Gardiner Harris of the New York Times is perhaps the most important journalist covering the debate over autism and vaccines in America today, given the way that paper drives the news cycle in this country. As such, it is surprising that he seems to have decided that the vaccine debate is, for all practical purposes, over.
Even more surprising is his lack of curiosity in exploring why some studies show that mitochondrial dysfunction among ASD kids is far more common than anyone ever suspected - including officials at the CDC.
In his lead-up article (HERE) to the HHS mitochondrial meeting last Sunday in Indianapolis (which seemed to get little or no media coverage), Mr. Harris quoted one researcher who estimated the number of cases of Americans with mitochondrial "disease" at 30,000 - or just 1-per-10,000 people - making it very rare indeed.
But that is the classic, severe form of mitochondrial disorder, which is inherited directly through maternal mitochondrial DNA. There is growing evidence that Hannah Poling and many other ASD kids have the much milder form of mitochondrial disorder, often referred to as mitochondrial "dysfunction."
One study in Portugal, which used muscle biopsies to confirm mitochondrial disorders in ASD children, estimated the rate at 7.2% of all cases (though other estimates go higher than that).
Now, the rate of ASD among US kids born back in 1994 (the latest CDC data we have, by the way), was 66-per-10,000 - so 7.2% of that would be almost 5 cases of ASD and mitochondrial disorders per 10,000 people.
Mr. Harris might also want to speak with some of the participants on an April conference call of the CDC's CISA Network (which includes top vaccine research centers and America's HMO industry), in which investigators at Johns Hopkins University reported that mild mitochondrial dysfunction (as opposed to "disease") might be linked to a nuclear DNA mutation passed down through the father.
That mutation, which might also confer intelligence, according to one presenter on the call, could be as common as 1-in-400 to 1-in-50 people (or a stunning 200-per-10,000).
I wrote to Mr. Harris and other science staff at The Times about this, but have not received a response.
Equally disheartening, Gardiner Harris seems to get his information mixed up not only on the pages of the newspaper, but in at least one email to a reader of The Times, as well.
I just noticed the following comment posted here at Age of Autism, about an exchange someone reportedly had with Mr. Harris, regarding my support for a bill introduced in Congress to study health outcomes among vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children.
I have often reported that CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said that such a study, while difficult to conduct, could and should be done.
The Age of Autism reader posted this:
I wrote Mr. Harris regarding his article and thought you might be interested in his response: "thanks for your note. there is no credible way to compare autism rates in vaccinated and unvaccinated children. and dr. gerberding made no such statements. david kirby got his story entirely wrong. thanks, gardiner"
But the problem is, I don't think I did get my story "entirely wrong." In 2005, Dan Olmsted, then at UPI, asked Dr. Gerberding at a news conference: "Have you looked at autism in a never-vaccinated population in the U.S. and if not, why not?
This is how Dr. Gerberding replied: "In this country we have very high levels of vaccination as you probably know and I think this year we have record immunization levels among all of our children, so to select out on a population basis that would be representative and look at the incidence in that population and compare it to the other population, is something that could be done, but as we're learning, just trying to look at autism in a community the size of Atlanta, it's very difficult to get effective numerator and denominator and to get a reliable diagnosis."
"I think those kinds of studies could be done and should be done. You'd have to adjust for the strong genetic component that also distinguishes, for example, people in Amish communities who may elect not to get immunized, also have genetic connectivity that would make them different from populations that are in other sectors of the United States."
So, Dr. Gerberding said that such studies "could be done and should be done." And yet, Gardiner Harris insists that the CDC Director "made no such statements," and that instead, I got my story "entirely wrong."
I assume that the email attributed to Mr. Harris is correct (and if it is not, I apologize in advance). Meanwhile, I will leave it to readers of this column to decide who got what wrong.
But it is disappointing to think that America's most important reporter covering this debate is not exploring the growing evidence of a link between mitochondrial dysfunction and autistic regression.
And it is downright puzzling that his understanding of Dr. Gerberding's position on studying vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children could be so entirely different than my own.
David Kirby is an Age of Autism contributor, journalist and author of Evidence of Harm.