By Nancy Hokkanen
Online comments by vaccine injury denialists often seem plucked from George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, a dystopian allegory in which “some animals are more equal than others.” At the websites of magazines struggling to regain lost market share, the human counterparts of porcine characters Napoleon and Squealer can be found denying medical facts and urging others to discriminate against the vaccine-injured population.
As soon as TV’s “The View” announced that celebrity author Jenny McCarthy might be hired as a co-host (now official), corporate media and internet trolls attempted anew to devalue her in the public eye. Years ago McCarthy stated that her son reacted adversely to the MMR vaccine; after a bout of seizures the boy was revived by medics, and treated by physicians over the years with positive results.
McCarthy is president of Generation Rescue, an advocacy group started by parent volunteers to educate families about safe and effective biomedical autism treatments. Oddly, if you Google “Generation Rescue,” the first title to pop up is a sponsored link from the faux research group Autism Science Foundation. On July 9 ASF reported the groundbreaking news that “Mothers Who Have Children with ASD Show Significantly Higher Levels of Fatigue.”
At the U.S. News & World Report site, assistant opinion editor Pat Garofalo minced no words in his article “Keep Jenny McCarthy’s Vaccine and Autism Pseudoscience Off ‘The View.’” Staff at that publication have backpedaled hard from articles by former health editor Bernadine Healy, M.D., who advocated vaccine program transparency. A former director at the Red Cross and National Institutes of Health, Dr. Healy stated before her 2011 passing, “There are unanswered questions about vaccine safety. We need studies on vaccinated populations based on various schedules and doses as well as individual patient susceptibilities that we are continuing to learn about.”
At the pop-up-laden website of The Atlantic is a piece of work by associate history professor David M. Perry: “Destabilizing the Jenny McCarthy Public-Health Industrial Complex: Giving the anti-vaccine advocate a platform is dangerous.” The article is a cut-and-paste rehash of misinformed generalizations, delivered in loaded semantics. Though Perry’s child has Down syndrome, he attempts to speak for the entire illness-ravaged autism community by saying “they do not need McCarthy’s organization to ‘rescue’ them.”
Most commenters at The Atlantic critical of McCarthy display a lack of scientific rigor, offering emotional opinion as if it were axiomatic instead of providing valid independent evidence. Amongst the clichés, fearmongering, baiting and hating was the predictable call for censorship – ironically from a book author. Stacy Mintzer Herlihy, who with multimillionaire vaccine industrialist Dr. Paul Offit co-wrote Your Baby’s Best Shot: Why Vaccines Are Safe and Save Lives, declared that “[a] small subset of people are utterly immune to reason. Booing them off the stage is a perfectly reasonable tactic.”
Another commenter, “Kfredrick72,” wrote with chilling detachment, “And let’s face it, a tiny percentage of the population IS adversely affected by vaccinations, not so much autism but other complications. That in no way means we shouldn’t be using them. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks.”
There it is – that utilitarian public health meme designed to shut down vaccine safety discussion. But if one pauses to think, one realizes that the stark assertion carries unpleasant ethical implications.
Do vaccines’ benefits outweigh risks? For people who create vaccine policy or do not question it, the answer is yes. For those seemingly unharmed by vaccines or statistics wonks, maybe. For the uncounted victims of vaccine adverse reactions, no.
Such inconsistency is also the hobgoblin of vaccine policy messaging and decisionmaking:
Back to the Atlantic, where author Mintzer Herlihy also smugly asked a fellow commenter, “Tell which vaccines you want to stop and which vaccine preventable diseases you want back.” Though her question was rhetorical and puerile, polio deserves closer investigation.
Recently an Indiana journalism professor discovered film footage showing former president Franklin D. Roosevelt being pushed in his wheelchair. For decades Roosevelt’s waist-down paralysis from poliomyelitis in 1921 was kept from the public by the selective reporting of newspapers, radio stations and newsreel photographers. Our 32nd president served during the Depression, Dust Bowl and World War II – monumental challenges that influenced journalists’ decision to avoid giving other nations the impression that our leader, and hence our country, were weak.
Roosevelt served four consecutive terms with complicit news editors censoring the true nature of the president’s disability. Ten years after his death, a vaccine to prevent polio was introduced to a public fearful of seeing children and adults encased in iron lungs, struggling for breath. However the 1955 medical breakthrough was not free from harm; manufacturing problems at Cutter Laboratories resulted a tragic backfire, with a number of children contracting polio from the vaccine.
Other polio vaccine problems emerged years later. The book The Virus and the Vaccine by Debbie Bookchin and Jim Schumacher details how the SV40 virus contaminated polio vaccines given to nearly 100 million Americans from 1955 through 1963. The virus came from the kidneys of green monkeys used to culture the vaccine; SV40 is linked to deadly human brain cancers. Interestingly, in February 2000 excerpts from the book were posted at – of all places – The Atlantic.
In modern-day India with its population of 1.2 billion, the cheaper oral polio vaccine is linked to cases of paralytic polio. An April-June 2013 article in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics states, “[W]hile India has been polio-free for a year, there has been a huge increase in non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP). In 2011, there were an extra 47,500 new cases of NPAFP. Clinically indistinguishable from polio paralysis but twice as deadly, the incidence of NPAFP was directly proportional to doses of oral polio received. Though this data was collected within the polio surveillance system, it was not investigated. The principle of primum-non-nocere was violated.”
Media and society share the attitude – welcomed by government and manufacturers – that vaccine safety problems should be downplayed or even censored. Why? To reward good intentions. To prevent mass vaccine abstinence that might result in disease outbreaks. To protect news sources… or to protect financial interests.
Just like the Roosevelt years, today’s reporters are trying to avoid giving the impression that our national vaccine program is weak and instead shape a spotless public health image. But that propped-up false reality comes at the expense of health and life for an undetermined number of vaccine-injured infants, children and adults. Undetermined because no one is counting.
The net result of today’s vaccine injury denialism by public health policymakers and media has become disastrous. The U.S. is sicker than ever, with 1 in 5 children receiving special education services and 1 in 2 suffering chronic illnesses, many which medical studies show may be linked to over-vaccinating. The total VAERS reports are estimated at 1 to 10% of actual vaccine injury cases... so the true number of people injured could be 2 million to 20 million.
Media silence about vaccine injuries sends the same cruel message as self-centered online commenters who insist that vaccines’ benefits outweigh risks: Children who die from disease are tragic losses, but children who die from vaccine injury are expendable.
Last year Ginger Taylor wrote movingly about "Admitting That Vaccine Injured Children Are Acceptable Losses," after reading the article "The Value of Life, Statistically Speaking" at CFO online. Within industry, manufacturers employ clinical-sounding terminology to accommodate or disguise product loss. For example, a metal tool designer will factor the “expected fallout rate” into their bid calculations to win contracts. That means a certain percentage of units will be lost on the production line. Still, the ultimate goal is to eliminate waste and damage.
So why is the CDC allowed to have any “expected fallout rate”? And how high must that rate rise before they take action to reduce it?
Why has vaccine injury research been essentially abandoned just as more and more vaccines are being created and approved for mass use, injected into living, breathing infants, children, pregnant women, seniors?
Why have so many similar cases of encephalopathy and mitochondrial dysfunction been paraded in front of VICP Special Masters and Department of Justice attorneys without them bothering to suggest that the CDC look into preventing more human carnage?
People who deny vaccine injuries or consider them as “expected fallout rate” are:
Society’s attitude toward vaccine injury amounts to an abusive spouse’s blame-the-victim mentality. It’s long past time for an ethical reboot and reeducation on the elements of an appropriate human response. Things like belief. Sympathy. Investigation. Treatment. Prevention. Compensation. Education. Aftercare. And some basic human kindness.
For decades the public health community has coasted on past successes, congratulating themselves for responding to a problem with a solution. But as long as policymakers remain willfully blind to the new problems inadvertently caused by their well-intended solution, society cannot create a medical model for vaccine injury treatment and prevention.
“No one should be threatened by the pursuit of this knowledge,” Dr. Healy said. “Vaccine policy should be the subject of frank and open debate, with no tolerance for bullying. There are no sides – only people concerned for the well-being of our children.”
With Franklin D. Roosevelt long dead, the journalists of today felt no need to suppress the video showing his physical impairment. Must society wait more decades – entire lifetimes – before vaccine injury concealment by media becomes just another sad footnote from history?