Last month, Dr. Paul Offit, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the vaccine industry's most outspoken activist, warned Huffington Post readers not to "risk going unvaccinated."
When presented with conflicting information on a critically important health issue I generally follow two simple rules...educate myself on the issue and "follow the money." When it came to Dr. Paul Offit, and the credibility of this advice, this was an easy assignment.
I normally wouldn't waste my time responding to Dr. Offit. After all, he is entitled to his opinion. However, this man's relentless campaign that includes attacking concerned parents and the dissemination of false information needs to be exposed for what it is.
Dr. Offit has been on a very aggressive crusade in defense of vaccines for years. With what appears to be unlimited resources, Offit is routinely granted ample unchallenged opportunities to mount his campaign in newspapers around the country.
In recent years, Offit has become the "go-to guy" on all things related to vaccines. While other physicians, civic leaders and even members of congress are denied the opportunity to share their views on this issue, Offit is frequently provided with generous op-ed space to promote his views on the safety of vaccines, the need to take away vaccine exemptions, and the need to protect vaccine manufacturers from any liability. In short, if the word vaccine or autism appears in the article, so does Dr. Offit.
In his recent Huffington editorial, Offit continues his attack on worried parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, or even just spread them out a little, which the CDC says is okay to do. He blames them for the relatively small outbreaks of childhood diseases. In this case, last year's 135 cases of measles.
...the reason that some parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children is based on the mistaken notion that vaccines cause autism; or that vaccines cause diabetes or multiple sclerosis or asthma or allergies; or that vaccines weaken or overwhelm the immune system; or that vaccines have not been adequately tested. Many studies have addressed these concerns and should have reassured parents. But there appears to be a rift between studies that exonerate vaccines and the public's knowledge of those studies.
First of all, Dr. Offit is quite frankly, "full of it." The reason some parents are choosing alternative vaccine schedules, or to not vaccinate their children, is because they have lost confidence in the safety of vaccines and the people who recommend them, like Dr. Paul Offit. The level of distrust is evident in the nearly 500 comments posted in response to his article.
There are also some children who have serious medical conditions, or have experienced severe life-threatening reactions to previously administered vaccines, which make them vulnerable to subsequent adverse vaccine reactions. In consultation with their physician, some children are given medical exemptions because the risk of vaccination may be greater than the disease. Does Dr. Offit think he knows better than a family's personal physician when it comes to what is best for an individual child and that a child should be vaccinated anyway?
Since we have Dr. Offit's Huffington piece, let's look at the credibility of his professional opinion and see if he is really providing parents with good advice.
According to a 2008 study, it is Dr. Offit who might be "mistaken" when he claims vaccines don't cause diabetes. Vaccine Induced Inflammation Linked to Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome, published in the Open Endocrinolgy Journal.
[the study] shows a 50% reduction of type 2 diabetes occurred in Japanese children following the discontinuation of a single vaccine to prevent tuberculosis.
The current data shows that vaccines are much more dangerous than the public is led to believe and adequate testing has never been performed even in healthy subjects to indicate that there is an overall improvement in health from immunization. The current practice of vaccinating diabetics as well as their close family members is a very risky practice," says Dr. J. Barthelow Classen.
Multiple studies suggest Dr. Offit might also be "mistaken" when he says vaccines don't cause asthma or allergies. One by researchers at the UCLA School of Public Health published in 2000, examined the effects of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DPT) and tetanus vaccines and found an asthma and allergy association in vaccinated children compared to unvaccinated children.
The odds of having a history of asthma was twice as great among vaccinated subjects than among unvaccinated subjects (adjusted odds ratio, 2.00; 95% confidence interval, 0.59 to 6.74). The odds of having had any allergy-related respiratory symptom in the past 12 months was 63% greater among vaccinated subjects than unvaccinated subjects (adjusted odds ratio, 1.63; 95% confidence interval, 1.05 to 2.54). The associations between vaccination and subsequent allergies and symptoms were greatest among children aged 5 through 10 years. CONCLUSIONS: DTP or tetanus vaccination appears to increase the risk of allergies and related respiratory symptoms in children and adolescents.
In another study published last year, Canadian scientists found childhood asthma could be reduced by 50% if the first dose of DPT is delayed by more than two months.
It is Dr. Offit who is again "mistaken" when he says vaccines don't cause multiple sclerosis (MS). Published in 2004, a prospective study from the Harvard School of Public Health examined the potential link between the hepatistis B vaccine and MS.
Conclusions: These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that immunization with the recombinant hepatitis B vaccine is associated with an increased risk of MS.
Just last month the US government's Court of Federal Claims, also known as "vaccine court," rendered a judgment awarding compensation to a woman who received the hepatitis B vaccine, developed multiple sclerosis and then died. Several more similar cases have been awarded since 2006.
This is just another example of the thousands of claims awarded compensation by the special court set up to review injuries caused by vaccines. It is an indisputable fact that over the past 20 years, the vaccine court has dispensed close to $2 billion in compensation to families whose children were injured or killed by a vaccine.
Dr. Offit is also "mistaken" when he claims vaccines don't "overwhelm the immune system."
Last year, government officials conceded the vaccine injury claim of a young girl with autism named Hannah Poling and agreed that the family is "entitled to compensation" from the federal vaccine injury fund. [Ga. Girl helps link autism to childhood vaccines]
In a second decision for epilepsy, medical officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services determined Hannah's "autistic encephalopathy" was "caused" by an "underlying mitochondrial dysfunction, exacerbated by vaccine induced fever and immune stimulation that exceeded metabolic reserves."
The problem with Dr. Offit is he apparently sees no problem in misleading confused and concerned parents or his equally concerned colleagues. He routinely insults the intelligence of parents with a condescending attitude about their ability to make an informed decision. In an effort to bolster the safety of vaccines, he repeatedly cites a select group of studies he claims support his opinions and ignores the ones that don't. Each one of the epidemiological studies Offit relies upon has been discredited by experts in epidemiology for their methodological flaws and the conflicts of interest of the authors involved in those studies. None of the studies he points to have ever studied what is called "regressive autism" or examined how multiple vaccines given at the same time may affect sensitive populations.
Former NIH Director, Dr. Bernadine Healy, made this very important point abundantly clear when interviewed by CBS News.
I think the government, or certain public health officials in the government, have been too quick to dismiss the concerns of these families without studying the population that got sick. I haven't seen major studies that focus on three hundred kids who got autistic symptoms within a period of a few weeks of a vaccine. I think that the public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational without sufficient studies of causation. I think that they often have been too quick to dismiss studies in the animal laboratory, either in mice, in primates, that do show some concerns with regard to certain vaccines and also to the mercury preservative in vaccines.
Just to be clear, I am not against vaccines and my own child has been vaccinated. But I share the growing concerns of many parents that have studied this issue closely and question the number of vaccines given to children under today's recommended schedule, some of the toxic ingredients in vaccines, and whether we know enough about the synergistic effects of multiple vaccines given to immune compromised children and during critical developmental windows.
A vaccine profiteer personified -- he is now a multimillionaire from his partnership with Merck -- Dr. Offit doesn't share these concerns and continually makes intellectually and factually dishonest remarks regarding vaccine safety.
In a 2005 article in Babytalk magazine, Dr. Offit irresponsibly claimed a "healthy infant could safely get up to 100,000 vaccines at once." By anyone's standard this is a sensational and stupid statement that has no basis in fact, and speaks volumes about Dr. Offit's objectivity.
As a consultant to Merck and patent holder on the Rotavirus vaccine, Offit has built a career, and perhaps a fortune, defending vaccines. He is also affiliated with several industry-funded organizations like Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases (PKIDs) and Every Child by Two (ECBT). In short, a highly visible, very well paid public relations machine for the vaccine industry.
Offit is the embodiment of Upton Sinclair's theorem; "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
Whenever I read yet another Offit editorial I am immediately reminded of the massive propaganda campaign waged by the tobacco, asbestos and lead industries. It is called "manufacturing uncertainty," and has been an essential industry marketing strategy for decades.
David Michaels, a former Assistant Secretary of Energy and professor at George Washington University School of Public Health explained this strategy in The Art of 'Manufacturing Uncertainty'.
...By definition, uncertainties abound in our work; there's nothing to be done about that. Our public health and environmental protection programs will not be effective if absolute proof is required before we act. The best available evidence must be sufficient. Otherwise, we'll sit on our hands and do nothing.
Of course, this is often exactly what industry wants. That's why it has mastered the art of manufacturing uncertainty, of demanding often impossible proof over common-sense precaution in the realm of public health.
The tobacco industry led the way. For 50 years, cigarette manufacturers employed a stable of scientists willing to assert (sometimes under oath) that there was no conclusive evidence that cigarettes cause lung cancer, or that nicotine is addictive. An official at Brown & Williamson, a cigarette maker now owned by R.J. Reynolds, once noted in a memo: "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public."
Toward that end, the tobacco manufacturers dissected every study, highlighted every question, magnified every flaw, cast every possible doubt every possible time. They also conjured their own studies with questionable data and foregone conclusions. It was all a charade, of course, because the real science was inexorable. But the uncertainty campaign was effective; it delayed public health protections, and compensation for tobacco's victims, for decades.
The tobacco industry, left without a stitch of credibility or public esteem, has finally abandoned that strategy -- but it led the way for others...
Decades from now, this campaign to manufacture uncertainty will surely be viewed with the same dismay and outrage with which we now look back on the deceits perpetrated by the tobacco industry. But will it be too late?
To say Dr. Offit has a stake, professionally, financially and perhaps legally, in dispelling the risks associated with vaccines in general, and refuting any association between vaccines and autism specifically, is a colossal understatement.
We can all learn a great deal by simply looking back on history and remembering how corporations, whose products are linked to serious diseases, employed scientists, physicians and public relation firms to disseminate misinformation and manage the business of "damage control." By doing so, we realize that we have seen Offit's act before.
More than ever, as more vaccines are recommended, parents simply want safer vaccines and a more individualized vaccination schedule.
Dr. Offit does nothing to repair the confidence chasm regarding vaccine safety. In reality, he makes matters worse with his patented brand of hubris so overbearing and uncompromising, that he undermines his own credibility and the credibility of the vaccine program he so desperately seeks to protect.
Of course this is just my opinion.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more