Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.
Philosophy of Science: A Personal Report," in C. A. Mace (ed.),
British Philosophy in the Mid-Century.
Sir Karl Popper
In early August of last year congressional hearings were held in Washington D.C. on the question of vaccine safety. Congressman Dan Burton, Chairman of the U. S. House Government Reform Committee, called the hearings.
On the weekend of October 2-3, 1999, an autism conference was held at Cherry Hill, New Jersey, sponsored by the Autism Research Institute of San Diego, California. Over 1,000 people were in attendance, the great majority of whom were parents of autistic children. At one point in the meeting, when those parents who thought their child's autism was caused by vaccines were asked to stand, a large majority of the audience stood. With these and other indications of growing public concerns about current childhood immunization programs, it is hoped that this review will be of timely interest.
Inadequate Proof of Benefit of Vaccines
It is true that there may be situations where extreme measures may be justified, as the lesser of two evils, to preserve life and health. The basic question, therefore, is whether the benefits of current childhood vaccines outweigh the harm, or whether the reverse is true.
As to the benefits of vaccines, polio has been eliminated from the Western Hemisphere, and smallpox may have been eliminated worldwide, although there are disturbing reports it is still to be found in parts of the Far East.
However, vaccine proponents would have us believe that vaccines have been largely responsible for controlling virtually all of the former epidemics of killer diseases in the U.S. With the exceptions cited above, the facts do not bear this out. According to the records of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, from 1911 to 1935 the four leading causes of childhood deaths from infectious diseases in the U.S. were diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), scarlet fever, and measles. However, by 1945 the combined death rates from these causes had declined by 95 percent, before the implementation of mass immunization programs.(1) By far the greatest factors in this decline were sanitation through public health measures, improved nutrition, better housing with less crowded conditions and the introduction of antibiotics. Also, the virulence of microorganisms tends to become weakened or attenuated with the passage of time and serial passages through human hosts.(2)
Safety Not Proven
It should be pointed out that today's children receive 22 or more vaccines before school age, whereas today's senior citizens received only one vaccine in their youth, the smallpox vaccine. Some of these vaccines. contain mercury, although the impact of this potentially toxic metal remains unknown as concerns the vaccines.
With growing public concerns about potential adverse reactions of these heavy burdens of foreign immunologic materials on the immature immune systems of children, it is reasonable to ask ourselves what is known about these reactions.
A small but growing minority of physicians and scientists are becoming aware that safety testing for the various vaccines has been woefully inadequate. As one of many examples, a 1994 special committee of the National Academy of Sciences published a comprehensive review of the safety of the hepatitis B vaccine. When the committee, which carried the responsibility for determining the safety of vaccines by congressional mandate, investigated five possible and plausible adverse effects, they were unable to come to a conclusion for four of them because they found that relevant research had not been done.(3)
The clear implication of this and other revelations(4) concerning a general deficiency of safety testing in the vaccine field, especially as concerns possible long-term side effects, is that adverse reactions may be taking place on a large scale without being recognized as to their true nature.
There is a school of thought that the so-called minor childhood illnesses of former times, including measles, mumps, rubella [German measles] and chickenpox, which entered the body through the mucous membranes, served a necessary and positive purpose in challenging and strengthening the immune system of these membranes.(5) In contrast, so the theory goes, the respective vaccines of these diseases are injected by needle directly into the system of the child, thereby bypassing the mucosal immune system. As a result, mucosal immunity remains relatively weak and stunted in many children, complications of which may be the rapid increase in asthma and eczema now being seen, both in terms of frequency and severity.(6)
This concept tends to be confirmed by four controlled studies, widely separated geographically, in which vaccinated children were found to have significantly more atopic disorders than controls.(7-10) In commenting on the increased incidence of asthma and other atopic disorders in the United Kingdom in the article, "Measles and atopy in Guinea-Bissau," cited above, the authors made the following comment:
The rise of allergic disease among children in the UK over the past 30 years remains unexplained. One hypothesis is that infections in early childhood prevent allergic sensitization, and that successive generations of children have lost his protection as their exposure to infectious disease in early life has declined. Consequently the prevalence of atopy and concomitant allergic disease has risen.
Threat of Brain Damage From the Vaccines
Perhaps the greatest concern with vaccines today rests with their possible causal relation to the growing epidemic of childhood autism, developmental delay, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Regarding the latter, recent news item stated that ADHD has increased from 900,000 in 1991 to nearly 5 million today.(11) Parenthetically, statistics may be open to question, but one cannot question the observations of veteran elementary school teachers who, in our experience, unanimously and emphatically report a marked increase in this disorder in recent years. Regarding autism, a recent survey mandated by the California state legislature found an increase of 273 percent in California in the past eleven years.(12) Reports from education departments of several states and reports to the U.S. Congress on the rapidly increasing needs of classrooms for developmentally delayed children reflect comparable changes throughout the nation.(13)
At present primary suspicion for this epidemic of neurobehavioral disorders rests with the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Although scientific evidence has not yet reached the standards of scientific proof, one pioneer researcher in this area, Dr. Vijendra Singh, during his tenure with the Department of Pharmacology, University of Michigan, published the report of a study in which he found that a large majority (84%) of autistic children tested had antibodies to brain tissue in the form of antibodies to myelin basic protein. He also found a strong correlation between myelin basic protein antibodies and antibodies to the MMR vaccine. Using an immunoblotting technique, MMR antibody was found in 16 out of 27 (59%) autistic sera in contrast to 2 out of 20 (10%) normal sera, which represents a 6-fold higher incidence of MMR antibody in autistic children.(14)*
Working from another approach, Dr. Andrew Wakefield and co-workers of the Royal Free Hospital in London found a possible link between MMR vaccine, Crohn's disease of the bowel, and autism.(16)
If the MMR vaccine is causing an autoimmune reaction involving the brains of autistic children, what would be the mechanism? It has already been pointed out that one of the differences between the vaccine and the respective wild virus infections is that of entry into the body (injections versus mucosal entry). There is another difference: whereas with the wild viruses there is serial passage through human hosts, in the case of the vaccine, the measles virus is incubated in animal culture tissue (chick embryo). Are these fundamental differences responsible for the rapidly increasing incidence of childhood autism and possibly other autoimmune disorders now being seen?
Although research in this area is in its infancy, we do know some things. As purely genetic material, viruses are highly susceptible to the process of "jumping genes," in which they may incorporate genetic material from tissue in which they are cultured.(17) The process may be further affected by the fact that protein sequences in the measles virus have been found to be similar to those found in brain tissues.18 With the exception of the pioneering work of Dr. Singh, these are questions which remain unexplored and unanswered.
A similar process may have taken place with the oral (Sabin) polio vaccine, which is cultured in monkey kidney tissue. Years ago, Dr. John Martin, then serving as director of the viral oncology branch within the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, found foreign DNA in contemporary polio vaccines. He later learned that a simian (monkey) cytomegalic virus had been found in all of the eleven African green monkeys imported for production of the polio vaccine.(19)
After leaving the FDA, Dr. Martin took a position as professor of pathology with the University of Southern California. There he tested blood samples from patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, autism and other nervous system disorders. This work led to his discovery of unique cell-destroying viruses that were not recognized by the immune system. Termed "stealth viruses," some of which he thought had clearly originated from the simian cytomegalic virus, these viruses were missing specific genes, which, if expressed, would induce immune responses from the host.(20,21) It should be admitted that this work is preliminary, and no definitive conclusions can be drawn from it, but the need for further intensive investigation should be apparent.
Overdue in the opinion of many, on June 17, 1999, U.S. government officials voted to withdraw their recommendation for the use of the live oral polio vaccine and to recommend exclusive use of the inactive (Salk) polio vaccine, because the former has been the only remaining source of polio cases, though rare, in the U.S. since 1979.
In summary, it is possible that either the MMR or the oral polio vaccines, by mechanisms described above, may induce a process of encephalitis or brain inflammation, which may be highly prevalent but as yet rarely recognized for its true nature.
Genetic Implications of "Live Virus" Vaccines
In an October 1967 letter to the editor of Science magazine, Joshua Lederberg, Department of Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine, warned about live-virus vaccines:
In point of fact, we (are practicing) biological engineering on a rather large scale by use of live viruses in mass immunization campaigns...Crude virus preparations, such as some in common use at the present time, are also vulnerable to frightful mishaps of contamination and misidentification.(22)
With this sobering warning, made over 3 decades ago, it may sadly prove to be prophetic for what we are seeing today.
Damage May Yet Escalate
As another concept, it is highly pertinent that many of today's children are second-generation vaccines; that is, they are born to mothers previously vaccinated with the measles, mumps, and/or rubella vaccines. It is possible the reaction rates in the second-generation vaccines may be happening on a much larger scale due to previous sensitization of mothers from their vaccines, this sensitization being transmitted in turn to the fetus during pregnancy.(23) If this process is taking place, something we cannot know until appropriate research is done, there predictably will be additional increases in autism beyond that already taking place, should the process be continued into yet another third generation.
Time may prove that vaccine programs went awry when they deviated from the most basic of all medical ethics, the right of parents to accept or reject vaccines for their children. Freedom of choice provides a system of checks and balances now lacking. At the very least, this would provide the parents the power to compel better safety screening of vaccines. The remedy? The government should stop violating the right of informed consent, or the parents' right to accept or reject vaccines for their children based on full and uncensored disclosure of pros and cons.
Today, we have a system in which vaccine production by the pharmaceutical companies is largely self-regulated. Naturally these companies are interested in profits from their products which, in itself, is not wrong. However, when arbitrary decisions in the mandating of vaccines are made by government bureaucracies, which frequently work hand-in-glove with the pharmaceutical industry, with no recourse open to parents, we have all the potential ingredients for a tragedy of historic proportions.
In closing, it may be appropriate to cite an item which, though seemingly small in itself, may be indicative of the problems with which we are faced. In January 1993, a scientific journal published the results of a study of 89 children with adverse clinical reactions, following administrations of various combinations of vaccines.(24) Detailed case histories were taken and blood tests were done to examine various parameters of cellular and humoral immunity. It was found that children with adverse reactions had marked increases in abnormal blood parameters as compared with children who had had no reactions.
The first study of its kind as far as we are aware, perhaps the most striking and significant feature of the report is not the results of the tests, which might have been anticipated, so much as the fact that it came from a foreign country, Czechoslovakia. American science has been foremost in the development and promotion of vaccines. That it should be laggard in basic safety testing, of which this study may represent one of the modest beginnings, is a sad reflection on the American scientific community. We expect and should demand more from American science and medicine.
* This does not detract from the fact that these diseases, such as measles, may have complications resulting in brain injury. Measles can precipitate subacute sclerosing panencephalitis and encephalomyelitis. The latter illness may follow not only measles, but rubella, varicella, mumps, influenza, and other childhood diseases, just as smallpox and rabies vaccinations may be complicated by postvaccinal encephalomyelitis. In these cases, the vaccine itself could cause similar sequelae through molecular mimicking.(15)
1. Dublin L. Health Progress, 1936-1945. New York, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 1948, p. 12.
2. Biodati CJM. Immunization: History, Ethics Law and Health. Integral Aspects Inc., Windson, Ontario, 1999, pp. 104-106.
3. Stratton KR, Howe CJ, Johnston RB, Jr. (Eds). Adverse Events Associated with Childhood Vaccines: Evidence Bearing on Causality. Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1994, pp. 211-236.
4. Buttram HE. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act: A Critique. The Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, October 1998, pp. 66-68.
5. Incao P. Supporting children's health, Alternative Medicine Digest, Issue 19, pp. 54-59.
6. One survey showed a 46 percent increase in death rate nationwide from asthma between 1977 and 1991. Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 8, 1994, p. A22. In some areas, the incidence of asthma has increased 200 percent in the past 20 years. The Human Ecologist, National HEAL, Fall 1992, Vol. 55, No. 6.
7. Sheneen SO, et al. Measles and atopy in Guinea-Bissau. Lancet 1996;347:1792-1796.
8. Odent MR. Pertussis vaccination and asthma: Is there a link? JAMA 1994;271:229-231.
9. Alm JS, et al. Atopy in children of families with an anthroposophic lifestyle. Lancet 1999;353:1485-1488.
10. Kemp T, et al. Is infant immunization a risk factor for childhood asthma or allergy? Epidemiology 1997;8(6):678-680.
11. Jennings L. Increasing Ritalin doses in school children questioned. The Intelligencer, Sept. 21, 1998, pp. D1-D2.
12. Changes in Population of Persons with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders in California's Developmental Services System: 1987-1998, a Report of the Legislature, March 1, 1999.
13. Department of Development Services, 1600 North Street, Room 240, Sacramento, CA 95814; Assessment, Evaluation and Support Unit, Special Education Division, California Department of Education; Total Enrollment and Percent of Pupils with Disabilities by Federal Office of Special Education Programs, New Jersey State Department of Education; Illinois State Board of Education Report (8-20-98). Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, annual Statistical Reports; Sixteenth through Twentieth Annual Reports to Congress on the implementation of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, http://www.ed.gov/offices/OSERS/OSEP/OSEP94-98An/Rpt/
14.Singh V, Yang V. Serological association of measles virus and human herpes virus-6 with brain autoantibodies in autism. Clinical Immunology and Immunopathology 1998;88(l):105-108.
15. Jubelt B, Harter DH. Viral Infections in Merritt's Textbook of Neurology. Seventh edition, Lea and Febiger, Philadelphia, 1984, pp. 99-104.
16.Wakefield AJ, et al. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 1998;351:637-641.
17. Kumar S, Miller LK. Effects of serial passage of Autographa California nuclear poly hedrosis virus in cell culture. Virus Research 1987;7:335-349.
18. Jahnke U, et al. Sequence homology between certain viral proteins and proteins related to encephalomyelitis and neuritis. Science 1985;29:282-284.
19. Horowitz L. Emerging Viruses, AIDS and Ebola. Tetrahedron Publishing Group, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1997, pp. 488-493.
20. Martin WJ, et al. African green monkey origin of the atypical cytopathic "stealth virus" isolated from a patient with chronic fatigue syndrome. Clinical and Diagnostic Virology 1994;4:93-103.
21. Martin WJ, et al. Stealth virus epidemic in Mohave Valley, I: Initial report of virus isolation. Pathobiology 1997;65(l):351-356.
22. Lederberg J. Letter to the editor. Science, Oct. 20, 1967, p. 313.
23.Gupta S, et al. Dysregulate immune system in children with autism, beneficial effects of intravenous globulin on autistic characteristics. J of Autism and Developmental Disorders 1996;26(4):439-452. (In this article on page 450 it was stated, "We theorize that the high titers of rubella antibody...presented in mothers of children with autism would be transplacentally transferred and may persist for a prolonged period in the child. When such a child gets MMR immunization, rubella antigen may complex with preexisting antibodies and such complexes might play a role in pathogenesis of autistic features.")
24. Immunologic findings in children with adnormal reactions after vaccination. Czechoslovakia Pediatrics 1993;48(1);9-12.
Dr. Buttram is a diplomat of the American Board of Environmental Medicine and a practicing physician in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. E-mail: email@example.com.
Originally published in the March/April 2000 issue of the Medical Sentinel. Copyright ©2000 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons.