11/14/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Response to Sally Pipes

Ms. Sally Pipes recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Daily News - Celebs, Stop Taking Poisonous Shots At Vaccines - in which she wrote me off as a vacuous Hollywood type who has no right to express or share my opinion about my family's arduous journey with autism. Somehow I lack credibility because I happen to be on TV.

Outside of the mindless, irrational Hollywood celebrity you want to depict me as, I happen to be more than just a veteran television actress. At 44 years old, I am also college-educated, married for 13 years, a mom of four, and for the last 10 years have run my own non-profit, HollyRod Foundation.

Ms. Pipes, you dismiss way too easily my experience and presumably those of hundreds of other "non-celebrity" moms I have personally met over the last decade by writing me off as a "junk science" peddler. That is very typical of the rigid "my way or the highway" mainstream medical community... they don't want to hear my story nor do they really authentically want to study it. What is the medical community afraid to hear?

Mostly I don't dignify these misrepresentations of my life experience with a response. I know that most of your kind view the issue of vaccine safety from one side only - especially those of you who proselytize from the cozy periphery on the outside the autism community. But your casual brush-off of my dreadful experience in 1999 inspired me to challenge you.

First you must acknowledge that suffering in the autism community cannot be overstated. Your show of sympathy amounted to a cold short sentence; so let me share my personal story with you. In 1999, I brought my typically developing toddler into my pediatrician's office and asked the doctor to consider postponing or perhaps breaking up the controversial MMR shot he was scheduled to have that day. Because my little guy just came off a round of antibiotics after an ear infection and I suspected his immune system was weakened, I worried that he wouldn't be able to assimilate this heavy viral load. (MMR shot contains no thimerasol or mercury but a cocktail of 3 potent live viruses). The doctor ignored my fears and belittled me for even questioning him. I felt humiliated and powerless. Despite my "inner mommy danger meter" on full tilt, I allowed my boy to be inoculated. Ms. Pipes, unless you have watched your son get this shot, have heard him cry and scream "no mommy!" (words I didn't hear again by the way until years later), held him through the night while he battled fevers for days afterwards, and then disappear into autism you could not begin to understand my position.

I don't however, as you condescendingly suggested, use my suffering and testimony as an excuse for my convictions but as evidence of harm.

Yes, yes and yes: vaccinations definitely stand out as one of the most effective medical advances in human history. And of course by using vaccines, we've been able to eradicate such diseases as smallpox, polio and measles. But the thimerasol (mercury) used for decades as a preservative in the vaccinations is POISON, pure and simple. It annihilates brain cells. That is not a "half-baked hypothesis" and it is irresponsible for you to make that suggestion. And look how long it took for the CDC to remove it! No wonder parents have a trust issue. And though the "elimination" of thimerasol did officially happen in 2002 (years after many other countries banned it and only after years of unwavering and relentless pressure by those pesky parent "activists"), I would argue you down to the ends of the earth that it was voluntarily removed as a "precaution" as you stated. Furthermore the vaccine lots were never recalled but only left to "run out," though the government knew it was wreaking havoc on our children in far too many cases. That is unconscionable.

My son and many other children had the misfortune of being inoculated before the "precautionary elimination" of mercury in the shots.

I only wish that you were right that there are only "traces" of thimerosal in these shots. But you are dangerously wrong. A March 1991 memo from a major pharmaceutical company, obtained by The Los Angeles Times, said that 6-month-old children who received their shots on schedule would get a mercury dose up to 87 times higher than guidelines for the maximum daily consumption of mercury from fish. Hardly traces.

So here is my fluffy, discounted, celebrity mom, unsupported junk science, theory: I believe firmly that my boy was born with a weakened immune system and that his body could not handle the viral load and toxins contained in the vaccinations. I have had this theory confirmed by some brave doctors not afraid to break ranks and drop the company line. Thank God for them. But there are no government studies done to check for any potential predispositions or indications that some kids cannot tolerate all of the shots. We parents are just left to fend for ourselves and advocate for our often non-verbal children.

And when there has been an actual notable case of brave parents successfully taking on the system it of course gets swept under the rug. The Poling family won a judgment recently against the government. The government didn't even attempt to disprove that five shots, containing nine vaccines administered to Hannah Poling in July 2000 literally caused her autism. It was the gauntlet of shots combined with her preexisting mitochondria that sent little Hannah into toxic overload causing her to spiral into the world of autism. The Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation said "compensation is appropriate" because the vaccines aggravated her disorder, causing her to have "features of autism spectrum disorder." But of course the government issued a contrary statement saying that this "does not mean that vaccines cause autism." The semantics are scary because the fact is clear: but not for the vaccines she received, Hannah would not have autism.

My husband Rodney and I speak often with the Polings and many other affected families on our daily Sirius/XM radio show "Meet The Peetes" on Oprah & Friends. I can tell you ours and theirs are not isolated situations.

Instead of allocating millions of dollars to fund redundant, biased and often flawed study after study in a defensive mode, why not research what we actually know to be true? Let's play offense! In light of the Poling decision shouldn't we be looking for more preexisting criteria, like Mitochondria, which might make many vaccines less safe for a subset of the population? If a child has a compromised immune system for some reason, does that make him more vulnerable to vaccine injury? Shouldn't pediatricians have a dialogue with parents about this, and perhaps even lobby the CDC to offer a less taxing alternative shot schedule for these children? Since the 1980s the number of CDC recommended shots increased from 10 to more than 30 today. Where are the studies as to whether or not all babies and toddlers could tolerate that extra load?

Moreover, we also know boys are disproportionately affected by autism than girls. Why is that? Often there are several children affected in one family. Is there a genetic component or predisposition we should be looking for? What would be the problem with having the CDC harvest and consider the anecdotal data from thousands of families? Also (and this one really irks me) why won't the CDC and AAP study the fact that so many kids with autism have serious and often chronic gastro-intestinal issues and help us explore ways to treat that? I treated my son for his GI problems and it helped him tremendously. When I publicly talked about the success I had, the AAP issued a statement to beware of "celebrity fad diets." Why is this discounted?

I believe it is every parent's right and responsibility to make vaccine and treatment decisions for themselves, especially if the government won't validate our stories or work with us to give us options.

I'd like to add that I have been turned off by the Hatfield/McCoy atmosphere as it relates to the subject of autism. We have A-list celebrity moms facing off in celebrity death matches: get shots, and you are a poisoning parent -- don't get them, and you are a parasitic parent. That is counter-productive, divisive and needs to stop. We all love and want to do the best for our children and we need to be working together on getting to the job of protecting our kids without fear-mongering. My position is that I am not and have never been interested in fanning the flames of a public health crisis. I am not anti-vaccines. I am grateful for the health benefits vaccines have brought us and have tremendous respect for the revolutionary science. I am also respectful of the real fear generated by reported recent Measles outbreaks-though from what I have gathered many of those children have actually had the MMR shot! But with the simultaneous exponential increase in the quantity of shots and the rise in autism cases, why can't we just have an open positive dialogue about what's in them and how they may fare inside our kids' bodies. As a mom of 3 boys and 1 girl, my kids are counting on me to protect them, advocate for them, never line them up like sheep and allowed to be intimidated or fearful of asking the right questions.

And we parents-even ones who are on TV- are counting on our pediatricians to do the same.