By Rob Verkerk PhD
Executive and scientific director, ANH-Intl
This week, we bring our readership two stories that were due to be published in the Hugffington Post. Each is written by a highly acclaimed health journalist, Sally Beck and Jerome Burne, respectively. Each has been refused publication at the 11th hour. Last week, I found myself in a similar situation after being, minutes before going to air, knocked off the BBC Radio 2 Jeremy Vine programme to contest the views of Oxford-based physicist and skeptic, David Robert Grimes PhD.
Jerome Burne’s article very briefly appeared on the site of the American version of the Huffington Post yesterday, but was rapidly taken down and replaced with a message saying that the article was no longer available on the site. It was scheduled to run with a detailed article on the film Vaxxed by Sally Beck, a regular columnist for the Post. That too was rapidly removed. No reason has been given.
The last 7 days
This last week, The Times newspaper in London bombarded British readers with 5 articles condemning Andrew Wakefield and anyone who might have concerns over vaccine safety, especially where it concerns any association between vaccines and autism. On one of these articles, last Thursday, our executive coordinator, Meleni Aldridge, made it onto the front pages given that The Times had pulled a photograph from our website with her positioned next to the heavily maligned Wakefield.
We asked our friend, ANH co-founder and PR consultant, Adrian Shaw, what he thought about this. His response was as follows: “I have been practising national media relations for over thirty years and to see five articles covering the same single health story in a one national newspaper over a three day period is virtually unprecedented in my experience. It’s as rare as hen’s teeth for this to happen and bids a fundamental question; WHY?”
Murdoch and Brian Deer is have got to be two of the reasons. Many will remember that James Murdoch was a non-exec on the board of GSK until 2012. GSK is the world’s second largest drug company and one of the world’s largest vaccine producers.
The company produces an eye-watering 1.9 million vaccines for global distribution every day. The Times and Sunday Times newspapers are owned by Murdoch’s News International and in 2010, Brian Deer found himself readily available as a journalist for these papers to do his darndest to bring down Wakefield, the figurehead for concerns over the MMR vaccine link.
When the science is uncertain, News International had presumably deduced that you get more points by taking down the messenger than tackling the extraordinarily complex relationship between a poorly understood, although very common, condition that is affected by a multitude of environmental and genetic variables among a very diverse pool of individuals. As history tells us, Deer did in fact succeed, at least partially. But he didn’t stop Wakefield’s crusade to understand more about the triggers for the ever-increasing autism epidemic that is set to paralyse society as we know it in the years ahead if the incidence rate is not curbed.
The media wants the public to accept facts provided to it by the pharmaceutical and vaccine industry, described by leading Danish researcher, Peter Gotzche, as “organised crime”.
On the other side of the debate are people claiming all vaccines cause health problems in all people. In our estimation, the data are simply not there to allow such a sweeping conclusion to be drawn.
However, the majority of people who have concerns about vaccines do not resort to such extreme positions. The pharmaceutical and vaccine industry has delegated responsibility to governments so that it avoids liability for injury. Governments and the vaccine makers profit from selling vaccines – and in self-interest, governments do not want to be liable for paying out compensation to vaccine damaged children. This situation will only change when the evidence for vaccine risk is undisputable, the very situation the tobacco industry found itself in after 30 years of scientific research and debate. We must understand that given the current degree of control of research and information, we may never find ourselves in this position with vaccines – and not because there are no causal relationships to be found. Instead, it may be simply because such relationships are extremely difficult to tease out of an incredibly complex system with so many variables.
The extraordinary situation we find ourselves in with vaccines relates to the degree of control of information and censorship.
Sally Beck’s piece is one of very few about the central issue within Vaxxed itself; the cover-up in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Jerome Burne’s piece proposes that we maintain a considerably more open mind than most media and their paymasters would wish of us.
We say that the two contrasting positions, that vaccines are ‘absolutely safe’ and vaccines are ‘always dangerous’, are as untenable as each other given the current state of scientific knowledge. We support Robert Kennedy Jnr and Robert De Niro’s open letter to journalists announcing their World Mercury Project.
We are proposing initially that you, our readers and supporters, consider the following:
- Keep an open mind.
- Dismiss outright government and health authorities’ statements that vaccines are safe when in fact there is copious evidence for lack of safety, supported by the US$3.5 billion payout by the US National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) since 1988
- Be mindful of the quality and sources of scientific data, as well as conclusions drawn. This will include ensuring that comparisons between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations (where such data exist) are valid, that purported evidence of excessive incidence of autism (where relevant) is compared with background incidence (among unvaccinated populations).
- Ascertain when the media, a scientist, doctor or anyone else, is claiming an association as against causation. The two have different implications, the latter being something of a slam dunk, the former usually being inconclusive from an evidential standpoint. The two are built from very different types of data – and causation in complex health conditions can be very difficult indeed to verify. Lack of evidence of causation should not ever be assumed to equate to evidence for no causal relationship, a very common error made by media and pro-vaccine scientists alike.
- Recognise that highly suggestive evidence based on association, rather than causation, may be the best available evidence. In cases of such uncertainty, where serious risk to public health is plausible, an approach that takes into account the precautionary principle should be employed. If this should point to a problem with a particular vaccine in a particular age group, gender or other group of children, it is both unacceptable and unethical to propose that the absence of vaccination should involve no additional actions or advice. Health professionals should be encouraged to offer alternate advice and guidance to allow parents or guardians opportunities, using scientifically supported approaches, to improve the resilience of their children’s immune systems.
Next week, we will lay bare the key elements of existing evidence on vaccine safety. Please circulate this widely and encourage your friends and contacts to sign-up to our eAlert free of charge from our homepage.
Read Sally Beck’s story – Vaxxed: Why we should be allowed to watch this movie
Read Jerome Burne’s story – The MMR vaccine: Why it is sensible to worry about the way it is regulated