By Anne Dachel
Managing Editor's Note: You can click into the NEJM to read the two pieces referenced. The body copy also runs at the bottom of the post.
On August 7, the New England Journal of Medicine published the opposing opinions of Dr. Jon Poling, father of Hannah Poling, and Dr. Paul Offit, Infectious Disease Specialist from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, on the Vaccine Court case in which the federal government conceded that vaccines were a factor in the development of autism in Hannah. Titled, Vaccines and Autism Revisited, the letters run in the "Correspondance" section of NEJM. (Click HERE to read the August 7th piece)
In the May 15 NEJM Perspective section, Offit split every hair he could to try and lessen the impact of the Poling case. He tried to convince the public that there was no scientific basis for the concession. (Click HERE to read the May 15th piece.) Offit's remarks led to the August 7 response by Dr. Poling.
In his August 7 piece, Poling went after Offit's opinion about his daughter's case using phrases like "Offit misrepresents my position," "Offit confuses issues," and "His opinion is unsupported by clinical trials."
Poling also said that he agreed with the remarks made by former head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy, on CBS News, who said, 'I don't think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you're afraid of what it might show. . . . If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion there is a susceptible group . . . what can I say?'
The fair and balanced NEJM then allowed Offit to respond to Poling at the bottom of the article. Offit defended his remarks by claiming that the science is on his side and the facts support his view. He made one stunning comment. He brought up Healy's remarks about the need for further study of a subgroup of children who might be damaged by vaccines. Offit wrote, "Now, Poling and Healy are standard-bearers for the poorly conceived hypothesis that children receive too many vaccines too early. As a consequence, some parents are choosing to delay, withhold, or separate vaccines."
That was really a low blow. To claim that one of the top doctors in the U.S. was promoting a "poorly conceived hypothesis" and that "the public airing of that hypothesis caused thousands of parents to avoid the MMR; many children were hospitalized and several died from measles as a result," was really pitting doctor against doctor in the vaccine war. (Amanda Peet just told us on Good Morning America, "Please don't listen to me. . . . Go to the experts." Well, here they are and they don't agree!)
I had to go back to the remarks made by Healy on CBS Evening News (Click HERE) on May 12 to figure out what exactly she said that could be described as a "poorly conceived hypothesis." Soft-spoken and reasonable in her conversation with CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson, Healy called for more studies on vaccines and autism. She said that we need to do the studies to find out if there is a subgroup of children who are susceptible to a particular vaccine, to vaccines plural, or to components in vaccines. She urged scientists "to take another look at that hypothesis, not deny it."
Healy said nothing to undermine that vaccine program. She told the public, "A susceptible group does not mean that vaccines aren't good." She firmly stated that she didn't believe "the public would lose faith in vaccines."
We have the most heated controversy in medicine today over vaccines and Healy addressed it by saying, "It is the job of the public health community and of physicians to be out there and to say yes, we can make it safer because we are able to say, this is a subset. We're going to deliver it in a way we think is safer."
Sharyl Attkisson then brought up the fact that health officials will deny there is a link between vaccines and autism. They say there's no evidence.
Healy, shaking her head, firmly stated twice, "You can't say that."
Why? Because they haven't studied "the population that got sick."
Healy said that she hasn't seen "major studies that focus on 300 kids who got autistic symptoms within a period of a few weeks of getting a vaccine."
Healy noted the primate and mouse studies that have been too quickly dismissed. She challenged the conclusions of the IOM Report of 2004 where we were told not to "pursue susceptibility groups." Healy said, "I really take issue with that conclusion. The reason they didn't want to look for those susceptibility groups was because if they found them, . . . that would scare the public away."
Offit might think that the endless epidemiological studies have settled the question, but Healy made it clear, "Populations do not test causality, they test associations. You have to go into the laboratory."
Healy chided the medical community by saying, "The fact that there is concern that you don't want to know that susceptible group is a real disappointment to me."
She ended a chilling comment about vaccines and the link to autism: "The question has not been answered."
From his remarks, it's pretty obvious that Offit is opposed to any open scientific inquiry. Healy didn't say that all children were receiving too many too soon, as Offit claimed. She said we need to find that subgroup of children.
The CDC studies that are always being promoted in the press haven't settled a thing. The public is growing increasingly skeptical of health officials and their claims. They don't want to risk the health of their children by giving them vaccines with possibly damaging side effects. Healy's was the refreshing voice of reason in this debate. Too bad Offit refused to listen.
Perhaps the ending of the Poling/Offit pieces said it all. After Poling's remarks, he listed his conflicts from the lecturing and consulting fees he had received from different pharmaceutical companies. At the end of Offit's, all we see is "Children's Hospital of Philadelphia."