By Jake Crosby
When one types the words “autism vaccines” into the Google News search engine on July 13th 2013, two links to US News and World Report come up. The first one that appears at the very top is a typical pharma talking point-laden article peppered with ad hominem attacks at Jenny McCarthy for her position on vaccines. The author of the article, Pat Garofalo, is a former employee of a political think tank heavily tied to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who has gone on-record saying HHS has been ordering media outlets to censor the vaccine-autism debate. Garofalo argued that McCarthy’s views on vaccines should prevent her from co-hosting “The View.” The second US News article that appears further down in the search engine results is a well-reasoned piece from four years ago by the late former NIH director Dr. Bernadine Healy – an actual doctor – who was health editor of US News and World Report at the time.
The difference between the two articles cannot be understated, both reflecting the inherent knowledge of their respective authors. First, let’s take a look at Garofalo’s piece, in which he states rather bluntly:
“As the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has put it, ‘The medical and scientific communities have carefully and thoroughly reviewed the evidence concerning the vaccine-autism theory and have found no association.’”
Then you have Dr. Healy’s piece, which states:
“Youngsters like Hannah Poling, for example, who has an underlying mitochondrial disorder and developed a sudden and dramatic case of regressive autism after receiving nine immunizations, later determined to be the precipitating factor.”
That determination was also made by the Department of Health and Human Services. So how is it that HHS can make the statement that there is no association between vaccines and autism when it has made such a determination with Hannah Poling’s autism and those of others compensated through the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program? Perhaps that’s because, as Dr. Healy said herself in a 2008 CBS interview, HHS has tried to bury the evidence that vaccines could lead to autism, rather than study it.
“There is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people.”
Of course, not pursuing that hypothesis would be damaging to the public health at large, let alone the public health community. Such a pursuit in 1999 by CDC’s epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Verstraeten revealed that the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal multiplies one’s risk for autism by more than 7-fold. Dr. Verstraeten concluded, “…all the harm [e.g. autism] is done in the first month [of life],” but rather than publishing results, CDC chose to bury them. The federal agency also paid the IOM to produce a report rejecting autism as a cause of vaccinations. As the chairwoman Marie McCormick said in one closed IOM meeting on January 12, 2001 before examining any evidence, “…we are not ever going to come down that it [autism] is a true side effect….” She also said, “…CDC wants us to declare, well, these things are pretty safe on a population basis.”
In short, government agencies have already proven that at least some vaccines cause autism, but have chosen to bury that information. Instead of citing what the Department of Health and Human Services actually knows as reflected in the troubling words of doctors such as Thomas Verstraeten and Marie McCormick, Garofalo instead decided to only quote the carefully-worded spin cranked out of the Department’s PR machine. He also chooses to cite the vaccine industry’s champion “journalist” Seth Mnookin, who has been shown to be very averse to critical questions when publicly challenged at his own events.
Additionally, Garofalo asserts Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s case series paper was fraudulent – never mind the fact that an actual investigation looking into the matter yielded nothing and that BMJ editor Fiona Godlee – whom Dr. Wakefield is now suing – cannot defend her accusations under critical questioning at NIH. That is in stark contrast to Dr. Wakefield, who eviscerated critical questions of him after he debunked the BMJ’s fraud allegations at Garofalo’s and my alma mater of Brandeis University.
What could explain Garofalo’s evangelical backing of the vaccine industry? Perhaps that could be the due to the fact that before his hiring by US News in March, he was Economic Policy Editor for nearly five years at ThinkProgress, a political blog owned by the think tank the Center for American Progress. The Center’s president was formerly a senior advisor to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. When asked in a 2010 Reader’s Digest interview what can be done to address public concerns about vaccine safety, she replied:
“There are groups out there that insist that vaccines are responsible for a variety of problems despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. We have reached out to media outlets to try to get them to not give the views of these people equal weight in their reporting to what science has shown and continues to show about the safety of vaccines.”
When questioned about the above quote the following year by HDNet investigative reporter Greg Dobbs, HHS back-tracked:
“No one here can remember or determine that this quote is factual.”
Nonetheless, neither HHS nor Sebelius ever denied making such remarks, and ThinkProgress certainly seems to be following through with her request of censoring vaccine safety concerns.
After Garofalo promoted his article, ranting, “Seriously, crazy anti-vaccine pseudoscience has no place on television,” ThinkProgress health reporter Tara Culp-Ressler egged him on shouting, “Preach it!!” Obviously, promoting vaccines is like a religion to these people – a religion that has to be preached. What more can one expect from folks with ties to a think tank aligned with an HHS Secretary who openly supported media censorship of vaccine risks? Not much.
What a blight on the legacy of Dr. Bernadine Healy that the publication she formerly edited is just another forum to back the vaccine-autism cover-up in media by encouraging censorship. If US News cared about journalistic integrity one iota it would toss Pat Garofalo back to the Sebelius-tied political hack blog ThinkProgress where he belongs.
Jake Crosby is editor of Autism Investigated and is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. He is a 2011 graduate of Brandeis University with a BA in both History and Health: Science, Society and Policy. He currently attends The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services where he is completing his candidacy for an MPH in epidemiology.