Vaccines, autism and actresses.

Jenny versus Jennifer

How would you describe an actress and a mother who makes public statements about the nation’s vaccination programme?

Brainwashed simpleton?

That is a bit strong, even when applied to Jenny McCarthy. But this is the EOHarm email list passing judgement on a different actress, Jennifer Garner whose crime was to speak up in favour of vaccines, namely the flu vccination programme in the United States. Another letter described her as,

Just another Hollywood uninformed propagandist?

This without a hint of irony from members of a group that has nothing but praise for their own Hollywood uninformed propagandist, the aforementioned Jenny MCarthy! Another letter suggests that Jenny McCarthy might want to pop round to Jennifer Garner’s house for coffee and presumably put her right on the vaccine issue at the same time.

I feel she would get short shrift. Jennifer Garner will have been ably briefed by the American Lung Association. She knows that with an annual death toll of 36,000 from influenza and its complications, this is the number eight killer in the USA with 2.7% of all deaths. It used to be 4% which suggests that the vaccine is having a positive impact. EOHarm takes its inspiration from “Evidence of Harm,”  a book that purports to be a balanced investigation of the alleged connection between the mercury content in childhood vaccines and the growth in the prevalence of autism, but ends up providing uncritical support for the belief that we are in the midst of an autism epidemic caused by mercury poisoning.

Original Biomedical Theory

Once upon a time biomedical explanations and interventions for autism revolved around diets, anti fungals and vitamin supplements. I have a book, “Biological treatments for autism and PDD” by William Shaw dated 1997 which even contains a recommendation for parents to vaccinate their children against Streptococcus Pneumoniae. 

The closest it comes to implicating vaccines is the author’s belief that adverse reactions to vaccines may be one of the factors contributing to recurrent infections that require antibiotics. It is the antibiotics that are supposed to do the real damage, destroying the natural flora in the gut.  Consequently fungal infections damage the gut and allow poorly digested peptides to enter the blood stream. If these get into the brain they attach to opioid receptors and cause the symptoms we diagnose as autism. Three years later Karen Seroussi wrote “Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder” [Simon and Schuster 2000] which repeated Shaw’s basic hypothesis. Vaccines, typically MMR but also DPT, were again accorded a supporting role in exacerbating a pre-existing difficulty coping with infections. Mercury, heavy metal poisoning and chelation therapy did not get a mention.

Mercury Rises

There was a problem with this “Opioid Excess” theory of causation. [apart from the obvious one that even today it remains a tentative theory with little hard science to support it.] It had originally been expounded  in 1979 [Panksepp J. A Neurochemical Theory of Autism] Even if the MMR was an added factor, it too had been around since the 1970s. But the dramatic increase in reported cases of autism in children suggested that something else was happening. There were perfectly good reasons not to believe in an epidemic. But for those parents already primed to blame MMR, the growth in autism led them to look for vaccine-related causes. During the 1990s the number of mandatory vaccines for children in the USA grew steadily alongside the autism figures. In some cases children could have received in excess of the stringent safety limits for mercury exposure if they had receieved all  their vaccine shots. A paper pointing to supposed similarities between mercury poisoning and autism was published in a fringe journal. Information supporting the mercury hypothesis was widely disseminated amongst parents via the internet. David Kirby wrote his book, “Evidence of Harm” and the rest, as it were, is history.  

Blame all Vaccines

Now that mercury has been removed from all mandatory childhood vaccines and autism shows no signs of decreasing you would think that people would move on and look for other explanantions for autism prevalence. Perhaps this article in Time Magazine or this interview with Dr Gernsbacher and Dr Neuschaffer could offer a less catastrophic interpretation of the figures.

But parents who have invested so much intellectual and emotional capital into their belief in vaccine damaged kids as a source of autism are increasingly blaming the vaccines themselves. The real vaccine/autism scare began with the MMR fiasco in the UK. That resonated in the USA where Dr Andrew Wakefield is a popular figure at Defeat Autism Now events. As I understand it, in one variation on a theme, the mercury in vaccines was supposed to weaken the immune system and the measles component of the MMR subsequently overwhelmed it. IF you believe this and IF you also buy into the conspiracy theory that the US government [in the form of the FDA and the CDC]  and the big drug companies knew about this and are now engaged in a cover-up, it is a short step to believing that all vaccines are dangerous and everything that the government tells us about vaccine safety and efficacy is a lie.

For the true believers 36,000 preventable deaths from influenza [and that is in the USA alone, never mind the rest of the world] are as nothing compared to the hypothetical possibility that vaccines cause autism. Brainwashed Simpletons? No,  more like sadly deluded.

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13 thoughts on “Vaccines, autism and actresses.

  1. We discovered the Shaw book soon after Charlie’s diagnosis—the capsule history you present here is roughly equivalent to his age.

    I would add that many have invested financial capital in various theories, too.

  2. Kristina,
    you are right to remind me of the financial investment. Some of these parents are spending a fortune on treatments. On some of the forums you can read complaints from parents about excessive charging for biomed therapies. Parents who were hoping to gain recompense from the vaccine injury court may well be disappointed judging from the transcripts of the recent cases in the Omnibus Autism Proceedings.

  3. “Brainwashed simpleton?”

    I can’t believe you would sink to such levels Mr. Stanton. It is hard to believe that a purported autism advocate would use such a derogatory term in reference to anyone, particularly a term of insult which has been to denigrate people with mental challenges.

  4. “She knows that with an annual death toll of 36,000 from influenza and its complications, this is the number eight killer in the USA with 2.7% of all deaths. It used to be 4% which suggests that the vaccine is having a positive impact.”

    All of these numbers are estimates that don’t change regardless of vaccine ineffectiveness or shortages. The numbers are not scientific fact, making them all unverifiable opinions. If there is any decrease in the death rate from influenza, it can’t be contributed to the vaccine.

  5. Chuck, where do you get your facts?

    Actually, only about 30% of people over 18 get the flu vaccine, so how does the effectiveness effect the 70% who are NOT vaccinated.

    I got my information from:
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus06.pdf#083

    This year there is a good supply, and Ms. Garner is campaigning to get the numbers those getting the vaccine up.

    Another actress who is doing this is Keri Russell. She is part of an ad campaign to get parents to protect their kids from pertussis. There is no way you can say that pertussis is a harmless disease to infants.

  6. I think Harold looks up to Jenny.

    You should see dgdavis’ comment about flu vaccine on the Autism Speaks board. I mentioned how many 80+ year olds die of the flu (it’s very deadly for people that old) and the flu shot doesn’t seem to help them as their immune systems don’t respond to the vaccine, but that the flu shot protects people under 80 (like 75 year olds). dgdavis response was basically, it’s obviously time for old people to die when they get the flu. She said “when their time’s up–it’s up” or words to that effect. So there’s no need to try to keep flu virus exposure down, let the old buzzards die.

    I think that is at the core of antivax belief, they don’t mind if an epidemic rages through a city and kills half of the population, because they are just pretty sure if it DID come to their city the half that live will be all their friends and family and all the truly good people… doesn’t matter if the others die. Cull the weak, you know.

    Who knew Harold the lawyer was an antivaxer? Wow. Wonders never cease.

  7. HCN,
    I got my information from the same location you did, the CDC web site. All the information provided on influenza are estimated averages, not facts. Any effectiveness study is an anecdotal case study that is dependent on geography, year, and age stratification, unlike every other vaccine effectiveness study. However the influenza vaccine is just like every other vaccine when it comes to adverse reactions.

  8. OK Chuck,

    let me see if I understand this. All the evidence for the safety and effectiveness of the flu vaccine is anecdotal and unscientific? But all the evidence for adverse reactions is scientific and backed by hard data?

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