Barbara Loe Fisher's Dis-Information Center: A visit to NVIC
By David N. Brown
While the likes of Generation Rescue and AoA are perhaps the most notorious of vaccine critics, they are relatively new arrivals to the “anti-vax” ranks. By comparison, Barbara Loe Fisher is a fixture in the community, having founded the National Vaccine Information Center in 1982. For the time that I have been following the issue, she has struck me as someone who has preferred to stay out of the fray over vaccines and autism, and as such has been of only passing interest to me. That has changed with her announcement of a lawsuit against Paul Offit, Amy Wallace and Wired magazine over a quote in which Offit (reportedly) stated, "she lies." To commemorate this event, I fished out an essay I wrote in November, which I think will be very useful in considering the merits of her case.
“But health officials... tell us not to worry because the closed government databases, which the CDC operates with vaccine manufacturers and HMO’s they pay to participate in them, can be relied upon to reassure us that all those seizures and blood clots and cases of brain inflammation, paralysis, lupus and deaths in girls who get Gardasil shots are really – mostly - just a coincidence.”
She appears to be referring to VAERS, which is in fact completely open to the public. Her account also begs the question how she obtained such detailed descriptions of adverse events without accessing the supposed “closed database” herself.
“Thimerosal, which is a mercury-based preservative added to multi-dose vials of inactivated annual influenza vaccines and other vaccines, has been associated with brain and immune system dysfunction, including autism.”
The proposed link between thimerosal and nervous disorders was for quantities which (according to the theory) might accumulate from the administration of several vaccines with thimerosal. Thus, even those in the scientific “mainstream” who raised concerns about thimerosal never argued that one vaccine might contain enough thimerosal to do harm.
“The live virus nasal spray H1N1 vaccine being created by MedImmune will not contain the preservative thimerosal (and live virus swine flu vaccine will not contain an unlicensed adjuvant that may be added to inactivated H1N1 vaccines). “
Entirely true, and Fisher deserves some credit for correcting other anti-vax sources who do speak of thimerosal being in a live vaccine. But this should only be stating the obvious: If a preservative, whose purpose is to kill germs, were added to a live vaccine, it would become a “killed” vaccine.
“According to the FDA, candidate swine flu vaccines will be tested for one to three weeks on a few hundred children and adults before being released for public use in the fall.”
The only corresponding statement in the document she cites, taken in context, reads as follows: “Subjects should record age appropriate local and systemic reactogenicity for seven days after each vaccination. In addition, unsolicited adverse events, serious adverse events (SAEs), and deaths should be assessed for 21 days after each vaccination. Subjects should be followed for 6 months after the second vaccination for assessment of SAEs, deaths and new onset chronic medical conditions.” (Italics added.) This is clearly a far cry from “one to three weeks” for an entire study.
"The legal authority for states to require Americans to use vaccines during non-emergencies was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1905 (Jacobsen vs. Massachusetts) in a controversial decision involving smallpox vaccine.”
This is part of a section headlined “Could You or Someone in Your Family Be Required to Get Vaccinated or Be Quarantined During an Influenza Pandemic?” She clearly believes that the government would and could compel vaccination for swine flu, and this is her strongest piece of evidence. But, there are many reasons why this precedent would not be applied. First, by all indications the government is struggling, if not entirely failing, to provide enough doses even for those who want them. Second, smallpox was a much greater threat to health than swine flu is by any appraisal. Third, the 1905 verdict is an artifact of a broader social-political setting radically different from our own; for example, Arthur Allen has argued a connection to eugenics. Finally, it has to be said that the only serious discussion of "compulsory vaccination" of the general public is coming from the "anti-vax" side. As such, the whole scenario is at best an imagined boogeyman and at worst a willfully fabricated man of straw.
Vaccine ingredient calculator:
This widget is supposed to tell parents how much mercury their children would be exposed to. I entered 10 kg (22 lb), selected the Sanofi Pasteur thimerosal-containing vaccine, and received this result:
Mercury amount the EPA says you can handle: 1 mcg
Mercury exposure based on your vaccine choices: 25 mcg
Let's check these figures. According to the FDA, “each 0.5 mL dose contains 24.5 mcg of mercury. “ So that much is true. The FDA and EPA will allow up to 2 mcg of inorganic mercury in a liter of drinking water. Judging by quantities alone, this would present an even worse picture: In a 0.5 mL fluid, anything over 0.0005 mcg would qualify as toxic! But, inorganic mercury and thimerosal are very different substances. Even if that distinction is ignored, there are other standards that would give a very different answer. The FDA will allow up to 1 ppm of methylmercury in seafood, and will allow that even small children can eat up to 6 oz (177 g) of tuna per week. That could mean around 30 g of seafood with 30 mcg of mercury in one day.
It is more useful to look at a definitive study of the value of chelation. The authors report that a “High-Pb” group of rats had 31 mcg lead per deciliter of blood, compared to a control group with 1.5 mcg/dL. They also affirm a conclusion previously published by the CDC that chelation therapy is unwarranted when Pb concentration is under 45 mcg/dL. To provide useful points for comparison, an adult human weighing 70 kg has about 5 liters of blood, so a 10 kg child could be expected to have in the neighborhood of 5 dL of blood. Also, the toxic effects of mercury are (in as much as they can be compared) about twice those of lead. Thus, an acceptable “normal” concentration for our child would be 0.75 microg/dL, while one warranting intervention would be 22 microg/dL. The concentration which would actually result would be 5 mcg/dL, seven times “normal” but less than one-fourth of what would be dangerous in effect. But all that is moot in practice, because the vaccine is not approved for children under three, and a healthy child of that age should already have passed 10 kg in weight. (Knowing this, I entered age 2 at first, but the widget wouldn't even work until I changed it to 4!) Thus, even in a decidedly unrealistic scenario, Fisher's widget errs on the side of alarm about vaccine risks.
I would say much the same about the site as a whole. After Olmsted, Jenny McCarthy, the "Hairy Biped" and miscellaneous accomplices, NVIC struck me as a breath of fresh air: At a minimum, Fisher and co. appear to get most of their facts straight (and also stay on ground that can easily be investigated), and offer glimpses of something like an articulate philosophy rather than mere phobias. But, even accurate statements of fact are repeatedly used to point to erroneous conclusions. On the whole she must be considered the most deceptive of the lot.
And on the off chance she wants to sue me for saying this, I already have a form response: While you're at it, tell somebody at Fox Studios about Aliens Vs. Exotroopers!