On January 10, 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a press release to express its opposition to a federal commission that has been proposed by the Trump administration to examine vaccine safety and efficacy. The AAP argues that since we already know that vaccines are safe and effective, therefore there is no need for further examination into their safety and efficacy.
This argument, however, begs the question — it presumes in the premise the proposition to be proven (the petitio principii fallacy). And the press release itself illustrates why, apart from the question of whether there should be a federal commission, critical examination of public vaccine policy is very much warranted.
In its press release, among other things, the AAP stated that:
- Vaccines prevent cancer.
- Claims that vaccines are linked to autism “have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature”.
- Claims that vaccines “are unsafe when administered according to the [CDC’s] recommended schedule” have likewise “been disproven by a robust body of medical literature”.
According to the AAP, its own claims are backed by solid science. Yet when asked whether it could provide citations from the medical literature to support its claims, the AAP first failed to do so, then essentially offered a “No comment” when pressed for a comment about its failure to do so.
With respect to the claim that vaccines prevent some forms of cancer, the AAP was asked:
- Can you please direct me to any studies in the peer-reviewed medical literature showing any vaccine prevents cancer?
With respect to the other two, the AAP was asked the following questions:
- Can you please direct me to the studies you are referring to in this body of literature that took into account the possibility of a genetically susceptible subpopulation?
- Can you please point me to the studies in this body of literature that have compared health outcomes, including but not limited to developmental regression (i.e., autism), for children who’ve receive the CDC’s full schedule of vaccinations with children who’ve remained completely unvaccinated?
An initial email to the AAP containing these questions went unanswered.
The email was followed up with a phone call. Lisa Black, the AAP’s Media Relations Manager, assured that she would get back with answers to the questions. In a subsequent email, Ms. Black replied, “Please see information that AAP has posted for parents on this page”, which was followed by a link to a list of studies on the website HealthyChildren.org.
However, none of the listed studies on that page supports the AAP’s claim that “vaccines prevent … forms of cancer”.
None apparently considered the possibility of a susceptible subpopulation with a genetic susceptibility to adverse reactions to vaccines.
And none compared health outcomes of fully vaccinated children with completely unvaccinated children.
The list provided does contain numerous studies finding no association between vaccines and autism, but even the listed safety review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) doesn’t go so far as to say that the hypothesis has been “disproven”.
On the contrary, the IOM acknowledges that it is biologically plausible that vaccines might cause autism in a genetically susceptible subpopulation, but characterizes this hypothesis is still “speculative” and “unsubstantiated”.
That is a world apart from saying it has been “disproven”.
One would think that the IOM’s conclusion, if its inquiry was a scientific one, would be that since this is such an important question and this specific hypothesis is plausible and not well studied, therefore there should be further study into this question of whether vaccines could trigger autism at least in some children with a genetic predisposition to vaccine injury.
But rather than calling for more research into this area, the IOM actually advocated that no further studies to test this hypothesis be done. Its stated reason for this was partly medical, but at least equally political — and certainly favorable to the profits of the pharmaceutical industry. The IOM’s reason was:
Using an unsubstantiated hypothesis to question the safety of vaccination and the ethical behavior of those governmental agencies and scientists who advocate for vaccination could lead to widespread rejection of vaccines and inevitable increases in incidences of serious infectious diseases like measles, whooping cough, and Hib bacterial meningitis.
In other words, since studying this hypothesis further would undermine public vaccine policy with its one-size-fits-all approach to disease prevention, therefore no further research to test the biologically plausible hypothesis should be done.
The AAP was sent a follow up email noting that none of the studies listed appeared to support the claims it made in the press release. The AAP was welcomed to correct the record, but did not dispute the observation that none of the studies listed showed that vaccines can prevent cancer, considered genetic susceptibility to vaccine injury, or compared health outcomes for vaccinated and unvaccinated children.
The additional follow up questions were also asked:
- If the AAP cannot produce one or more studies that considered the possibility of a genetically susceptible subpopulation, how can it claim that any association between vaccines and autism has been “disproven”?
- If the AAP cannot produce one or more studies that compared health outcomes between children vaccinated according to the CDC’s schedule and children who remained unvaccinated, how can it claim that any association between vaccines and autism has been “disproven”?
The AAP did not reply via email to the follow up questions.
In a second phone call requesting the AAP to produce such studies to support its claims, Ms. Black replied that she had provided everything the AAP was going to provide.
When confronted with the observation that none of the studies provided supported the AAP’s claim that vaccines can prevent cancer, she repeated that the AAP was not going to provide any additional information.
When asked whether the authors of the press release, AAP President Fernando Stein and Executive Vice President Karen Remley, would like to comment, Ms. Black abruptly ended the phone call by saying she was going to hang up and then doing so.
The questions seem pertinent, particularly given the fact that the government has acknowledged that vaccines can cause brain damage resulting in developmental regression.
In 2008, then director of the CDC Julie Gerberding offered the following carefully worded acknowledgment:
Now, we all know that vaccines can occasionally cause fevers in kids. So if a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines. And if you’re predisposed with a mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism.
The context in which she was speaking was with respect to Hannah Poling, a child with a mitochondrial disorder who developed autism after receiving numerous vaccines on the same day and whose family was awarded compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP).
The VICP was established in the mid-1980s under a law that granted broad legal immunity to vaccine manufacturers. The government’s reason for doing so was that vaccine injury lawsuits were threatening to undermine public policy by putting vaccine manufacturers out of business.
The Supreme Court has upheld that legal immunity on the grounds that certain adverse reactions are “unavoidable” and “design defects” are “not a basis for liability.”
Around the same time as Gerberding’s admission, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, the late Bernadine Healy, criticized the refrain that any link between vaccines and autism has been debunked. She pointed out the kinds of studies that would be necessary in order to confidently draw that conclusion hadn’t yet been done.
Specifically, she noted the lack of studies taking into consideration a genetically susceptible subpopulation.
Ms. Healy also slammed the IOM for advocating that no further research be done and noted that as a potential cause of autism, “vaccines carry a ring of both historical and biological plausibility”.
Similarly, in contrast to the AAP’s claim that any association between vaccines and autism has been “disproven”, one of the CDC’s lead researchers on that very question, CDC Director of Immunization Safety Dr. Frank DeStefano, admitted in an interview in 2014 that “it’s a possibility” that vaccines could trigger autism in genetically susceptible individuals.
“It’s hard to predict who those children might be”, DeStefano observed, and trying to determine what underling conditions put children at risk of vaccine injury is “very difficult to do”.
Acknowledging the lack of studies in this area, he added that, “if we ever get to that point, then that kind of research might be fruitful.”
The AAP’s list of studies includes one or more for which DeStefano was an author.
The CDC also admits the need for further study in this area. Its website at the time of this writing acknowledges that “More research is needed to determine if there are rare cases where underlying mitochondrial disorders are triggered by anything related to vaccines.”
So how can the AAP claim that any association between vaccines and autism has been “disproven” when the studies that would be necessary to invalidate the hypothesis haven’t been done?
That’s the AAP’s answer to the question, anyway.
The AAP’s attitude should perhaps come as no surprise, given its close relationship with the vaccine industry.
As CBS News reported in 2008, “The vaccine industry gives millions to the Academy of Pediatrics for conferences, grants, medical education classes and even helped build their headquarters.”
A Discussion to Be Had
The AAP argues in its press release against the formation of a federal commission, but its argument would apply to any public debate about the safety and efficacy of vaccines. By the AAP’s logic, like the IOM’s, also unnecessary are any discussion about it in the media and any further scientific inquiry.
But as Daniel Sarewitz observes, “as science approaches the cutting edge, it tends to raise as many questions as it resolves, so there is always room for debate about what the science is actually saying.”
Parents dubbed “anti-science” by the media are naturally curious why that label doesn’t seem to apply to those calling for no further inquiry into pertinent questions.
Parents aren’t just asking legitimate questions about vaccines. They’re doing what most doctors haven’t and spending a lot of time researching vaccines themselves. And they’re not just going to “anti-vaccine” websites to research it. They’re organizing, sharing information, and digging into the medical literature for themselves.
Parents can see the fundamental contradiction between public health officials and the media constantly insisting that vaccines are harmless even while the government grants legal immunity to the vaccine manufacturers on the grounds that vaccines are unavoidably unsafe and while the government manages a Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in order to shift the costs for damages and keep the vaccine manufacturers profitable — all to maintain public policy.
Parents understand how government and industry funding influences the direction and findings of scientific research, and how the medical establishment that has given us soaring costs and a population in which nearly 40 percent are chronically ill will tend to justify itself despite its abysmal performance and a long history of being wrong time and again, from tobacco science (older generations may remember how the industry used to get product endorsements from doctors) to the USDA recommended high-carb diet (which has contributed to the obesity epidemic and is more about satisfying food industry lobbyists than providing science-based advise) to the role of cholesterol in heart disease (scientific research no longer supports the hypothesis that dietary cholesterol contributes to blood cholesterol and heart disease risk).
Parents are aware of how government agencies like the FDA and the CDC serve the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry. They see the corruption and the “revolving door” of Washington, such as how Julie Gerberding left her government job pushing vaccines as head of CDC to become president of the vaccine division for the pharmaceutical giant Merck.
They see how the AAP, too, has an incestuous relationship with “Big Pharma”. They understand how willful ignorance goes beyond the individual operating within the system and becomes institutionalized. And they watch as an organization that influences how their child’s pediatrician practices medicine accepts money from an industry they feel the AAP ought to be protecting them from.
They can witness how the AAP makes statements it claims are solidly backed by science, but which it is unwilling or unable to provide any studies to support. They understand that the truly “anti-science” position is the one that says no further scientific inquiry into an admittedly biologically plausible hypothesis is necessary.
Parents know there are many studies that have found no association between vaccines and autism. They don’t need the AAP to point this out to them. But they wonder why the AAP ignores all the studies that do support the hypothesis.
They wonder how the AAP can claim that the vaccine-autism hypothesis has been “disproven” when the most any of the studies it cites have concluded is that those particular studies, with their own particular focus, designed around their own particular assumptions, using a particular methodology, did not find an association between vaccines and autism.
And parents are asking questions like: What was the actual purpose of the study? What were the underlying assumptions made by the authors? What vaccines were being studied, and what outcomes? Who were the study groups? What were the criteria for their selection? What was the study’s methodology? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Do the conclusions drawn follow from the actual findings? How conclusive is it? What does the study actually prove, if anything?
Parents can see for themselves the huge disparity between what they are told science has to say about vaccines — by public health officials, the medical establishment, and the mainstream media — and what science actually has to say about it.
The parents who are choosing not to vaccinate their children aren’t doing so because they are uneducated or unintelligent. On the contrary, studies show that they tend to be wealthier and more highly educated than the general population.
They aren’t choosing not to vaccinate because they are ignorant of the science. They are choosing not to vaccinate because they are digging into the medical literature (which can be searched via PubMed.gov) and awakening to the deceit they see coming out of the government and the mainstream media.
They see how mainstream journalists, rather than seriously investigating what the science actually says, rely on statements from agencies like the CDC and industry-funded organizations like the AAP to “inform” the public about the subject.
They see how the establishment is seeking to stifle debate not by respectfully addressing their legitimate questions, but by bullying them into silence and conformity, and they understand how such a phenomenon can arise because institutions with a life of their own feel threatened by the truth and act to preserve the status quo.
The AAP and other actors interested in preserving the public vaccine policy so far seem to have assumed that they can end the discussion by declaring authoritatively that there is no need for further discussion.
But if they ever hope to truly end the discussion, they are going to have to start taking parents’ concerns seriously and answering their legitimate questions with more than disingenuous public relations talking points that might as well have been written by the vaccine industry.