By Anne Dachel
Brian Hooker is the father of a son with autism and he holds a PhD in Biochemical Engineering, in addition to being a dedicated member of the autism community. He also played a role in how the House autism hearing came to be.
Brian explained how he became involved in the hearing.
My initial thanks go to Dr. Mark Geier and David Geier, who strategically linked me up with a friend of theirs, who in turn has become my good friend as well. Through the work of this individual, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and I were invited to meet with Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Vern Buchanan and their wives in early May, 2012 to discuss malfeasance in the CDC regarding autism and vaccines. Andy discussed the MMR vaccine and the vaccine schedule. I talked specifically about thimerosal and the cover-up of CDC data that affirm a causal relationship between thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. Rep. Issa was concerned regarding the CDC information and stated that this was the type of government misconduct that his committee (Oversight and Government Reform) specifically addressed.
I was in DC for a National Science Foundation function later the same month and had the opportunity to meet with Reps. Issa and Buchanan again, this time with Rep. Dan Burton. Rep. Issa affirmed his commitment to hold a hearing at that time. Rep. Burton detailed his valiant efforts to get the CDC and large pharma to remove mercury from vaccines and indicated that they wouldn’t listen to him.
I’ve worked very diligently since May with the Oversight committee staff to convey what I had found via the FOIA and to get additional information from CDC relevant to thimerosal. Along the way, I gained the support of Barry and Dolly Segal, through Focus Autism and they have become pivotal to this entire effort. In addition, I received a very significant amount of assistance from Dawn Loughborough, Bob Krakow, Bobbie Manning and Louise Habakus. They are all amazing sources of insight and have advised me throughout the process. I also need to acknowledge my friends at EBCALA, especially Louis Conte, Rolf Hazlehurst, Becky Estepp and Kevin Barry, who have been working with the committee staff very effectively regarding NVICP reform.
I was able to meet with the Oversight committee staff several times between May and November, up to the day before the hearing, to discuss the pertinent details. I also was corresponding with Beth Clay from SafeMinds who was working very diligently on the issue as well. When the committee staff finally indicated the participants in the panel, I was disappointed because there was only one participating organization (Safeminds) that included the relationship of vaccines (specifically thimerosal) to autism causation within their mission. The rest of the panel would either avoid the issue or deny any causal relationship. Given the importance of autism causation, this was just not a balanced panel.
(Here is the testimony that Brian Hooker prepared for the hearing but he was unable to give.)
I asked Brian about his efforts to gather information about the actions of the CDC.
What kind of information were you seeking from the CDC with your FOIA requests?
All kinds. I have made over 100 FOIA requests to the CDC over the last 8 years and received thousands of pages of information. This has been a very thorough compilation of work. David Geier, who is my mentor regarding the FOIA, got me started doing FOIA requests back in 2004. David has also reviewed nearly everything I have received.
I have specifically requested information for the 5 CDC studies on thimerosal and autism prior to 2004 that led to the IOM Immunization Safety Review Committee report “Vaccines and Autism” released in May 2004. In this report, primarily due to committee chairperson Dr. Marie McCormick (Harvard University) and study director Dr. Kathleen Stratton (IOM), causation was denied between thimerosal containing vaccines and autism (as well as the MMR vaccine and autism). This report also effectively shut down government funding for any further "independent" research on vaccines and autism. This information is crucial, given the constant reference that the CDC and others make to the 2004 IOM report. Most of the key components of the FOIAed information have been completely redacted by the CDC.
I also requested information on PoulThorsen and his connection to CDC, obviously because of his co-authorship in studies that bolstered the body of evidence denying vaccine causation in autism and his known culpability and fraud indictments, being on the DHHS OIG Most Wanted Fugitive list. The majority of this information has been withheld by the CDC.
Finally, I have requested information on two of the latest CDC studies again denying causation between neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) and thimerosal exposure including Thompson et al. 2007 (NEJM 357:1281) and Price et al. 2010 (Pediatrics 126:656). These two publications are indiscernible from an epidemiology standpoint. This information has yet to be released from the CDC.
For years the CDC has acted as though they’ve seriously addressed the question of a link between vaccines and autism and according to their research; there simply isn’t any. How would you characterize what the CDC has done?
I would challenge anyone who would rely in the veracity of the CDC studies. They've repeatedly, purposefully withheld data that clearly show a link between thimerosal and autism (among other NDD's). They've obfuscated the main issue via obviously biased statistical manipulation. Clearly, the CDC's conflicted role of vaccine advocate and vaccine safety guardian has contributed to this whole problem.
How did the agency charged with the oversight of our children’s health instead become complicit in covering up a disaster?
Several reasons. I believe the physicians and scientists who have controlled the agenda for CDC for many years have a fear of infectious disease that is unsupported by science. As a good friend reminded me recently, the United States by far has the most recommended vaccinations given to children than any other nation in the world (49 by age 6 years old), yet we have some of the sickest children. We rank 34th in infant mortality based on 2009 data. The fear of epidemics of infectious disease drummed by U.S. public health officials and pharmaceutical manufacturers is extremely heightened. However, in other countries where they vaccinate less and had banned thimerosal use many years ago, we do not see evidence of mass infectious disease spread.
I also believe that thimerosal has not been removed from U.S. vaccines due to various issues in a concerted effort towards the globalization of vaccines. This is heavily influenced by three things: (1) perceived manufacturing and cold chain distribution problems, (2) the influence of the GAVI Alliance and the World Health Organization involving the preceding factors and (3) international political considerations because of the perception in developing nations about distributing thimerosal containing vaccines there when there is removal of thimerosal here.
Unfortunately we have seen a lack of integrity in other industries, and we can’t assume CDC employees are not immune to falling into this vicious cycle. Many vaccine scientists and other officials look forward to very lucrative careers with pharmaceutical manufacturers after they have worked professionally at CDC. Two rather dubious examples are Dr. Julie Gerberding, former Director of CDC during the last decade who was recently appointed as head of the vaccine division of Merck and Dr. Thomas Verstraeten, who was the lead author of the Verstraeten et al. 2003 study on thimerosal and neurodevelopmental disorders and left CDC for a career at GlaxoSmithKline in July 2001. This revolving door between CDC and pharma is fostered by an incestuous relationship between the two entities, as we have been exposed to many “government-industry” partnerships that are supposed to help provide the U.S. with effective, safe vaccines but instead seem to only help vaccine manufacturers with their bottom line. Also, the pharmaceutical industry is bolstered by the fact that it cannot be sued for vaccine design defects.
This adds up to more and more vaccines given to our most vulnerable citizens. Some of these vaccines still contain thimerosal and are now given to pregnant women, exposing very tiny unborn children to this potent neurotoxin. Both of these factor into the current autism epidemic.
Finally, I hate to even think about it, but I believe that CDC officials are truly afraid of the consequences of completely removing thimerosal and/or revising the current vaccine schedule, limiting the exposure of infants and children to the many vaccine antigens their immune systems now have to endure. What if autism rates do go down? J.B. Handley sent me a T-shirt several years ago with the saying, “If you caused a 6000% increase in autism, wouldn’t you try to cover it up too.”
What difference has your work with Chairman Issa, the committee and creation of this hearing made?"
Well, the coordinated effort to expose malfeasance has enabled our community, after years of watching the prevalence rising, to have the hearings and start to get to the bottom of this enormous concern for our society. With the material I have compiled via the FOIA and other sources, I present a clear distinction between what the CDC has claimed publicly and what goes on behind closed doors. In addition, I have collaborative insight and support from a team of advisors, medical professional resources and government agency members conferring with me on a significant body of “evidence of malfeasance” case studies.
My FOIAed documents focus on thimerosal in vaccines so I’ll limit my comments here to that issue.
As I stated earlier, 2004 IOM Immunization Safety Review Committee report was bought by CDC specifically to say that vaccines don't cause autism and no more government research should be funded regarding that issue. The committee made their "decision" in this regard based solely on 5 epidemiological studies. The scientific merit of these studies is poor and the results have been critiqued very accurately by me and others in our community many times. Quite frankly, challenging the science presented in these papers is like sandblasting a soup cracker.
My goal was to shed light on the malfeasance by the CDC and others around these studies and the 2004 IOM report. This is crucial! Coleen Boyle of the CDC invoked the 2004 IOM report several times when she tried to sidestep questions asked in the hearing. The report has led to grant funds denied for solid research from top universities specifically to address the autism-vaccine question. And, the report was quoted many times by Special Master Hastings in his decision regarding the Cedillo test case of the Autism Omnibus in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in order to deny compensation. This paved the way for the dismissal of the majority of over 5000 cases involving "autism", most without any type of hearing.
I also wanted to drive home the intertwined nature of the relationship between Dr. PoulThorsen (who was indicted in Federal court on April 14, 2011 for fraud and embezzlement of CDC grant funds) and the National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD). Dr. Thorsen wrote 36 papers in collaboration with NCBDDD scientist Dr. Diana Schendel, many as "cover" to deflect the issue of autism causation from vaccines. It is unclear whether CDC continues to work with Thorsen, but four papers, co-authored by Thorsen and Schendel, have appeared in the scientific literature since his Federal indictment. Why is this happening?
Shouldn't the veracity of all 36 publications be investigated by CDC? Thorsen received the majority of his grant funds from CDC after the Madsen et al. 2003 Pediatrics publication. Thorsen co-authored the paper and coordinated (with Dr. Boyle) the CDC review and recommendation of publication to Pediatrics. It is perhaps the most blatantly fraudulent of the 5 studies quoted in the 2004 IOM report, as the Madsen et al. authors claimed that autism rates went up after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines in Denmark in 1992. I really want to know why CDC paid Thorsen so handsomely after this paper was published, given the fact that the original Madsen manuscript was rejected by the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Lancet, prior to finally being accepted in the journal Pediatrics.
How did it happen that you weren’t allowed to speak at the hearing?
I had been told by Oversight committee staff prior to Thanksgiving that I would not be testifying and I was not on the original list of speakers that appeared on the Oversight committee website on Monday, November 26, prior to the hearing. However, on Tuesday after I arrived in DC, I was notified that Chairman Issa had added me to panel. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. preparing my testimony. Later, on Wednesday, the Oversight committee staff informed me that someone from the minority side of the committee had been blocking me from testifying and that the Rules of Order did not allow for Chairman Issa’s last minute addition. I don't know who specifically kept me off of the panel or why at this time. Chairman Issa kindly recognized my involvement at the start of the hearing and provided great, front-row seats for me and my good friends Barry and Dolly Segal and Dawn Loughborough, all who contributed immensely to the success of the hearing.
Since you did attend the hearing, what are your feelings about what was said?
First of all, Mark Blaxill of Safeminds did a great job highlighting the connection between environmental factors and autism, and included a slide in his testimony that showed the connection between thimerosal and autism. He also was able to address the complete lack of effectiveness of IACC as well as Mr. Michael Carley's erroneous assertions about diagnostic substitution and the current autism epidemic.
Dr. Boyle and Dr. Alan Guttmacher (NIH) were evasive in their testimony and the committee members were very concerned about this. Many statements by Dr. Boyle from the CDC are not supported by the information I have via the FOIA. This is a matter of great concern to the committee and it’s a bipartisan issue. Although Boyle invoked the 2004 IOM report to deflect questions regarding vaccines and autism, she omitted the fact that even this report could not exclude that a significant portion of new autism cases were caused by vaccines in a genetically susceptible subset.
The questions regarding vaccines and autism posed by the committee members were extremely encouraging. Rep. Bill Posey and Rep. Vern Buchanan (my heroes) really were able to drill down to the heart of the issue by challenging Dr. Boyle on the current state of the science regarding causation and the lack of a vax/unvax study. It was like listening to Dr. Dave Weldon (former rep. from Florida) in stereo. In addition, Rep. Burton's call for the removal of mercury from all vaccines was extremely powerful. Also, Rep. Cummings (ranking minority member of the committee), Rep. Maloney and Rep. Smith all highlighted the connection between vaccines and autism within their questions, stemming from a decade of mounting verbal evidence of vaccine causation from their constituents, and requested common sense from the CDC to review the vaccine schedule and thimerosal. Undeniably, the door has been opened for future investigation and better outcomes for our children.
Of the 8 panelists that spoke, only one (Mark Blaxill) spoke about autism causation related to vaccination, when specifically questioned by the committee members. Of the remaining panelists, Autism Speaks co-founder Bob Wright in his opening remarks, mentioned that his daughter, Katie Wright was concerned that vaccines were involved in his grandson’s autism. Four panelists did not speak to the issue and two actually denied a connection between vaccines and autism. In my opinion, this is not a balanced panel. If it weren't for the many questions raised by the committee members (due in large part to many great parents in our community that visited, called or wrote these representatives), the vaccine autism issue would have been woefully underrepresented.
What do you hope the federal government will do next?
In his remarks to me after the hearing, Chairman Issa indicated that the committee will continue to investigate the connection between autism and vaccines. This needs to include the thimerosal issue as well as the expanding vaccine schedule where infants are given up to nine vaccines in one day.
The CDC needs a comprehensive, independent investigation, obviously. It shouldn't stop there - the entire Department of Health and Human Services (including CDC, NIH, FDA, the Health Resources Services Administration, etc.) has shown bias against even researching the connection between vaccines and autism and continues to suppress any science that would suggest a link. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program should also be investigated, with an emphasis on the whole Omnibus Autism Proceeding. The Oversight committee members need to know that they have the power to stop the autism epidemic by getting to the bottom of this issue.