You remember that blog calendar we have “behind the scenes” that Mountain Mama told you about in “Accepting the Village” ? Well, I chose today because the blog calendar said it was “No Smoking Day,” and I wanted to do a blog on the parallels between tobacco science and vaccine science. I did some checking because I had a vague recollection that it was in November. I’ve never been a smoker, so it’s not exactly on my radar. Turns out that here in the States we have we “the Great American Smokeout” on the third Thursday in November. That’s the day when people are encouraged to quit smoking, even for just one day if they can’t imagine giving it up altogether. It’s a smart strategy because, as the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous discovered, people can often do something for “one day at a time” that they cannot imagine doing forever. And once you’ve done it for a day, you just might be able to do it for another . . . And so on, and so on. “No Smoking Day” is what it’s called in the U.K., and it is indeed in March. But, apparently, it’s not till the second Wednesday in March which is next week. Oh, well. Even our Saintly calendar curator isn’t perfect.
While reading the above paragraph, I’ll bet there wasn’t anyone thinking, “Why on earth would anyone dedicate a day to encouraging people to quit smoking?” That’s because “everyone knows” all the bad things associated with smoking. According to the CDC: “Smoking causes death” and is responsible for approximately 443,000 deaths per year in the United States. That’s one in every five deaths. Smoking causes heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and abdominal aortic aneurysm. It also causes a whole host of cancers. But the one thing smoking is “best known for” is causing lung cancer.
One hundred fifty years ago lung cancer was an extremely rare disease. It accounted for only 1% of all cancers autopsied at the Institute of Pathology of the University of Dresden in Germany. In recent years, “Lung cancer continues to be the leading cause of death in both men and women in the US, with over 158,900 deaths in 1999. Worldwide, lung cancer kills over one million people a year.” The rise in cases of lung cancer began right around the turn of the twentieth century. The 1930 edition of the authoritative Springer Handbook of Special Pathology suggested some possible environmental reasons for the sudden rise: increased air pollution, asphalting of roads, increased automobile traffic, the influenza pandemic of 1918, etc. Smoking, which had risen dramatically in popularity in the same time period, was briefly mentioned as a possible cause, but it was noted that there were as many studies that failed to find an association as there were ones with positive findings. In September 1950, an article was published in the British Medical Journal linking smoking to lung cancer. Over the next few decades, more and more studies piled up, establishing without a doubt a causal relationship between smoking and lung cancer, though many studies funded by tobacco companies continued to dispute the link. As late as 1994, big tobacco companies were still testifying to Congress that the evidence on a causal link was inconclusive. Someone must have gotten fed up with the lies, though, because soon afterward a box of confidential documents from Brown & Williamson appeared that proved tobacco execs knew and accepted the truth back in the ‘50s. And those documents were used in 1998 to trounce the tobacco companies in a federal lawsuit that resulted in a settlement of $365.5 billion.
Sound familiar? It ought to. Thirty-five years ago autism was an extremely rare condition. It occurred in approximately one in 25,000 children. Most doctors never saw a single case in their entire lives. Today one in 88 12-year-olds in the United States is diagnosed with autism. Yes, the definition of “autism” has changed somewhat, but there are still a heck of a lot more than one in 25,000 children with full-blown autism that looks very similar to the original 11 cases as described by Leo Kanner for the first time in 1943. Many of my personal friends – from my “before” life — have a child or relative with severe autism. It is everywhere. So what explanations have “experts” come up with for the dramatic rise in cases of autism? Increased air pollution, living near a highway, mothers
who had influenza while pregnant, older parents, etc. Vaccines, the use of which has risen dramatically in the same time period, have briefly been considered as a possible cause, but there are “as many studies that failed to find an association as there are with positive findings.” In 1998 a paper was published in the British Medical Journal that speculated that there might be a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Since that time many more studies have shown significant positive correlation between vaccines (not just the MMR) — or the ingredients in vaccines (including thimerosal and aluminum) — and the development of neurological or physical conditions that include autism and its co-morbid conditions.
Vaccine manufacturers and their enablers, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), have been vociferously denying this causal link while at the same time vaccine court has been quietly paying settlements in vaccine court as long as the plaintiffs don’t mention autism. If the case is based upon the physical damage, such as seizures or encephalopathy, that was definitely caused by vaccines and definitely resulted in autism, vaccine court pays because it’s well known (and accepted) that vaccines can cause those issues. Vaccine court has paid settlements to 80-something families of children with autism. According to Julie Gerberding, formerly head of the CDC and currently head of the vaccine division of Merck, maintains that vaccines don’t “cause” autism, they just sometimes “result in” autism. From where I’m standing there isn’t one bit of difference. That’s intellectual dishonesty, otherwise known as bullshit.
It’s clear how tobacco science and vaccine science are similar, but there are some pretty significant differences as well. First off, the U.S. federal government, while being lobbied by tobacco companies, has never had a strong motive to deny the association of smoking to lung cancer. If the U.S. Surgeon General had been going around saying, “Everyone smoke! It’s good for you!” the government might have had such a motive. It’s called CYA for “cover your ass.” No one likes to admit they made a mistake, and government officials like to admit it even less than ordinary folk. Just look at all those “non-apology apologies” we’ve been subjected to in recent years whenever someone with some sort of power makes some incredibly stupid mistake. But the U.S. government had no stake in tobacco companies beyond that of wanting to keep a strong industry alive, and so since the 1960s Surgeons General have been warning us about the dangers of smoking. I have tremendous respect for C. Everett Koop who strengthened the warnings back in the 1990s. He may have been the last person to hold the position who really cared about public health.
Contrast that with the vaccine situation. Vaccines are recommended by the CDC and states follow those recommendations by passing laws requiring vaccination (or an exemption) in order to attend public schools. If it becomes known that those vaccines are actually harming many more people than they might, conceivably, be helping, that would mean a whole lot of egg on a whole lot of faces. But even more than that, it would mean that the federal government would have to admit that on its recommendation, many, many of its citizens have gotten very, very sick. Now you must have seen a political thriller or two; you know that it goes against the grain for any organization, especially one the size of the U.S. federal government to admit culpability for something as huge as making large numbers of children very sick.
Now add in the profit motive, which, if you’ve been paying attention, you know is the backbone of capitalism. It doesn’t take a keen eye in this country to see the extent to which the profit motive robs people of any sense of ethics or morality. Just pick a financial scandal of the last thirty years – the savings and loans, Michael Milken’s junk bonds, Enron, the “too-big-to-fail” bank bailout, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – do a little research, and you will find that greed was running the show. And virtually all the major players involved will claim that they weren’t doing anything wrong. That’s because in order to do something that is so obviously ethically wrong, one has to convince oneself that black is white and up is down.
The CDC and the FDA are supposed to function as independent entities free from conflicts of interest. In reality, however, they are packed with folks filled with the zeal of True Believers when it comes to vaccines. True Believers, like Julie Gerberding, who are making their livings – and very good ones – from helping vaccine manufacturers sell a huge number of vaccines. If you still can’t get the truth from any of the Wall Street folks that led our economy to the brink of disaster (again!), what do you think the chances are that you’re going to get the truth from the folks responsible for making this generation so sick? Which sickness, by the way, is going to be the downfall, economic and otherwise, of this country if something major doesn’t change very soon. Between therapies and medical care, not to mention lost work hours for parents who are forced to quit their jobs in order to be caretakers, autism is a very expensive condition. In addition, rather than being self-sufficient, most people with autism will require a great deal of support throughout their lifetimes. This country is simply not prepared for the large numbers of adults with autism that will be aging out of their childhood programs in the near future.
Eventually, everyone will know about the dangers of vaccination just like we all know about the dangers of smoking now, and the vaccine equivalent of the “Thank you for not smoking” sign will be commonplace. The real question is will it be in time? Or will the general overall health of the country have declined so much by then that we will have destroyed our chances for good health forever?
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