Saturday, October 31, 2009

Autism and Vaccine Safety in the Swine Flu Era: Does Calling Something A Myth Make It So?

According to many mainstream media sources here in Canada the H1N1 Swine Flu is perfectly safe and effective and .... oh yes ... any possible connection between vaccines and autism has been disproved. These sources usually provide little or nothing to back up their sweeping claims other than to rely on, and refer their readers to, the web sites of public health authorities. "Journalists" in the mainstream media routinely dismiss anything published by a blogger as lacking credibility. These alleged journalists also routinely describe any position on vaccines and autism, or any statement that questions the safety of efficacy of the H1N1 vaccine, as a myth. In most cases the alleged journalists provide no reference to any study to back up their characterization of serious issues as myths held by cranks and hysterical parents. Obviously calling something a myth does not make it so but, in the current Swine Flu Era, name calling is routinely substituted for serious commentary. All in the interest of promoting public safety of course.

One childish example of the simplistic, vaccine cheer leading that passes for public health journalism in the Swine Flu Era is the opinion piece Separating myth from fact in debate about flu vaccine by Craig McInnes. You will not find any information casting doubt on vacine safety or efficacy in Mr. McInnes opinion piece. There is no mention of the four people in Sweden who died after receiving the H1N1 vaccine. Promoting intelligent thought and discussion about vaccines is not the objective of the McInnes opinion piece. No, the sole objective is to convince people that they must get the H1N1 vaccine. To help achieve that end any questions or concerns surrounding the safety or efficacy of vaccines generally MUST, be described, as arising from myths generated by ... ugh ... bloggers.

Mr. McInnes begins his opining with a bit of mockery:

So did you hear? You can protect yourself from swine flu by putting bowls of cut-up onions in every room of your house.

No really, it's true, I read it on the Internet, on the same website that had the skinny on the giant albino alligators that live in New York city sewers, a scandal that the government has tried to suppress for years.

And there it is. With that McInnes opens by relegating anyone whose views do not conform to those of public health authorities to the whackjob heap. (Except, presumably, those German authorities concerned about adjuvants in the H1N1 vaccine who are not mentioned in the McInnes opinion). Since this is an autism blog here is what Mr. McInnes has to say about vaccines and autism:

Myth: Thimerosal, which is used as a preservative in flu vaccines, contains mercury, a dangerous poison, and causes autism.•

Fact: The amount of mercury in a dose of H1N1 vaccine is less than you would get from a can of tuna and the version with the adjuvant requires only one-tenth that much.

The relationship between thimerosal and autism has been widely studied and no causal link has been found.

Mr. McInnes is not the first to use the tuna fish argument without mentioning that in fact cautions have been expressed by health authorities about tuna fish consumption for that very reason. Nor does he seem aware that digesting a tuna fish does not involve the same bodily processes as injecting a mercury preservative directly into the body of a pregnant woman or young child, thus bypassing some of the defensive processes involved with food consumption.

Mr. McInnes also appears to be unaware that a non blogger named Dr. Bernadine Healy, a former NIH head, has several times stated the need for more research on vaccine autism issues using as one reason the fact that the mercury based preservative thimerosal crosses the placenta. It has been indicated that Thimerosal will be contained in vaccines given to pregnant women in some Canadian jurisdictions, including here in New Brunswick.

Mr. McInnes, to his credit, does not go so far as to say that a thimerosal link has been disproved. He simply declares that no causal link has been found. With that though he ignores the anecdotal evidence of thousands of parents who saw their children regress after receipt of vaccines. He also fails to mention that the few, not many, studies that did not find a causal link have been criticized for their methodological weaknesses. One, the Madsen, Danish study of 2003 did not purport to offer itself as anything other than a call for MORE research. That study found that autism rates continued to rise after removal of thimerosal. The authors of the study pointed out, however, that the period studied overlapped a significant event - diagnostic definition changes in the DSM and ICD which added substantially to the numbers of persons receiving autism diagnoses.

In opining that no causal link has been found between thimerosal and autism Mr. McInnes also appears to be unaware that serious attempts to investigate such a connection have been expressly thwarted by the IOM review of 2004 and by the IACC which used procedural shenanigans to quash its own proposal to conduct an observational study comparing autism rates in vaccinated and unvaccinated populations. Such as study has been called for by Dr. Healy and by Dr. Julie Gerberding until recently a head of the CDC. Dr. Jon Poling has also called for more vaccine autism research. Mr. McInnes may be unaware that Dr. Poling is not a blogger. He is a neurologist whose daughter was the plaintiff in a vaccine case settled in her favor by the US government which acknowledged that her "autism like symptoms" may have been caused when her existing mitochondrial disorder was aggravated by vaccination.

Craig McInnes alleges that what he calls myths being spread contribute to increased illness and deaths from Swine Flu by persuading people not to get vaccinated. He does not refer to any studies which show that Swine Flu vaccine has been shown to protect against the Swine Flu. A few months ago we were warned by public health authorities that Swine Flu mutates rapidly. Now we are asked to believe that vaccine has been developed which has been demonstrated to be effective in preventing the flu even though it may have mutated into a different form? In fact he provides no reference to any studies which indicate that seasonal flu vaccines are effective in preventing other flus which, apparently, are in a process of continual mutation.

Apart from the lack of proven efficacy for H1N1 vaccines Mr. McInnes provided no proof that Canadians choosing not to get vaccinated do so because of internet bloggers. The fact is that mainstream media outlets have published survey results indicating that many front line health care workers including nurses and some doctors did not intend to get vaccinated for H1N1. And there is no proof at all that Canadians generally are not going to get vaccinated. News reports in recent days have shown line-ups with thousands of people waiting for hours for vaccines often without getting them.

Hopefully the learned Mr. McInnes will not also blame the internet or bloggers for the failure to ensure adequate vaccine supplies for those who want them or for the failure to provide sufficient organization to deliver them.

We do not need any more myths, including those generated by mainstream journalists like Craig McInnes.

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farmwifetwo said...

It took Offit YEARS to make his Rotovirus vaccine... but we can push out flu vaccines in MONTHS. Personally, I'd hand my kid's the first and they can shove the 2nd.

We are currently suffering from a cold... stuffy nose etc... They were kind enough to give it to me as well. But, if they are home from school, they have the H1N1... HUH??? It's just a cold.

We had the "flu" the first week of May. Headaches, fever over 102F, ear and body aches. We had a Ped's appt for another reason in the middle of it... were told to go home and do what we were doing, sleep, fluids, rest, motrin. Little boy was home 2.5 days, eldest .5.

Did we get it on the first wave?? This was not our first dealings over the years with the influenza. Personally, I'd rather have them catch that, than when little boy got the Norwalk (vomiting/diahhrea same time) when he was 13mths old. Out of a week, we spent 3 afternoons in emerg.

Getting the H1N1 vaccine will not prevent you from getting the influenza, pneumonia, meningitus... I'd recommend the last 2 shots (we've had the last one) over the H1N1. They atleast have been tested properly. Claiming it will by the media is misinformation and dangerous to public health in general.

Then again, not telling parents how to care for fevers and allowing one's son to have either a too hot or too cold shower... or let them play sports with a high fever... will kill... just ask that family in Toronto.

My Family Dr and both my Ped's (one retired) did not recommend the annual flu shot's since they were healthy and I'm a SAHM. We can't get the shot anyways... not high risk... so why even worry about it.

Cari said...

I think what is wrong with great deal of the shots, is what is in them, besides the dead virus.
I get the seasonal flu shot, and I get a very sore arm for 4-6 days.
The doctor said I am allergic to the additives, in the shot.

nhokkanen said...

Good column, important points. Because corporate media's repetition of "myth," "asked and answered," or "debunked" hasn't worked, now their response is "some people will never believe that Thimerosal is safe."

Uh, yeah -- it isn't.

Ask a chemist if s/he believes Thimerosal is safe for injection into infants. Ask a toxicologist. Someone who's actually researched mercury toxicity instead of copying CDC talking points.

How sad that some reporters believe the CDC is exempt from investigation because the agency is tasked with improving health. Which doesn't necessarily guarantee such a positive outcome.... Of any agency worth investigating, the CDC should be top of the list.