By John Stone
“Now, we all know that vaccines can occasionally cause fevers in kids. So if a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines. And if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism. “
Julie Gerberding, present head of Merck’s vaccine division speaking to Sanjay Gupta on the subject of the Hannah Poling case when she was still head of the Centers for Disease Control.
The one thing Sanjay Gupta’s interview with Bill Gates on Friday did not do was add to informed, intelligent discussion about vaccine safety. What we undoubtedly had was a commercial for Bill Gates’s global vaccine programme, and the repetition of a lot of unpleasant allegations about Andrew Wakefield which do not bear examination. Perhaps the single point that he most has to answer if he wants to say that kind of thing is to explain how Wakefield could have changed data under the noses of 12 senior specialist/consultants, who then failed to say anything about it for 13 years or more, despite the continuing controversy. And by the way Gupta has to answer it too. Just because these things were claimed in a once respectable medical journal does not mean that they are remotely credible. What Gates says contradicts what Gerberding told Gupta, and what Wakefield told Gupta. It was also not what he heard from John Poling (HERE ). So Gupta should not be sitting there like a block of wood saying nothing: it leads to mistrust.
Let’s just examine briefly the implications of what Gerberding said in that interview three years ago. According to a CDC study from 2006 (HERE ) 33 out 1800 infants (nearly 2%) suffered a fever of 39.5 or higher, although there was no long term follow up. By now it is also established the mitochondrial dysfunction is a common feature in autistic children and much higher than in the general population (JAMA Mito Dysfunction in Autism , and Mitochondrial dysfunction can connect the diverse medical symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders , Novel plasma phospholipid biomarkers of autism: mitochondrial dysfunction as a putative causative mechanism, Mitochondrial dysfunction in autism spectrum disorders: a population-based study ). Commonly adverse reactions are not monitored or investigated in any detail – it is left to families to bring legal actions – if they dare, or have the energy left. So actually we have no means of tracing the impact of vaccines on this issue. As Bernardine Healy, a former National Institute of Health director, warned on CBS news you cannot actually rule it out unless you study sub-groups (CBS News HERE ).
However, despite all the obstacles the US vaccine court has paid out more than $2b on MMR and DPT related claims since 1988 (HERE ), although claimants are well advised to stress neurological impairment rather than autism, which is a non-specific psychiatric diagnosis (HuffPo HERE ).
The most likely reading is that only a tiny percentage of cases ever get compensated, but even if they were the only cases Gates would be guilty of perpetuating a fairy story: on the best reading vaccines are only relatively safe, meanwhile the fact that they can cause autism has been conceded by the US government both on the legal and scientific front: a more pertinent question in the circumstances is “how often?”.
One thing I regret about Gates’s intervention is the blood libel against advocates of greater vaccine safety and caution: such events have not happened to his children so perhaps he should not really comment. Of course, it is very easy to design studies that do not find anything. Cochrane’s review of MMR sifted 5,000 studies, reviewed in detail 31 epidemiological studies (supposedly the best) and declared them to be “largely inadequate”, against which the failure to detect any connection between the vaccine and autism must be measured (BMJ HERE ). The bare faced hostility manifested against ordinary citizens reporting damage is suggestive of a bullying and unscientific attitude towards facts.
Gates has for long been reckoned one of the richest men in the world, and the most successful, if not the best, manufacturer of computer softwear. The success, above all, has been in making sure virtually everyone has to have his products. He now seems poised to try and repeat the success with vaccines, but unless he employs a lighter hand it is unlikely to be without much human damage.
John Stone is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism, in the UK.