Back in May 2005, a friend of mine in Washington came home late from work and was met excitedly by his wife, who told him she had just seen the most amazing episode of Law and Order: SVU. It was about a malaria drug called “Quinium” that made soldiers suicidal and homicidal; the government and drug company were covering up the truth and getting away with it. People were being irreversibly harmed, even dying.
The Quinium drama, she said, was just like the link between vaccines and autism that they had witnessed first-hand – an immediate reaction and regression, and a coverup of the obvious truth that was continuing even now.
My friend smiled and explained to his wife that the episode was a thinly veiled account of a malaria drug named Lariam, and that the episode was based on my reporting. (His wife knew me, but not as well as he did.) The "reporter" in the SVU episode was a somewhat squirrely character named Sherm Hemphill, clearly an amalgam of me and Mark Benjamin – we had written dozens stories about Lariam’s deadly consequences when we were at UPI. Mark went on to Salon.com where he wrote his own impressions of the SVU episode in an article titled, “Ripped from my headlines! ‘Law and Order: SVU’ pulls details from my reporting for its gripping finale. So why is the ‘reporter’ such an ink-stained wretch?” (Mark was not as amused as I was that the reporter was portrayed as a tabloid journalist pawing through trash for a scoop. I’ve done worse!)
I recount this story not just to relive my one – and only – moment in the Hollywood sun, but because I was reminded of it this week in quite a remarkable way. A Facebook friend named Hil Down messaged me an article with the note, “vaccines and Lariam, all in one article.”
The piece, which Anne Dachel also picked up in her Media Update, was from the Associated Press and titled, “Anti-vaccine mothers discuss their thinking amid backlash.” The headline was unfortunate, the story better. It portrayed three mothers who “are among the vaccine skeptics who have been widely ridiculed since more than 100 people fell ill in a measles outbreak traced to Disneyland. Critics question their intelligence, their parenting, even their sanity. Some have been called criminals for foregoing shots for their children that are overwhelmingly shown to be safe and effective.
"'Contrary to the common sentiment, we are not anti-science,' said Michelle Moore, a businesswoman who lives in the affluent Portland suburb of Lake Oswego with her 2½-year-old twin girls. 'I'm not opposed to medicine, and I think vaccines have a place. We think it's a medical choice, and it should be researched carefully.'"
Then came the beauty part: “Moore, an MBA graduate who runs an agriculture-related business, traces her feelings back to the time she took Lariam, a supposedly safe anti-malaria medication. Instead, she said, the drug saddled her with multiple health complications. She questions whether the government knew about the risks at the time. Health officials now acknowledge Lariam can cause severe side effects, some of which can be permanent.
“That experience broke Moore's trust in the medical establishment and launched her on years of research into how vaccines can affect people's health.”
Hey, me too! Our Lariam reporting (which showed that yes, the government and the drugmaker knew the risks at the time) broke my trust in the medical establishment and led to ten years of research into how vaccines can affect people’s health. Actually, it was Mark Benjamin who suggested, after we had seen what an FDA-approved drug could do to people, and how the CDC would recommend it and refuse to face up to the damage it (the CDC and the drug) was doing, that maybe we ought to look at this crazy idea that the vaccine schedule was behind the autism epidemic.And it led to me to conclude that even though health officials won't acknowledge it, vaccines too can cause severe side effects, some of which can be permanent (including autism).
You have to understand, I had already been a journalist for 30 years when the Lariam story came my way, and I thought I was professionally skeptical in the way journalists are trained to be, especially when they train their sights on big business and big government.
But to actually see up close, beyond any real dispute, how a very bad drug could do such damage, for so long, to so many, and the government could let it roll on and on and on – that opened my eyes in a new way. It can happen here and now.
The point I am leading up to is that one way or the other, the scales need to fall from our eyes before we can really “get” the vaccines-autism catastrophe in the face of the seeming certainty that vaccines have been “overwhelmingly shown to be safe and effective.” As Jon Poling, a neurologist, put it regarding his daughter Hannah's government-stipulated, vaccine-induced autistic regression: “I wouldn’t have believed it until it happened to me. To be honest with you, as a doctor, until it happened to me, until I saw the regression, until I saw a normal eighteen month old toddler descend into autism, I wouldn’t have believed it was possible.”
If you don’t have an affected child, if you didn’t see it happen, if you haven’t had some sort of professional experience that makes you deeply doubt the competency – and even the decency – of the public health establishment, you’re just not going to get it. You’re going to buy the “study after study” defense and the “discredited British doctor” distraction or the “mercury is no longer in vaccines” lie, along with the “no real increase” and “geek effect” gene nonsense. You're going to believe vaccines have been overwhelmingly shown to be safe and effective. You're going to take the experts' word for it.
But this is not to say it’s hopeless. It’s to say that slowly but with gathering force, cracks are starting to appear in those defenses. The chairman of a powerful House committee says he hasn’t fully vaccinated his kids and is following the CDC whistleblower story. Presidential candidates stumble forward into a looming debate on vaccine mandates, safety, necessity, and choice -- and autism. More and more kids are vaccine-damaged because the drug companies and vaccine zealots just can’t stop themselves – their fatal flaw. More and more people notice that the “fuss” is far from dying down, it’s getting stronger, and why would that be if there’s nothing there?
Once trust is broken -- however it's broken -- there's no going back.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.