Nancy Hokkanen Feed

Autism Community Mourns Passing of Mercury Treatment Consultant Andy Cutler

Andrew Hall Cutler photoBy Nancy Hokkanen

Andrew Hall Cutler, Ph.D., P.E., a chemical engineer and mercury chelation consultant, died July 29 in Seattle of a possible heart attack. For two decades he encouraged people to investigate the neurotoxicity of mercury in medical products such as tooth fillings and vaccines.

Cutler gave scientific advice – and the occasional diatribe – to online members of the Yahoo Autism-Mercury listserv. There, thousands of members discussed chemical chelation to eliminate mercury and other toxic heavy metals from the body. In recent years similar advocacy groups appeared on Facebook, such as the Andy Cutler Chelation Think Tank.

Cutler was born in 1956, received a B.S. in physics from the University of California, and a Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton. He was a registered patent agent and a licensed professional chemical engineer. His research has been published in chemical engineering, chemistry and space journals. Though he’d earned a Ph.D., Cutler eschewed the title “Dr.” and took care to point out that the information he dispensed should not be construed as medical advice from a physician.

A former NASA employee, his life changed when he developed a debilitating cluster of symptoms – a “mystery syndrome” that allopathic medicine could not heal. Using his scientific knowledge as a base, Cutler embarked on intensive self-study in biochemistry and medicine. Eventually he identified his disorders’ causal agent as mercury amalgam from his tooth fillings; after having those safely replaced, his health improved.

To help others suffering similar illnesses and to prevent new cases, in 1999 Cutler wrote “a book on how to cure mercury poisoning” –  Amalgam Illness: Diagnosis and Treatment. The self-published book is detailed at his no-frills website, and is also for sale at Amazon.

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Are Your Family’s Autism Services Adequate or Absent?

Empty giftBy Nancy Hokkanen

Parents of children and young adults with autism know that securing enough appropriate support services can be challenging. Finding good providers and paying for your child’s education, therapy, life skills training, recreation, supervision, etc. may prove an ongoing struggle from diagnosis into adulthood.

A recent Drexel University report found that 25 percent of transition-age adults with autism felt they were not getting the services they needed; half lived with their parents or relatives, and most were not employed. Therapies used or missing may include speech, physical, occupational, social skills, sensory integration, music, equine (horse), and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).

Money, private or public, typically determines the amount and quality of autism or developmental disability (DD) services a child or young adult receives in addition to public school special education programs. Funding varies because government agencies’ budgets fluctuate, nonprofit groups compete for donations, and family budgets frequently are strained covering autism’s myriad costs.

Social workers and case managers should provide complete information on government disability services and grants; however sometimes they don’t, or don’t follow through with promised programming. Some might even misplace forms you’ve laboriously filled out. A caveat: Before you give or send any documents to county, state and/or federal agencies, make and keep copies of every page.

Even in this age of electronic data, documentation of autism diagnoses, treatments and benefits can quickly get out of hand. Organized filing is essential to managing your child’s care information; it’s never too late to start sorting. Remember to save and back up emails and texts, and consider printing hard copies; you may need it as evidence later. The autism advocacy group TACA offers documentation filing guidance on their page “Getting and Staying Organized.”

In my own family, for years most of my son’s autism needs were met by public school offerings. So when our county DD case manager failed to meet with my son even once a year (as required by the county), it wasn’t much of a problem – until we finally needed her urgently. When my son developed an autism-related health crisis, I tried calling but her phone number had changed, and my calls to her office went unanswered. I ended up hiring service providers that luckily were covered by private medical insurance… and who told me what autism services our family could have been receiving.

I asked some other parents to talk about their experiences with trying to get autism services for their children:

¡ Libby Rupp, Pennsylvania: “I have been on the waiting list for waiver services in PA for six years now. I am a single mom with limited resources. I was told directly that I either need to be homeless or dead to move up further on the list. I asked what would happen to my daughter if I died tomorrow, and our social worker just shook her head. She said they would scramble and try to put something together but there is no guarantee that anything will be available.”

¡ M.K. Davidson, Texas: “For most services in Texas, there is a 10-year waiting list and from what I hear, most people will be denied when they come up anyway. They are really good at coming into your home, though, to ask you if you’ve had all your shots.”

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"You Can Never Really Say MMR Doesn't Cause Autism," Dr. Paul Offit

SplainingThanks to AofA's Nancy Hokkanen for this summation:

"You can never really say 'MMR doesn’t cause autism,' but frankly when you get in front of the media, you better get used to saying it. Because otherwise people hear a door being left open, when a door shouldn't be left open."

- Paul Offit, vaccine developer

"You can't prove that Coca-Cola doesn't cause autism, either... You're in a debate [chuckle] and, you know, you gotta fight unfair."

-  Arthur Caplan, bioethicist

YouTube video published on May 16, 2016 (Comments disabled)

The National Meningitis Association ( hosted a panel discussion, Achieving Childhood Vaccine Success in the U.S., before its 2016 “Give Kids a Shot” Gala on May 9, 2016. The panel addressed a range of issues including parents who opt out of childhood vaccine requirements, physicians who stray from the recommended vaccine schedule, and the role of the media in creating or removing barriers to vaccine success.

The panelists included

  • Arthur Caplan, PhD., Professor of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center
  • Carol Baker, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Molecular Virology and Microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston
  • Paul Offit, M.D., Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, PhD., Professor of Law at UC Hastings College of Law
  • William Schaffner, M.D., Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
  • Alison Singer, President of Autism Science Foundation
  • Paul Lee, M.D., Director of the International Adoption Program and Pediatric Travel Center at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, New York (moderator)

Measles and Morals, Then (Davey & Goliath) and Now (Rights & Pharma)

Davey MeaslesBy Nancy Hokkanen

The mainstream media’s hostile, fear-inducing reporting about Minnesota’s measles outbreak is a far cry from the objective news coverage of years past. Today’s online articles read like calculated rewrites of recent U.S. history, which promote monetary gain for industry and social control for government while ignoring consumers’ reports of health damage from product failures.

During the 1940s through 1960s, most mothers stayed home with their sick children. Parents’ and doctors’ levels of concern about a communicable disease were commensurate with its potential effects on health. During U.S. polio outbreaks, people were justifiably afraid of paralysis and having to breathe using an iron lung. However parents handled many routine childhood diseases such as measles by confining the child and monitoring symptoms.

During the 1960s and 1970s, measles and chickenpox outbreaks occurred regularly among schoolchildren – and were not the subject of inflammatory national reporting. Kids with red spots on their faces were used as humorous punch-lines on TV sitcoms such as “The Brady Bunch” and cartoons such as “Davey and Goliath,” a stop-action animation series co-produced by Art Clokey of “Gumby” fame for the Lutheran Church in America.

Each of the 72 “Davey and Goliath” cartoons demonstrated a moral lesson for children on topics such Davey and goliathas kindness, honesty, bullying and tolerance. In the 1962 episode “Editor-in-Chief,” young Davey eagerly helps the local newspaper editor by finding news to report. When his housebound friend Jimmy glumly announces from his bedroom window, “I’ve got the measles,” Davey’s response is insensitively self-serving: “Hey, that’s great! That’s news!”

The scene’s comedic implication is clear: Using a child’s case of measles as news is absurd. On TV shows of that era, Davey’s enthusiastic announcement would have cued a laugh track.

But there’s nothing funny about the horrific rhetoric in this week’s reprehensible Boston Herald “hanging offense” op-ed. The unnamed writer brutally crossed a moral line by issuing threats against other human’s lives – bizarrely, ironically, in the name of public health.

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Measles, Vaccines and Rights Debated at Minnesota Somali Forum

Mark B MN
By Nancy Hokkanen

Age of Autism Editor-at-Large Mark Blaxill spoke at a Minnesota community meeting April 30 about that state’s measles outbreak, vaccines, vaccine injury and exemption rights. About 90 members of the Twin Cities’ Somali community attended the event.

The meeting was hosted by the Organic Consumers Association, Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota, and National Health Freedom Action. Blaxill, other speakers and advocates wanted Somali families to know that Minnesota law gives them “the right to fully informed consent or to opt out of any or all vaccines and still attend daycare, school and receive benefits.”

The free community resource meeting was held at Safari Restaurant & Event Center in Minneapolis. Initially the event was booked at the Brian Coyle Center, but pressure from the Minnesota Department of Health forced it to move (MDH had held its own Somali forum at BCC the previous week).

Despite MDH’s collaboration with local pro-vaccination groups and medical students to influence local media and reduce attendance, the event received TV and newspaper coverage:

Nonprofit Aims to Advise Somali-Americans on Vaccination Rights

Speaker challenges vaccinations amid Twin Cities measles outbreak

The Minneapolis Star Tribune spotlighted Somali parent Ikram Mohamed, who at one point addressed one doctor in the audience: “Measles is a curable disease... but autism is not a curable disease -- it goes on for the rest of their life.”

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Health Risk Déjà Vu, Part 2:The Big Stink About Toxic Scents

STINK the movieRead Nancy's Part 1 here.

By Nancy Hokkanen

When we fix one problem, we sometimes create another – that’s a frustrating paradox in today’s society. Product manufacturers’ risky use of potentially harmful chemicals in our food, clothing, care products and furnishings mirrors the ethical tradeoffs and fraud in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s one-size-fits-all vaccine program. By ignoring reports of vaccine adverse reactions due to mutagenic metals and toxic chemicals at extremely low doses, public health policymakers perversely allow autism and chronic disease rates to rise.

As consumers’ injuries and deaths increase due to unregulated chemical poisoning from myriad products, more parents are becoming vocal advocates working to improve people’s health and safety. My 2014 Age of Autism article described profiteering corporations, chemicals and fabricated advocates that harm the public’s health by lying about the toxicity of flame retardants. Victims and families are creating their own potent cumulative synergism when vocally pushing back against institutional denials of health harm from chronic low-dose exposure to poisonous chemicals.

Case in point – the 2015 documentary Stink. The film begins with one parent’s look at flame retardants in a child’s pajamas, then expands into an investigation of the huge fragrance industry – merchandise, companies, executives, trade groups, regulatory agencies and politicians.

Stink was produced and narrated by Jon Whelan, a father of two and former co-CEO of In 2009 Whelan’s wife died of breast cancer, a heartbreaking experience and catalyst for his research on chemicals in everyday consumer products. As a single parent he was now solely responsible to protect his daughters… even, as it turned out, from their sleepwear.

After Whelan noticed a “noxious synthetic odor” emanating from pajamas he’d purchased from the tween store Justice, he contacted their staff – but got no definitive answers about the stink’s source. So he had the pajamas analyzed by a lab, which detected “potentially problematic” chemicals including a carcinogenic flame retardant similar to Tris [Tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate], and phthalates, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) that cause systemic malfunction by mimicking natural hormones. Like ethylmercury in the vaccine preservative Thimerosal, EDC’s are hazardous at very low levels and are linked to birth defects.

Thus the choice of “Justice” as a brand name seems a misnomer, given that the company sells products containing endocrine-disrupting chemicals to pubescent children. And in 2010 the chain was forced to recall jewelry that contained cadmium, a toxic heavy metal OSHA says is “known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.”

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Be The “Dan” You Want To See In The World

Dan headshot for bookBy Nancy Hokkanen

The loss of our friend and colleague Dan Olmsted has left many voids, emotional and professional. One useful way Age of Autism readers can honor him is to take up his fallen pen and write as he would. In our complex and stressed world, there’s no shortage of material.

Writing about Dan himself in the past tense seems so inaccurate – a glaring error to correct with the ubiquitous red editor’s pen. Friends’ fond memories of Dan are still fresh, his videos and photos are shared online, and the myriad words he wrote live on in books, articles, comments and emails.

For a decade I’ve admired Dan’s firm command of the principles and practices of fair and objective journalism. And I’ve envied his rich life experiences. He was a Yale man. A founding reporter at USA Today. UPI investigative journalist. Educated, worldly, informed.

Me? I’m a state university gal. Co-founder of a student publication. Community newspaper reporter. A home-focused autism mom.

Yet my humbler writing background didn’t really matter to Dan. An egalitarian, he truly cared what others had to say about the world we shared. He respected the school of experience, and encouraged my writing for AOA. I’ve kept some of his thoughtful emails (which, Dan, I’ve capitalized per AP style!): “We always love having your work, Nancy… I always look forward to your pieces… When I see your comments or Facebook things I always stop and read carefully and I’m always rewarded.”

During three of Dan’s Minnesota visits I enjoyed his lively conversations: the breaking news and clever strategies mixed with astute observations and witty humor. His AOA coverage lent gravitas to families’ empirical observations of their children’s post-vaccination regressions. He was fearless, tenacious, ethical, inquisitive, analytical, insightful, pragmatic, considerate, compassionate, righteously indignant, acerbic, entertaining, eloquent.

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Best of: The Politics of Pumpkins

Jack_o_lanternPlease enjoy this wonderful BEST OF from Halloween of 2008.  Tell us your own Halloween stories. How do you modify, the ups and downs. 

By Nancy Hokkanen

On Halloween my son's fifth grade class had a special math project, and I volunteered to help. Six pumpkins were handed out and groups of kids were to weigh and measure them, guess the number of seeds within, and carve them into jack o'lanterns.

Our table had two parent volunteers. The other mother also brought an adorable preschool sibling  – whom I referred to as "him," until told "his" name was Karen. Maybe that was why I sensed a chill from the stone tiki face at the other end of the table.

The teacher explained the pumpkin activities and I expected that we parents might model some of the cooperative behaviors he'd laid out. But it seemed not to be. I could barely establish eye contact with the other parent, much less "Hi, my name is." Social Darwinism seemed to be the order of the day.

I decided that I could not bear to see the pumpkin lid cut improperly, so I seized control of the orange globe. Following the commandments in the Pumpkin Masters bible, I cut out an angled lid with a notch, eschewing the smoke vent. I pointed out to the children that the lid was the shape of a pentagon. Thus the territorial parental pissing match had begun.

Next the students scooped out the insides. Most of the kids enjoyed it, facilitated by my Martha Stewart rubber-handled ice cream scoop and Grandpa Rayno's fish scaler. I was feeling so au courant, so in my element. After all, I was the only parent wearing a jack o'lantern T-shirt.

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Fear at the Intersection of Race and Autism – Part 2

Autistic people of colorBy Nancy Hokkanen

Read part 1 here.

Many thorny sociological threads are interwoven within the chilling July 18 police shooting of Florida behavior therapist Charles Kinsey in front of his autistic group home patient, Arnaldo Rios-Soto:

  • A calm, unarmed black professional man lying hands up, on the ground, on his back… who still was shot by a police officer.
  • An agitated young man with autism who’d run away from his care center, who police later said was the original target of the shooting.
  • A young police officer with SWAT training who’d received misinformation from 911 dispatch, whose two other shots missed their marks.

Those three men’s lives intersected against a tense societal backdrop of increasing gun violence reported in international media. Three men whose parents were relieved that their son was not killed.

The thoughts of North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda before he fired his gun may never be fully understood. One key factor deserves examination: The citizen eyewitnesses who’d called 9/11 had misinterpreted autistic behaviors. That mistake caused lifelong trauma for all three men, and nearly resulted in the death of either or both innocent citizens.

The general public’s inability to recognize behaviors common in the growing autism community indicates that autism awareness efforts need a change.

Question: Who’s been misinforming or under-informing the public about the realities of autism?

Let’s start with mainstream media reporting, which skews toward upbeat stories of quirky kids showcasing some special talent. Depending on legislative focus, people with severe autism might be portrayed as drains on tax-funded services. Or those with autism lead the nightly news when they’ve gone missing, were found dead, or perpetrated a crime such as a fatal shooting.

Another problem is autism advocacy groups with financial links to organizations with questionable motives. Spectrum News, funded by the Simons Foundation, writes about children who mysteriously grow out of autism. Another group, Autism Speaks, lists early signs of autism but their byzantine website takes you down one rabbit hole of generalizations after another.

Government agencies have been disgracefully impotent regarding public education on autism behaviors and the challenges faced by people with autism, their families and caregivers. To many frustrated autism parents, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee epitomizes government inaction and waste. “I cannot keep coming here and talking about the same issue time after time after time,” said Dr. Albert Enayati at the IACC’s most recent meeting.

Continue reading "Fear at the Intersection of Race and Autism – Part 2" »

Fear at the Intersection of Race and Autism – Part 1

Autistic people of colorBy Nancy Hokkanen

If anything good might come from the senseless July 18 shooting of group home aide Charles Kinsey, it would be to shock more citizens into becoming advocates for civil rights and preventing gun violence.

The incident also spotlights (1) the need for autism awareness information that reaches all police forces and the crime-reporting public, and (2) educational content that portrays a broader representation of real-world autistic behaviors.

Kinsey, a behavior therapist, was shot once in the leg by a police officer while trying to retrieve Arnaldo Rios-Soto, a young man with autism who had run away from a group home. Police were first called to the scene by 911 callers who misinterpreted the two men’s interactions. One call described a “possible suicidal man with a gun” – yet neither man was armed, and Rios-Soto was just holding a toy truck.

One video taken before the shooting shows Kinsey, who is black, lying on the ground on his back, empty hands in the air, calmly explaining the situation to North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda. “All he has is a toy truck. A toy truck. I am a behavioral therapist at a group home,” Kinsey told the officer.

That video does not show what Officer Aledda did next: he fired three shots, one of which hit Kinsey, who was then handcuffed and left on the ground bleeding for 20 minutes. Later from his hospital bed Kinsey recalled, “I’m saying, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ and his words to me were, ‘I don’t know.’” Officer Aledda, a SWAT team member, said in his official statement, “I did what I had to do in a split second.”

Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who also is black, said seeing the video “felt like a nightmare”: “If you’re ever stopped by the police — freeze, don’t move. That’s number one on the brochure that we created... What else could we have told him? What could have saved him from being shot?”

Members of the advocacy group The Circle of Brotherhood visited the North Miami police station July 20 asking for answers about Kinsey's case.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and state attorney’s office are investigating the shooting. Commander Emile Hollant was suspended without pay after giving conflicting statements to investigators. Miami-Dade police union rep John Rivera claimed Officer Aleddo had actually been trying to save Kinsey’s life – instead he had actually aimed at the autistic man. Disability advocates have justifiably been outraged over the horrific ethical and civil rights implications of that statement.

“To say that we didn’t mean to shoot the African-American guy, we meant to shoot the guy with the disability, makes the person’s life worth nothing,” said Matthew Dietz, an attorney for the Soto family. Dietz said Rios-Soto was held almost four hours in a police car and is traumatized.

What conditions in law enforcement departments might have contributed to this seemingly inexplicable shooting?

Continue reading "Fear at the Intersection of Race and Autism – Part 1" »

Health Risk Déjà Vu: Corporations, Chemicals & Fabricated Advocates

Toxic Hot SeatBy Nancy Hokkanen

In the corporate battles for high-stakes public health contracts, a public relations parallel exists between manufacturers of vaccines and flame retardants. Both industries continually push for mandates by leveraging mortal fear into sales. Both insist their products are completely safe, despite compelling research to the contrary – along with uncounted consumers’ reports of adverse medical events such as autism.

Last December HBO’s documentary Toxic Hot Seat detailed the controversy over flame retardant chemicals used in U.S. furniture. The filmmakers assert that corporations “obscure the risks to public health and misrepresent chemical safety data by paying 'experts' to alarm legislators and the public” – and oppose state bills to eliminate toxic flame retardants from home furnishings.

HBO’s film, inspired in part by the Chicago Tribune’s 2012 investigative series “Playing With Fire,” makes the case that profiteering via manufactured fear is skewing public health decision-making. Filmmakers and reporters both noted similarities between the PR tactics of Big Tobacco and flame retardant manufacturers, saying the latter “waged deceptive campaigns that led to the proliferation of these chemicals, which don’t even work as promised.”

(Note: Age of Autism readers familiar with the Chicago Tribune‘s autism coverage might ask whether its reporters have been pejoratively labeled by critics as “pro-fire.”)

No federal law requires furniture to be flame retardant, but for decades most U.S. manufacturers have adhered to the California flammability standard outlined in Technical Bulletin 117. The document describes flame resistance limits for upholstery fillings such as foams, beads and feathers, when exposed to ignition sources such as a lit cigarette. Flame retardants work by generating reactive or additive compounds that operate alone or as synergists, interfering with combustion, insulating fuel sources, or diluting sources of fuel or oxygen.

Chemical compounds with names like Tris (TCDP) and Firemaster 500 are part of a multi-billion-dollar international industry. According to the American Chemistry Council's North American Flame Retardant Alliance, the main uses are in electronics and electrical devices, building and construction materials, furnishings, and transportation (airplanes, trains, automobiles). Tris contains bromine, an element whose Greek name means “stench.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control website says bromine is used as a chlorine alternative in swimming pools, though at certain concentrations it can irritate skin, mucous membranes and tissues.

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“Vaccines’ Benefits Outweigh Risks” Implies Children Injured by Vaccines are Expendable


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 Jenny The View 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:

  • The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines risk as “possibility of loss or injury”; the definition of safe is “free from harm or risk; unhurt.”
  • The U.S. Centers for Disease Control insists that the agency’s vaccine schedule for infants and children is safe, though some are injured. "Serious side effects following vaccination… are very rare and doctors and clinic staff are trained to deal with them."
  • The CDC had the Institute of Medicine convene a committee to study the childhood vaccine schedule; it "expressed support for the childhood immunization schedule as a tool to protect against vaccine preventable diseases," yet urges further safety study… but not a vaccinated/unvaccinated study.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court has declared that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.”
  • The National Vaccine Safety Compensation Program has paid out $2 billion in vaccine injury claims, with 80% of cases filed thrown out.
  • Since 1990, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System has received over 200,000 reports.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics seems to think that risk/benefit education only means warning about risks from NOT vaccinating.

Continue reading "“Vaccines’ Benefits Outweigh Risks” Implies Children Injured by Vaccines are Expendable" »

Marie McCormick & Public Health’s “Protection” Racket

Mccormick1By Nancy Hokkanen

To parents whose child suffers from vaccine-induced autism, public health policymakers’ claims of protecting children ring hollow. Paradoxically many parents now feel they must protect themselves and their families from myopic and insular agency administrators unresponsive to consumer reports of adverse reactions to vaccines.

One example came last fall from Dr. Marie McCormick of the Harvard School of Public Health, who claimed that children with autism are especially in need of immunization in order to “protect them.”

On November 2 HSPH held a forum (webcast here) entitled “Trust In Vaccines: Why It Matters.” The event was held to discuss “the importance of immunization, the safety of vaccines, and the consequences of vaccine hesitancy.” Vaccines were described as a “cost-effective stalwart” and a “target for misinformation.” (One might argue, though, that said misinformation began with the event’s one-sided promotional description, which predictably omitted mention of vaccines’ limitations and failures.)

One of four “expert participants,” McCormick is a professor of maternal and child health at Harvard. Near the forum’s end, at 56:54, an online question was read to the moderated panel:

     “With the surprising volume of science and medical evidence that shows a large percentage of children with Autism Spectrum Disease have a range of immune system dysfunction indicators, i.e. physiology, neurology and genetics, can the panel comment on whether continuing investigation should look at how vaccines may intersect to change the trajectory of ASD development, rather than the cause?”

Oddly, the members of the panel responded with nervous laughter; they then looked to McCormick to respond, and off she went. “I actually think that’s asking the question the wrong way,” McCormick said. “First of all, there is no evidence that I know of that says immunization alters anything in the expression of autism. I just – I don’t.

Continue reading "Marie McCormick & Public Health’s “Protection” Racket" »

Brian Deer at UW-Lacrosse "The future for investigative journalism is very bleak"

Brian Deer LaCrosse Oct 5 2012By Nancy Hokkanen

On Friday, October 5 UK reporter Brian Deer gave his second presentation at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse, on “Stiletto Journalism: Busting the Vaccine Scare.” Ostensibly a primer on his coverage of the fallout from the 1998 Lancet MMR case series of Andrew Wakefield et al., in reality the presentation was part vanity schtick, argumentum ad hominem, and careful deception.

Seated in the unfilled room were students given credit to attend, and faculty positioned as if anticipating disruption. A muscular bald man sat in front facing the crowd, rather than the podium. Dr. Thomas Pribek, an assistant professor of English whose tweedy appearance came right out of central casting, mentioned having Deer in class the day before. In introducing the speaker, Pribek pontificated that stories garnering an “emotional response dissipate in the fog” but “facts remain in the light of day.”

Perhaps advised about the threatening implication of his chosen title, Deer stated that his use of the word “stiletto” only meant applying great force to a narrow area; he said journalists should use narrow focus rather than broad. The diminutive Brit claimed to have received intimidating emails at times in his career, and he used AIDS denialists as an example of zealotry over public health issues.

Deer announced to his audience that he had uncovered a “secret network of businesses” that would profit from Wakefield’s actions, including the affiliated University. All the information, he said, was “waiting in the public domain,” and took years to unfold because “you have to wait… not dump information.” (Later a student asked whether anyone else would ever have uncovered the MMR/autism story; Deer replied “No.”)

In a puzzling contradiction for someone seeking credibility, Deer quoted his aunt’s advice: “Believe nothing you hear, and hardly anything you see.”

The pejoratives and machismo began early, with Deer describing Andrew Wakefield as “this strange person” and using intimidating imagery – describing a scene from the movie A Bronx Tale in which a mobster beats a Hell’s Angel. Deer took obvious delight in listing the penalties against Wakefield onscreen and verbally, and boasted, “That was a result of journalism.”

Displaying a 2004 photo of Wakefield and Deer, the reporter admitted he “pursued Dr. Wakefield at Indianapolis.” To the laughter of the audience, he animatedly asserted that Wakefield covered the camera lens and ran, adding for humorous effect, “It was all very Edwardian.” Deer claimed Wakefield “called on parents to boycott the MMR vaccine” and “started the vaccine scare.”

(Below is a video of parental experience at an event in protest of the Deer appearance.)

At times the balding presenter used risqué language on the young audience, saying there are only two things he likes: “One is sex and the other is reading my name in the newspaper.” Deer said that after the BMJ ran its January 2011 article on Wakefield, a Harris poll showed that 145 million Americans “knew the fundamentals of the story” and his work had “a massive impact on public opinion.” Knowing that newspaper presses across the U.S. were running his story, he “felt a great honor at the time.”

(On a related note, students of journalism should look up which U.K. and U.S. newspapers once promoted a false link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.)

Next came comments discrediting the UK parents. Onscreen appeared a photo of Isabella Thomas and her two boys; according to Deer, who is not a medical professional, “neither had autism… it turned out they didn’t have it.” He said he filmed Jodie Marchant, and discussed her daughter’s digestion problems in repulsive detail. Marchant, he said, had made allegations against a doctor and a nurse; he noted without a touch of irony, “You can’t broadcast anybody’s unsupported allegations against anybody.”

Then Deer moved from parents to professionals. Dr. Richard Halvorson was maligned for selling single vaccines. Journalist Lucy Johnston was criticized for writing articles that provided Wakefield’s point of view (along with quotes from another MMR researcher, Dr. Vijendra Singh). Again, Deer seemed unaware of the self-incriminating implications when he proffered, “Newspaper [reporters] believe they have to climb on board and become public relations people.”

Continue reading "Brian Deer at UW-Lacrosse "The future for investigative journalism is very bleak"" »

Son Burn

Sun burn hand(Editor's note: Please welcome Nancy Hokkanen as Age of Autism's newest Contributing Editor. An astute observer and wonderful writer, she lives in Minnesota with her husband and their much-loved 14-year-old son. For ten years she has volunteered for several autism advocacy groups, co-moderates a biomedical treatment listserv, and was recently appointed to the Canary Party executive board.)

By Nancy Hokkanen

Ten years ago my son received the diagnosis of autism. At age four his future was uncertain, so for years I felt that I needed to be his voice. But nowadays I ask his permission regarding what I write or say about him publicly. Here, for example.

To my great relief, my son can now speak and write for himself. Unlike so many other kids on the autism spectrum, my son is verbal. Sometimes too verbal, invective-wise. He’s taken a novel-writing class. Hey, he can use “de facto” in a sentence.

I say this not to boast, but to share hope with others wondering what their child might achieve some day. My son’s expressive language skills developed in part from biomedical treatments, speech therapy, educational TV, and hour-long phone conversations with peers about video games. And let’s not forget YouTube!

As Hokkanen the Younger grows physically, academically and psychologically, so too grows his desire for independence. Like others his age he wants to make his own choices – a laudable goal. But what if he doesn’t realize that those choices could hurt him? I’ve spent 14 years protecting my son from falls and choking and bugs and bad weather. I’ve also sheltered him from people who don’t understand autism, and from those who use the issue for selfish purposes.

The truth is, I can’t protect my son forever. Sometimes we autism parents must decide to let our kids learn from their own mistakes… but of course, only to a point. Obviously someone who’s more mentally challenged or has oppositional defiant disorder will need very firm guidance for safety protection. Parents’ knowledge of their children’s individual affects and limits is a static and priceless commodity.

Recently I consciously decided to let my son get his first uncomfortable sunburn. Before he left home to go swimming with a friend’s family, his father and I had wanted to apply sunscreen to his pale Nordic skin, like always. He refused. We ordered him to let us apply sunscreen. He refused. A ritual of parental caring had just become a personal civil rights issue.

I considered our options:

  • Telling him “Go to your room” is actually a reward.
  • To him, limiting screen time constitutes cruel and inhuman punishment.
  • He’s taller than me, but I have the tactical weight advantage.

My son argued his case. “I just want to have the experience so I’ve learned my lesson and I won’t do it again,” he told me. “I understand that some experiences are ones that I can’t do again. Like jumping off a cliff.”

Telling the lad he couldn’t go swimming seemed an overreaction, so I analyzed the conditions and variables involved in swimming without sunscreen. The TV weather report said the day’s UV rating was low. Dad and I estimated the amount of time he’d actually be in the pool and decided that, even with water reflection, any potential sunburn to nose and shoulders would not be dangerous or particularly painful… just uncomfortable. My husband and I had grown up without benefit of sunscreen, had gotten sunburned many times and survived, but back in those prehistoric times Planet Earth had a thicker ozone layer.

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