Better understanding vaccines

By Dick Atlee

The issue of vaccination has been polarized over many years into a false-dichotomy framework – “anti-vaccine vs. pro-vaccine.”

We often hear the claim “The science is settled!” This doesn’t square with the fundamental nature of science as a process of continual questioning.

Hundreds of published peer-reviewed research studies have raised valid questions about vaccine safety and efficacy, yet this is called “anti-science.”

The common one-size-fits-all assertion that vaccines are safe and effective (or the reverse) is unscientific. Vaccines differ in safety and effectiveness. What’s needed is an understanding of each vaccine and its cost-benefit ratio: how much damage the vaccine does and why, how much and what kind of protection it confers, and how any damage can be reduced.

In terms of protection, many vaccines have significantly reduced the incidence of their target diseases. But the picture is more complex. Comprehensive U.S. and U.K. historical medical data starting in the 1800s show that by the 1950s, improvements in education, sanitation and general living conditions had reduced deaths from many childhood diseases (including measles) to near-zero levels before the introduction of their vaccines.

On the other hand, serious outbreaks or persistence of disease can occur in fully (or near-fully) vaccinated populations. For instance, China’s Zhejiang province has a 99 percent MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccination rate and a high incidence of all three diseases.

In terms of safety, vaccines can and do cause injury and death, as witnessed by the government’s National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) that has so far paid out over $3.5 billion in taxpayer-funded compensation for such damages, on only a small fraction of total significant incidents.

Of particular concern is the neurodevelopmental disability known as autism spectrum disorder. Its prevalence in children has been growing at an alarming rate. This can’t be dismissed as improved diagnosis, because earlier unnoticed high autism rates would have produced many more autistic adults today. And autism isn’t simply genetic – genes don’t generate sudden epidemics. So something in the environment must have changed.

No one knows what causes autism. Undoubtedly there are many contributing factors. However, the timing of this epidemic has tracked the increasing intensity of the vaccine schedule: in 1983, 10 doses of 3 vaccines before age 6, in 2017, 50 doses of 16, with 300 more in the pipeline. The implications for society, if this trend were to continue, justify serious attention to research investigating such an association.

Millions of vaccinated kids aren’t autistic, so it can’t be said that vaccines as such cause autism in everyone. Vaccines and their ingredients, however, do interact with factors that vary from child to child, such as nutritional status, immune system robustness, body mass and genetic factors such as mitochondrial diseases – factors not taken into account by a one-size-fits-all vaccination schedule.

The strongest voice ignoring the existence of much of the research pointing to a vaccine-autism association is the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So it is surprising that their own research has demonstrated this very association. Two examples:

The Verstræten thimerosal study: Thimerosal is a neurotoxic ethylmercury preservative formerly used in many vaccines that has been found to accumulate in the brain. In 1999, Verstræten found increases as high as sevenfold in autism risk from vaccine mercury exposure.

The DeStefano MMR vaccine study: In 2001, it found an up-to-fourfold increase in autism risk among children vaccinated “on time” (12-18 months), particularly among African-American boys. Postponing vaccination until after age 3 reduced this effect significantly.

Most doctors haven’t heard of these results because in both cases it has been fully documented that after the vaccine-autism association appeared in the data analysis, a concerted effort was made to cover it up and alter the analysis to eliminate its statistical significance.

This is the literal definition of scientific fraud.

The whistle was blown on the thimerosal study by the exposure of the proceedings of the CDC’s 2000 emergency agency/industry “Simpsonwood meeting” and subsequent correspondence. The study data was “lost.” Each of the other studies cited by the CDC in defense of thimerosal involves serious methodological flaws. Interestingly, a 2017 review study by two CDC scientists confirmed the neurotoxicity of ethylmercury.

But although mercury was mostly gone from childhood vaccines by 2003, it was replaced by mercury in the multi-dose vials of the flu vaccine that became recommended annually for everyone, including infants, young children and pregnant mothers.

In the case of the MMR study, the CDC ordered the researchers literally to shred all those undesirable results and devise a way to change the outcome. Fortunately, the study’s primary data analyst, William Thompson, retained his copy and has revealed it, along with the internal documents that expose the subsequent scientific fraud and cover-up.

One might fairly ask: What would motivate government scientists to commit such fraud?

Money. The vaccine division of the CDC shares a revolving door with the pharmaceutical industry, and a 2007 inspector general’s report found 64 percent of CDC employees on advisory committees had unreported or unresolved conflicts of interest.

The pharmaceutical industry for its part views vaccines as a financial savior. While other drugs involve heavy advertising costs, lawsuit payouts and patent-expiration competition, vaccines involve no advertising (government-mandated customer base), no liability (anyone injured must sue the government under the NCVIP instead) and no competition from upstarts (manufacturing is too complex).

Vaccine safety, efficacy and herd immunity are matters too complex to cover in a short op-ed. All vaccines differ in these respects, and we need research into all of this if we are to increase our understanding of the balance between damage and protection.

More of Thompson’s whistle-blowing story of CDC fraud and corruption in the MMR-autism study is covered in the documentary “Vaxxed.” The film, which also portrays the sobering consequences for families unfortunate enough to experience an “adverse event,” will be shown and discussed at the Southwest Harbor Public Library next Tuesday, May 9, at 7 p.m. All those interested in this issue are welcome. Dr. Meryl Nass will be there to discuss questions.

Dick Atlee is a resident Southwest Harbor.

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