By Anne McElroy Dachel, Media Editor
I don't think it was the intention of the New Jersey Public Health Council to stir up the heated debate over vaccines and autism that's getting coverage everywhere in the press. The story about mandating four new vaccines for preschoolers and children in day care in NJ is even in the New York Times. This publicity only serves to fuel the already contentious claim that unsafe vaccines are linked to the epidemic of autism among our children.
What got my attention was the fact that we were only hearing that these new scheduled vaccines had the approval of the New Jersey Public Health Council along with the public health commissioner, Dr. Fred Jacobs and the deputy commissioner, Dr. Eddy Bresnitz.
WABC-TV News in New York put out the story, NJ to Vote on Annual Flu Shots for Preschoolers in which the pubic was told, "Governor Corzine and state health officials have already approved the new requirements. The Council is expected to make it official today." It certainly sounded like a done deal and that all those who were protesting this move by New Jersey were just wasting their time.
I thought back to the explosive reaction last February when Texas Governor Rick Perry mandated the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, for sixth grade girls in his state with an executive order. The outrage from parents and interest groups from around the country was swift and the state legislature overrode his mandate.
The New York Times article by Jill Capuzzo Flu Shots for Children Grow Near in New Jersey seemed to imply that in New Jersey the Public Health Council has the power to decide the vaccine schedule without action by the legislature or any input from the public. Her article told about a standing room only crowd on Monday, Dec. 10 that met with the deputy health commissioner.
The audience was informed that the link between vaccines and autism was "scientifically unfounded." Bresnitz also called the thimerosal argument "a moot issue," and said that the flu shot being mandated only contained "trace amounts" of the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal. Regardless, Bresnitz told parents that they could request a thimerosal-free formulations of the flu vaccine if they were worried.
I have a hard time understanding how Bresnitz can refer to the unconscionable level of mercury in the flu shot as only a trace. What would most people consider a trace of the second deadliest element on Earth and a known neurotoxin? Why is mercury in anything we inject into children?
Bresnitz must be aware that ninety percent of the flu vaccine available contains mercury. Good luck to parents who look for mercury-free shots.
The trace amount is 25 mcg of deadly mercury in the flu shot for children age three and older. By EPA standards, that much mercury is meant for someone weighing 550 pounds. Children younger than three get 12.5 mcg of mercury in the flu vaccine. That much mercury is meant for a person weighing 275 pounds, according to the EPA. This information is out there, I can't understand how Dr. Bresnitz can ignore it.
Since the mandate increase has the endorsement of the New Jersey Health Council and state health officials along with the governor, obviously those in charge of health care in NJ don't see anything alarming about the amount of mercury in the flu shot.
I was curious about who exactly is on this panel that decides what vaccines are mandated in New Jersey and I got a copy of the list:
Herbert Yardley, MA, Chairperson
Dennis San Filippo, Vice Chairperson
Minnie Campbell, D.N.Sc., RN, Secretary
Lawrence S. Harte, DDS
Riki E. Jacobs, Esq.
Sharol A. Lewis, MD, MPH, MBA
Mickey Gross, MPA
Robert J. Gogats, MPH
Concerning the vote to recommend the additional vaccines to the childhood schedule, reporter Capuzzo wrote, "By a vote of 5 to 2, with two abstentions, the advisory panel, the New Jersey Public Health Council, recommended approval of the flu shot requirement, as well as requiring three other new vaccines for school children." Only five of the nine council members backed this recommendation. That's hardly a ringing endorsement by anyone's standards. We aren't told about the objections of those who didn't vote for the schedule increase, nor do we hear if the lone doctor in the group was one of the five in favor of the added vaccines.
Since most of the news stories on this issue in New Jersey only report about the parents who protested the new mandated vaccines, I decided to talk to a practicing NJ pediatrician who had also told state officials about his objections to more vaccines, especially the addition of the flu vaccine.
Dr. Lawrence Rosen has outstanding credentials as a pediatrician. He practices in northern New Jersey and consults at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. Dr. Rosen also serves as Chief of Pediatric Integrative Medicine and as medical advisor to the Deirdre Imus Environmental Center. In addition he is a nationally recognized expert in Pediatric Integrative Medicine, acting as Chair of the Integrative Pediatrics Council (IPC), a non-profit group dedicated to transforming children's health care. Dr. Rosen has been a long standing advocate for children with autism and the need to address the environmental cause of autism.
I called Dr. Rosen so I could hear first-hand what he had to say about the controversial move. He is very concerned about the new mandates, especially the one for the flu vaccine. I posed the five questions to Dr. Rosen that are included below along with his responses:
1. As a pediatrician practicing in New Jersey, what have you done regarding the move by the state to require children in preschool and daycare to receive the flu vaccine every year?
I have strongly protested this measure in several ways. I have sent a personal letter to Governor Corzine and have spoken directly with COH Fred Jacobs urging them to hold a public, scientific debate on the matter. Furthermore, I have been educating parents about what this regulation might mean for their children and have encouraged them to contact the Governor's office and their representatives to express their views.
2. Why are you worried about the level of mercury in ninety percent of the vaccine available?
I was educated at MIT and at medical school to be a scientist. Science begins with honest, unbiased observation and continues with a careful examination of all observable facts. In my opinion, the thimerosal issue has become clouded by miscommunication and misunderstanding; it has become politicized. I cannot dismiss the numerous scientific studies questioning the safety of a product simply because I don't want to know, or because someone else told me it was OK. There is mounting evidence suggesting that thimerosal has the potential to cause great harm in children.
We are trained in medicine to "first do no harm." The precautionary principle embodies this philosophy, and as such, we should be avoiding the use of toxic agents unless we can prove safety. Even if you don't believe we have proven thimerosal is dangerous to humans, can anyone reassure us it is completely safe? Thimerosal, if introduced today to the FDA, would never be approved.
3. Why in your opinion does the state express no concern over exposing children to toxic mercury?
I would hope they don't see it this way, and am inclined to believe those who have the power to make such decisions are to date ill-informed. I think the New Jersey state process for vaccine evaluation is horribly flawed. This recent flu vaccine mandating fiasco is shining a bright light on how far we have to go to institute an open, fair, scientific evaluation process in NJ. It's embarrassing, and more importantly, may put millions of children at risk.
4. Do you think more states will follow New Jersey's example and mandate the flu shot for children?
I think we have a window here to educate the public and head off any efforts to nationalize this mandate. We need to re-establish trust in the vaccine process in the U.S. We have a long way to go.
5. Has the reaction of so many parents and others opposing this mandate had some effect?
Yes, and we must keep the pressure on and continue to speak our voices. One of America's greatest strengths is the power of its people. We must never forget Lincoln's great words, that we are a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people."
Dr. Rosen's last comment had a strange ring to it. There is hardly anything in this state mandate from five individuals on the Public Health Council of New Jersey that comes even close to Lincoln's view that we are a government "by the people."