I arrived at my office Tuesday morning in Greenwich Village, to find an urgent email from Jenny McCarthy and the Autism Action Network to attend this ECBT-AAP press conference in New York City. The press release promised a swank address, celebrity, politics, science and the press – so why not? I thought. So I hopped on the subway, entered the Peninsula Hotel at 5th Avenue and 55th St., and went to the appointed hall, where outside lay glossy red press kits labeled “Get the Facts: Vaccines Save Lives!” and videos with Amanda Peet’s smiling face and her public service announcements.
Inside the conference room was a long dias, set with placards for Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady and co-founder of ECBT; Betty Bumpers, former First Lady of Arkansas and co-founder of ECBT; Renee Jenkins, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Paul Offit, Director Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Amanda Peet, mother and actor; Ann Hotez, mother of an autistic daughter and wife of Peter Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute; and Amy Pisani, Executive Director of ECBT. Each person on the dias spoke briefly and then they took questions. The centerpiece was Amanda Peet’s remarks and the showcasing of the website www.vaccinateyourbaby.org and her public service announcements on vaccines.
The take-away messages from the presenters:
--it is a “myth not based on science” that vaccines cause autism (Carter, Bumpers);
--Ann Hotez’s child with autism had autism from birth (and implicitly so do all other children with autism):
--vaccines are exceptionally well-tested and safer than any other drugs (Peet, Pisani);
--it is implausible that there is a conspiracy of government, industry and medicine to obscure or hide a causal link between vaccines and autism (Peet);
--where would be if all parents failed to vaccinate their kids? (Peet)
--there’s nothing to fear from vaccines! (Offit, Jenkins)
There you have it. I imagine we would all love to live in that world, if only it were true and matched our hard-earned experience.
After these presentations, they opened the floor for questions. There were several softball questions from the press – when will the site be active? Can you get answers to questions? If 5 vaccines in a day is OK, is 6 or 7 OK, too?
I was able to wedge in a final set of comments and questions. I noted that their presentations suggested that all science was on one side – but indeed this is a very live controversy with science on both sides, as evidenced by the Omnibus Autism Proceeding. In fact, on the first day of the thimerosal hearings and after the Poling concession, Dr. Bernadine Healy, former Director of the NIH, stated that the government and scientific communities had not done enough to look at those who may be susceptible to vaccine injury. I asked if they really thought Dr. Healy was ill-informed. Well, yes, Dr. Offit offered – she must be misinformed, and she couldn’t possibly have seen the latest epidemiological studies yet again showing no link.
Then I asked why they don’t support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated populations – surely if they really want to convince people to vaccinate, they should support the Maloney-Weldon bill in Congress that would prove one way or the other whether vaccines are as safe as they suggest. Here both Drs. Jenkins and Offit chimed in. Dr. Jenkins said that no internal review board of any major institution would support such a study as it would be so compromising to the unvaccinated. But Dr. Offit disagreed and said that a retrospective study could be done. But unlike even Dr. Gerberding, Director of the CDC, who said this study can be done and should be done, neither presenter opined about the desirability of such a study.
After the press conference, I joined a rally of about 20 autism advocates across the street from the hotel, among them Kevin Barry, Jeff Dubrowski and Katie Wright. To my amazement, Katie Wright had been denied access to the press conference, although seats were available, for the stated reason that she had not sent in an electronic rsvp. To my further amazement, a representative from Autism Speaks was in attendance and that representative apparently neglected to put in a good word that would have ensured Katie access. A newscaster from Channel 9 interviewed the demonstrators and said the story would air Thursday, August 7 at 6:00.
ECBT and AAP fear that they are losing the public opinion battle that vaccines are harmless. They are deeply afraid of parents who assert that their children’s autism was triggered by vaccines. And they appear to deeply believe that they are right – that autism has nothing whatsoever to do with vaccines. What to do?
My strong impression was that at least some of these people are well-intentioned and imagine that they are doing God’s work to protect children from terrible diseases. While I certainly don’t imagine that it’s possible to change all of their minds, I think it might be possible to change some of their minds.
Could Autism Research Institute, the National Autism Association, Defeat Autism Now!, Age of Autism or another autism organization host an off-the-record meeting with some of these people to present the vaccine-autism evidence and engage them in dialogue? It may be a long shot, but who expected the Poling concession or that Dr. Healy would start to speak out?
Thanks to Cris Italia of Spectrum Publications for the photos.
Mary Holland teaches at New York University Law School and may be contacted HERE Thank you to A-CHAMP for providing this important service. A-CHAMP, Advocates for Children’s Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning, is a national, non-partisan political action organization formed by parents in support of children with neurodevelopmental and communication disorders.