NEJM Article Perpetuates Distrust by Mislabeling Victims of Vaccine Adverse Reactions “Antivaccinationists”
Posted Jan 18 2011 12:00am
By Nancy Hokkanen
The January 13 NEJM column, “The Age-Old Struggle against the Antivaccinationists” by Gregory A. Poland, M.D. and Robert M. Jacobson, M.D., absolves vaccine developers from responsibility for product safety. Both authors receive funding from vaccine manufacturers. ( HERE )
The vast majority of parents of children with autism have had their children vaccinated, but noted side effects. Parent observations have been ignored and the newest label of “antivaccinationists” adds to mistrust of the intent of vaccine scientists and federal government’s oversight. The transference defensively employed by Poland and Jacobson may reflect personal views, but has a distinct slant toward policies that would protect vaccine developers and diminish accountability for product adverse reactions or side effects.
The NEJM article is a disappointment to all consumers who continue to hope that researchers will transcend hostile rhetoric and investigate reports of vaccine reactions without causing fear or intimidation to families. Poland’s previous paper on Vaccinomics and Adversomics left us hopeful it could happen. But the current NEJM paper is distinctly different. The Antivaccinationists paper patronizes readers and re-victimizes families who reported side effects following vaccinations, observing and recording abrupt changes that have persisted, which create significant daily challenges.
Vaccines are a $27 billion global market that is growing annually, aided by the near total lack of financial liability for consumer product safety. So it’s saddening, but not surprising, that this protectionist article would appear in conjunction with attacks on credibility of the scientists who investigated possible side effects of the MMR vaccine.
Relentless attacks on the credibility of the lead author mirrors tactics used to discredit Dr. Herbert Needleman, the physician who bravely reported that lead was poisoning children. Poland and Jacobson’s not-so-veiled threats urge others to abridge the freedom of speech of vaccine safety advocates; such attempts at repression sound more like a pharmaceutical company press release than a scholarly paper. Indeed, that is possible considering JAMA’s 2009 estimate that 10.9% of NEJM’s articles are ghostwritten. Such PR tactics are described in books by former NEJM editors Dr. Jerome Kassirer and Dr. Marcia Angell, which heavily criticize pharmaceutical company corruption in medical journals.
Drs. Poland and Jacobson do admit that vaccines pose risks and cause legitimate injuries, yet they also claim that many vaccine injury victims are “substituting emotional anecdotes for data.” But there is very little data on the individual cases of children with vaccine-related illness, and none of the studies used to justify vaccine safety have looked exclusively at children with reported vaccine adverse events. And how can one calculate the actual magnitude of vaccine injuries if physicians don’t recognize the symptoms, or have financial incentives for denying them?
Unlike the E.Coli 0157 illness and many other public health outbreaks, there is no organized clinical investigation of vaccine adverse events. America’s vaccine-injured children have not been given the same attention from disease detectives at the CDC and other public health officials as non-vaccine related illnesses have.
As case reports to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System pile up and gather dust, parents who dutifully vaccinated their children are left alone to struggle with health damage, family stress, and financial loss. Those parents are not anti-vaccine, but with so little accountability of vaccine developers and manufacturers with regard to adverse events those parents have logically become mistrustful of public health policymakers.
The authors do suggest one policy reform – that VAERS offer a financial compensation program. But their reference is incomplete and unclear: Would a VAERS program augment or supplant the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program? Also deeply concerning is the authors’ failure to mention urgently needed medical treatment for vaccine injury victims, and research into the prevention of such injuries.
In their summary, Drs. Poland and Jacobson assert that “the loudest voices” should not decide what is right regarding public health policymaking. The truth is that families devastated by vaccine side effects wouldn’t make so much noise if vaccine stakeholders were listening. __________
Nancy Hokkanen is the parent of a child with autism who suffered adverse reactions to infant vaccines and has a case filed in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program’s Omnibus Autism Proceeding. Since 2002 she has advocated for autism groups, and co-moderates a biomedical treatment listserv.