959 AND the words "may be hazardous to your health" couldn't be included in cigarette ads--newspaper, magazine, radio, and television--until 1969.

A New York Times editorial called Congress's cigarette labeling and advertising act "a shocking piece of special-interest legislation--a bill to protect the economic health of the tobacco industry by freeing it of proper regulation."

An article in the Atlantic Monthly described the political maneuvering behind the legislation under the title "The Quiet Victory of the Cigarette Lobby: How It Found the Best Filter Yet--Congress."

Now let's take a look at current tobacco-based revenues, campaign contributions, and lobbying expenditures of America's three biggest tobacco companies (citation):

Altria Group (Philip Morris)

2006 Tobacco Revenues: $66.7 billion
2008 Election cycle political contributions
by Altria Group PAC: $986,500
2007 Lobbying expenditures: $7.2 million

Reynolds American (RJ Reynolds)
2006 Revenues: $8.5 billion
2008 Election cycle political contributions
by RJ Reynolds PAC: $770,500
2007 Lobbying expenditures: $1.95 million

Loews Corp (Lorillard)
2006 Tobacco Revenues: $3.9 billion
2008 Election cycle political contributions
by Lorillard PAC: $175,250
2007 Total Lobbying expenditures: $1.96 million

Overall Tobacco Industry Political Contributions since 1997: more than $34.7 million

Here endeth the second intro topic-- a recap: medical experts often reverse themselves over time, and it took the U.S. Government nigh on thirty years after the first study linking cigarette smoking to lung cancer to officially warn citizens about the dangers of smoking.

Enter topic the third...

If you think the tobacco companies spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign donations, let's do a little comparison on how they rate compared to the pharmaceutical industry, in this country...

Tobacco (between 1997 and 2007): $34.7 million
Pharmaceuticals (for same period): $675 million

Oh, wait, those figures aren't exactly comparable... that second amount is for lobbying alone--it doesn't include the drug companies' political campaign contributions, in the United States.

Here's another figure that might give a small idea of the pharmaceutical industry's global clout --the amount spent on marketing (and "administrative costs") by the 11 biggest drug companies in 2004:

$100 billion 

And here's what they reported spending on research and development that year: $50 billion.

When Dr. Marcia Angell stepped down from her post as the edtior-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine last year, she published therein a scathing parting-shot takedown of the pharmaceutical industry's impact on contemporary medical practice.

My favorite paragraph is the following, in which she says of the pharmaceutical companies' marketing budgets:

The industry depicts these huge expenditures as serving an educational function. It contends that doctors and the public learn about new and useful drugs in this way. Unfortunately, many doctors do indeed rely on drug-company representatives and promotional materials to learn about new drugs, and much of the public learns from direct-to-consumer advertising. But to rely on the drug companies for unbiased evaluations of their products makes about as much sense as relying on beer companies to teach us about alcoholism. 

It's not just doctors and consumers who may be lead astray by these expenditures, however, but the very state and federal regulatory agencies we rely upon to safeguard the public health.

Quoting from government transcripts obtained via the Freedom of Information Act, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. wrote in a 2005 article published in Rolling Stone that:

In June 2000, a group of top government scientists and health officials gathered for a meeting at the isolated Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Georgia. Convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting was held at this Methodist retreat center, nestled in wooded farmland next to the Chattahoochee River, to ensure complete secrecy.

The agency had issued no public announcement of the session -- only private invitations to fifty-two attendees. There were high-level officials from the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, the top vaccine specialist from the World Health Organization in Geneva and representatives of every major vaccine manufacturer, including GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Wyeth and Aventis Pasteur.

All of the scientific data under discussion, CDC officials repeatedly reminded the participants, was strictly "embargoed." There would be no making photocopies of documents, no taking papers with them when they left.

The federal officials and industry representatives had assembled to discuss a disturbing new study that raised alarming questions about the safety of a host of common childhood vaccines administered to infants and young children. According to a CDC epidemiologist named Tom Verstraeten, who had analyzed the agency's massive database containing the medical records of 100,000 children, a mercury-based preservative in the vaccines -- thimerosal -- appeared to be responsible for a dramatic increase in autism and a host of other neurological disorders among children.

"I was actually stunned by what I saw," Verstraeten told those assembled at Simpsonwood, citing the staggering number of earlier studies that indicate a link between thimerosal and speech delays, attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity and autism. Since 1991, when the CDC and the FDA had recommended that three additional vaccines laced with the preservative be given to extremely young infants -- in one case, within hours of birth -- the estimated number of cases of autism had increased fifteenfold, from one in every 2,500 children to one in 166 children.
Verstraeten wasn't alone in expressing concern. The transcripts record Dr. Bill Weil, a consultant for the American Academy of Pediatrics, as saying, "You can play with this all you want,... [The results] are statistically significant."

Dr. Richard Johnston, an immunologist and pediatrician from the University of Colorado whose grandson had been born early on the morning of the meeting's first day, said "My gut feeling? Forgive this personal comment -- I do not want my grandson to get a thimerosal-containing vaccine until we know better what is going on."

But the conversation didn't then turn to ways to ensure public safety. Dr. Robert Brent, a pediatrician at Delaware's Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children was more worried about the possibility that, "We are in a bad position from the standpoint of defending any lawsuits. This will be a resource to our very busy plaintiff attorneys in this country."

Dr. Bob Chen, head of vaccine safety for the CDC, chimed in with the assertion that, "given the sensitivity of the information, we have been able to keep it out of the hands of, let's say, less responsible hands."

Dr. John Clements, vaccines advisor at the World Health Organization, declared that "perhaps this study should not have been done at all," adding, "the research results have to be handled," that the results of the study, "will be taken by others and will be used in other ways beyond the control of this group."

Adds Kennedy, at this point:

In fact, the government has proved to be far more adept at handling the damage than at protecting children's health. The CDC paid the Institute of Medicine to conduct a new study to whitewash the risks of thimerosal, ordering researchers to "rule out" the chemical's link to autism. It withheld Verstraeten's findings, even though they had been slated for immediate publication, and told other scientists that his original data had been "lost" and could not be replicated. And to thwart the Freedom of Information Act, it handed its giant database of vaccine records over to a private company, declaring it off-limits to researchers. By the time Verstraeten finally published his study in 2003, he had gone to work for GlaxoSmithKline and reworked his data to bury the link between thimerosal and autism.

Vaccine manufacturers had already begun to phase thimerosal out of injections given to American infants -- but they continued to sell off their mercury-based supplies of vaccines until last year [2004]. The CDC and FDA gave them a hand, buying up the tainted vaccines for export to developing countries and allowing drug companies to continue using the preservative in some American vaccines -- including several pediatric flu shots as well as tetanus boosters routinely given to eleven-year-olds.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who received $873,000 in contributions from pharmaceutical companies, slipped a "rider" into a Homeland Security bill in 2002, protecting vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits brought by those who suffer vaccine injury--this despite the fact that any vaccine-injury cases ALREADY have to be brought to trial in a special federal Vaccine Court.

Eli Lilly, the company that manufactures Thimerosal, contributed $10,000 to Frist's campaign fund the next day, then bought 5,000 copies of his book on bioterrorism.

Kennedy adds:

The measure was repealed by Congress in 2003 -- but earlier this year, Frist slipped another provision into an anti-terrorism bill that would deny compensation to children suffering from vaccine-related brain disorders. "The lawsuits are of such magnitude that they could put vaccine producers out of business and limit our capacity to deal with a biological attack by terrorists," says Dean Rosen, health policy adviser to Frist.

But wait, there's more... On five separate occasions, Frist has tried to seal all of the government's vaccine-related documents -- including the Simpsonwood meeting transcripts.

But what do we read about all of this in the mainstream press? Let's see, there was the study claiming that "autism is caused by drinkingduring pregnancy" this week, that got global play. Last year it was"autism is caused by watching television."

And there are countless articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal assuring readers that "all reputable studies prove there's no link between vaccines and autism," that "autism rates havenot gone down since ALL thimerosal was removed from ALL vaccines in 2001" and a great many characterizing concerned parents of autistic children as desperate for someone or something to blame for their children's condition or as lawsuit-hungry money grubbers.

Have autism rates gone down since thimerosal was phased out of vaccines, starting in 2001? Nobody knows. Can you believe that? Seriously, there's been no effort on the part of the CDC or any other federal agency to gather national data on that front.

California is the only state that keeps records of those receiving developmental disabilities services which are categorized by specific disability. It was California's numbers, in fact, which first confirmed what parents had long suspected---and "experts" long denied--that the rate of autism among young children in this country started skyrocketing in the 1990s.

If California's rates went down, that might be an indicator that removal of thimerosal was making some kind of a difference, right?

Let's just ignore the Associated Press article published in 2005 that announced "The number of new cases of autism in California has fallen for the first time in more than 10 years in what may be a bellwether for autism rates nationwide, according to new data compiled by the state Department of Developmental Services."

Everyone else ignored it, after all. And any parent who tries to bring it up is branded a crazed Luddite, or worse.

Michelle Malkin, with whom I don't always see eye-to-eye politically except on this topic, blogged "In defense of parents with informed vaccine skepticism" on March 24th:

The New York Times published a piece today about parents choosing not to expose their children to certain vaccines. This prompted blogger condemnations of those parents as “Bobo sociopaths” and a recommendation from Glenn Reynolds that“we should make clear that parents who, with no genuine medical reason, forego vaccinating their kids are bad parents, and bad citizens.”

Look, I could run you through the flaws in the studies routinely cited in that type of article (the Danish one, the Israeli one, etc.), or the differences in the way ethyl and methyl mercury break down in the body (not many), or the still-toxic and untested preservatives that have replaced thimerosal in multi-dose vials of vaccines, or the study performed at Columbia on the aberrant behaviors of infant mice injected with thimerosal, or the similarities in symptoms betweenautism and mercury poisoning,

or the fact that among thousands of Amish people in Pennsylvania (virtually non-vaccinated, as a population) only a handful of kids were found with any form of autism--one who'd been adopted in China and three who'd received vaccinations--when the expected number per that population would be around 130 affected individuals, or the hypothesis that autistic kids may lack the proper metabolic apparatus to excrete heavy metals as quickly as "typically developing" kids, or statistics on how much mercury is still in a number of shots administered routinely to infants and children and pregnant women (flutetanusRhogam, etc.)--because that's my version of the genius investor's "cabbages and sailing," these days....
(please run your mouse over the text of the previous two paragraphs to click through to studies cited--for some reason the hyperlinks aren't highlighted)

But I don't want to bore you any more than necessary, and besides, as a "bad parent and bad citizen," I'll let Kennedy speak to the history of the issue instead:

During the Second World War, when the Department of Defense used the preservative in vaccines on soldiers, it required Lilly to label it "poison."

In 1967, a study in Applied Microbiology found that thimerosal killed mice when added to injected vaccines. Four years later, Lilly's own studies discerned that thimerosal was "toxic to tissue cells" in concentrations as low as one part per million -- 100 times weaker than the concentration in a typical vaccine. Even so, the company continued to promote thimerosal as "nontoxic" and also incorporated it into topical disinfectants. In 1977, ten babies at a Toronto hospital died when an antiseptic preserved with thimerosal was dabbed onto their umbilical cords.

In 1982, the FDA proposed a ban on over-the-counter products that contained thimerosal, and in 1991 the agency considered banning it from animal vaccines. But tragically, that same year, the CDC recommended that infants be injected with a series of mercury-laced vaccines. Newborns would be vaccinated for hepatitis B within twenty-four hours of birth, and two-month-old infants would be immunized for haemophilus influenzae B and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis.

The drug industry knew the additional vaccines posed a danger. The same year that the CDC approved the new vaccines, Dr. Maurice Hilleman, one of the fathers of Merck's vaccine programs, warned the company that six-month-olds who were administered the shots would suffer dangerous exposure to mercury. He recommended that thimerosal be discontinued, "especially when used on infants and children," noting that the industry knew of nontoxic alternatives. "The best way to go," he added, "is to switch to dispensing the actual vaccines without adding preservatives."...

Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, oversaw a three-year investigation of thimerosal after his grandson was diagnosed with autism. "Thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines is directly related to the autism epidemic," his House Government Reform Committee concluded in its final report. "This epidemic in all probability may have been prevented or curtailed had the FDA not been asleep at the switch regarding a lack of safety data regarding injected thimerosal, a known neurotoxin." The FDA and other public-health agencies failed to act, the committee added, out of "institutional malfeasance for self protection" and "misplaced protectionism of the pharmaceutical industry."

And now I'd like to quote some numbers recently put forth by a toxicologist named Michael F. Wagnitz, in a rebuttal letter to the editors of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Wagnitz introduced his list by writing, "Parents get angry when they see the following numbers listed on the internet. These numbers have been out there for everyone to read for years."

Here are the numbers he cited:

0.5 parts per billion (ppb) mercury = Kills human neuroblastoma cells (Parran et al., Toxicol Sci 2005; 86: 132-140).

2 ppb mercury = U.S. EPA limit for drinking water http://www.epa.gov/safewater/contaminants/index.html#mcls

20 ppb mercury = Neurite membrane structure destroyed (Leong et al., Neuroreport 2001; 12: 733-37).
200 ppb mercury = level in liquid the EPA classifies as hazardous waste. http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/mercury/regs.htm#hazwaste

25,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in the Hepatitis B vaccine, administered at birth in the U.S., from 1990-2001.

50,000 ppb mercury = Concentration of mercury in multi-dose DTaP and Haemophilus B vaccine vials, administered 4 times each in the 1990's to children at 2, 4, 6, 12 and 18 months of age. Current "preservative" level mercury in multi-dose flu (94% of supply), meningococcal and tetanus (7 and older) vaccines. This can be confirmed by simply analyzing the multi- dose vials.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Wagnitz has a conflict of interest: he's the father of an autistic child.

Way back near the beginning of this post, remember how I said that something happened this month which made me feel it was necessary to at long last write a blog post on, as it turns out, thimerosal?

Here's the event I spoke of: the government decided in favor of the plaintiffs in one of the first Vaccine Injury Court autism test cases to go to trial.

That's right, folks, a judge representing the United States government decided that the family of an autistic girl was entitled to a monetary award, because it indeed seens evident that her condition was caused by "routine childhood vaccinations."

The anti-vaccine-hypothesis gang got started on spinning the verdict immediately--most by claiming that the girl, Hannah Poling, wasn't "typical" of autistic children, in that she had a metabolic disorder exacerbated by vaccines, and that therefore the metabolic disorder is itself responsible for her "autistic symptoms."

There are still nearly 5,000 such cases pending in the special court. I would be cynical if I thought that might have something to do with the intensity of the spin.

And yet... the online version of Time magazine had the courage to look at the facts of the case without the disimissive attitude so many of us have come to expect from the "mainstream" media, in an article titled “Case Study: Autism and Vaccines.”

The piece opened as follows:

What happened to little, red-haired Hannah Poling is hardly unique in the world of autism. She had an uneventful birth; she seemed to be developing normally-smiling, babbling, engaging in imaginative play, speaking about 20 words by 19 months. And then, right after receiving a bunch of vaccines, she fell ill and it all stopped.

Hannah, now 9, recovered from her acute illness but she lost her words, her eye contact and, in a manner of months, began exhibiting the repetitive behaviors and social withdrawal that typify autism. “Something happened after the vaccines," says her mom, Terry Poling, who is a registered nurse and an attorney. “She just deteriorated and never came back."
Hannah Poling's father, by the way, is a neurologist.

Here's one official's response to the court's ruling in the Poling case:

"Our message to parents is that immunization is life-saving," Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, the CDC's director, said at a hastily convened conference call with reporters.

"There's nothing changed. . . . This is proven to save lives and is an essential component of protection for children across America and around the world."
Gerberding further commented:
“Let me be very clear that (the) government has made absolutely no statement indicating that vaccines are a cause of autism. That is a complete mischaracterisation of the findings of the case, and a complete mischaracterisation of any of the science that we have at our disposal today.”
The Time article, however, went on to say:
...there’s no denying that the court’s decision to award damages to the Poling family puts a chink--a question mark--in what had been an unqualified defense of vaccine safety with regard to autism. If Hannah Poling had an underlying condition that made her vulnerable to being harmed by vaccines, it stands to reason that other children might also have such vulnerabilities.
As blogger Kent Heckenlively wrote in response to the article "I found myself nodding along as I read, saying, 'Yes! Yes! They’re getting it!'”

"One of the final paragraphs [in the article] is a statement which shouldn’t be controversial," he continues, "but when our community has said similar things we’ve been treated like we were primitives who wanted to take public health back to the nineteenth century." (And/or "bad parents," "bad citizens," "Bobo Sociopaths.")
Here's the paragraph he's referring to:

It’s difficult to draw any clear lessons from the case of Hannah Poling, other than the dire need for more research. One plausible conclusion is that pediatricians should avoid giving small children a large number of vaccines at once, even if they are thimerosal-free. Young children have an immature immune system that’s ill-equipped to handle an overload, says Dr. Judy Van de Water, an immunologist who works with Pessah at U. C. Davis. “Some vaccines, such as those aimed at viral infections, are designed to ramp up the immune system at warp speed,” she says. “They are designed to mimic the infection. So you can imagine getting nine at one time, how sick you could be.” In addition, she says, there’s some evidence, "that children who develop autism may have immune systems that are particularly slow to mature.”

"It’s stunning to read a paragraph like the one above in a major publication like TIME magazine," says Heckenlively, "when it’s been part of the catechism of our movement for years. It’s as if we’ve been secret believers in God in some totalitarian state and the ruler just announced he’s considering a conversion."

He also cites a report titled, "Vaccine Case - An Exception or a Precedent," from the CBS Evening News broadcast that aired on March 6, 2008, in response to the CDC having stated that Hannah Poling's case is "a singular event":

While the Poling case is the first of its kind to become public, a CBS News investigation uncovered at least nine other cases as far back as 1990, where records show the court ordered the government to compensate families whose children developed autism or autistic-like symptoms... including toddlers who had been called "very smart" and "impressed" doctors with their "intelligence and curiousity" . . . until their vaccinations.

But even if all those remaining cases pending in the Vaccine Court are ruled in favor of the plaintiff families, it doesn't mean that the families of the other estimated 500,000 kids with autism in this country will be able to sue for damages, under existing legislation. The federal government has set a three-year statute of limitations, dating from the first incidence of autistic symptoms in a child.

In light of that, I'd like to close this post with one more quotation from Dr. Marcia Angell's "farewell" editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine:

The pharmaceutical industry is extraordinarily privileged. It benefits enormously from publicly funded research, government-granted patents, and large tax breaks, and it reaps lavish profits. For these reasons, and because it makes products of vital importance to the public health, it should be accountable not only to its shareholders, but also to society at large.

May that sentiment go from Angell's lips to God's ears. And possibly Julie Gerberding's.

And look, maybe it's not the vaccines or the thimerosal that made the rate of autism go from one kid in 15,000 to one kid in 116. It could be some new additive in peanut butter, or exposure to wheat bran and Sea Monkeys.

I mean, until the mid-Seventies the "experts" claimed it was caused by overly intellectual, emotionally distant "refrigerator mothers."

We know, at least, that that last hypothesis is a load of crap. But we don't know anything else.

Isn't it time we expended a little more effort trying to really figure this thing out, and a little less of same calling the parents who are doing their best to make sense of and cope with the horrors of this disorder idiots?

I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm pretty fucking sick of being told how stupid I am.

I won't hold my breath waiting for that to change any time soon.

Meanwhile: smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Oh, yeah... conflict of interest: I'm the mother of a child who has autism

The updates since I first posted this?
According to CBS News:
The first court award in a vaccine-autism claim is a big one. CBS News has learned the family of Hannah Poling will receive more than $1.5 million dollars for her life care; lost earnings; and pain and suffering for the first year alone. 

In addition to the first year, the family will receive more than $500,000 per year to pay for Hannah's care. Those familiar with the case believe the compensation could easily amount to $20 million over the child's lifetime.

Hannah was described as normal, happy and precocious in her first 18 months. Then, in July 2000, she was vaccinated against nine diseases in one doctor's visit: measles, mumps, rubella, polio, varicella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and Haemophilus influenzae. 

 Oh yes, and remember Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC? She was named the president of Merck Vaccines in December of 2009.

Read more: http://www.cbsnews.com/8300-31727_162-10391695.html?keyword=hannah+poling#ixzz1397KENiv

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Cornelia, I bang my head over this one every fucking day. How many times did my little girl bang her head - over and over - and I was called in to school to answer for her "bad behavior." Then she was diagnosed. And still I was blamed - by the school, the psychologist, the special ed teacher, the therapist, the doctor, the minister... the minister... the minister...

Cornelia, your compelling blog made me think about a story I heard on NPR yesterday. It was about the sneaky ways pharmaceutical salespeople cajole doctors into prescribing the drugs they hawk. There was a lot of drug company doublespeak in the article, especially the oft-repeated terms "writing product" and "thought leader."

Apparently, this is the way it works: the drug reps call on doctors, flatter them by calling them "thought leaders" and ask that they speak about a particular drug at, say, a dinner attended by a bunch of other doctors. If this ruse works, the "thought leader" doctor tends to "write [a lot more] product" after he/she speaks about it. I translate this to mean that the flattered doctor writes a lot more prescriptions for the drug he/she has waxed eloquent about over wine and steaks.

Have you ever heard of a "thought leader?" I've never heard the term before. It sounds ridiculous. And "writing product?" Give me a break.

It sounds to me like the whole system is broken. I wish more people in the medical and pharmaceutical fields had "saving people" on their minds instead of "making boatloads of cash and I don't care who I hurt in the process."

Thanks for an upbeat Saturday morning. Now, off to the Delaware Memorial Bridge for a swan dive.

I do agree with the start of the article. I hatehatehate reading articles in the local paper about legal issues, especially trials. The reporters clearly don't know what is going on.

Oh, Marie Reine, I'm so so sorry. And so pissed off on your behalf.

Shelley, I'm going to go see if I can listen to that NPR story. I haven't ever heard of a "thought leader," but it sounds about right. There are many, many GREAT doctors out there, but some...well, not so much.

Josh, sorry to bum you out.

Oh, yes. As a nonfiction writer myself, whenever someone cites a "fact" from a book, especially from someone who clearly has an agenda, I tend to scoff at supposed fact. With the deterioration of the newspaper world, it's even less likely that true journalistic discoveries are unearthed, less likely every day.

Cornelia, we have three family members with autism, and one clearly happened as you describe: He was a happy, healthy baby, talking away, giggling with his same-age cousin. After the vaccine, such a marked change to near catatonia, and he stopped speaking altogether. His mother is a loving woman; refrigerator, my ass.

The way our government works today, with some 35,000 lobbyists in Washington (up from fewer than 1,000 in th 1990's), is criminal. Along with term limits, we ought to be focusing on limiting lobbyists' access to our legislative process.

Really interesting, Cordelia. It must be so hard and painful to be a parent trying only to help a child and to met with contempt at nearly every turn.

It brought to mind, for me, William Wordsworth's famous sonnet:

The World Is Too Much with us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

Oh, Karen, three family members... This is just a horrible, horrible thing, all around. And it makes me just want to deck the lobbyists.

Nancy, that is perfect, thank you !

Cornelia - I would say this leaves me speechless, but it does not. What it does leave me with is a lot of angry words and emotions that make my head feel as though it might explode. I seem to stay angry with our government lately. And confused. Baffled that these things are happening in our society. 35,000 lobbyists in DC. Unbelievable. Is there really any doubt as to who is really running this country?

Sorry if I'm stepping on toes here.

It's another of your thought provoking posts, Cornelia, and I thank you for it. Most of us really don't expect bubble gum cartoons on Saturday mornings from our favorite writers. Nothing wrong with thinking. Or feeling. even the tough stuff. It's how things get changed.

Kaye, I adore you, and thank you!

Kaye, I'm with you. The "tuff stuff" invites truth, and the truth is our government is subject to the dictates of big business, the real shadow government. It does not sit by in case of need during catastrophe. It works alongside the visible, in the shadows creating social catastrophe its source of nourishment.

Cornelia, that poster of the girl with polio... all those years that Sabin and the manufacturers that produced his live vaccine that sold fantastically better than Salk's - hard to express my feelings on this... Salk's much safer vaccines, though unpleasant as it has to be injected, was generally abandoned in favor of Sabin's oral vaccine. It was a vicious campaign carried out for profit. When an early production failure caused some of the Salk vaccine to carry live virus causing polio in some recipients, many began to fear the Salk vaccine. The irony of this, however, is that the event appears to have softened people toward Sabin's live virus. The live-virus vaccine was never safe, and is now banned here in the US.

My polio year was 1955, the year the Salk vaccine came out. I know. What luck - epilepsy and polio - plus all that other shit. But hey, it's all motivated me.

Too many anecdotal instances linking innoculations with autism for there not to be some cause and effect. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Cornelia.

Sheesh, Reine, you have been through it. You amaze the hell out of me.

What a powerful and thought provoking post. Is that your little girl in the overalls? She is beautiful. I despair of our country, this year especially. Intelligence seems to have gone by the wayside; worse, it is being attacked, and then everything is being bought without any benefit to anyone except the power brokers. I am a diabetic, and I lost my patience with big pharma a long time ago. What courageous and strong women you must be.

Cornelia, great post.

Cornelia, interesting post. I have a son with Asperger's and as you well know, if you know one child on the spectrum then you know one child on the spectrum. That is to say, I can only speak for my own experience. I never noticed any of the symptoms related to vaccinations in him. He was very late to speak - many would have dx autism for him but the psychologist specialising in autism disorders felt AS fit him better.

At any rate he is 18 now so this was all going on just at the beginning of the swell in spectrum diagnoses. There were no resources in my area at that time and we got a lot of bad advice from pediatricians and neurologists so his diagnosis didn't come until age 11. I live in a small town in Arizona where people came for the Harmonic Convergence hoping to meet up with the mothership for a ride with space aliens so I was given lots of the vaccine talk from people with a very New Age sensibility who have similar theories about many things not just autism. This obviously impacted my initial ideas about blaming vaccines. And I was hip deep in coping and realizing that lots of people talked about helping our son, but none of them really knew what they were doing.

At that time my mother-in-law, a bit of a New Age type herself, wanted to talk about vaccines everytime she saw us. Usually in the same conversation would be the mention that our son reminded her of her late brother (a man born long before any vaccines and sounding from her description to be very likely on the spectrum) I was really more focused on the future than the cause and not surprisingly finally told her to stop talking to me about it.

Loads of back story to say why I have trouble with the government conspiracy idea. I don't have the drive to follow all of the research so there is a lot I don't know and I'm ok with that. I do the best I can to sort through all of the various health worries we hear about all the time just like anyone else. Also just like anyone else, I'm skeptical of the bureaucracy of our government. I'm glad thimersol isn't used any longer - no point in exposing babies to any risk we can avoid - and I think spacing out the vaccines only seems prudent.

Sorry this is a huge post.

Jane, I think you make good points. I just don't think that a genetic cause for some individuals rules out the possibility of an environmental cause for others, an interdependence of the two, or a cascade of several events.

My sister-in-law and mother-in-law were partakers of that "Harmonic Convergence" you mention. I felt tortured by their overwhelming schemes for psycho-spiritual, space-alien, over-abundant, herb-healing, put-your-water-in-a-glass-jug-out-in-the-sun-five-feet-off-the-ground-facing-north, crystals-up-their-nose, abundant-loving hatred.

Hi Karen in Ohio, the above in-laws said I attract it, because I am so spiritually deficient. :) Heh- I am happy.

Reine - I definitely agree that the causes are likely complex and varied. Probably will be surprising as well when they are better understood.

I feel your pain on the 'spiritual' relatives. Lots of cynicism has built up in me over the years toward anything associated with that movement. But your ultra hyphenated description makes me laugh!

Reine, that the polio virus was "tested" on kids around the world makes me really angry, and the Salk/Sabin competition sounds unbelievable, though of course just because it boggles the imagination with its craziness doesn't mean that these people WEREN'T that crazy... because of course they were. Jesus, I hope we get some good karma points for all this.

Margaret, thank you. And it really could be peanut butter or furniture polish, of course--I'd just like to know, so other people don't have to go through it.

lil, that is my daughter Lila, some years ago. And you're pretty damn courageous and strong yourself...

Tasha, thank you.

Jane, I'd never heard that "if you know one child on the spectrum" observation, but boy is it true! And God save me from new agers, generally. I've gotten hammered by dozens of people who've wanted me to try EXPENSIVE fly-by-night snake oil crap that's downright dangerous--chelation, seaweed extracts, phyto-bears, you name it--and then get angry when I don't rush right out and subject my kid to it. I know they mean well, but it gets exhausting. Thank you for the long post... and again, maybe this has nothing to do with vaccines, but there are just things about it all that niggle at me.

Cornelia, just want you to know I think you are amazing and sooooo strong. I love that you just say these things... just toss them out there. My own feelings on these topics have been, throughout my life, negated and devalued. Your posts and comments, however, always help me restore some sense of value of my own worth.

Walking is really, really good.
Reading is way, way better.

Same back at you, Marie-Reine. Sense of value is all that matters, most days, and we need to reaffirm it for each other...

My own bout with a 'mysterious' illness that collapsed my vitality, caused multiple organ failure, etc., nearly 20 years ago, led me to take a hard look at many things medical. I had travelled a lot and didn't think too hard about whether the 'flu' or extended symptoms in the months following another vaccination for a different country or job requirement had anything to do with it. But, then I started looking at the wave of folks my age who were experiencing 'chronic fatigue' who had also, incidentally, had the experimental polio vaccine, and were now experiencing symptoms like a weak echo of polio, decades later.

Reine, Cornelia, anyone with a child on the autism spectrum, or a serious health problem, I relate to the frustration and exhaustion of having others press presumed solutions and urge various products and treatments . . . I lost friends who were offended when I didn't try the solution they offered, or didn't 'repent' of whatever the sins were that a friend had decided caused my illness . . . but in the long run, I have to remember that the reasons the products and treatments were offered/suggested/pressed/urged upon me were because of the concern and frustration of others who wanted to help, wanted to 'do' something, wanted me to be well. I've found solutions that work wonderfully well for me, but I've also learned (generally) to let people who are suffering/sick/seeking solutions, to ask me if they want assistance, rather than to press my solutions/training/skills on them.
Conversely, I speak my mind pretty freely among friends, which doesn't always endear me to them; and everyone who knows me for very long knows that I have the experience and confidence in my practice of acupuncture to be very enthusiastic in voicing my confidence that it can help a myriad of ailments. But, I've never yet gained a patient by thrusting the notion of acupuncture into a conversation. People seek solutions, and know when they find what works for them, or worse, when they haven't found it yet.

BUT, do I hate with a passion the changes in laws over the past 40 years that allow pharmaceutical companies, doctors, psych. professionals and lawyers to aggressively advertise their products and services to the general public? YES.

Cornelia, I love you, I want to cry when I read this, I feel both guilty and relieved that I didn't know any of this when my kids were vaccination age. I just blithely believed what I was told, that the "vaccination theory" people were (understandably) wacky. I am ashamed of my own credulousness about this, when I have such skepticism about other things.

You know what would change public perception? A big, well-written, beautifully produced major motion picture on Hannah Poling with great acting and a bunch of Oscars. I want you to write it.

Laraine, you might very well have caught polio from a live virus and had mild case. My polio doctor told me that there are a great number of similar reports.

Just five years ago in early November, several Amish children in Minnesota were found to have polio. It was passed to them secondarily from a young girl who had been infected from an unknown source who had the oral polio live vaccine. That vaccine hasn't been used in the United States since 2000, five years before the Amish children came down with polio. The little girl who carried the virus to the Amish community had an immune deficiency and was unable to rid her body of the virus. They know the virus she carried was from the vaccine because it's makeup is different from the "wild" virus. Now of - of course - researchers are planning ways to fight the vaccine-carried polio virus with new vaccines.

Cornelia, I hate those braces! And those crutches! At least I don't have to use the crutches anymore, one of the not so obvious benefits of having to use a wheelchair. ;) Heh.

Harley, wouldn't that be brilliant!

Laraine, your experience with friends pushing "cures" is similar to mine. In most cases, I try to remember that they're doing their best to help, that it's well-meant, that it's the best way they have to try to help me face something huge and awful. It's the ones, as you say, who get strident about it that are tough to deal with, tough to keep as friends.

Oh, Harley, I adore you...

Reine, my dear...

This is an exceptional blog and I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to read it yesterday.

Do you speak on this topic? Because you should.

I don't really read the newspaper any more because between the spin, the lack of expertise and the complete failure to fact check or edit, it makes me batshit crazy.

Even with online 'news' - if I really want to know wtf is going on, I try to find the primary source.

My heart aches for you as a mother who champions a child with an illness no one really wants to take the time to understand. Apparently, in this country, we place more value on grown men playing uber-regulated games for obscene amounts of money.

Kathy, I'm with you on the "batshit crazy" when I try reading/watching the news. Unless it's Hank. Hank is a shining beacon of smart clarity in a world of lame soundbites. And thank you.

Kathy, you said it- all that money for "sport." It seems like the news isn't very much news-like anymore.

I really miss seeing Hank on the news since leaving Boston.

Cornelia, just today I read on a BBC News page about a new polio vaccine that they've been running trials on in Afghanistan, India and Nigeria - on children - yet again. And of course it is supposed to eradicate the virus. I beg their almighty fucking pardon, but the virus will always be there lying in wait. Since it is taken orally, it must be the LIVE virus because, as I understand it at least, the killed virus must be injected (Salk vs. Sabin debate). Here is the article: 25 October 2010 Last updated at 19:20 ET -
New Polio Vaccine More Effective in Reducing Disease. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-11621842

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