Paul Offit – The Costs of Vaccine Denialism

February 12, 2010

Recently, there was another nail in the coffin for vaccine skeptics. The British medical journal The Lancet took the dramatic step of retracting a 1998 paper that lies at the root of modern vaccine denialism.  Authored by a doctor named Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues, it was heavily touted as having uncovered a new cause of autism—the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine, or, the MMR vaccine.

Not so fast. Twelve years later, there are more problems with the paper than you can count—and yet somehow, it managed to spawn a movement.

In this conversation with host Chris Mooney, Dr. Paul Offit—author of Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search
for a Cure
—discusses the state of the vaccine skeptic movement in light of this latest news. In particular, Offit explores why the tides may be turning on the movement—as well as the grave public health consequences of ongoing vaccine avoidance.

Paul A. Offit, MD is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition, Dr. Offit is the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Offit has published more than 130 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus-specific immune responses and vaccine safety. He is also the co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, RotaTeq, recommended for universal use in infants by the CDC. Dr. Offit was a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a founding advisory board member of the Autism Science Foundation, and is the author of five books, the latest of which is Autism’s False Prophets.

This is point of inquiry for Friday, February 12th, 2010. Welcome the point of inquiry, the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. I’m Chris Mooney and I’m one of your three new hosts for the program. And I know that each of us, as we begin to do shows of our own, will be striving to live up to the example set by our predecessor, the much missed DJ Grothe. In my own shows twice a month, I’m hoping to stretch into some new and untraditional areas for the program in particular, I want to centrally focus on the highly fraught intersection between science and public policy. Now, there are many contentious issues that arise at this interface, such as global climate change, the evolution battle, embryonic stem cell research and beyond. And we’ll talk about many of them together. But one such issue has been coming on very strong of late. Here I’m referring to the vaccine skeptic movement, which is becoming a true public health threat. 

Recently, the mass media were aflame with blockbuster news on the vaccine front, the British medical journal The Lancet had taken the dramatic step of fully retracting and 1998 paper that lies at the root of modern vaccine denialism. Indeed, you might call it the paper that started the war, authored by a doctor named Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues. This study was heavily touted as having uncovered a new cause of autism the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine or the MMR vaccine. Now, when the Wakefield study hit the press in 1998, a feeding frenzy ensued and something else happened to vaccination rates dropped. Sure enough, over time, the measles has returned in the UK, claiming its first new victim in 2006. Quite a price to pay for a study that now looks extremely shaky. The Wakefield paper only looked at a tiny sample of 12 children. 10 out of 13 of its original authors have since retracted any autism implications of their work. And that’s just the beginning of problems with the study as we’ll learn soon enough on the show. But here’s the thing, folks. You can always retract the paper. But what you can’t do is retract a decade old anti science movement that’s grown up around it, such as the vaccine skeptic movement. You know, I think Jonathan Swift probably put it best, as he often does when he said the following, and I quote, Falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late. The gist is over and the tail has had its effect. Unfortunately, that pretty much describes the vaccine autism issue. Unfortunately, a lot of folks still think Andrew Wakefield is right. No matter how much evidence now shows otherwise. In a moment, we’re gonna have a wonderful guest, Dr. Paul Offit, who’s gonna tell us a great deal more about Wakefield, about the seemingly unending vaccine autism saga, about how we got to this dismaying point. But first, please bear with me for one last announcement. I want to remind listeners that we have very active online forums for point of inquiry. So to get involved in a conversation about today’s show, I encourage you to visit Center for Inquiry, dot net slash forums and then click on Point of Inquiry. And I hope to see you over there. And now onto our guest, Paul Offit, M.D. is the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition, Dr. Offit is the MRIs are Hillmann, professor of Vaccinology and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Dr. Often has published more than 130 papers in medical and scientific journals in the areas of rotavirus, specific immune responses and vaccine safety. He’s also the co inventor of the rotavirus vaccine wrote Attack, which is recommended for universal use in infants by the CDC. Finally, he’s the author of five books, including the one we’re going to talk about today and the one I stole that great. Jonathan Swift quotation from a wonderful read, Autism’s False Prophets, Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure. 

Dr. Paul Offit, welcome to Point of Inquiry. Thank you. 

It’s great to have you. And I must admit, I read your book, Autism’s False Prophets Twice Now, and the first time I was preparing for a Discover magazine story. But I read it again for this program. And I and I have to say, this book is a page turner. Science writers like myself hate scientists who write like you were afraid you’re going to put us out of a job. So my first question is, how did you manage to make a subject like autism and vaccines such a good read? 

Well, I guess people can be compelling if they’re compelled. I was very, I guess on some levels passionate in the book. And in that, you know, I see children who really have suffered this misconception that vaccines cause autism. And so when I wrote this, I tried to make it as just as compelling of a piece as I could so that the parents wouldn’t continue to make decisions that could could hurt their children. 

Well, I think some journalists could take a lesson from how you do it, because I think that’s if it could have been could’ve been wonky. But but in your hands, it’s anything but. You start off by saying that a lot of people hate you. Which is very striking. And indeed, The New York Times reported that you couldn’t even go on a book tour for this book because of that. Can you tell us a little more about what you mean and what kind of a response you get? 

Well, I the surprise for me was the book certainly before I wrote this book, because I had been fairly outspoken on whether or not vaccines cause autism. I had, as I say in the introduction, gotten a fair amount of hate mail and even gotten at that point. One death threat since then, it’s now been too. But. And so when I wrote the book, I assumed that it would merely galvanize those who who didn’t agree with my point of view and who were, you know, angrily write to me hatefully. But that wasn’t true. I think what surprised me in the in the book after I wrote it was that I have received hundreds of emails. I probably about a hundred emails from parents of children with autism, including severe autism, that that have said thank you. You know, I never thought it was vaccines. You know, Jenny McCarthy presumes to represent me, but she doesn’t. And in this book, it’s going to be coming out in paperback in April and in the introduction to sort of the revised introduction, you know, as a preface to the new the new paperback edition, I basically apologize to parents. I mean, I feel like I when I whenever I sort of heard of a parent of a child with autism, I would cringe at some level thinking they’re going to be anti vaccine. That’s not true. I think, frankly, most of them don’t feel that way at all. And I think I mischaracterized them actually in the book. I wish I had had received those e-mails before I’d written the book so I could have more accurately portray what I think is a silent majority out there of parents that that don’t buy into this vaccine autism debate and frankly, are angry about it. 

So you think they were always out there? Do you think that this reflects the fact that the issue is turning away from those who would scare us about vaccines? 

I think they were always out there. I think they were they sort of smell the smoke, wonder whether there was any fire to it. But I think most parents of children with autism. Yeah. Obviously here deeply about their children and want to find out the best available information they can. And when you do that, you know, when you really look at the information, you can’t help it come to the conclusion that the vaccines are in it and that there’s certainly a lot of other exciting leads that that lead you away from vaccines. So I think there have certainly been good moving in that direction well before I published the book. But I think that, you know, between the publication of the book and then other things that have happened, you know, that the court case, the obvious autism proceeding as well as, you know, these recent DA, you know, this recent Lancet retraction, I think that all has continued to move people away from the notion the vaccines were a problem, you know, sort of a series of nails in the coffin. 

And The Lancet retraction is certainly the biggest present news. So that’s a good transition to talking about Andrew Wakefield. You write a lot about his story in your book. And I mean, my God, this 1998 paper seems like the most scandal ridden study I’ve ever heard as a science journalist, and yet its consequences are simply massive. Can you tell us a little bit about how this thing. Possibly came to be published. And who do you would blame for that? 

Yes, I if certainly if you look at that paper, it should not have been published. It is at best a flimsy hypothesis that it is not biologically sound. The notion that the measles containing vaccine, you know, with measles component of the MMR vaccine would travel to the intestine, cause intestinal inflammation and damage. Allow for the entrance of, you know, brain damaging proteins, which would then travel to the brain and cause autism is a far flung hypothesis. And his his his evidence for that. Dr. Wakefield and his, quote, coauthors evidence for that was basically eight children who had received the MMR vaccine and within a month developed symptoms of autism. You know, that’s not a paper. I you know, I mean, I could have the hypothesis, you know, that peanut butter sandwiches caused leukemia. And I’m sure I could easily find five children who whose leukemia was preceded within a month by eating a peanut butter sandwich. That that shouldn’t be published. Maybe it wouldn’t be in The Lancet, but it shouldn’t be published. And, you know, I’d like to think that the editors would come back to me and say, look, you have to look at thousands of children who do or don’t eat peanut butter sandwiches to see whether leukemia is more common in peanut butter sandwich eating group. But they didn’t. And if you look at the. That were those reviews, there were six people that reviewed that paper. Four of them rejected it. Normally, that would have gotten a retraction. 

But I think that I frankly hold the editor responsible. 

I think the editor, an editor is in control of a public trust. I think journals are a public trust. And when that’s published in Britain’s oldest and arguably most respected general medical journal, you know that the media is going to see that as information. They’re not going to see it just as a hypothesis raised. They’re going to see it as a study done. And, you know, for them, they’ll jump on and say, here is at least a cause of autism and scare the hell out of people, which is what happened. So I still blame the media for this. I think that when something’s published in The Lancet, I can see where they would jump all over it. I blame the editor who I think tipped more from from what should be editorship to to being a journalist, frankly. 

I think I agree with you about that. The more I think about issues in the media coverage of science, it seems to me that the journals have weeks, months, sometimes years to consider what studies they publish. And they’ve got a peer review process, whereas the journalist has about 24 hours, sometimes less. And it’s it seems hard to imagine that the journalists can really be the quality control when when the scientific process is supposed to be set. But but I guess my question then would be so that at least you would agree that The Lancet’s action is timely or way late. But finally, they take this step. You’re glad they did so. 

Sure. I mean, wait, wait. Would be how I would describe. But I mean, it’s certainly open Pandora’s box that gave birth to the notion that vaccines cause autism and and that’s had since had many forms. I mean, we went we traveled from MMR causes autism to time. Mirasol causes autism to too many vaccines too soon. Cause autism, too. You know, sort of a vague notion that there are chemicals other than by Marisol in vaccines cause autism. And so I think it opened a box which which I think will not close, frankly, until there very is a clear cause or causes and arguably even a cure for autism, which I don’t think is any sort of an immediate offing. I think it’s just very in part, very hard to unring the bell. It’s very hard to unscary. People want to scare them. 

And and Andrew Wakefield, you know, with the imprimatur of the Lancet with him premature with the Royal Free Hospital and and frankly, you know, with the imprimatur of just the media at the time, was able to launch on the notion that the vaccines cause autism, that that has not died. 

Do you think, though, that in the wake of the latest news, I mean, do you see anyone on the vaccine skeptics side changing positions? They’ve taken a lot of hits to their view in the last three years since I’ve been following. And it’s been all bad news for them. I mean, is it just wagons circling or are there a few brave converts or discomforts? 

I certainly think those people who were on the fence, I me who smell the smoke and wonder whether there was any fire. So I think they will take notice of this because it’s a very unusual act for a journal to withdraw paper. I mean, you know, bad science is published all the time. Usually it just sort of disappears in the in the fog of Errey produce ability and isn’t heard from again. That wasn’t true here. I mean, here, 12 years later, the Journal makes the decision to go back and retract that meaning to officially wipe it off the books because they believe the data were falsified, misrepresented. That’s an unusual argument. That doesn’t happen often with. I can think of was with that. The Korean stem cell cloner. 

Oh, yeah. At falsified data that were published in Science. 

So it does certainly doesn’t happen often. I think there are those people who who hold on to this notion that vaccines cause autism as light as one holds on to a religious belief and it’s just unshaped. Plus, they see it as part of a broader conspiracy. Sort of a conspiracy by you know, but it’s driven by pharmaceutical companies and the government and it bought into by physicians who who benefit from selling vaccines. And it’s just all part of a big conspiracy. So when you have a journal or when you have the General Medical Council, for example, Centers Wakefield, that’s all just seen as as I think that just makes them all the more heroic in their unscientific level. 

The MMR debate seems over time aerosol is a separate issue. And so they can certainly say that the argument doesn’t stand or fall with Andrew Wakefield. But I guess you would say that the time aerosol argument has pretty much crumbled scientifically also, right? 

Yes. I mean, the good thing is that these are these are perfectly answerable questions. I mean, it is perfectly reasonable for a parent to say, look, my child was fine, then they got MMR. Then they got, you know, by marathon vaccines and then they weren’t fine anymore. Tell me, you know, whether or not the vaccine caused it. You know, you can do that by simply, you know, looking at that. Not so simply. I mean, it’s expensive. And but fortunately, I think the public health academic community has been willing to and to shoulder that expense. You can look at thousands of children, you know, that did or didn’t receive MMR vaccine to see whether the incident was greater in the vaccinated group and did the same thing with Mirasol. And that’s that’s been done now for time. Marisol, in six separate studies on several different continents, looking at, you know, different populations of children with the same result. So, I mean, I said so you can answer that question. I think, you know, now it’s kind of worth to a much less answerable question. You know, just look at children who do or don’t get vaccines who you certainly can’t do that prospectively because it’s unethical and retrospectively, it’s really hard to control for, you know, health care seeking practices and groups of people who completely or do or don’t vaccinate their children. So but, you know, that’s that’s I think is a classic hallmark of pseudoscience, which is that you just keep shifting the goalposts until you get to a hypothesis that it’s, frankly, untestable. 

And is that what they’re actually really asking for now, a study of the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated to completely rule out any kinds of harm? 

That’s what they’re asking for. Yes. We can see why you can’t. 

No, you can’t do it, certainly. I mean, you know, the goal of doing a scientific study is to isolate the effect of one variable. So in this case, the variable would be receipt of vaccines. You have to make sure that all other aspects of those two populations are the same. It’s the same social economic background, the same medical background and the same health care seeking behavior that would be very hard for those two groups. And obviously, you know, to do it prospectively would be unethical because, you know, I think that vaccines work is not a question. You know, you would start to see children who were suffering pneumococcal meningitis or Haemophilus influenza type meningitis. And that’s that’s unconscionable. Yeah. No, no review board would accept that kind of study. 

So it’s sort of a scientific trap being set that you can’t really you can’t really give them the evidence they asked for. Well, there is one difference between the time Marisol and the MMR case, though. I mean, there was no Andrew Wakefield moment for time, Mirasol. The scare, such as it was, arose out of sort of government bureaucratic movement more than anything else, rather than, you know, a journal, perhaps ill advisedly publishing a paper. Would you. Can you explain a bit about that? I know you described this in detail. 

Yeah, no, I think that’s a really good point. It’s I think we in the public health community really brought this upon ourselves that, you know, there was a concern as more and more vaccines were being recommended for children and as some of those vaccines contain time aerosol, that children were getting more and more mercury in injected into their bodies through vaccines. And the question was, you know, it’s it’s ethylmercury. You know, it’s it’s not the kind of mercury in the environment, which is methylmercury. So certainly Ethem workers excreted in the body formwork quickly and therefore much less likely to accumulate. So that’s why I think it wasn’t you know, I think for those who who were, you know, toxicologist for me, that there was there wasn’t a real concern that this was going to be a problem. But but certainly it was a perceptual problem. And the thinking at the time by primarily by a person at the American Academy of Pediatrics was, let’s get this out now. And it was done in such a precipitous and frightening manner that it it scared people. And, you know, parents reasonably said, well, why are they taking this out so quickly? And and so, you know, it’s just basically putting a gun to the head of pharmaceutical companies unless it there was something wrong and it directly gave birth to groups like, you know, Safe Mines, Moms Against Mercury, a Tramp Generation Rescue. Those were all created by the false notion that thimerosal in vaccines caused harm. In a sense then I mean, some aerosols basically been out of all vaccines, routinely recommended for young infants since the spring of 2001, and the incidence of autism has only increased. I think that probably has, more than anything else, gotten people off the time. 

Mirasol No show. But you’re right. You know, thimerosal did not have the personality that MMR did. I mean, MMR is. Andrew Wakefield, Mirasol is not. Not a single person. 

One thing I might slightly, slightly disagree with you as I read this chapter about Neil Halsey, you mentioned in the precautionary principle, I guess he was the official that that drove getting to Maricel out quickly. I guess you do agree that getting it out is, on balance, a good idea. So you do agree with the precautionary principle in that sense, you just think it was done too hastily and gave too much of a semblance that there was something really wrong? Is that what I’m getting? 

Yeah, that’s exactly. I mean, I think it’s fair to say that that’s something that doesn’t need to be in vaccines shouldn’t be there. And although thimerosal. Or any preservative is going to need to be in a multi dose file. You really don’t need time. Aerosol preservative levels and single dose files. So so getting it out made perfect sense the way we got it out. I think, frankly, went against the precautionary principle because we did it so in such a frightening manner that it actually did harm. I think the book, The Precautionary Principle, as I understand it, is to exercise caution, to avoid possible harm here. I think we created harm, by the way, that we tried to exercise caution. So I think we we did it better. I mean, Europe basically had taken five Maricel out of single dose files of vaccines in the early 90s. They did it pretty much below radar. I mean, this didn’t get much in the way of media attention. And that’s that would have been the way to do it. 

But we just didn’t do it that way. 

I gotcha. Well, so what does the science tell us about the real reason? Because I guess you agree. We do have an apparent big growth of autism. Do we know its causes? Do we know some of its causes, even if it’s not vaccines? 

You know, I think there actually are a lot of really interesting studies. 

There’s a number of groups that have clearly found that that there are are genetic influences, which is to say and probably the best was the paper that came out there was published in Nature by an investigator. The lead investigator was a guy named Hack and Hack and Arson, actually, in our hospital, Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia. But he he coordinated 14 different centers of autism excellence as deemed by NIH to look at thousands of children who did or didn’t have autism spectrum disorder. And he found that a significant percentage that he was able to show that there were defects in genes that code for determine proteins that sit on the on the surface of brain cells that help one brain cell communicate with another. Those kinds of proteins are called neural cell adhesion molecules. And that’s interesting to me that that one would find an abnormality in the brains of children with autism make certainly a whole lot more sense than in the gut, which is where Andrew Wakefield does continue to direct this. And then there is work done by Eric. Were Chesney and his coworkers that you call San Diego showing that he can very early on see some structural abnormalities in the brains of children with autism as compared to those that don’t have it? Which, again, is not going to be something caused by vaccines, but rather something inherent in the child. And then you have worked by guys like Army Clan at the Yale Child Study Center, which I think he is a fascinating piece of work where he takes a baby, even just, you know, baby a few weeks old, puts the baby in in in a in a in a like a little crib where he can actually track where the baby looks and then he puts the baby in it in an area where the child is looking at a monitor. The mother is in another room. Her face appears on the monitor so she can see now the baby can big. You can see where the baby’s looking as as he attends to his mother’s face and an autistic child. When a mother is talking to him, we’ll look at that would look at the mother’s mouth, which is a non autistic child, will look at the mother’s eyes. And that’s something you can see very early on. It, frankly, can be a marker, arguably, for children who are destined to develop autism spectrum disorder. But all of that sort of drives one, two events probably that are occurring while a baby’s still in the womb or certainly very early on and leads one away from vaccines. But you never hear about it. You never hear about studies, because I think the anti vaccine forces have taken the autism story hostage much to the detriment of children with autism. 

And you would you we’re not ruling out, though, any kind of environmental factor. 

We’re just saying we’ve pretty much ruled out the, you know, the two vaccine related things that you’ve brought up concertedly like MMR and Marisol. 

But there could be something out there that we and we don’t know what it is that’s feeding in somehow. 

Well, I think there has been I mean, if you look, for example, the mothers that took thalidomide as an antinausea drug in their pregnancy. We we didn’t. Didn’t the FDA never license that. But it was used in Europe and to some extent sort of label here. I mean, those mothers who took thalidomide delivered children who had an increased risk of autism. Similarly, Valproic Acid, an anti seizure drug that that was taken by mothers while they were pregnant, increased the risk of autism, as did infection with natural rubella virus causing congenital rubella syndrome. So there are definitely environmental factors. I’m not sure if those environmental factors are going to act once the. Is already born. But certainly they might. And it’s certainly clear that environmental factors can play a role. 

And in terms of the strength of epidemiology, I mean, we. Are you confident we can say that there? We can rule out even a handful of kids being out there that did get harmed by vaccines and and develop something like autism? Maybe it’s just a really small number that are too small to be picked up in any of these populations style studies. What do you think about that possibility? 

Right. And so so I mean, so how how powerful are epidemiological studies are quite powerful. They you know, they certainly we learned from the the swine flu vaccine that was given in 1976 that you can pick up adverse events following vaccines that occur as rarely as one per hundred thousand children. So I think I mean, so for example, the omnibus autism proceeding, there are parents of 5000 children who claim that vaccines caused their children’s autism. I think of vaccines accountable for one percent of that. You would you would have been able to see it in epidemiological study. So certainly if if only, you know, one or two or a handful of children every year were getting autism as a consequence of vaccines or some other environmental factory off of the, you know, three and half to four million children born every year, you wouldn’t find that in an epidemiological study. But I think that autism is so common now and I think so well recognized that certainly if you don’t see it in these big epidemiological studies, you can certainly say with confidence that it’s not like we get the fear. 

The public health fear is that diseases that were once vanquished or rare will return. 

And my question is, how much evidence is there that that’s happening? 

Abundant evidence. I mean, I would have said ten years ago was theoretical. And certainly if we if we had immunization rates that dropped from 98 percent to 95 percent or 94 percent, you know, you wouldn’t see what we’re seeing now. And frankly, just to take a step back, if you look at nationwide immunization rates, they’re excellent. And I think our country, frankly, yes, a lot of its citizens, when it is, you know, children to receive vaccines, read 14 different diseases in the first few years of life, which can mean twenty six inoculations, you know, in the first few years and as many as five shots at one time. I think that’s a lot to ask of parents. And for the most part, every musician rates are excellent. The problem is, is that there are certain communities or districts that where the immunization rates are quite low. I you know, Ashland, Oregon, Vashion Island off of Washington State, Southern California, you know, Hasidic Jews in, you know, in in New York State. And so what you’re starting to see now is you’re starting to see outbreaks of infectious diseases. I mean, specifically, we had a measles epidemic in 2008 that was bigger than anything we’ve seen in more than a decade. We have outbreaks of pertussis. Now, one of whooping cough, one of which occurred in Delaware in 2006. That was where the epidemiological pattern was exactly like one would see in the pre vaccine era, meaning primarily five to nine year olds. And we’ve had cases of bacterial meningitis, one particular type that was perfectly preventable by vaccines that has caused deaths. One in Minnesota, three in the Philadelphia area. So when I used to say that, you know, that I think that the tide will turn when people start to see children die of these diseases, they’re seeing children die of these diseases. And so now I’ve changed to when enough children die. 

But I think there is it is perfectly possible for diseases like polio to come back in the United States because it’s all hers in the world. And, you know, only about one of every 200 to 500 people with polio actually becomes paralyzed with it. Most people are or have no symptoms, but still are contagious. 

And so let enough people stop getting vaccinated against polio. And there is every reason to believe it will come back. Essentially, it’s what happened in the Soviet Union when the Soviet Union dissolved in the early 1990s. I mean, basically, the infrastructure for giving vaccines in Russia just deteriorated. And as a consequence, there were tens of thousands of cases, diphtheria and hundreds of deaths from Syria because they stopped vaccinating. And there’s no reason to believe that can happen here if enough kids don’t get vaccinated. 

So we’re careening towards I mean, this is old. What you’re saying is that this is going to come to a head. It’s going to come to a head when the return of diseases that are really bad catches, I guess, mass media attention and a lot of people are sick or die. 

I think it will come to a head. I mean, I think that, you know, with the measles epidemic in 2008, with these whooping cough epidemics now, with these cases of Haemophilus influenza Type B meningitis deaths, you’re starting to see a lot more reports and reporting about. About this particular issue. And frankly, I think it has largely turned. I mean, I think that the vaccines cause autism issue is definitely on the run. And if you look now at you, place like New York Times, L.A. Times, you know, responsible, were viewed as responsible media outlets. I think this story has changed. I just you know, it’s sad to me that it really took this. Much human suffering, and in the case of some children, death to get the media’s attention on this. And in some ways I blame them, frankly, for, you know, for beating this drama that vaccines, you know, were causing problems. They weren’t. But know such as the media. 

So I guess your view is that we’re actually winning the issue because my next question was going to be, Will, how do we ever get these people who are so entrenched, who still believe this stuff, disregarding all the evidence? How do we ever change their minds? But I think you’re going to say we don’t need to. The issues turned their fringe and the media’s waking up. And is that is that how you feel? 

Yeah, I think I think that the worst way to get people’s attention arguably is what’s happening, which is that, you know, children are starting to suffer. 

You know, vaccine preventable disease and die from those diseases. That’s the worst possible way in which we can, you know, can change the tide. I think the better way is, although I think doctors and public health officials have been, you know, sort of beating this drum for years, saying, you know, watch out. You can’t, you know, not vaccinate without suffering a consequence. I think it’s really only going to change significantly when parents start to do that. And that’s already started to happen. You know, you’ll see people like Stephanie to tell who had an article on Slate dot com saying, you know, my child has leukemia. You know, I can’t send him to daycare because too many kids run immunizes through this. You know, Selena Yorkin and Vashion Island, who’s sort of starting a parent of young children, starting a campaign of, you know, we’ve got to get our kids immunized because you’re putting my children at risk. And I think that’s you know, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the United States who cannot be vaccinated. They can’t be vaccinated because they’re getting, you know, chemotherapy for their cancer or immunosuppressive therapy for the room. A lot of diseases or, you know, as or steroids for their asthma. And they depend on living in a protected population. If if they’re not, then they’re at highest risk. And, you know, I think, you know, I work in a hospital, children’s hospital for all through. A lot of children have cancer. And, you know, that’s why this year, finally we’ve had we said, you know, you have to get an influenza vaccine if you work in that hospital or you’re fired. 

And then finally, we’ve got our immunization rates up to where they should be, which is ninety nine point nine percent because we. Who’s responsible for those children if it’s not us? 

Who do you think that it would have been different without the Internet? I mean, it seems to me like, you know, I think in your book, you quote Jenny McCarthy saying that she learned about this from the University of Google. And it seems like many of her compatriots did as well. And they also link up that way. And Web sites like Age of Autism draw them together and fire them up. I mean, do you think that that was really integral in making the movement? 

Yes, I do. I think in many ways I think for just what you said. 

I think that, you know, it’s very easy to find like minded people, even if it’s represents a very small fringe quickly. And I think it’s sort of reflective of the age of our information age that we believe that we, too, can be experts, that if we, as Jenny McCarthy would say, you know, Google vaccines, that she will know as much as any doctor who gives her advice. So I think it’s a it’s an erosion in some ways of a respect for expertize that everyone’s an expert. Therefore, arguably, no one is. And I think that we suffer that definitely. 

And people aren’t stupid. They just you know, they’re actually highly educated. 

I think the statistics show that the people who are skeptical of vaccines actually are well-to-do and they’ve been to good schools and then they think they’re empowered enough to decide what sciences. And that’s where where the trouble begins. 

Yeah, definitely true, I think. But and it’s even a little worse than I mean, in the sense that you’ll see somebody like Dr. Robert Shear’s, who writes a book, the vaccine book, which, you know, he’s an M.D., he’s a fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics. He’s he’s a pediatrician. And, you know, he he writes a book that, frankly, is full of information. That’s not correct. But, you know, he’s influential. His book sold Extreme well, continues to sell extremely well. He just you know, he sits in his office. He makes up a vaccine schedule. He says, here, use this one. It’s completely untested, you know. But, you know, you may feel better using this this schedule. And it’s it’s it’s frightening. Or Mehmet Oz, who clearly, I mean, has a platform. He’s got his own show, the Dr. Oz shows on The View the other day. 

And he has he he in many ways, you know, practices alternative medicine and, you know, alternative to the science, which, you know, supports a lot of what we typically do. It’s it’s really hard to watch. 

So that’s what we’re fighting against, is this this sense of empowerment. And maybe that’s why why why we can’t sort of take that away from people very easily. 

You know, it may just evolve. That’s right. It’s I completely agree. And that’s the key word. I mean, you know, we’ll say to people as pediatricians, you know, we want to empower you to make the right decisions. And, you know, obviously people aren’t going to be, you know, doing things that we think are good for for children unless we get parental Buy-In. And so we say, you know, we want to give you all the information you can to make the right things. But the fact of the matter is that’s not going to happen. I think if you if you let’s suppose you’re trying to decide whether you want to get your child the chickenpox vaccine. I mean, you know, you can go on the Internet and read and read about it. But what you’re really reading is other people’s opinions about that vaccine. If you really want to learn about the chicken pox vaccine, you should read the roughly five. Papers that are out there, you know, looking at the at the. That vaccine, how it’s made, how genetically it’s different than than, say, the natural chicken pox virus. You know, what’s the what’s the you know what? It’s the safety and efficacy data will not no parent is going to do that. Frankly, no doctor does that. 

I mean, we we basically rely on expert bodies at the CDC or the American Academy of Pediatrics to do that for us. And they do it well. But that’s it’s just never a message that you’re going to send. You know, trust them. They’re expert. 

Yeah. Yeah. Well, this has been oh, a wonderful discussion, Dr. Oz. I really appreciated it. And I thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to do it. 

I thought that was great, other than to say I loved your book, Unscientific America. I mean, I thank you. In fact, I have it’s looking I’m looking at right now myself and the one thing I need to get it signed. Jim Underdown. 

Well, we’ll we’ll do that in a nonpublic event so that no one can track you down. 

And speaking of buying your as I understand that if people if I readers buy it and I think a lot of them will all the royalties go to autism research, is that right? 

That’s right. Has and in fact, the book sold quite well. So so we’ve contribute about forty thousand dollars in royalties to the autism science guy. 

Well that’s that’s wonderful. Is as a book Oscar especially. Let me tell you, that is a that is quite a contribution and I’m glad that you’ve sold so well. Well, again, thank you. It has been a pleasure to speak with you, Dr. Paul. Off it. Thanks, Chris. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry for updates throughout the week. Please check out my blog blog Stot Discover magazine dot com slash intersection. Also, make sure to visit our online discussion forums to continue the dialog by visiting Center for Inquiry dot net slash forums and then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on today’s show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry, dawg. 

One of inquiry is produced by atomizing and amrs New York, and its music is composed for us by Emmy Award winning Michael Will. Today’s show features contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host signing off. Chris Mooney. 

DJ Grothe

D.J. Grothe is on the Board of Directors for the Institute for Science and Human Values, and is a speaker on various topics that touch on the intersection of education, science and belief. He was once the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and was former Director of Outreach Programs for the Center for Inquiry and associate editor of Free Inquiry magazine. He previously hosted the weekly radio show and podcast Point of Inquiry, exploring the implications of the scientific outlook with leading thinkers.