The following letter was sent to the editors at Discover Magazine last week, regarding a recent article on vaccines and autism. The magazine claimed that the debate is over, but ignored the fact that federal and private support of research into a possible association continues.
I have seen a number of online postings and comments from readers of Discover Magazine who are wondering why freelancer Chris Mooney did not interview doctors and scientists who believe that more vaccine-autism research is warranted in his recent article, "Why Does the Vaccine/Autism Controversy Live On?"
Chris contacted me in mid-March to ask if he could interview me for the piece. When I wrote back to say that was fine, I added that I hoped he would consider "doing an honest examination of this controversy."
I also urged Chris before, during and after our 90-minute interview to not just listen to me, but to speak with several scientists and clinicians who do not feel like the vaccine-autism question has been thoroughly answered.
Chris and Discover Magazine have every right to craft an article as they see fit, and I would not tell another journalist how to do their job. Nor am I complaining about how I was personally portrayed in the piece. I am writing this simply for the record.
Among the things I mentioned to Chris was that Department of Health and Human Services' National Vaccine Advisory Committee Vaccine Safety Working Group (NVAC VSWG) had just recommended appointing a panel of experts to explore the strengths and weaknesses of conducting studies on health outcomes in vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, and they said it was "desirable" to include autism as one of the health outcomes.
I suggested he might want to contact some of the mainstream doctors who supported the measure, which is still moving forward, even if they didn't personally believe in a connection. I sent him the names of many of these doctors, including Bruce Gellin, M.D., MPH, Director of the HHS National Vaccine Program Office (NVPO) and Executive Secretary of NVAC, Andrew Pavia, M.D., an NVAC Member and Chair of the NVAC Vaccine Safety Working Group, and James Mason, M.D., DrPH, an NVAC member and member of the Vaccine Safety Working Group and a former CDC Director and former Assistant Secretary of Health.
I suggested Chris speak to researchers doing some interesting work coming out of Harvard (Herbert et al) and Johns Hopkins (Vargas et al) in terms of autistic brain tissue and oxidative stress, chronic neuroinflammation, autoimmunity, microglial activation, etc. I also mentioned that Martha Herbert had been looking at the role that glutathione depletion and mitochondrial dysfunction might play in autism symptoms -- and that a new study from Stanford said that glutathione depletion is probably a marker for mitochondrial disorders. Other people I mentioned were Dr. Jill James et al at the University of Arkansas and Dr. Thomas Burbacher at the University of Washington.
I brought up the court cases of Hannah Poling and Bailey Banks, and suggested that Hannah's father Dr. Jon Poling might have some interesting perspectives on mitochondria, vaccines and autism. I also said that Bailey Banks's lawyer could attest that the previously normal boy developed acute brain damage after an MMR shot, which then turned into PDD-NOS, for which he will be compensated.
(As an aside to those who still don't think that PDD-NOS is an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, the new autism report from the State of California's Department of Developmental Services states, "ASD includes Autistic Disorder, Asperger's Disorder, Rett's Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD NOS), and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder.")
I also mentioned that researchers at HHS and the EPA working on the National Children's Study, in which federal researchers expect to find 600 to 700 kids with an ASD by age three and will compare these outcomes to genetic and environmental factors, including vaccines.
I spoke about the CDC program called the CADDRE Network, whose five year goal is to "identify what might put children at risk for autism," including "specific mercury exposures, including any vaccine use by the mother during pregnancy and the child's vaccine exposures after birth."
I suggested that Chris contact scientists at the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard University, and Johns Hopkins University who wrote in a recent study that "There might be no difference between the inflammatory or catabolic stress of vaccinations and that of common childhood diseases" and that "Large, population-based studies will be needed to identify a possible relationship of vaccination with autistic regression in persons with mitochondrial cytopathies."
Among the authors of that paper were Dr. Richard I. Kelley of the Department of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center and Division of Metabolism at the Kennedy Krieger Institute and Dr. Margaret L. Bauman of the Department of Pediatrics and Learning and Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Rehabilitation Services (LADDERS) at Massachusetts General Hospital. I said that Dr. Bauman, in particular, might have some interesting perspectives, given that she withdrew her name as a witness for the government in the Autism Omnibus Proceedings in federal vaccine court.
Along those lines, I also suggested that Chris might want to speak with Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, a pediatric neurologist and research scientist at Kennedy Krieger Institute and Associate Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Zimmerman also withdrew his name as a government witness in vaccine court, and recently published a groundbreaking book titled "Autism-Current Theories and Evidence," According to the publisher, Zimmerman's goal is to "show how the scientific method is revealing the biological bases of this spectrum of disorders, thereby leading the way to their treatment and prevention using evidence-based medicine." The book is divided into 6 sections, including one on immunology and another on environmental mechanisms and models.
I also told Chris he might enjoy speaking with Dr. Douglas Wallace, Professor of Molecular Medicine and Director of the Center for Molecular and Mitochondrial Medicine in Genetics at UC Irvine. A member of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation's scientific board, and father of a son with autism, he testified that children with mitochondrial disorders are not only at greater risk for autistic regression, but they are also more likely to suffer from vaccine injuries. And, he told the NVAC: "We advocate spreading vaccines out as much as possible. Each time you vaccinate, you're creating a challenge for the system, and if a child has an impaired system, that could in fact trigger further clinical problems."
There were other prominent researchers I that thought could contribute to the article, such as former NIH Director Dr. Bernadine Healy, and Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Scientific Director of Autism Speaks, which currently supports and funds vaccine-autism research.
I also mentioned Dr. Duane Alexander, Director of the National Institute of Childhood Health and Human Development, who supports autism-vaccine research and who said that, "Genetic variations exist that cause adverse reactions to specific foods, medications, or anesthetic agents -- it is legitimate to ask whether a similar situation may exist for vaccines." He added that there may be, "subpopulations unable to remove mercury from the body as fast as others, or some adverse or cross-reacting response to a vaccine component, or a mitochondrial disorder increasing the adverse response to vaccine-associated fever."
Finally, I brought up Dr, Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who recently said that, "If we can show that individuals of a certain genetic profile have a greater propensity for developing adverse events, we may want to screen everyone prior to vaccination (for) undetectable diseases like a subclinical mitochondrial disorder." Chris said he was interested in the idea of small groups of children being genetically vulnerable to vaccine injury, and in researching ways to identify them and, as I suggested, create an alternative vaccine schedule for them.
Perhaps Chris did contact some of these experts but did not find their remarks as compelling as mine, which seems doubtful.
I am sure that he and Discover Magazine have their reasons for not including comments from any of these professionals. Also for the record, I also spent over an hour on the phone with a factchecker at Discover, discussing much of the above information. Perhaps the magazine will let us know why their reporter chose not include any comments from Doctors Gellin, Pavia, Mason, Herbert, Vargas, James, Burbacher, Poling, Kelley, Bauman, Zimmerman, Wallace, Healy, Dawson, Alexander or Fauci.
First posted at www.ageofautism.com