By Dan Olmsted
The drumbeat is especially loud this fall -- get vaccinated, get your kids vaccinated, and protect yourself from the modern plagues. You know, chickenpox, mumps, hepatitis B in infancy. Not to mention the mercury, I mean flu, shot, and the shingles jab to protect yourself from the population-level consequences of the chickenpox shot. They've practically become Blue-Light Specials at the big box store.
But the pushback to the drumbeat is also more notable this year. Parents (along with the gutsy Rob Schneider) are battling in California, which wants your doctor to harrangue you before you exercise your legal rights, and New Jersey, which wants to require proof that your medical or religious exemption is legit. (Ah, the Golden state, home of the law that lets 12-year-olds get the Gardasil shot without parental consent, and an exploding autism rate. Ah, the Garden state, home of the Pharm team and an astonishingly high autism rate.)
So all is not lost -- at least the issue is out there and getting bigger by the day. Private school parents -- better off, better educated -- and opting out for their kids more than ever. Last year a restrictive measure was beaten back in Vermont, and the increasing presence of the Canary Party and other autism activists in the debate bodes well for the long run.
But meanwhile we must suffer reports like the one this week in The New York Times, "Washington State Makes It Harder to Opt Out of Immunizations," that begins: "Washington State is home to Bill and Melinda Gates, champions of childhood vaccines across the globe. Its university boasts cutting-eduge vaccine research. But when it comes to getting children immunized, until recently, the state was dead last."
The article extrudes praise on the recent tightening of exemptions there, and soberly notes a new study that "more parents are choosing not to have their children vaccinated, especially in states that make it easy to opt out."
But why would parents do that, especially the most informed and engaged ones? Of course, there's that "false" Andy Wakefield claim linking the MMR to autism, as The Times put it. Well, that's not what Wakefield said, but I will -- the MMR does cause autism and bowel problems. Too many parents know it, and they know that the current cumulative, agglutinated vaccine schedule does, too. And so does mercury in its many manifestations. That, fundamentally, is why they're scaling back, dialing down, opting out. New laws and scornful schoolmarmish mainstream articles won't change that in the long run.
Washington State is an interesting place for this debate, as the article notes. But there's another reason it's apt. Look at the photo with the story -- a mom and daughter on their farm, with what look to be apples in the foreground weighing down the branches. It's that time of year.
In the old days, it used to be the time for polio outbreaks as well. The article says: "Vaccines are among the most important achievements of modern medicine. Since the first major types came into broad use in the 1940s, they have drastically reduced deaths from infectious diseases like polio and measles. But the virtual disappearance of these diseases has lulled parents into considering the vaccines as less necessary, public health experts say." (Cue mandatory quote from millionaire vaccine industrialist -- not "public health expert" -- Paul Offit.)
But let's talk polio for a moment. Mark Blaxill and I have written an alternative narrative of the rise and fall of polio. We propose that the polio virus was a benign stomach bug until it was potentiated by industrial-age pesticides, beginning with lead arsenate in the 1890s and exploding with DDT after World War II. Yes, the polio vaccine beat the virus into submission, ending the epidemics, and that's a good thing, but the better thing would have been never triggering the epidemics in the first place. Second best, even at this late date, would be learning the lessons of that iconic modern scourge.
Which brings us to Washington state and apples. In our series on polio, we described a study done by Jacolyn Van Vliet Manning in 1912 -- a nice round century ago -- that took note of a stunning phenomenon. At the same time as several of the early polio outbreaks, farm and domestic animals also died. Since experiments showed the virus could not trigger paralysis in animals, that was an early warning sign something more complicated might be going on -- some kind of co-factor or confounder was paralyzing animals at the same time people were contracting poliomyelitis.
"I have found a disease appearing in one or two year old colts that shows a line of symptoms corresponding closely to anterior poliomyelitis in children," Manning wrote. (Don't you just want to scream, Wake Up!)
Although no one recognized it then, we believe that co-factor was pesticide. One of the coincident outbreaks in man and animal cited in Manning's chart was in Kelley, Washington, in 1910. As we've pointed out, many of the early outbreaks were in places where fruits and vegetables were grown intensively, like the Napa and San Joaquin valleys in California, and the blueberry-growing center in Eastern Maine. Orchard-heavy Washington state would certainly fit that bill. Apples were a prime target for moths, and thus a prime target for the new lead arsenate pesticide. Another early outbreak occurred in Galesville, Wisconsin, in 1907. Even today, the Chamber of Commerce logo there features an apple, and the annual Apple Affair is held the first Saturday in October. “Orchards from the area set up stands on the square where visitors can purchase apples and apple treats served up by local growers. Apple pie, apple slices, caramel apples, Apple Normandy, Queen's Apple, apple cider, apple juice -- if it's apple, you'll find it here.”
Yes, along with early polio outbreaks. Another example we wrote about from Washington State:
In January 1920, Veterinary Times published an article by J.W. Kalkus, head of Veterinary Science at the State College of Washington Agricultural Experiment Station, titled “Orchard Horse Disease.” “The writer recently had an opportunity of making an investigation of a disease which has been causing considerable loss among horses in certain sections of Washington."
It caused paralysis and death, and it went by several names, Kalkus reported, among them orchard horse disease; orchard poisoning; alfalfad horses; arsenate of lead poisoning; mold poisoning.
Regardless of the name, the circumstances were the same: “The condition occurs in enzootic form in the irrigated apple orchard districts. … The disease was little known prior to the last three years. … It is now claimed by many that it is practically impossible to keep a horse for any great length of time on an irrigated orchard tract, where orchard-grown hay is fed, without the animal attracting the disease. … Present knowledge indicates this disease is confined to the irrigated apple orchard districts where fruit is grown on a commercial basis, and where it is common practice to use arsenate of lead in spraying fruit trees.”
Alfalfa was grown as a cover crop between orchard trees. Lead arsenate spray was often applied so thickly that it dropped onto the alfalfa, giving it a gray color. While some veterinarians did not believe lead arsenate caused the problems – because it did not exactly mimic what was known of lead and arsenic poisoning – Kalkus seemed in little doubt.
So, to keep things simple: Poliomyelitis epidemics arose at the same time as new pesticides, in areas where pesticides were heavily used, causing paralysis in animals as well as people, which couldn't be explained by the virus alone, but could be explained by pesticide exposure.
As is so often the case in the history of medicine, we think, these clues have been overlooked because they didn't fit the paradigm. In this case, the paradigm was the germ theory that has held sway since the days of Pasteur. But these facts are strong evidence and point to an important lesson: Poisoning people, and especially children, is not a good idea, no matter the "greater good" the authorities might have in mind. By all means, let's feed a hungry and growing nation. But let's not carelessly and needlessly trigger a decades-long epidemic of debility and death, primarily affecting infants and children. We have to be able to walk and chew gum -- feed people and not kill children -- at the same time.
To my mind, the same lesson applies to any other technological intervention, and most especially vaccines. By all means, let's take reasonable steps to prevent deadly and disabling diseases, using vaccination as a public health tool when that makes sense. But let's not carelessly trigger a decades-long epidemic of debility and death, primarily affecting infants and children. We have to be able to walk and chew gum -- protect people from disease and not destroy children -- at the same time.
This seems about as mainstream as you can get: Let's not poison our kids. Parents are not going to put up with that, no matter what The Times or the medical establishment or the state legislature says. And they shouldn't.
(For bonus points, check out the headline right next to the one on vaccines: "Pill found promising in treatment of MS." Another environmental illness, another pill that someone's going to profit from. It starts to make you wonder if modern medicine is off its collective rocker. I vote yes.)
Speaking of poison, did you catch the story this week about the $7 million payment to the man who ate an astonishing two or three bags of popcorn a day and ended up with some of kind of weird lung thing?
I'm phrasing it that way because the media reports I saw gave it the "can you believe it?" treatment rather than really looking at what this is all about. From ABC's Elizabeth Vargas on Good Morning America: "Now to that man who's waking up a millionaire thanks to that lawsuit that started with a bag of microwave popcorn. Wayne Watson scored a $7 million verdict ..." Here Vargas audibly chuckles, I suppose at the absurdity of the verdicts people are "scoring" from juries these days.
Actually, Mr. Watson was waking up with half his lung capacity, as he will every morning for the rest of his life. The report casually notes that "popcorn lung is usually found in plant workers exposed to high levels of diacetyl, a natural flavoring used to give popcorn that buttery taste."
As my old partner Mark Benjamin, would have said, "There's your story right there." The sordid history of popcorn makers' attempts to hide the truth about the damage its manufacturing process was doing to its own employees is a disgusting saga, recounted in Doubt Is Their Product -- How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, by David Michaels.
I'd read about this a few years back, and dug out the book to refresh my memory. The take-home comment from the author: "Uncertainty is the basis of the strategy in the court cases in which the popcorn workers with destroyed lungs have sued flavor manufacturers. ... Given the inability and/or unwillingness of the regulatory apparatus to address workplace hazards, litigation may be the only means of compelling employers to protect their workers. When I told the popcorn-lung story at a 'Science for Judges' conference, one jurist suggested that the judicial system has become the last resort for these public health issues."
In other words, Sue the bastards! That's a familiar refrain in the autism-vaccine injury community, as you know, but of course that "last resort" is closed.
I have no doubt that if the manufacturers and regulators had been diligent, and put worker safety first, Wayne Watson would not be waking up a millionaire this morning -- or with half his lung capacity for the rest of his life, whichever narrative you prefer. Whether it's apples, popcorn, or vaccines, we need to let history teach us its real lessons -- that business and government will not necessarily put our personal well-being first, and we can no longer count on the Big Media to put things right.
Only we can do that. And I'm not telling you anything when I say we're all trying.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.