There is nothing more exasperating than seeing a news report on an important but esoteric subject that includes controversy and competing facts, and having no better sense at the end of it, what the truth is. Such describes the media coverage of vaccine safety which was recently elevated in the news after California made vaccination mandatory for children attending public or private schools.
I am not an expert in medicine, economics, the environment, or any other such field, any more than I am a journalist, and I can’t take time to become any of these just to prove that the media is falling down on the job. This is the whole point of Advance The Dialog–neither I, nor the public, have the time or imperative to get to the bottom of complex issues on our own. We are too busy living our lives. The media, however, does, and their failure to do so puts the public in an untenable position.
A review of my through-the-looking-glass quest for the truth on toxic vaccines proves the point.
The weekend following CA’s new vaccination law, I came across 3 articles that touched on it. Two of them were in the San Jose Mercury News– 1 profiling a CA state senator & pediatrician’s fight for the bill; the other, an editorial by a university professor & health org VP who declared mandatory vaccination a “moral choice”.
The first article discusses sensationalist aspects of the vaccine controversy, including “anonymous death threats” the senator received, his “coolness under fire”, accusations of his taking bribes, and more. The second one asserts that the benefits outweigh the risks, and cites a discredited 1998 study linking mumps vaccine to autism as the main justification used by vaccine-choice advocates. It also cites the book “Deadly Choices” as clarifying the misunderstandings and “flawed science” that fuel the vac-choice movement.
Okay, the first is meant to be just a profile, the second does cite 2 bases to make it’s point. Despite that, science-lite doesn’t cut it since: (a) the issue is too important, and (b) we have no way of verifying what is true (short of reading “Deadly Choices” & other books, thus becoming an expert!). Avoiding the science behind the vaccine controversy over an extended period of time is a Sin of Omission, rife in the media. In addition, mischaracterizing the controversy as ‘safe vaccines vs. no vaccines’ is a False Choice and misleads the public since toxins can be removed from vaccines, making it a ‘safe vaccines vs. unsafe vaccines’ debate.
But the third article was the real whopper. In his July 5, Sunday NYT column, Frank Bruni launched a broadside against Robert Kennedy Jr., and his fight to remove thimerosal (which contains mercury) from vaccines, offering very little substance. In the 1,153 word article, he bestowed a mere 48 words on scientific ‘fact’, writing: “As it happens, aluminum isn’t present in all vaccines and not all mercury is created equal and equally risky”, and “The problem isn’t just that most respectable scientists reject any such connection, but also that thimerosal has been removed from — or reduced to trace amounts in — most childhood vaccines.”
His shortage of facts notwithstanding, Bruni does cite those few things which, if true, sound reasonable, right? Maybe, until you see RFK Jr.’s response, that is.
Kennedy, who is not anti-vaccine, just pro safe-vaccines, writes: “In fact there are massive doses of mercury in some meningitis vaccines – now mandated for all schoolchildren in New York – and in vaccines given to pregnant women, infants, and annually to public school kids. Mercury remains in mandated pediatric HepB, HIB, and DTap vaccines at double the concentrations deemed safe by EPA. To  those vaccines, pharmaceutical companies recently added aluminum adjuvants that  dramatically amplify the neurotoxicity of the remaining mercury. Finally, pharmaceutical companies merely reduced mercury levels in  vaccines [for] American children. We continue to send  pediatric vaccines fully loaded with mercury to children  in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, a practice that will haunt our country in many dreadful ways.”
He adds: “In defending thimerosal safety, Bruni alludes to the debunked industry canard that the ethylmercury in vaccines is less persistent in the body and therefore less toxic than the heavily regulated methylmercury in fish. However, the best and most recent science shows that ethylmercury is twice as persistent in the brain (Burbacher et al 2005), and 50 times as toxic as methylmercury in fish (Guzzi et al 2012).”
So, far more specific data being cited (and sourced!) than in Bruni’s column. Kennedy takes the lead. And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Reading the rest of his rebuttal, plus his Mercury & Vaccines page, he offers a mountain of evidence, all sourced, including for his claim: “thimerosal [is] linked to neurological disorders now epidemic in American children, including ADD, ADHD, low IQ, speech development delays, and tics.” Summing up, Kennedy says he and his team “found no published study proving thimerosal safe.”
Bruni sources his claims and position only indirectly: “I sided with the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”–a Who’s Who of national health orgs, to be sure. But Kennedy answers, citing 4 Federal studies, which, along with an internal whistleblower, “paint CDC’s vaccine division a cesspool of corruption due to scandalous conflicts with the $30 billion vaccine industry.”
Nevertheless, it is hard to dismiss esteemed national orgs such as these. Presumably, they’ve looked into this and have data supporting their position that vaccines are safe. They would have had to, wouldn’t they? If so, then what is it? In this recent Washington Post article, Kennedy claims: “There are 500 studies that we’ve collected and footnoted [in his book Thimerosal: Let the Science Speak], and not a single one of them shows that thimerosal is safe  except for the 6 studies funded by CDC and the vaccine industry  that are fraudulent. And we explain how they created the fraud.” Pretty big claims to go unchallenged if they are wrong, wouldn’t you say?
Ironically, Bruni, a science journalist, disparages the safe-vacciners for using the internet for their research, calling it a “sinkhole for the gullible”. He writes: “The anti-vaccine agitators can always find a renegade researcher or random “study” to back them up, …confusing the presence of a website with the plausibility of an argument.” Yet he, a journalist, refuses to do the spadework–his job–for us. Hmm… physician, heal thyself?
You can see the impossibility of all this. It will take more than just citing this book, or that scientist, or that reputable organization, to get at the truth. It will take getting into the science and having the media interview experts, Ask Questions, Correct Inaccuracies, and call out Oversimplifications, Sins of Omission, Mountain Out of Molehills, and the like.
If you don’t believe me, do your own research (and become an expert). You can start with The Big Picture’s interview with Kennedy in the 2-part video below. In it, Kennedy lays out the entire uninterrupted history of the presence of thimerosal in vaccines, exposes compromised studies of its safety, and more. Also, check out the links embedded above and at end. I’ve added notes for easy reference, including quotes from Dr. Martha Herbert & Dr. Mark Hyman (both collaborators on Kennedy’s book), as well as the late Dr. Bernadine Healy– “respectable scientists”, all.
This controversy isn’t going away any time soon. Finding the truth is a process and Advance The Dialog provides tools. There is too much at stake here to ignore. When the debate between those tasked with knowing and verifying the science behind health safety (national health orgs, the news media) and advocates for the public (Kennedy, et al.) is this factually lopsided, I smell a rat.
ATD Rule breaks: Cite the (Scientific) Basis, the others mentioned above, plus Cover the Topic.
Additional Ask the Questions:
o What would the cost be to remove or replace the preservative Thimerosal in vaccines?
o What would the cost be for further ‘susceptibility studies’, as Dr. Bernadine Healy suggested?
o Are there other studies linking autism to something besides vaccines?
July 2014 Washington Post profile of RFK Jr.’s fight for vaccine safety:
From Dr. Mark Hyman (physician, founder & medical director of the UltraWellness Center): “The bottom line, we shouldn’t be injecting a neurotoxin into pregnant women and children. … the issue isn’t whether thimerosal is causing these problems [but] whether it is toxic and a potential contributor to neurodevelopmental disorders.”
From Dr. Martha Herbert (pediatric neurologist & autism researcher at Harvard): “We know from the biological literature that extremely low doses [of mercury] are harmful. … To me, it’s a no-brainer. Why would you put a neurotoxin in vaccines?”
April 2015 Sharyl Attkisson, “What the News Isn’t Saying About Vaccine-Autism Studies”:
Sharyl Attkisson: “To be clear: no study to date conclusively proves or disproves a causal link between vaccines and autism.”
Contains long lists of scientists who found possible autism link, the institutions and universities where research was done and some of the specific studies
May 2008 CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson interview of Dr. Bernadine Healy:
Bernadine Healy (former physician, cardiologist, head of NIH, president American Red Cross) quotes:
”We do have the opportunity to understand whether or not there are susceptible children — perhaps medically, perhaps they have a metabolic issue, mitochondrial disorder, medical issue — that makes them more susceptible to vaccines, plural, or to one particular vaccine, or to a component of vaccines, like mercury.”
“An [Institute of Medicine] report from 2004 basically said, ‘Do not pursue susceptibility groups. Don’t look for those children who may be vulnerable.’ I really take issue with that conclusion.”
“If you look at the the research that has been done, … the question has not been answered.”
April 2008 Bernadine Healy, US News & World Report, Health:
Healy: “Population studies are not granular enough to detect individual metabolic, genetic, or immunological variation that might make some children under certain circumstances susceptible to neurological complications after vaccination.”
National Health Organizations:
Centers for Disease Control
“CDC, FDA, and the National Institutes of Health [NIH]) have reviewed the published research on thimerosal and found it to be a safe product to use in vaccines.”
Food & Drug Administration
“Lacking definitive data on the comparative toxicities of ethyl (contained in thimerosal)- versus methylmercury, FDA considered ethyl- and methyl-mercury as equivalent in its risk evaluation.”
“Blood levels of mercury did not exceed safety guidelines for methyl mercury for all infants in these studies.”
“The FDA is continuing its efforts to reduce the exposure of infants, children, and pregnant women to mercury from various sources.”
Contains Table of Thimerosal Content of Vaccines Routinely Recommended for Children 6 Years of Age and Younger
National Institute of Health
“Today, routinely recommended licensed pediatric vaccines currently being manufactured for the U.S. market are either thimerosal-free or contain markedly reduced amounts of thimerosal. An exception to this is the influenza vaccine, which is available in a variety of formulations, some of which contain thimerosal, while others do not. Thimerosal remains in some vaccines given to adults and adolescents, as well as some pediatric vaccines not on the Recommended Childhood and Adolescent Immunization Schedule.”