(NOTE: I want to thank Ginger Taylor who recently described reporters as “stenographers” –in this case, for the CDC. The term fit perfectly in my last question.)
Every once in a while I come across a story and a columnist that really impress me. That happened recently with two stories by a veteran journalist/author from Canada named Lawrence Solomon. Solomon is a columnist at the National Post, one of the leading newspapers in Canada.
The first story was published on April 16th and it was entitled, The Untold Story of Measles.
Naturally, after reading endless stories blaming non-vaccinating parents for outbreaks of measles, I was interested in what “the untold story of measles” might be.
The opening statement seemed to contradict everything I’d been told about measles:
Early in the last century, measles killed millions of people a year. Then, bit by bit in countries of the developed world, the death rate dropped, by the 1960s by 98% or more. In the U.K., it dropped by an astounding 99.96%. And then, the measles vaccine entered the market.
“And then, the measles vaccine entered the market”? Solomon included a graph that showed that the introduction of the measles vaccine had little impact on reducing deaths from measles.
Solomon seems to be a journalist who doesn’t just accept the word of one particular group of experts. He wrote,
After the vaccine’s introduction, the measles death rate continued to drop into the 1970s. Many scientists credit the continued decline entirely to the vaccine. Other scientists believe the vaccine played a minor role, if that, noting that most infectious diseases similarly petered out during the 20th century, including some, like scarlet fever, for which vaccines were never developed.
The credit for the century-long decline, scientists generally agree, goes to improved nutrition and improved health care, side effects of the West’s growing affluence. In the U.S., the death rate dropped by about 98%, from about 10 per 100,000 population a century ago to one fifth of one person by 1963, the year measles vaccines made their American debut. Both before and after vaccination started, victims tended to be poor.
So, not all scientists accept that the vaccine is solely responsible for saving us from measles. “Scientists generally agree” that the decline BEFORE the vaccine came along was due to lifestyle changes.
It seems that children got the measles, described here as “typically a benign childhood illness,” recovered and went on to have lifelong immunity. This meant of course, that adults weren’t susceptible to the measles.
The measles vaccine changed all that. Women who were vaccinated as children became susceptible as adults because their immunity wore off.
A study in Houston of 12 pregnant women and one who had just given birth, all of whom had measles, found one died, seven suffered pneumonia and seven hepatitis, four went through premature labour and one lost her child in a spontaneous abortion. A study of eight measles pregnancies in Japan found three ended in spontaneous abortions or stillbirths while four babies were born with congenital measles; two mothers endured pneumonia and one hemorrhagic shock. A Los Angeles study of 58 such pregnancies found 21 ended prematurely (three induced abortions, five spontaneous abortions and 13 preterm deliveries); 35 of the 58 mothers were hospitalized, 15 contracted pneumonia, and two died.
The danger extends to babies, whose bodies are too immature to receive measles vaccination before age one, making them entirely dependent on antibodies inherited from their mothers. In their first year out of the womb, infants suffer the highest rate of measles infections and the most lasting harm. Yet vaccinated mothers have little antibody to pass on . . .
Solomon went on to describe the safety issues that caused the first measles vaccines to be withdrawn in Canada. Efficacy is also questionable, as Solomon wrote,
In recent years, the new vaccination regime, too, has been failing, with widespread outbreaks again occurring, including among those who have received the recommended dose and especially among infants too young to be vaccinated, and thus unprotected because their mothers had been vaccinated. Now health experts, scrambling to find solutions, are suggesting numerous reforms, including earlier child vaccinations and second doses for adults.
Solomon ended the piece describing parental safety concerns.
Clearly, the science is not settled, making for parents a numbers game of the decision to vaccinate their children. Some parents rely on the press or health authorities to interpret the numbers. Others defy the authorities and weigh the risks in the numbers differently, in deciding what’s best for their own families. Who are these others? According to a survey in Pediatrics, unvaccinated children in the U.S. have a mother who is at least 30 years old, who has at least one college degree and whose household has an annual income of at least $75,000. In the absence of studies showing vaccinated children to be healthier than those unvaccinated, the parents in these educated households have determined that the numbers argue against vaccination.
I was shocked at that last paragraph. I can’t think of anyone in the mainstream media who would publicly admit that “the science is not settled.” According to all the major news outlets I’ve looked at, the science has been in for years and naïve, ignorant, paranoid parents just won’t believe it.
Members of the press almost never give credence to the idea that parents have any need to worry about vaccines.
I especially liked the comment about “the absence of studies showing vaccinated children to be healthier than those unvaccinated.” That sounded like that long overdue, simple comparison study of fully vaccinated vs never vaccinated children. Imagine a news story here saying this.
Then on May 1st, a second story by Lawrence Solomon appeared in the National Post. Once again it was about the measles vaccine. It was called, Vaccines Can’t Prevent Measles Outbreaks.
I had to pause after seeing that headline.
Right at the top was the bold statement: “Measles in highly immunized societies occurs primarily among those previously immunized.” This wasn’t junk science from some renegade doctor.
This was the opinion of one of the top vaccine experts in world, Dr. Gregory Poland at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Poland has strong ties to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to Merck.
Outbreaks of measles are not the result of unvaccinated children— they’re the fault of the vaccine itself.
The more fundamental problem stems from the vaccine being less effective in real life than predicted, with a too-high failure rate — between 2% and 10% don’t develop expected antibodies after receiving the recommended two shots. Because different people have different genetic makeups, the vaccine is simply a dud in many, failing to provide the protection they think they’ve acquired.
To make matters worse, even when the vaccine takes, the protection quickly wanes, making it unrealistic to achieve the 95%-plus level of immunity in the general population thought necessary to protect public health. For example, 9% of children having two doses of the vaccine, as public health authorities now recommend, will have lost their immunity after just seven and a half years. As more time passes, more lose their immunity. “This leads to a paradoxical situation whereby measles in highly immunized societies occurs primarily among those previously immunized,” Dr. Poland stated.
It’s in the genes
The answer, according to Dr. Poland, lies in our genes. Because of their genetic predisposition, some people will not respond to the current measles vaccine, even with additional boosters. By the same token, the genetic predisposition of others makes them susceptible to harm from the measles vaccine, leading to public wariness, including among the well educated. What is needed, suggests Dr. Poland, is for the public health establishment to accept that the current measles vaccine has so many drawbacks as to make it unworkable, and get on with the job of developing next-generation vaccines.
Poland is looking forward to the next “generation of vaccines,” which will be “personalized, rather than one-size-fits-all, vaccines.” He foresees a vaccine schedule based on an individual’s genetics.
It was amazing to read this. How could all this information be true? We’ve been led to believe that there is absolutely nothing to worry about when it comes to vaccines. Vaccines are safe, vaccines save lives. Every child should be vaccinated. Even talking about this subject so openly is dangerous, or so we’ve been led to believe. But of course, this wasn’t coming from the American press.
Dr. Poland may be quoted in the National Post in Canada saying that the measles vaccine doesn’t really work, but no one here is writing about it.
Instead, I can go to Google News and find all kinds of stories about the evils of non-vaccinating parents and public health officials saying they’re responsible for making kids sick with the measles.
Remember Paul Offit on Stephen Colbert on April 28th?
Offit blamed non-vaccinating parents for outbreaks of measles. Nothing was said about Dr. Poland and vaccine failure.
I didn’t feel that Lawrence Solomon had taken a particular side in his coverage. He focused on the facts. He was willing to write about the concerns that mainstream medicine and others in the media ignore.
After reading his articles, I contacted Mr. Solomon to thank him for giving us the facts about vaccines that don’t make news in the U.S.
He was kind enough to answer some questions for me and allow me to share publicly.
AD: “You note that ‘the science is not settled’when it comes to vaccine safety issues. What should or could the government do to assure parents that vaccines are safe?”
LS: “The government should simply commission the studies vaccine skeptics have requested. If they demonstrate the safety of the vaccines, the issue will disappear.”
AD: “You report parents who choose not to vaccinate typically are better educated. Safety assurances from health officials don't seem to be working with them. Do you see this trend continuing?”
LS: “Yes and the trend may accelerate. Some data that I've seen indicates that vaccination rates have been dropping in recent years in affluent neighborhoods. That is not the case in working class neighborhoods, where rates stay steady and sometimes even rise.”
AD: “If, as your two stories show, what we've been told about the effectiveness of the measles vaccine has been wrong, what is the possibility that the assurances of safety have been overstated too? Will officials one day also have to admit that the MMR vaccine is linked to the development of autism and bowel disease in children?”
LS: “Because the studies haven't been done, public health authorities are relying on their intuition, or faith, rather than hard evidence in making their safety claims.”
Finally, I asked him the most critical question of all, and his answer described the attitude and actions of the mainstream media perfectly. It’s one I’ll long remember.
AD: “Why are there not more people in the media giving us stories like the ones you've written? Why do most journalists seem more like stenographers for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?”
LS: Most journalists are intimidated by science. In political issues, they are confident of understanding the issues, and in the validity of their opinions. They often even consider their political opinions to be superior to those of the "experts," whether politicians or academics in political science.
This confidence in their own judgment disappears when the subject turns to a scientific discipline. Here they often become meek and helpless. Fearing that they would be unable too understand the science, they accept the official view, becoming the stenographers you liken them to.
Peer pressure also plays a role. Among media elites, questioning vaccines is akin to questioning evolution. Most journalists would not want to be stigmatized as ignorant.
The stakes involved also loom large. The consequences for a journalist in getting it wrong in covering a political issue, or a sporting event, or a business development amount to embarrassment. Getting it wrong in vaccines, and possibly being responsible for the death or disability of innocents, involves taking on more responsibility than many journalists can countenance. Even if the journalist doesn't get it wrong, in the absence of proof he will be blamed as if he did, making him a pariah. Again, this isn't the role that journalists want for themselves.
That pretty much says it all.
Solomon writes for the National Post, and he was formerly a columnist with the Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine. He is author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best seller in both Canada and the U.S.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism and author of The Big Autism Cover-Up: How and Why the Media Is Lying to the American Public, which goes on sale this Fall from Skyhorse Publishing.