Doctor Is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crazies

A new book defending vaccines, written by a doctor infuriated at the claim that they cause autism, is galvanizing a backlash against the antivaccine movement in the United States. But, according to the New York Times, there will be no book tour for the doctor, Paul A. Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets. He has had too many death threats.

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I have found Dr. Offit’s writings to be reasonable and evidence-based and recommend them to parents. In fact, I quote him in my books, The Highly Healthy Child and God’s Design for the Highly Healthy Child.  

Dr. Offit and his newest book are discussed in a column in the New York Times written by Donald McNeil: 

“I’ll speak at a conference, say, to nurses,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go into a bookstore and sign books. It can get nasty. There are parents who really believe that vaccines hurt their children, and to them, I’m incredibly evil. They hate me.”

Dr. Offit, a pediatrician, is a mild, funny and somewhat rumpled 57-year-old. The chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, he is also the co-inventor of a vaccine against rotavirus, a diarrheal disease that kills 60,000 children a year in poor countries.

“When Jonas Salk invented polio vaccine, he was a hero — and I’m a terrorist?” he jokes, referring to a placard denouncing him at a recent demonstration by antivaccine activists outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

In recent years, the debate over vaccines and autism, which began in fear and confusion, has hardened into anger. As Dr. Offit’s book details, numerous studies of thimerosal, measles virus and other alleged autism triggers in vaccines have been conducted, and hundreds of children with diagnoses of autism have undergone what he considers sham treatments and been “cured.” Both sides insist that the medical evidence backs them.

As a result, “a few years ago this ceased to be a civil scientific discourse and became about crucifying individuals,” said Dr. Gregory A. Poland, chief of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic, who says he has had threats against his children. “Paul is a lightning rod, a figure who goes charging into the fray.”

Those backing Dr. Offit say he was forced into the role. Opponents of vaccines have held rallies, appeared on talk shows like “Oprah” and “Imus in the Morning,” been the heroes of made-for-TV movies and found a celebrity spokeswoman in Jenny McCarthy, the actress and former Playboy model who has an autistic son. Meanwhile, the response from public health officials has been muted and couched in dull scientific jargon.

“If the surgeon general or the secretary of health or the head of the C.D.C. would come out and make a really strong statement on this, I think the whole thing would go away,” said Dr. Peter J. Hotez, president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, who has a severely autistic daughter whose disease, he argues, is genetic.

Asked why public health officials have been reticent, the acting surgeon general, Dr. Steven K. Galson, issued a statement saying that “childhood immunizations are one of the greatest achievements of all time” and that “scientific evidence clearly shows that vaccines do not contribute to autism.” He has spoken on issues like obesity, tobacco, air travel and exercise, but his office said he had not been questioned by journalists about vaccines and autism.

Dr. Offit’s book, published in September by Columbia University Press, has been widely endorsed by pediatricians, autism researchers, vaccine companies and medical journalists who say it sums up, in layman’s language, the scientific evidence for vaccines and forcefully argues that vulnerable parents are being manipulated by doctors promoting false cures and lawyers filing class-action suits.

“Opponents of vaccines have taken the autism story hostage,” Dr. Offit said. “They don’t speak for all parents of autistic kids, they use fringe scientists and celebrities, they’ve set up cottage industries of false hope, and they’re hurting kids. Parents pay out of their pockets for dangerous treatments, they take out second mortgages to buy hyperbaric oxygen chambers. It’s just unconscionable.”

His opponents dismiss him as “Dr. Proffit” because he received millions in royalties for his RotaTeq vaccine. One group he criticizes harshly in the book is Generation Rescue, which advocates treating autistic children with wheat- and dairy-free diets, vitamins and chelation to remove mercury from the body. Ms. McCarthy, her companion, the actor Jim Carrey, and Deirdre Imus, wife of the radio host, are all on its board.

J. B. Handley, who founded Generation Rescue in 2005, rejected Dr. Offit’s attacks, saying: “We have hundreds of fully recovered children. I’m very frustrated that Dr. Offit, who’s never treated an autistic child, is spending his time trying to refute the reality of biomedical recovery.”

He scoffed at the idea that Dr. Offit had had numerous death threats but condemned threats generally, saying he had received some himself. “No one should ever do that to another human being,” he said.

Dr. Offit now has his own celebrity ally, the actress Amanda Peet, who was introduced to him through a brother-in-law, a doctor at his Philadelphia hospital.

“Where I live in L.A.,” she said in a telephone interview, “there’s this child-rearing trend — only feed your kids organic food, detoxify your house. And there’s a lot of anticorporate fervor, anti-pharmaceutical company fervor.”

When she was pregnant, she said, “I’d have lunch with my friends who were moms, and they’d say they wouldn’t vaccinate, or would space out their vaccinations and hadn’t I heard?”

After quizzing several doctors in her family and Dr. Offit, she eventually agreed to become a spokeswoman for Every Child by Two, a vaccine-advocacy group founded by Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady.

In an interview with Cookie, a magazine for parents, Ms. Peet called antivaccine parents “parasites” because they relied on other children’s immunity to protect their own. She later apologized for the word but emphasized that parents should get their medical advice from doctors, “not from me or any other celebrity.”

Dr. Nancy J. Minshew, a neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a leading autism expert, said she had begun telling any parent asking about vaccines to read the Offit book. A brain-imaging specialist who gets no money from vaccine companies, she said she had never met or spoken with Dr. Offit.

Autism, she said, is one of many diseases, like dyslexia, Elephant Man’s disease, tuberous sclerosis and schizophrenia, that are caused by genetic flaws but show no symptoms for years.

She blamed journalists for “creating a conspiracy where there was none.” By acting as if there were two legitimate sides to the autism debate, she said, “the media has fed on this — it’s great for ratings.”

Many doctors now argue that reporters should treat the antivaccine lobby with the same indifference they do Holocaust deniers, AIDS deniers and those claiming to have proof that NASA faked the Moon landings.

Dr. Offit’s book traces the history of autism theories, starting with the child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim’s blaming “refrigerator mothers.” It describes early false cures, including “facilitated communication,” in which assistants helped mute children type their thoughts; head-squeezing by osteopaths; cod liver oil; diets; and a 1998 fad for secretin, a pig hormone. It sums up 16 epidemiological studies showing no link between autism and either measles or thimerosal, a vaccine preservative.

To the newer argument that vaccines overwhelm babies’ immune systems, Dr. Offit notes that current shots against 14 diseases contain 153 proteins, while babies cope with thousands of new foreign proteins daily in food, dirt and animal hair, and that the smallpox vaccine that nearly every American over age 30 got as a child contained 200 proteins.

Arthur Allen, the author of Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver (W. W. Norton, 2007), has publicly debated other journalists who argue that vaccines cause autism. Six years ago, he wrote a seminal article in The New York Times Magazine titled The Not-So-Crackpot Autism Theory. He later changed his mind and now “feels bad” about the article, he said, “because it helped get these people into the field who did a lot of damage.”

Dr. Offit’s book “needed to be written,” he said. But he is skeptical that it will end the struggle.

“There are still people who believe fluoride is dangerous, who think jet contrails cause cancer,” he said. “I’m waiting for the debate to get beyond that, but you’re not going to convert some people.” 

 

2 thoughts on “Doctor Is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crazies

  • joe harris

    If this happened to you, you might Re-think who the Crazies
    really are. I put this expirence in a post called feeding the hungry lie. It is on the age of autism website very well thought out and written by JB Handley.
    I called the AAP journal when I found out that verstraeten work was changed 4 or 5 times to no link, I asked the woman that answered the phone how could they put his work in their journal in his name when he has been working at GSK for three and a half years and not the CDC. Also they were in thimerosal litigation at that time? I asked is that not a conflict of interest? then I said what if anything would be a conflict of interest at your journal? She said that’s a very good question sir I will have someone contact you. At that time I was thinking, I would get verstraitens work removed like they removed Dr.Wakefield for his perceived conflict. What happened next was from the twilight zone. The rang phone when I looked at the phone it said unknown name unknown number. I answered it, the man said I am the top Doc. of this journal and I am telling you If you call us back if you bother us again on this issue, there will be a knock at your door, and you know what that means!. I was stunned and speechless then I thought you just threatened me! So I asked what did you just say to me? and he said you heard me, and he hung up. Man I was bewildered, why did he even call me? I was thinking, When he did not have to. It remained a mystery until I was reading an FOIA email from the CDC and a woman from the CDC was saying we have searched frantically and can’t find anything to support us, and the IOM meeting is in weeks we will have to go over seas to get us a study, and they did. They went to Denmark we all know that fraud. And later I was reading I think it was Dr.Cochi from the CDC he was in a Email practically begging them to put the Denmark study in pediatrics. So it dawned on me this guy was probibility angry that called me, because the CDC was wanting to put another fraudulent study in his journal so that day he took it out on me. I the dad of a very severely vaccine damaged child, all I was doing that day was asking a legitimate question. Now as far as the Denmark study being a good study I will let someone more qualified than me answer that question Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto “As questionable as the US thimerosal study was, “it was an improvement on other studies, including the two in Denmark, both of which had serious weaknesses in their designs,” Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, Professor of Public Health at UC Davis Medical School and Chair of the NIEHS panel, told reporter Dan Olmsted at UPI.That leaves very little for the CDC to go on in terms of proving that thimerosal and autism are not associated in any way” It doe’s appear this chair of the NIEHS panel doe’s not agree with Paul profit or the Centers for the Destruction of Children get it “CDC” a little play on words there. But none the less true.

    And as far as any studies that was done in the VSD database by the “CDC” I will let the Dir. of the CDC herself take over from here “CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding has delivered a potentially explosive report to the powerful House Appropriations Committee, in which she admits to a startling string of errors in the design and methods used in the CDC’s landmark 2003 study that found no link between mercury in vaccines and autism, ADHD, speech delay or tics.Gerberding was responding to a highly critical 2006 report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), which concluded that the CDC’s flagship thimerosal safety study was riddled with “several areas of weaknesses” that combined to “reduce the usefulness” of the study”. This is the Dir. of the CDC ‘s response to the allegations that their flag ship studies were fatally flawed according to congress and the NEIHS “CDC concurs,” Dr. Gerberding wrote in an undated mea culpa to Congress, (provided to me through a Capital Hill staffer)this was from an article from superman reporter David Kirby this next line is from me, ( “That leaves them with nothing left! Nothing” ) Except the new fraud that is apparently is being devised as we speak. This is the CDC’s Dir. admitting that they have no science left to refute the autism thimerosal connection, but give them some more time, and they will produce good quality studies. I believe when they were first warned the autism rate was 1 in 10,000 they chose to ignore the warning, and every piece of research that they did in their words, was well designed robust studies. We are learning that they were useless. So I guess we can say at the least, The Dir. of the CDC was incompatant, and at the worse the Dir. was involved in a criminal cover up. But I do believe we have given them long enough time to investigate themselves. after all would you let ENRON investigate ENRON also I’m afraid if we give them anymore time we won’t have any children left. From 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 82 and that’s not even taken into account a 4 to 1 ratio boy’s to girls we in the U.S. should have the same penalties that China has, they execute people when they are this incompatant. I think if there were
    consequences (example from China) for this kind of incompetence I believe our children would not be for sell to the highest bidder from big Pharma. as high profit guinea pigs.

    Dad of Colton a severely vaccine damaged child that was mercury poisoned by the standard of care set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on immunizations

  • Joe,

    Thanks for taking the time to write. Colton is blessed to have you as a Dad, as you obviously care for him very, very much.

    There is no serious question that the incidence of Autism and ASD is increasing. But, there is also no question now that vacccines and thiomersol did NOT cause either in the vast, vast majority of kids who have been diagnosed.

    So, it’s now time to turn our attention and research dollars into looking for whatever the cause is or the causes are. And, in the meantime, it’s incumbent on all of us (particularly doctors, nurses, parents, and those who care for children) work together to identify Autism and ASD at the earliest age possible — as there is no question that the earlier we start treatment, the more effective it will be.

    Dr. Walt

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