It looks like the CDC may have missed a memo to itself on vaccine safety.
One very contentious issue in the vaccine-autism debate has been whether a certain subset of genetically susceptible children is unequipped to handle the early and intensive US immunization schedule -- including kids like Hannah Poling, who developed autism after receiving nine vaccines at once.
The theory is that some people with abnormal immune or metabolic systems might become overtaxed by the fever, inflammation and/or other stresses sometimes caused by multiple vaccines.
Many doctors and scientists scoff at the notion that someone could be injured by getting too many shots at once. They say that people of all ages, including babies, can handle multiple exposures at any given moment.
For example, the CDC's website says that simultaneous multiple immunizations are safe for children with "normal" immune systems. And Dr. Paul Offit, a prominent pediatrician and wealthy vaccine co-inventor, says that kids can handle simultaneous exposure to the antigens contained in 100,000 vaccines -- without any harm coming to them.
So, the CDC says that multiple vaccines are safe for everyone (at least in infants).
But now, we learn that a collaborative program between the CDC and the Department of Defense says that multiple vaccines may not be safe for everyone (at least in adults being inoculated for military service).
"We have preliminary findings from one of our many on-going research studies that suggest a relationship between adverse events and multiple vaccinations exist. These findings will require validation, but heighten our concern for the current clinical practice of multiple vaccinations."
That rather remarkable statement came from US Army Colonel Renata J. M. Engler, MD, director of the Vaccine Healthcare Centers Network (VHCN) a "collaborative network" of the Defense Department - and the CDC.
She went on to say this:
"The more drugs one is exposed to, the greater the likelihood of having an adverse event so as vaccine numbers increase, and (sic) we will see more people who have efficacy or safety issues."
And later, this:
"The standard of care (in the context of mixing vaccines) is to minimize drug exposures because of the recognition that the more drugs being used, the greater the chance of a reaction and potentially a serious adverse event."
Col. Engler's candid statements (I've never heard anything like them from any other senior vaccine official), were included in a November 26 letter to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Maloney had written to inquire about a 2007 VHCN presentation suggesting that 1-2 percent of all service members were suffering serious adverse effects from their shots.
I first reported on this presentation in August, when someone alerted me to a Government Accounting Office report saying that VHCN and CDC officials "estimate that between 1 and 2 percent of immunized individuals may experience severe adverse events, which could result in disability or death. Some of these events may occur coincidentally following immunization, while others may truly be caused by immunization."
I had never heard of the VHCN, so I went to their website, where I found this Power Point presentation.
The slides suggested that, among active duty and reserve service members, up to 48,000 individuals may have sustained serious vaccine injuries which might need to be classified as "casualties," and may require teaching "new skills" to some of those injured.
But Col. Engler wrote that the slides had been misinterpreted.
"Our program is not in a position to provide incidence data but rather to refine case definitions and research questions to address the serious and the rare adverse events questions," she wrote.
The 1-2% figure was merely an estimate of "who may need an immunization healthcare consultation to address clinical questions raised," she said.
"The consultation does not prove or disprove causality association but it is from these consultations that we have refined our understanding of the questions, a critical first step to future refinement of research agendas. It is our firm belief that increased research into side effects that are more severe but may be short duration, may help us understand more severe adverse events (more rare at 1 in 10-100,000). However, our work over the past years has been humbling in relation to the knowledge gaps."
And what about the slide mentioning that up to 48,000 service members might require "new skills" following vaccine injury?
"This statistic refers to the potential number of service members, experiencing more serious side effects (not serious disease with prolonged duration), that may need a medical consultation about next dose and/or pre-treatment to reduce the severity of the side effects, etc.," Col. Engler explained, (I think).
So what does any of this have to do with autism? Perhaps nothing. As Col. Engler herself wrote: "The belief that vaccines are safe to mix is based largely on pediatric experience and with a much more limited spectrum of vaccines." (In other words, apples and oranges, here folks).
Now, it's hard to imagine how 35-to-40 or more shots in the US childhood schedule could be "much more limited" than the military's regime. But then again, babies don't get vaccinated against anthrax and smallpox.
But it's also hard to imagine that there might be a "relationship between adverse events and multiple vaccinations" in adults healthy enough to fight a war, and yet, among babies and infants with immature immune systems and developing brains, the practice is universally harmless - even for kids like Hannah Poling who had an underlying mitochondrial dysfunction.
In the meantime, let's hope the DOD and the CDC and get their message straight. If they want to convince parents that multiple vaccines might be risky for some soldiers but safe for all little kids, well, good luck.
Or maybe, the government is finally going to look into the percentage of people (however small) who might be genetically programmed against the ability to withstand more than one or two shots at any given time.
As Col. Engler notes, more work is needed in this regard: "The recommendation for more research on subpopulation risk factors in relation to multiple vaccine combinations has been included in the Institute of Medicine Report on Multiple Vaccines."