By Dan Olmsted
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 -- If I were a rich man, and I wanted to downplay my wealth to someone who was hitting me up for money, I could say, "I'm only worth a tiny fraction of Bill Gates -- I've got a measly three dollars for every thousand he has, to tell you the painful truth." Of course, 0.3 percentage points of Bill Gates' $50 billion is big money -- $150 million. The point: Small fractions can add up to large numbers.
I've been trying to work out that kind of math in my head since the CDC conference call last week -- the one that flogged the new HMO-based study "reassuring" parents that organic mercury in vaccines is harmless. The one where I asked: Why not use never-vaccinated kids as a control group if you really want to reassure parents that mercury is just fine to inject in infants and pregnant women?
Here's the quote that got me thinking:
DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES, CDC: "In the United States we′re very fortunate to have immunization coverage and (in) our national surveys of two year olds, 0.3 percent of children have no vaccines – have received no vaccines at all. So one of the reasons that we have such low rates of vaccine-preventable diseases in this country is because we have high acceptance of vaccines and usage by parents and providers."
Dr. Schuchat was responding to a Forbes reporter who followed up on my question. The reporter clearly thought a never-vaccinated control group was a logical idea and was pressing for an explanation for why that wasn't done; Dr. Schuchat's argument was that the immunization rate in the United States is so high that a study comparing never-vaccinated kids is just not practical.
Well, let's do the math. There are four million or so children born in the U.S. every year. At a rate of 0.3 percentage points, that leaves about 12,000 American kids unvaccinated at age 2, year after year after year. Gosh, I'd love to know how many of that 12,000 grow up autistic -- it's 66 per 10,000 kids overall, according to the latest CDC numbers.
Yes, some of those two-year-olds will go on to get vaccinated later, but because autism typically manifests between a child's first and second birthday, there clearly are enough kids reaching age 2 without being vaccinated to tell us something important. What's more, postponing vaccinations till after a child's second birthday is an element of many alternative vaccine schedules proposed by parents and experts who fear neurological damage from shots given any earlier. So there's plenty to look for in a population that reaches age 2 without ever being vaccinated.
And I suspect the CDC's never-vaccinated numbers are low, because when Generation Rescue did its phone survey of children ages 4 to 17 -- well past their second birthday -- hundreds of never-vaccinated kids popped right up: "From 11,817 households, data on 17,674 children was gathered. Of the 17,674 children inventoried, 991 were described as being completely unvaccinated."
Come on now. One small group can spend $200,000 and come up with nearly a thousand ages 4 and up who'd never been vaccinated? But the CDC can't. Right.
My own research -- among the Amish, the home-schooled and a large practice in Chicago -- long ago led me to conclude there are tens of thousands of never-vaccinated kids of all ages in this country. And as Generation Rescue showed, they're not that hard to find, unless you're in the business of not looking. (Maybe the CDC could contract with Generation Rescue to identify a sufficient cohort of never-vaccinated kids to study.)
One reason I'm so suspicious about this is because every time the subject comes up, the CDC is loaded for bear. It's not enough to say the study is impossible; they have to add that it wouldn't be useful, even if it could be done. They bring up the Amish (I don't) to suggest that the difference could be genetic. They talk about how kids who aren't vaccinated could be different in some other way. It's hard for me to believe that every single argument in the universe just so happens to fall perfectly into place against the simple idea of testing the autism rate in never-vaccinated kids.
In other words, they protest too much. That's why Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., recently reintroduced her bill to force the federal government to study these kids. She doesn't buy their arguments, either.
Part of the establishment spiel is to point out not just the "fact" that nearly everyone is vaccinated, but to filibuster about how fabulous that is -- "one of the reasons we have such low levels of vaccine-preventable diseases in this country." That's great, but it's irrelevant. We're talking about an unexplained epidemic of neuro-developmental problems here, not a polio outbreak. Polio is bad, and so is autism. We can attack both without being dragooned into the "war on disease" every time we want to talk about autism.
Unfortunately, tactics like that -- and the "0.3 percent" number -- can be quite effective. The Forbes reporter on the conference call -- who I commend for simply asking the question -- seems to have been satisfied by the CDC answer: "Researchers couldn't compare kids who got vaccines with those who didn't, because almost all children are vaccinated," he subsequently wrote. "Only three kids out of every thousand in the United States don't get at least some vaccinations."
And only three dollars out of every thousand in Bill Gates' wallet would make me a very rich man.