By Anne Dachel
Last Friday it was announced that Merck Pharmaceutical Company would pay $4.85 billion to settle the 60,000 personal injury lawsuits involving Vioxx.There were reportedly more than 27,000 stroke and heart attack deaths in the U.S. resulting from the arthritis medicine. This news may not seem to have a connection to the autism epidemic, but I could instantly relate it to the controversy linking vaccines to autism.
The Associated Press Story "Merck settles Vioxx lawsuits" that I read left me with a question: How could something that brought pain relief to millions of people around the world have had such disastrous side effects? What went wrong? The fact that so many people died or were injured makes us wonder about things like FDA oversight and the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry.
The Merck disaster does relate to the controversy over vaccines and autism. Vaccines are universally praised as lifesaving. Many feel they're the greatest medical achievement in history -- truly the sacred cow of health care. Anyone claiming that vaccines are also doing damage comes under immediate attack. Those of us who call vaccines into question find ourselves up against the medical community and the federal health agencies.
The media is often at a loss in how to report on this controversy. When members of the press mention vaccines as a possible cause, they are challenged by local doctors and health departments. If they give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the last word on vaccine safety and tell us that the CDC studies show no serious side effects from vaccines, parents are quick to point out that this is the agency that runs the vaccine program. The CDC has everything at stake in denying vaccines are damaging kids. We demand to know why the press is giving this agency oversight over itself.
The Vioxx story should alert everyone to the fact that our fight isn't over the science. It's over proving the damage. It's over waking people up to what's happening to our children before our eyes.
I've been writing to the press for years to get the media to legitimately cover this crisis. There are so many many parents and others out there now that they can't avoid the controversy. The debate is making the news and I'm really looking forward to someday reading: "Who will be held responsible if it is clearly shown that through horrendous oversight failure, a generation of children has been damaged by vaccines?"
That is the unthinkable question in the minds of officials. That's why they pretend to address autism, not as a crisis, but as something we're just beginning to understand. It's why autism "must be genetic." Autism can't be increasing, no matter how many kids have a diagnosis. Autism services can't be a national scandal despite the waiting lists and families facing bankruptcy. Autism has to be something that's always been around.
I've never seen the coverage like it is now, and I know so many reporters who are working on more. Every day I see officials on the defensive and they can't settle the debate, no matter how many studies they come up with. I see reporters asking serious questions and making observations about what's happening. This is what gives me such hope that our issue will soon be taking center stage. Every time this topic comes up, it raises questions in the minds of the public at large. Why do people keep saying vaccines cause autism? Why are we hearing so much about a disorder that was never an issue before?
Looking over autism coverage this past week is proof of my claim. Personally speaking, it was a rare treat for me. When I write to newspapers, I do it to inform. I send volumes of information. I cite the experts. I include links to stories and reports that should raise questions. My goal isn't to get myself in print, but last week Newsday in New York included my letter. The topic was the call by the American Academy of Pediatrics for universal autism screening by age two. I got to make the points in print that I'm always bringing up. I asked why both the AAP and the CDC refuse to recognize that we're in the midst of an autism epidemic.
Newsday allowed me to bring this to the attention of the public: The point everyone seems to be missing is that when we talk about autism, we're talking about children with autism. The CDC has never been able to come up with a population study that can show us the misdiagnosed/undiagnosed adults with autism at a rate of one in 150.
That simple fact should be scaring everyone. In a few short years, the generation of children with autism will be the generation of adults dependent on the taxpayers for their support and care. Will we still be ignoring the autism epidemic when that happens?
I hope my letter got some people thinking about how autism will impact everyone regardless of whether they know an affected child.
There were other great things in the news this past week.
Mike Cronin at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review did outstanding work in his piece
Pennsylvania Parents Grow Wary of Vaccines. The article centered on the fact that "the number of students in Pennsylvania claiming religious or medical exemptions from vaccinations has more than doubled in the past eight years -- to 24,919 last year from 9,722 in 1999, according to the state Department of Health." His coverage really was fair and balanced. While doctors did call vaccines "the single most effective public health intervention available" and warn about the return of vaccine-preventable diseases if parents don't vaccinate, we also heard from parents and other experts. Dr. Mark Geier and his son were cited saying that "after conducting more than 25 independent studies, they believe there is a relationship between mercury and autism." Dr. Sherri Tenpenny told us, "When you look at the fact that we're the most highly vaccinated population in the world, yet we are sickest, in dollars spent, something is wrong with public health in this country."
WBTV in Charlotte NC produced a health alert called "Mercury Poisoning". In this report the public was told about Benjamin Nickell, a 10 year old boy with autism. His parents link his regression into autism to the mercury he received in his vaccines as a baby. Dr. Rasheed Buttar talked about autism and high mercury levels in autistic children. Every time the media allows parents and experts who do believe in the link between vaccines and autism to have their voices heard, the public gets to know more about the science on our side.
The media star of recent days has got to be Lin Wessels of Rock River, IA. Lin is out to make autism an issue in the presidential campaign. She's talking to the candidates and asking what they plan to do about the autism epidemic. She brings up the mercury issue. The Sioux City Journal story, "Mom takes autism crusade to the presidential candidates" on Nov. 3, publicized Lin's mission. The Journal reported "[Lin] points to the preservative thimerosal, which is 49 percent ethyl mercury by weight. Wessels said the safety of thimerosal was never tested, that its creation came in 1929 before the FDA was created in 1940s, and thimerosal 'was just grandfathered in' by the FDA as acceptable." We never hear these things about thimerosal in articles where officials tell us that the mercury in vaccines is harmless.
The Journal said, "Wessels not only is pushing for more funding into autism, she's prodding the presidential office seekers to look into whether mercury poisoning from a vaccine preservative is a major cause." She took her message to Senator John McCain. Lin talked about her son Sam's mercury levels. Lin tested Sam and she got the results of mercury levels from lots of parents. The Journal said, "A UPPA rating greater that 200 is out of the safe range, and Sam's was 254. When Wessels, Sam and many relatives attended the Monday campaign stop by McCain in Rock Rapids, she delivered to him 208 high UPPAs from children in 35 states."
KSFY-TV in Sioux Falls, SD also carried Lin's story. The news video, "Autism: The Epidemic?" on KSFY presented Lin and her story. It showed her asking Senator McCain to talk with her and other parents about autism. Senator McClain accepted Lin's invitation. He tells Lin and others he'll be happy to meet with her at her convenience. The date has been set for Nov. 20 in Washington, DC.
What we're seeing here is fair reporting. Parents aren't asking for more than the chance to be heard alongside of the doctors and health officials who constantly tell us that there's nothing wrong with one in every 150 children, including one in every 94 boys, having autism. We have endless experts and research on our side, too. This is not a simple issue. It deserves authentic coverage. We are starting to see the press taking us seriously.