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The Vaccine Hearings: "Science has spoken"

By Anne McElroy Dachel  Posted by Anne McElroy Dachel (about the submitter)   2 comments
Message Anne McElroy Dachel
We're in the midst of an epidemic of autism.  There is no other word for it.  On average in the U.S., one in every 150 kids is autistic. One in every 94 boys has the disorder.  Some places have much worse statistics.  New Jersey tops the nation with one in every 94 kids affected, including one in every 60 boys.  Another child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes in America.  These statistics, however, don't seem worrisome to officials.
The one-in-150 rate came out in February and the numbers should have gotten everyone's attention.  We should be moving mountains to figure out what's happening to our children, but that just isn't the case.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the rate with no sense of alarm.  The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post both had brief items about new autism numbers in which we were told not to worry -- "The new data do not mean that autism is on the rise because the criteria and definitions used were not the same as those used in the past."  Dr. Marshalyn Yeargin-Allsopp, chief of the developmental disabilities branch at the CDC, said only that the new rate shows that autism is an "urgent public health issue" and a "major public health concern."  Neither of those terms indicates that autism is anything to worry about, and news reporters writing on the subject take their cue from the CDC.
The scariest thing about the fact that so many hundreds of thousands of U.S. children have autism, is the fact that hundreds of thousands of adults don't.  Eighty percent of autistic Americans are under the age of 18.  That figure is based on the well-kept statistics coming out of California.  It would seem only logical that someone somewhere should be doing something. 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still can't decide if autism is really increasing, or if it just seems that way because doctors are better at diagnosing it.  They are also the first to throw up their hands and proclaim that autism has no known cause and no known cure.  The one thing they can emphatically tell us is that vaccines do not cause autism.
In 2004, they directed the Institute of Medicine to look at the vaccine question and report back.  The IOM did just that, and found a host of population studies that showed no connection between vaccines with the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, or the MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella) vaccine and the explosion in autism.  They happily declared vaccines to be safe and recommended researchers look elsewhere for the cause of autism.  It didn't bother the IOM that, in the case of thimerosal, there wasn't a single toxicological study that showed the mercury used in vaccines was safe.

The findings of the IOM Report were supposed to have settled the issue.  Hundreds of articles on the controversy have faithfully reported that "studies show no link" between vaccines and autism based on the IOM Report.  Still, the parents have persisted, joined by a growing number of doctors and scientists, and on June 11th, they'll get a chance to make their case fairly in a special federal "Vaccine Court."  Or will they?

Experts will be called in for both sides.  One for the defense will be Eric Fombonne, MD, of Montreal.  He's periodically in the news where he repeats "studies show no link" based on his population studies done in Canada.  While Fombonne is usually described as an expert, it's rarely noted that his expertise in mercury toxicity comes from being a psychiatrist...not a toxicologist. 
David Kirby, author of "Evidence of Harm," recently wrote an article called, "See You in (Vaccine) Court," in which he discusses the proceedings, including the fact that parents are prevented from seeing certain information on vaccine injuries.  Kirby tells us, "Petitioners were just denied access to the government's vast vaccine safety database of HMO patients, which was used by CDC officials to conduct a four-year study that, ultimately, found no link between thimerosal and autism. Earlier versions of the study, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, however, clearly showed increased risks for many neurodevelopmental disorders, depending on the dose of thimerosal administered." 
Kirby relates that parents filing suits "will be forever barred from seeing the actual raw data, in order to replicate what the CDC researchers found. (Exact replication is impossible because original datasets, culled at taxpayer expense, somehow "went missing" and are no longer available for re-analysis -- a possible felony violation of the federal Data Quality Act)."
The mainstream press has publicized the hearings that involve 4,800 suits.  An AP article by Kevin Freking, "Vaccine Claims to Get Their Day in Court," was published by a number of news outlets.  Freking begins his piece by telling readers, "Science has spoken when it comes to the theory that some childhood vaccines can cause autism.  They don't, the Institute of Medicine concluded three years ago.  Soon, it will be the courts' turn to speak." 
Those disconcerting statements make the outcome sound like a foregone conclusion, but Freking does allow one of the parents, Scott Bono of Durham, N.C., to say that the 2004 IOM Report findings were "preordained by the federal government."
To be fair and balanced, Freking includes commentary to the contrary from vaccine patent holder, Paul Offit, MD.  Offit retreats to the traditional mantra of thimerosal defenders: "The report from the Institute of Medicine pointed to five large studies, here and abroad, that tracked thousands of children since 2001, and found no association between autism and vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal." 
That is, yet, another rendition of "studies show no link."  No one, of course, ever asks, "What studies?"  Those large studies Offit refers to are epidemiological studies.  Epidemiological studies were made famous by the tobacco industry in the 1940's, when they were used to show smoking didn't cause lung cancer.  This type of research is easily flawed and the numbers manipulated.  Any reputable scientist knows that population studies alone are not proof.
Someday someone in the press will ask Dr. Offit how he can defend thimerosal as safe, when volumes of toxicological research show it isn't.   Maybe a reporter will further bring up the pathetic history of thimerosal and ask Offit why he seems untroubled by the fact that it was never tested by the FDA. 
In the AP article, mercury isn't a big concern for Paul Offit.  He tells us that mercury is "part of the natural environment.  There's no escaping it."   One might wonder what Dr. Offit would consider a "safe level" of something that's the second deadliest element on Earth and a known neurotoxin.

Offit also had a piece in the Boston Globe recently about the hearings.  In "At Risk: vaccines," he warns that unfavorable judgments will threaten the vaccine supply.  Manufacturers will be scared out of the business.  Children's very lives will be put at risk if we dare to question vaccine side effects. 
Parents have nothing to back their claims, according to Offit in the article.  He again tells us "There is plenty of evidence to refute the notion that vaccines cause autism. Fourteen epidemiological studies have shown that the risk of autism is the same whether children received the MMR vaccine or not, and five have shown that thimerosal-containing vaccines also do not cause autism." 
While parents don't seem to have a prayer according to Dr. Offit, the hearings will proceed.   The first one of the 4,800 claims will be heard next week by a special three-judge panel.  In an article, "Thimerosal and Autism: Final Round?" posted online by Michael Krauss, we are told that there will be three weeks of testimony in the first case, Cedillo v Secretary of Health and Human Services. 
Krauss tells us, "a 1986 federal law provides that, in lieu of suing manufacturers for negligent design or warning, those claiming to be injured by vaccines may choose to file claims against the government in the Court of Claims. Special masters acting as trial judges hear such cases and award damages if a causal connection has been established. No fault on the part of the manufacturers need be established, only causation."

While that sounds fair, a closer look reveals some unsettling things about the proceedings.  Robert Krakow, an attorney who represents families in the proceedings and the father of a son with a pending claim, wrote a response to Paul Offit's Boston Globe article saying, "That vaccines have had a great impact on human health is no justification for the trampling of children's rights and relegation of their claim for compensation under law to legal insignificance.
Offit seems to think that anything that threatens the vaccine program has no social value. The vaccine program has saved so many lives, according to Offit, that harm caused by vaccines merits no investigation."  Krakow further tells us, "Offit is simply wrong and his view, moreover, lacks any semblance of balance. He wants protection for the vaccine industry at any cost -- including the price of the health of thousands of children." 

It's strange that in the face of an epidemic number of children with autism and a heated controversy over the cause, Dr. Offit doesn't welcome the hearings.  If he is so confident that the science has settled the issue, why does he need to resort to dire predictions that manufacturers will abandon the business?  What happened to the democratic process?  Has the stage already been set in the press with reports like Freking's AP story, where the lead sentence announces, "Science has settled the issue"? 

Wendy Fournier, President of the National Autism Association, says this about Offit's remarks: "He writes of massive litigation that could force companies to leave the vaccine business, when the vaccine manufacturers in fact cannot be held liable.  Any money awarded to these suffering families will be paid by you and me.  A $.75 fee is added to the cost of every vaccine and put into The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to compensate people who are injured by them.  The manufacturers are not held responsible and therefore have no incentive to produce safe vaccines for consumers."

Michael Krauss notes that "thousands of parents will 'virtually' attend the trial, by speakerphone."  They will be listening for their side to be told and the overwhelming science on deadly and damaging vaccines to be honestly presented.    This is the side that so far hasn't been heard. 

According to Kevin Freking and Paul Offit, "science has already settled the issue."  Let's hope the three special masters hearing the case don't agree. If that were true, these hearings are nothing but a kangaroo court.  The definition of such a court is "a sham legal proceeding...the outcome of such a trial is, essentially, made in advance."  A huge audience will be listening to hear their side; they won't accept the the IOM findings again based on the same evidence that "studies show no link."
Anne McElroy Dachel 
Chippewa Falls, WI USA
(Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning)
National Autism Association (NAA)
http://www.national autismassociatio
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Mother of a son with autism, teacher, member of the National Autism Assoc.

and ACHAMP (Advocates for Children's Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning)

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