Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Vaccine-Autism War: Offit Over and Over ... and Over Again

Dr. Paul Offit has been the lead warrior for the empire's forces in the vaccine-autism war. If there is a media interview to be had on the subject of vaccines and autisms Dr. Offit is sure to be there dismissing concerns about the injection of mercury into children and pregnant women as dangerous and delusional. Dr. Offit cites, over and over and over and over .... and over again the fact that several epidemiological studies have disclosed no discernible link between vaccines and autism. The Offit Over and Over and Over Again Offensive is the primary public relations weaon in the recent Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC).

Yes, the the good Dr. Offit is at it again, obviously believing that if he repeats the same points ad nauseum, and ignores contrary perspectives, he will wear down those darn contrarians. They will submit to his arguments out of pure weariness and agree, much like a forced confession, that there is no vaccine-autism link. In an UPI article, February 2, 2009 , Researchers see no autism-vaccine link Dr. Offit throws out the usual epidemiological studies without mentioning the limitations of those studies as described by Dr. Bernadine Healy, former American Red Cross and NIH head, who points out that such studies do not necessarily address at risk population subsets. See (Fighting the Vaccine-Autism War, Leading Dr.: Vaccines-Autism Worth Study).

In his February 2 UPI lecture to the ignorant masses Dr. Offit teaches those of us who have not properly bathed in the waters of the scientific method how to apply the scientific sounding soap to contrary views - a) ignore contrary hypotheses or concerns such as Dr. Healy's b) dismiss them before they arise c) argue that it is all just one great big coincidence and d) repeat the offical dogma over and over ....... and over again:

"When one hypothesis of how vaccines cause autism is refuted, another invariably springs up to take its place," .... "The correlation is coincidental because the MMR vaccine is given at the age when autism symptoms usually appear, they concluded." .... "The researchers also examined seven studies from five countries that showed the presence or absence of thimerosal -- an ethylmercury-containing preservative -- in vaccines did not affect autism rates."

Just in case anyone actually believes that Dr. Offit has a monopoly on vaccine-autism truths here are some of the reasonable concerns about such rigid faith in vaccine safety as expressed by former NIH head Dr. Bernadine Healy:

"There is no evidence that removal of thimerosal from vaccines has lowered autism rates. But autism numbers are not precise, so I would say that considerably more research is still needed on some provocative findings. After all, thimerosal crosses the placenta, and pregnant women are advised to get flu shots, which often contain it. Studies in mice suggest that genetic variation influences brain sensitivity to the toxic effects of mercury. And a primate study designed to mimic vaccination in infants reported in 2005 that thimerosal may clear from the blood in a matter of days but leaves inorganic mercury behind in the brain.

The debate roils on—even about research. The Institute of Medicine in its last report on vaccines and autism in 2004 said that more research on the vaccine question is counterproductive: Finding a susceptibility to this risk in some infants would call into question the universal vaccination strategy that is a bedrock of immunization programs and could lead to widespread rejection of vaccines. The IOM concluded that efforts to find a link between vaccines and autism "must be balanced against the broader benefit of the current vaccine program for all children."

Wow. Medicine has moved ahead only because doctors, researchers, and yes, families, have openly challenged even the most sacred medical dogma.

Dr. Bernadine Healy,Fighting the Vaccine-Autism War, US News and World Report, April 10, 2008

In case anyone missed the last point, Dr. Healy indicated that the IOM in 2004 expressly discouraged research of a possible vaccine-autism war because of fear over the potential impact of such research on public confidence in vaccines. Teresa Binstock, in 1999 also pointed out that vaccine-autism research, and environmental causes of autism research, were expressly discouraged by pressure to conduct genetic oriented bases of autism research. To receive research funding researchers had to subscribe to the "it's gotta be genetic" autism paradigm.

And, as of February 2, 2009 Dr. Paul Offit has done yet another media presentation repeating the same tired arguments that have addressed none of the real concerns raised by Dr. Healy, Teresa Binstock and many other parents and medical professionals. On February 15 his no doubt "objective" (sarcasm fully intended) review of "summarizing the many studies refuting the claim of a link between vaccines and autism" will be published.

The Offit Over and Over and Over Again Offensive is a key element in the PR campaign by the IACC to hide its decision to reverse itself and deny support for vaccine autism research on January 14 only weeks after having approved of such research funding. The clandestine machinations of the IACC were denounced by Autism Speaks and no credible sources have spoken out to explain or justify such manouevres.

Dr. Paul Offit though is more than prepared to use an unquestioning mainstream media to repeat over and over again the arguments used for a decade to suppress research of possible vaccine-autism connections.

Unfortunately such efforts are old and tired and do not address serious concerns held by many parents and health care professionals. The Offit Over and Over and Over Again Offensive is not persuasive to those who hold vaccine-autism concerns or have an open mind on the subject. Quite the contrary.

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Steve D said...

In your post, you imply that Dr. Offit is just a repeptitive talking head with no deeper analysis of the vaccine/autism issue.
In truth, he recently published a well-reviewed book, Autism's False Prophets, in which he goes into great detail on this subject and includes pages and pages of footnotes to support his assertions.

We live in a "soundbite" society, so it is not surprising that the mainstream media pulls similar quotes repeatedly. But a more constructive approach to criticizing Paul Offit's assertions would be to address his specific points as opposed to referencing the fact that he is a "go-to" media guy.

Further, simply stating that Dr. Healy has an opposing opinion really does not advance the discussion. Why would you selectively quote Dr. Healy as a dissenting voice, but avoid mention of the IOM's position, for example? Dr. Healy, by her own admission, was a sole dissenting voice on this issue - why would her opinion carry more "weight" than those of her peers at the time?

Autism Reality NB said...

Steve D

I don't imply any such thing. Dr. Offit's background is well known. It has been reiterated many times in his frequent media interviews. I am not being "selective" in mentioning Dr. Healy. Her background also brings with it great credibility.

It is Dr. Healy's criticisms of the official line that Dr. Offit does not respond to in his interviews when he dismisses contrary views. Some of Dr. Healy's points are mentioned in this comment.

I have also mentioned the IOM position several times on this site. One of the points made by Dr. Healy is that the epidemiological research is not specific enough to address the greater vulnerability of some population subsets to the effects of known neurotoxins.

She also points out that the type of research necessary to properly explore the effects of thimerosal have not been done and have in fact been expressly discouraged by the IOM as it did in its 2004 report on vaccine safety at page 152, the link to which I have provided on several occasions on this blog site.

Steve D I accepted the official line on vaccine safety until the past year. I have not concluded that the evidence establishes the causal connection. But I am open minded and I am now undecided.

Knowing that the authorities have discouraged necessary vaccine-autism research as indicated by Teresa Binstock in 1999, the IOM report itself in 2004, Dr. Healy in 2008, and the recent research reversal by the IACC in 2009 causes me great concern.