This is part 3 of my report on the book launch for Vaccine Epidemic: How Corporate Greed, Biased Science, and Coercive Government Threaten Our Human Rights, Our Health, and Our Children, held at New York University (part 1 and part 2).
In this installment, I’ll cover the second panel discussion on the topic of personal injury stories moderated by Kim Mack Rosenberg. Yes,it’s a panel discussion on anecdotal evidence. This is also the subject of the whole second section of the book. To get a better understanding of why anecdotes are viewed by science as notoriously weak forms of evidence, here’s an article by neurologist Steven Novella and another by Dr. David Gorsky.
The first introduced on the panel was Gay Tate, who we’re told is a licensed psychotherapist, a PhD biochemist, and also a mother of three, two of whom have autism. She’s an advocate for vaccination choice and is committed to speaking out on the inherent dangers of one-size-fits-all approach of vaccinating children. The other panelist was Lisa Marks Smith, a self-employed woman who we’re told almost died in 2005 after receiving a routine flu vaccine. She is now an advocate against mass vaccination policies.
According to the website for the Women’s Therapy Center, where Ms. Tate works, her theoretical orientation is described as, “Holistic approach from an ecological perspective with a strong focus on connection between emotional and physical health. Cognitive/Behavioral. Feminist.”
As with the previous panel, Rosenberg begins the discussion with a quote from one of the authors featured in the book, Judy Converse:
What if it were true that the way we now vaccinate children causes more death, chronic disease, and disability than it prevents in America?
Rosenberg calls this an excellent question. It’s amazing how much profundity can be expressed in 140 characters or less. That’s right. It’s a tweet. Twitter, the fortune cookie of the 21st century. Of course, anyone can play the “what if” game. What if broccoli came to life and started eating you?
In one of the most skilled slight of tongue performances I’ve seen in recent history, Rosenberg segues from that quote into telling the audience that the rise of autoimmune diseases like asthma, allergies, and diabetes means now is the time to ask this question and “demand the answers and demand accountability.” Abracadabra! A simple wave of the hand and now these separate rings are magically linked to vaccines.
The first question goes to panelist Gay Tate, who’s asked if there was an “aha” moment where she first thought vaccines were a cause or contributing factor to the health issues she was seeing in her children. Tate explained that her oldest child followed the 1980′s vaccine schedule while her two later children followed the later, expanded vaccine schedule. Though she points out that more vaccines are given, she neglects to mention that the immunologic load has dropped from 3000 components in the 7 vaccines used in 1980 to less than 200 in the 14 vaccines recommended today. She describes her children as being healthy for a long time and then developing horrible gut reactions, of which she says she couldn’t get any answers. It’s of course now known that there is no connection between gut disorders and autism, and that the only research suggesting such a link in the first place was the now discredited research by Andrew Wakefield, which has since been retracted by the Lancet, where it was originally published, and declared to be a fraud by the British Medical Journal. And the five studies Wakefield frequently cites as having repeated his results don’t stand up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny.
Tate says she didn’t initially attribute her children’s autism to vaccines because, according to her, “we’re so indoctrinated with vaccines are the greatest things since sliced bread,” so she didn’t make the connection until the late 90′s to early 2000′s, after the manufactured panic over vaccines, and more specifically, according to her, when she read the work of Barbara Loe Fisher and David Kirby. Fisher is the founder of the self-described vaccine watch dog group, the National Vaccine Information Center, who’d been claiming vaccines caused autism long before Wakefield. Kirby is the journalist who popularized the thimerosal-autism hypothesis in his 2005 book Evidence of Harm – Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. According to Kirby’s Wikipedia page:
In May 2005, Evidence of Harm was reviewed negatively in the British Medical Journal. The reviewer described Kirby’s book as “woefully one-sided”, and wrote: “In his determination to provide an account that is sympathetic to the parents, Kirby enters into the grip of the same delusion and ends up in the same angry and paranoid universe into which campaigners have descended, alleging phone taps and other forms of surveillance as they struggle against sinister conspiracies between health authorities and drug companies.”
As mentioned in part 2, the thimerosal-autism hypothesis has been rejected both in the court of science and the court of law due to insufficient evidence. A few examples of health organizations that have unambiguously dismissed a connection include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American Medical Association, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Resources, and Institute of Medicine.
Next it was Lisa Marks Smith’s turn to answer the question, which she did by recounting her own experience, which she explained in greater detail this past December on a podcast here. Allegedly, the flu vaccine caused neurological damage that put her in the hospital and paralyzed her for twenty-four days, for which she was later compensated by the vaccine injury compensation program. She since pursued “holistic care”, to which she now attributes her recovery and which she says her neurologist encouraged, suggesting she experiment with everything she could possibly try.
According to the podcast interview, the specific holistic treatment she found effective was the mainstream medical treatment of chelation therapy, used to remove heavy metals from the body. The treatment has become somewhat controversial in the past few years because of practitioners pushing unproven, off-label uses by suggesting it can treat or even cure any number of conditions including autism.
Smith says the doctors initially kept asking her if she’d recently gotten a flu shot when she came in and she didn’t understand why at the time. Although not her final diagnosis, she alludes to the popular claim that the flu vaccine can cause Guillian Barre Syndrome (GBS), a side effect often cited by vaccine critics because there was a particularly high number of cases of GBS that emerged following the swine flu outbreak in the 1970s, which led health officials to suspect the vaccine as a possible causal factor. Though after a recent study looking at 90 million H1N1 vaccine recipients in China during the 2009-2010 flu season resulted in no rise in GBS, health authorities officially closed the door on such a link last month.
Smith said in the podcast interview that health authorities only initially suspected vaccine-induced GBS as the cause of her symptoms but then concluded after a spinal tap that she lacked a protein in her spinal fluid necessary for GBS. Of course, as with the Michael Belkin account described in part 2, she reports a rather implausibly callous response from her doctors who she said told her she was crazy and should just go home…even though she was still paralyzed. This earned laughter from the audience. But though she says the doctors called her crazy, she goes on to mention one word that suggests she probably just grossly misinterpreted them. This is an excerpt from the podcast interview:
And then at some point they just told me I was crazy. They told me all my symptoms were psychogenic in nature and I should go home and see a therapist. And I said, well I really can’t go home because I’m still paralyzed, and I know I’m not crazy.
Psychogenic does not mean crazy or that it’s just all in your head. Again, I turn to neurologist Steven Novella, who wrote about this very misconception in relation to the Desiree Jennings case from two years ago:
Psychogenic signs and symptoms are real – the patient really experiences them, and often they lack insight into the origin of their symptoms. Psychogenic is not a synonym for fake, they are usually not voluntary, and patients cannot just stop their symptoms. A psychogenic disorder is a real disorder – it is just that the problem is with the brain’s software, not hardware (if you will excuse the geek metaphor).
So no, based on Smith’s own account, her doctors probably did not just call her crazy or claim she was faking her symptoms; she simply misinterpreted the meaning of the term psychogenic, which is understandable since she’s not a medical doctor. And like Belkin, her telling of the story seems highly influenced by her distrust and hostility towards medical authorities.
But according to her podcast interview, her unnamed neurologist dismissed her physicians’ conclusion that the vaccine probably wasn’t the cause of her condition with an argument from personal incredulity, telling her something along the lines of nothing else other than the vaccine could have caused her symptoms because she lives a health lifestyle and nothing else unusual occurred. Apparently, the doctors considered the possibility that her history with Eczema could have caused a rare complication. If that’s the case, this is a problem that theoretically could be entirely resolved simply by making sure to ask patients prior to vaccination if they have a history of Eczema or any autoimmune disorders.
Smith further suggests that the mere fact that there are forms for reporting vaccine injury at all proves vaccine injury is not rare, as does her finding similar accounts to her own when doing her own research.
In the podcast interview she suggests her paralysis symptoms are somehow similar to autism symptoms because, for instance, she allegedly had a high level of heavy metals, which contrary to what vaccine critics often claim, is not a symptom of autism. But then she pulled a bait and switch, regurgitating symptoms of mercury poisoning, which health officials also state is not related to autism. And as mentioned in part 2, this claim was also rejected in federal court in three separate cases. The other similarities she mentioned were of a superficial variety such as reports of heightened hearing or the inability to flatten her feet out–symptoms not even presented in all cases of autism and hardly exclusive to autism. The latter symptom, she said, was attributed to her peroneal nerve being damaged.
But perhaps what was most frustrating in her podcast interview is how she describes the difficulty of having to slowly learn to walk in the context of seemingly condemning all vaccines while never acknowledging how there was a time not long ago when such stories were quite common because of polio. My own father developed polio and had to learn to walk again in his preadolescence. Thanks to the Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, few individuals under thirty years old know someone who faced that hardship.
At NYU, Smith claims nurses at her hospital sneaked into her room, shut the door, and clandestinely urged her to go to another hospital because the physicians there don’t know what’s wrong with her. Then we’re told the doctors at the new hospital cracked the case in just two hours, putting even Dr. House to shame. Of course, she seems to indicate that she told those doctors that the first doctors just said she was crazy and her symptoms were not real, which again seems to be a gross misinterpretation of what psychogenic means. So it’s not that shocking that these new doctors agreed with her that she wasn’t crazy, as no one seems to have ever claimed that she was. So the second hospital did a quick blood test and found an anomaly. However, she never says any of these doctors linked her condition to the vaccine, which is the whole point she’s supposed to be making in the first place.
She also tells what she calls one of her favorite stories where as she was being loaded onto a stretcher to be taken to that second hospital, someone tried to administer another shot, an pneumonia vaccine. The audience laughs as she says she asked the health professional if they were insane for trying to give her another vaccine.
I said, “If i could sit up and move my arms, which I can’t, I would break your arm!”
But again, the doctors were not convinced the vaccine caused her condition in the first place and even if it did, that doesn’t mean being given another vaccine would be likely to cause injury. It’s like if she got into a car accident and then protested the EMTs having the audacity to try to load her into another automotive vehicle to take her to the hospital. It’s a fair analogy and yet it’s unlikely anyone in the auditorium would find that protocol absurd.
Smith says she even sent a letter to her original doctor after winning her compensation (the one an evil pharma conspiracy would presumably never allow), gloating about how she proved to not be crazy…even though again, nobody seems to have ever said she was. Now it’s very possible the vaccine did cause her injuries. However, as discussed previously, vaccine court demands far lower standards than those of medical science and is deliberately arranged to make pursuing claims easier than in state or other federal courts.
Next Gay Tate was prompted to discuss her professional scientific background. She begins recalling hearing about the polio epidemic during her childhood in the 1950s. She says her parents waited a few years before giving their children the polio vaccines. “That’s the environment I grew up in,” she continued. Tate says her sister was a nurse practitioner who worked in a pediatrician’s office. The message she got then, she states, was that the vaccine was the greatest achievement. But when she came to study immunology, she learned…
…how fragile the immune system is and how important those early months are for the baby to learn foreign and what’s self. And that’s exactly why we should not be bombarding this child or any child with confusing things and an alternate route, you know. And yet, what I am so sort of used to–that disconnect–when they increased the schedule, I just went along with more is better.
When it comes to vaccination, more is better. Tate is quite right that those early months of life for the baby are critical and their immune system is fragile, but that’s why vaccinating infants from deadly diseases is so important. Prior to the twentieth century, child mortality was quite common whereas it’s increasingly less so in vaccinated nations. And while infant immune systems are fragile, they’re not so fragile they can’t handle the minute immunological load contained in childhood vaccines on the current schedule, especially since, as stated earlier, that immunological load is in fact much less than what my generation received. Health professionals have repeatedly denounced this “too much too soon” argument as an entirely baseless pseudoscience. This has been most thoroughly demonstrated in the research by Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:
A baby’s body is bombarded with immunologic challenges—from bacteria in food to the dust they breathe. Compared to what they typically encounter and manage during the day, vaccines are literally a drop in the ocean”, and Dr. Offits [sic] studies theoretically show an infant could handle up to 100,000 vaccines at one time … safely (6).
Much of this notion about an alternative, safer schedule comes from Dr. Robert Sears, who popularized the idea in his book, The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child. The claims in this book have been thoroughly refuted again and again. But despite the fact that the current schedule was designed for optimal childhood protection against deadly diseases, Tate makes a very different claim:
And I remember back when things weren’t so polar and difficult that there was a doctor and a nurse, and we all chuckled, “You know how hard it is to get middle schoolers back in the doctor’s office for a shot, so we just get everybody while they’re young. And that’s the truth. That’s the truth. There’s no reason to vaccinate infants in this country for something that’s basically transmitted by dirty hands and–in this country.
Maybe you were just incompetent doctors. What Ms. Tate said above is simply not true. And I challenge her or anyone else to present a single official document attesting to it. But what’s most appalling is that this whole event alleges to argue that even a single child death is unacceptable, and yet she so callously states that there’s no reason to vaccinate infants against any disease in the United States when it’s so extraordinarily easy to find recent cases where reduced vaccination rates in the United States and other first world nations have resulted in child death from the diseases vaccines protect against. For instance, there are a number of video testimonials from parents of children who were either killed or nearly killed here. Then there’s of course the infamous California Pertussis Ten from 2010 alone. A few more examples can be found here, here, here, here, and here. Since the focus of this very panel discussion was telling personal stories, I’ll challenge Ms. Tate to meet with the families of these victims of vaccine preventable diseases, listen to their personal stories, and then dismiss them as you’ve done here as callously as you claim medical authorities dismissed your suffering.
Tate goes on to tell how she began collaborating with Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) doctors. This is an organization, which consistently perpetuates unproven claims about autism and applies discredited, treatments they claim can “recover” autistic children that are dangerous and potentially deadly.
She then argues that it was the mercury that made her two out of three children autistic, not their genes. So even though the mercury argument has been thoroughly debunked and is rejected by every reputable health organization on Earth, Tate maintains that it’s a far more plausible explanation for her children’s autism than the genes even though one of her autistic children was only given the 1980′s vaccine schedule. She says one of her children received two Hep B vaccines in the first ten days of his life, and to that she attributes his autism:
They got probably three times the amount of mercury that Allan got. And yes, all three children are genetically different, but my two younger ones are genetically different than each other. And the single environmental–biggest thing–same house, same parents, same water, same amount when breast feeding, same time of the year. They were born within three weeks of each other. [High mercury exposure] was the single biggest environmental factor.
Given that the current rate of autism is estimated at 1-in-110 children, one might think a woman with two autistic children would be sympathetic to the hypothesis that autism is largely genetic in nature, but perhaps her family just won the autism lottery two out of three times like so many families with more than one autistic child.
Before the panel went to questions from the audience, parents were urged to try everything because mainstream medicine doesn’t have a solution. Specific treatments mentioned included acupuncture, holistic treatments, chiropractic, “anything you can think of.” Of course that didn’t stop the first questioner in the audience from asking if Tate had a special diet. She said no but she just tries to avoid as many chemicals as possible. Presumably H20 is one chemical she doesn’t avoid but of course one is hard pressed to find anything that isn’t a chemical. Chemicals are like The Force from Star Wars. They surround us, penetrate us, bind the galaxy together.
Another questioner asked what age we should start to vaccinate our children. Tate responded:
I think if you look back…if you look back on how it’s been done and we weren’t all dropping down dead or how it’s being done in other countries, in European countries, it used to be that you get measles, you waited a couple of weeks and get mumps, you know. You waited a couple of weeks. You’d let the body amount a response. There were no newborn shots. Flu shots for pregnant women–you know, that was never suggested. And not even in the package insert is that–has that really been researched. So I would wait at least several months.
And if you look back even further, it was done using trepanning and bloodletting. But then science acquired new knowledge, which when applied, proved far more effective. Prior to the 20th century, children died quite often and the average life expectancy was about forty. The notion that medical science should revert back to how it was done in some romanticized good old days is absurd. We know for a fact that prolonging childhood vaccines and spreading them out further will result in higher child mortality. And vaccinating pregnant women against the flu is not only safe, but also provides protection for the unborn baby even after birth. The medical advice Ms. Tate is presenting is not only wrong but incredibly dangerous.
Like with the first panel, another questioner expressed how they couldn’t comprehend how “they” could get away with this and can’t there be some kind of class action suit to stop “them.” As I suggested in part 2, inevitably, when conspiracy theories grow so large that the plot holes exponentially expand, believers struggle to understand how the evil forces they’re fighting can be so powerful. The answer given by this panel was the evil vaccine court system that compensated Lisa Marks Smith for her injury. According to Smith, even though she won her case, it was hard for her to find sufficient evidence. If that isn’t proof of foul play, I don’t know what is.
The best question though was what scientific evidence existed showing vaccines are safe versus what scientific evidence shows they’re not. The questioner said the science is where we should start this discussion. The very well thought out response from the moderator was simply to wait until the third panel (again, not the first), which we were told would discuss the science.
In the final installment, I’ll report on that third panel discussion featuring Sherri Tenpenny, Annemarie Colbin, Carol Stott, and the infamous Andrew Wakefield himself.