In the week before Christmas of 2014, the Disneyland theme park saw what its officials least expected. A child, suffering from measles, came to the park. This child exposed many other customers and staff. As of 24 January 2015, California health officials counted 85 active measles cases. The media seemed to go into frenzy overnight. Breathless reports screamed, “We had eradicated measles in 2001, and now see what!” Reporters uniformly concluded: vaccines against measles had contained and even eliminated the disease in the United States in 2001. Then, foolish parents rebelled against vaccines and refused to let their children take them. With the alleged results they scream about now. But are they telling the truth? Or has the debate on vaccines taken a one-sided turn? And does that threaten not only individual liberty, but also free scientific inquiry and even the health of the public?
The case for vaccines
Fox News Channel and nearly every other media organ all make the case for vaccines. Vaccines confer active acquired immunity to a disease. So goes the theory. Challenge the patient with a virus (the usual sort of agent involved) identical or similar to one that causes human disease. Let the body raise an immune response to it. Now the patient can fight the “wild type” and so avoid falling sick from that type. Proponents of vaccines point to several diseases that once killed many and now happen rarely: diphtheria, pertussis (“whooping cough”), tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox (variola), chicken pox (varicella), and the Big Three: measles, mumps, and rubella (the German measles).
To make the case solid, doctors must convince themselves, their patients, and the public of one thing: will the patient do better with their treatment than without it? Every doctor (including your correspondent, who has a medical degree) learns this First Rule of Medicine: do no harm. That principle informs the oath Hippocrates of Cos made his students swear by, more than two thousand years ago. And to convince people to take (or make others take) vaccines, doctors must answer these questions:
- What chance does the patient take on getting the wild-type disease without taking the vaccine?
- How bad will the wild-type disease affect him if he catches it?
- What chance does the patient take on either getting the disease, or suffering some other problem (doctors call this a complication), if he does take the vaccine?
- How badly will he suffer in that event?
At least, those who make vaccines, and want to force everyone to take them, think those four questions “cover” the patient’s concerns. And on Questions 1 and 2 the case seems compelling. The “Iron Lung” (negative pressure ventilation) seems a distant memory today. Rubella, more than any other virus, often injured the developing brains of unborn children whose mothers came in contact with active cases. Results varied from congenital deafness to severe mental impairment. Anyone would want to cut, and to zero if they could, anyone’s chances of suffering that sort of result.
But in 1993, to your correspondent’s personal knowledge, the Centers for Disease Control goofed, and goofed badly, on preparing the influenza vaccine. Your correspondent took that vaccine, traveled to Orlando, Fla., came back, and came down with the ‘flu anyway. Even today the CDC cannot guarantee their vaccines will always stop you from getting the ‘flu. By many accounts, this year’s ‘flu vaccine has the worst numbers in decades for people taking the vaccines and getting the ‘flu anyway.
In fact, those four questions assume, without warrant, one hundred percent effectiveness in the vaccines, and no alternatives other than social isolation to stop the spread of the wild type. So now we must ask ourselves two more questions:
- What chance does the patient taking the vaccine, run of getting the wild type anyway?
- What else can the patient do to ward off the wild type, or make it less severe?
But the media won’t ask those questions. And they mock those who do.
The case against vaccines
Those who push vaccines hardest have harmed their credibility already. Who says the CDC or anyone else eradicated measles in the United States? Even the CDC does not say that. They had a plan to eradicate measles. But simple Internet engine searches fail to disclose their triumphant report they did so eradicate measles. (One such report might have existed. But the CDC seems to have taken it down. Why?)
More to the point, authorities never seem to have considered the effects of giving so many vaccines, not merely one at a time, but several, with little time between them. This could overwhelm the immune system. The vaccine then would not help the patient at all. Or worse: all those vaccines could provoke the immune system to attack the patient’s own body. Or the vaccine strain could affect the patient in ways no one has ever studied, or had time to study.
In 1998, Andrew J. Wakefield, M.D., published a study in Lancet alleging patients who took a common combination vaccine, the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) also took a chance on developing a pervasive developmental disorder, either the classic “autism” (the infantile variety) or the childhood-onset variety. Six years later, Mr. Brian Deer, ostensibly writing for The Times (London, England, UK), began his own “investigation” of Wakefield. His conclusion: Wakefield published a bogus report. Worse, a number of lawyers paid Dr. Wakefield to write a critical report. Those lawyers, said Deer, wanted evidence to sue the drug companies that made this and other vaccines.
But Joseph R. Mercola, D.O., in 2006 found reason to suspect Deer and others of lying outright. He cited this piece by J. B. Handley. Handley disclosed several inconvenient facts about Brian Deer. Deer pretended to be in the employ of the Times. He wasn’t. Moreover, Dr. Wakefield did not even talk to any lawyers until he had already done a lot of his research. He didn’t front for any lawyers. But Mr. Deer took money from drug companies. Worse than that, Mr. Deer filed the first complaint against Wakefield! Nor does the tale of corruption end with Mr. Deer. The CEO of Lancet joined the Board of Directors of Glaxo SmithKline shortly before Deer’s first damning article came out in the Times.
What prompted Dr. Mercola to write about the Wakefield-Deer kerfuffle? Someone else already had reason to believe Dr. Wakefield was right.
Readers can look at Dr. Mercola’s articles on measles here.
Today, even the Fox News Channel anchors talk of “study after study” invalidating Dr. Wakefield’s claims. Lancet published this one within a year of Dr. Wakefield’s own study. But how can we believe this, if the CEO of Lancet won a place on the Board of Directors of Glaxo SmithKline after that? More to the point, has any independent researcher, concerned only with medical truth, looked at the data honestly?
Drug companies do fund research studies. But they usually fund studies that will point to a drug they’re developing, as a “clinical solution.” Have we independent studies, by those interested only in “looking out for the folks,” as Bill O’Reilly loves to say?
Regulators get it wrong
Furthermore: regulatory agencies have gotten it wrong, even horribly so, before. Two such cases make this point. First is Baycol (cerivastatin/Bayer). Bayer AG withdrew this “statin” drug from the market in 2001. The FDA had approved it in 1997. After that, thirty-one patients took it, developed rhabdomyolysis (in which the “striated” or “rod-containing” muscles of the skeleton broke down), and died.
Next: Vioxx (rofecoxib/Merck, Sharpe and Dohme). Does anyone still remember Dorothy Hamill endorsing that drug, and taking a turn on the ice rink before two adoring little “next-generation figure skaters,” and talking about how Vioxx let her skate again? Merck withdrew it in 2004. Why? Because too many patients took it, suffered heart attacks and/or strokes, and died.
Those two cases alone provoked a debate on how many drugs had the FDA approved, when it shouldn’t have. Today the law firm of Pulaski and Middleman (the 1-800-BAD-DRUG firm) has made a reputation for helping patients suffering from adverse reactions from all kinds of drugs. They have cases pending for nineteen drugs and drug classes today. Among them: Lipitor (atorvastatin/Pfizer), a close cousin to Baycol. And Fosamax (alendronate/Merck), a drug doctors use to treat osteoporosis. Among the side effects no one caught until too late: idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Patients take this, and their bodies start attacking their blood platelets. They then break out in one continuous bruise all over their bodies!
(This firm has not yet responded to a request for comment on the current controversy on vaccines, or a question of whether they have vaccine cases pending.)
The case against Andrew Wakefield persists on the Web. But those making that case, rely on unreliable witnesses. More ironically still: some of the same people who sullied Dr. Wakefield’s reputation, earlier decried the link between pharmaceutical development and basic and clinical research. How quickly they decided they could trust drug companies, when they seemed to tell them what they wanted to hear. So they could say things like this, without a trace of irony:
Sometimes the health and well-being of the many DOES trump the rights of the few.
Except that, beyond the question of individual liberty, the evidence is inconclusive, and has its basis not only in fraud but in a travesty of justice.
For further information, see the National Vaccine Information Center.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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