Why does Marie McCormick – former chair of the panel that produced the botched IOM report claiming vaccines do not cause autism – currently serve as co-chair of the “Vaccine Safety Working Group” of the National Vaccine Advisory Council? Her past remarks should disqualify her from serving on any committees concerned with vaccine regulation as illustrated by the following examples retrieved from the leaked transcripts of the January 12, 2001 closed session of the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine at the National Academies Building in Washington DC.
Here is a comment she made in 2001, justifying a preconceived conclusion about autism and vaccines:
“What I am trying to get at is, do we want to simply, on our gut, say looking at the significance of the wild disease that you are protecting, and the seriousness and potential association with the vaccine -- because we are not ever going to come down that it [autism] is a true side effect -- is that going to be sufficient for you to judge public health impact?” (p. 97)
Here is another leaked comment of McCormick’s from the same meeting about minimizing the public backlash while giving the IOM Report’s CDC sponsors what they want:
“It is safety on a population basis but it is also safety for the individual child. I am wondering, if we take this dual perspective, we may address more of the parental concerns, perhaps developing a better message if we think what comes down the stream as opposed to CDC, which wants us to declare, well, these things are pretty safe on a population basis. I offer that as one strategy as we take this dual track.”(p. 33)
Those are unedited quotes of Dr. Marie McCormick from meetings of the Immunization Safety Review Committee on vaccines and autism - the committee that would eventually come to a formal “rejection of causation” in 2004, which effectively quashed federal funding of vaccine-related autism research. McCormick chaired that committee.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a conspiracy as “combin[ing] secretly for a… reprehensible purpose.” The drug industry loves to accuse others of invoking the C-word but this behavior of Dr. Marie McCormick and others – behind closed doors of the private, chartered IOM no less – is a conspiracy in the plainest sense of the word.
Needless to say, she should not sit on the National Vaccine Advisory Council. Even though her comments were made a decade ago, she continues to operate under the same principles as evidenced by her inaction on NVAC.
On June 14th, I decided to call up a session of NVAC and listen in to the public discussion among committee members. I was disturbed at what I heard:
One NVAC member said there should not be an independent vaccine safety committee because it would detract from what NVAC does! Another NVAC member said people who should be responsible for vaccine safety are “people like us – people who conduct clinical trials of vaccines” - for drug companies in other words. A third member said NVAC is like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) – overall considered successful at preventing plane crashes because someone on NTSB probably worked for Boeing within the last five years. He provided no example of this because he couldn't; none of the NTSB board members worked for Boeing within the last five years.
The most telling comment, however, came from a member who denied the public’s skepticism about the vaccine program – saying that the 5% of people who do not get vaccinated are “misinformed.” And these committee members – Marie McCormick among them – are left to decide if an independent government body focused solely on vaccine safety should exist.
Eventually, the floor was opened up to public comment – starkly different from the NVAC discussion. Pro bono lawyer Jim Moody, present at the meeting, was the first to give comments. He corrected the previous claim noting that while 95% of the population gets some vaccines, over 90% have at least some serious concerns about vaccine safety. He also cited the PACE law study that found a large group of children who developed autism resulting from adverse vaccine reactions were compensated by government and the utter lack of a vaccinated versus unvaccinated study of autism.
Next came Emily Tarsell with a phone comment; her daughter was killed by Gardasil. She said she could not understand why an independent vaccine safety committee wasn’t needed in light of all the issues with vaccine safety oversight.
None of the NVAC members commented on points made by Moody or Tarsell.
Then came my turn to give comment. Given the time constraints of the phone call, I gave edited versions of Dr. McCormick’s incriminating quotes from 10 years ago:
“CDC…wants us to declare, well, these things are pretty safe on a population basis.”
“…we are not ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect [of vaccines]”
I inquired how Marie McCormick could possibly be expected to serve on the committee in good faith given her past statements. As it turned out, members of the public cannot even ask questions – only make comments.
Immediately after I finished what I was saying, a committee member tersely stated “No questions!”
The phone operator reiterated the rule, “Sir, no questions!” (I suppose because questions would require answers.)
I then overheard the NVAC committee members’ reactions to my question:
“We’ll put that down as ‘empirical.’”
“I think you mean ‘rhetorical.’”
“Could also be empirical.”
Then they all broke into laughter – making a joke out of my comment and not addressing it. At that point, the committee took a break 15 minutes earlier than scheduled and did not open the session back up to public comment an hour later as was planned.
Jake Crosby commented that NVAC members lack independence or objectivity and said an NVAC member had stated that NVAC will never determine that autism is caused by a vaccine, and he questioned how such a member could be considered objective.
In reality, the only member I expressed concern about in my call was Marie McCormick, who was not even mentioned in the minutes. I did not claim she said NVAC will never determine autism is caused by vaccines either. I said, as corroborated by leaked IOM meeting minutes, that she made the statement, “We will never come down that it [autism] is a true side effect [of vaccines],” as IOM committee chairwoman in 2001 before any evidence was submitted to her panel for review.
Furthermore, by claiming I said McCormick said this about NVAC, but not about the IOM, the minutes covered up the fact that she came to a preconceived conclusion about causality. There was also no mention in the minutes of CDC involvement.
After the break, the NVAC members discussed recommendations to increase flu vaccine production for flu season. The flu shots are still laced with the mercury preservative, thimerosal. And these are the same folks charged with the task of deciding whether or not to create a new committee solely focused on vaccine safety?
Even if the 2000 Simpsonwood meeting transcripts, the email correspondences among some of its participants and the earlier Verstraeten data showing associations between mercury in vaccines and neurological disorders including autism were never retrieved in FOIA requests, those two quotes by Dr. McCormick are quite frankly enough to implicate CDC and IOM in coming to preconceived conclusions. No evidence was submitted to the IOM Committee in January 2001 when those quotes were made. Similarly, the CDC’s pressuring of the IOM to come to a set of desired conclusions completely contradicted the IOM’s stated purpose, which is to independently review scientific data wholly separate from any government agencies or pharmaceutical companies.
The IOM committee which McCormick chaired was rife with pharmaceutical interests, as revealed in the meeting notes. Next to the name Richard Johnston - Board of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Liaison who months earlier announced at Simpsonwood that he did not want his grandson exposed to thimerosal – are the words “SmithKline Beecham.” Next to panelist Vernice Anthony are the words “$5000 Merck” and next to fellow panelist Gerald Medoff are the words “pharma company.” Another panelist, Christopher Wilson, is listed next to “American Home Products,” which would later change its name to Wyeth and be purchased by Pfizer. And panelist Ronald Bayer coauthored a book published prior to the 2004 IOM Report, funded in part by a Merck Foundation Fellowship.
NVAC is no freer of conflict. In addition to Marie McCormick, there is Walter Orenstein, former director of the CDC’s National Immunization Program, which commissioned the IOM to come to its “independent” conclusions. Other unsuitable members include former CDC director James Mason – a trustee of “Evergreen International” – a group dedicated to curing homosexuality. Amy Pisani, another member on NVAC, is executive director of the Wyeth front group, Every Child By Two. Finally, Bruce Gellin – Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health and also Director of the National Vaccine Program Office – coauthored an article with millionaire vaccine industrialist Paul Offit claiming an infant can take up to 10,000 vaccines at once.
And yet, the mainstream press still supports these people and quotes them extensively, except when they draw preconceived conclusions behind closed doors. A prime example is The New York Times, which ran a 2005 article by ethically bankrupt reporter Gardiner Harris, who wrote:
"’It's really terrifying, the scientific illiteracy that supports these suspicions [that vaccines cause autism],’ said Dr. Marie McCormick, chairwoman of an Institute of Medicine panel that examined the controversy in February 2004.”
What is truly terrifying is Marie McCormick coming to conclusions before any data was submitted to her IOM committee for review. Her presence on NVAC as co-chair of the Vaccine Safety Working Group is a recipe for disaster.
Jake Crosby has Asperger Syndrome and is a contributing editor to Age of Autism. He is a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University with a BA in both History and Health: Science, Society and Policy. In August, he will attend The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services where he will study for an MPH in epidemiology.