By Anne Dachel
On Wed, August 5, many of us watched a live broadcast of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee chaired by U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. The focus was on the state of autism research, treatments and interventions. (HERE)
A number of autism experts and parents addressed the senators. Two speakers exemplified the controversy that rages in this country over vaccines and autism. One was Thomas Insel, M.D., director of the National Institute of Mental Health and chairman of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), the other was Dana Halverson, co-founder of BEAT-Iowa and mother of Robin, her seven year old daughter with autism.
Sen. Harkin opened the hearing talking about autism. He made it clear: Autism has environmental triggers and "the rate of incidence is growing." He also said we have to look at "how to address the needs of the growing population of adults with autism."
Insel testified first. He gave the overview of autism with the standard definitions we've all heard over and over. He said 10 to 20 percent of autistic kids regress. "[They] seem to develop quite well for the first 18 months and will clearly lose language, lose function."
Insel spent a lot of time talking about research on "genomics," "syndromes," and "rare but significant mutations," assuring us that there's "clearly a genetic factor at work here." He also feels that "we still need to learn how genes and environment interact."
Insel then turned his attention to the prevalence of autism.
Just once at one of this meetings where experts talk about autism, I'd like to see a toxicologist, one with no conflicts of interest, willing to put his or her reputation on the line vouching for the safety of vaccines containing mercury, aluminum, and fluoride, to name a few of the commonly used toxins. I've never seen that happen and until Insel can find such an expert, he has no credibility telling us these things are safe.
While Insel could say nothing significant about progress in understanding, treating, or recovering victims, he stated, "There's rapid progress. There's an urgent need and there's a tremendous opportunity right for now for progress."
In stark contrast to Insel, was the testimony of Dana Halverson. I don't know where Insel's words were coming from, but Dana spoke straight from her heart and her testimony was riveting. I only wish I could have observed Insel's face while she was talking.
Dana talked about her daughter's autism. She brought up the host of health problem Robin has, including, "heavy metal toxicity."
Dana predicted that the huge cost of autism will soon fall on taxpayers as these kids age out into adulthood. She said we should be alarmed over the sickest generation of children that we've had in 60 years.
Next Dana made it clear that this isn't just about the science and everyone knows it.
These were some of her comments:
"Posing the right questions to unbiased and unconflicted scientists is essential to obtaining constructive answers."
"Agencies charged with protecting the health of our children suffer from serious financial conflicts of interest. These government agencies need to be held accountable."
"Senators, it is difficult to sit at this table and tell you that you have been lied to, that we have all been lied to. Mercury levels exceeding EPA safe levels were in Robin's vaccines..."
Dana cited the vaccine makers' material safety data sheet on thimerosal where it says it caused neurological damage in trials on animals. She had medical experts sitting behind her for backup.
She spoke about the power and influence of the drug industry over our health agencies. "Where else in the world do we see this scenario of no accountability and conflicts of interest?"
Dana called for a "valid, unbiased study."
She addressed the inaction of government. "Those in power have not listened and discerned facts and acted on those facts to protect the health and future of the children of this nation... instead [they] have protected industry."
Her tears at the end I'm sure were mirrored in many of the faces of those listening to her.
It must have been hard to move on after Dana was finished. There was lots of talk about services and the issue of a vaccinated/non-vaccinated study was again brought up by Harkin. Dana challenged Insel's criticism of such a study by citing the large unvaccinated population right in Chicago in Dr. Mayer Eisenstein's HomeFirst medical program.
What was resoundingly clear from listening to Insel was the fact that little had changed since he last reported to this committee in 2007. Most of the research he talked about involved genetics, despite the fact that genetics alone couldn't possibly explain what autism is doing to our children. There was no sense that the IACC would ever have real answers.
If Thomas Insel were genuinely dedicated to finding out about autism, he'd have talked about three things:
1. He would have said that they were going to look at the kids who were normally progressing and then suddenly regressed. He would have called for a close examination to find what might have triggered such a change. While Insel mentioned regression, he expressed no real concern.
2. Insel would have told the committee that thousands of parents now report great improvement in their children and even recovery following things like changes in diet, chelation for heavy metals, and hyperbaric oxygen treatment; this is a sign of hope and we need to look into these things.
3. Finally, Insel would strongly support a comparison study between vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Instead he refused to accept that there was an ideal unvaccinated heterogeneous population for study. He stated again, "Let me be very clear on this point... This problem has been looked at over and over. Sixteen large scale studies have plowed into this subject at many levels..."
Harkin was not convinced and still asked why the study couldn't be done.
All this makes clear that there is a growing demand for a vaccinated vs. non-vaccinated study to compare autism rates. It should be pointed out that in June Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) called on HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to dedicate between 1.6% and 6.6% of the $300 million in federal stimulus funds earmarked for the purchase and distribution of vaccines to fund a major study of health outcomes -- including autism -- among vaccinated and unvaccinated people. (HERE)
If I had had the opportunity to ask Thomas Insel a question, I would have said, "Since you truly believe that science has settled the issue of a link between vaccines and autism, why won't you welcome such a study? It would be the proof to end the controversy. If the incidence of autism were the same in both study groups, we'd all agree to move on. If there would be a marked difference between the two, we'd need to stop the horrific damage being done to countless thousands of our children."
One statement by Dana Halverson really got my attention: "These government agencies need to be held accountable."
That must be a very frightening thought to Insel and lots of other people. Polio was an epidemic when it struck one in 3,000 Americans in the 1950s. Autism affects far more and it strikes children. What's important to remember is that most victims of polio recovered and went on to lead productive lives. The same won't be said about the victims of the autism epidemic. They will need support and care for the rest of their long lives.
The cost to taxpayers has been compared to an approaching tsunami. In the words of Dana Halverson, "Government agencies need to be held accountable."
Anne Dachel is the media editor of Age of Autism.
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