While the celebrity smackdown between former Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy and actress Amanda Peet has been working its way through the media python coils, another autism/vaccine showdown has sprung up—this time at the New England Journal of Medicine. Pro-vaccination guru Paul A. Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has gotten into it with Jon S. Poling, a Georgia neurologist and the father of Hannah Poling, who was diagnosed with autism after receiving five standard vaccines. The dispute is over a piece Offit did for NEJM on Hannah's successful lawsuit against the government after her diagnosis, which made her the first autistic child to collect damages under the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Offit argues that, while anti-vacciners have pointed to the case as proof that the government knows vaccines are dangerous and can cause autism, in reality the Poling win was one in a chain of sketchy decisions by the VICP, which "seems to have turned^ its back on science." Sure enough, in swooped Poling Sr. with the following response:
Offit's remarks about Hannah's case are not evidence-based.^ He has no access to my daughter's personal medical records,^ legal documents, or affidavits. In contrast, physicians from^ the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) who studied^ this information recommended that the government concede Hannah's^ case. The clinical history Offit presents contains significant^ inaccuracies, and the resulting conclusions are consequently^ flawed.
To which Offit delivered a concise blow:
Poling claims that I didn't have access to his daughter's medical^ records. My information was based on a verbatim transcript of^ the DHHS concession, which stated that his daughter had had^ frequent ear infections and a series of viral infections early^ in life. These infections, which are a far greater immunologic^ challenge than attenuated or inactivated vaccines, are not in^ dispute. Poling states that my assertion that the administration of multiple^ vaccines is safe is an "opinion . . . unsupported^ by clinical trials." But studies of concomitant use, which are^ required by the Food and Drug Administration before licensure^ to show that new vaccines do not affect the safety or immunogenicity^ of existing vaccines or vice versa, have clearly shown that^ multiple vaccines can be administered safely.
The government isn't doing the medical/scientific community any favors with the Poling case, and it could also be opening the floodgates for other parents of autistic kids to demand compensation. It's true that having a child with autism is no picnic, and in the modern culture of hyperactive parenting, it's not surprising that parents are fervently seeking a reason for why their child has an incurable disorder. Vaccines are an easy whipping boy, and one that's gained momentum as pretty blonde celebrities take up the cause. Unfortunately, vaccines just aren't the answer, and government agencies issuing apparent mea culpas won't change that. In fact, what's more likely to happen (and is already happening in the U.K.) is that we see epidemics of diseases that could have been prevented by a simple shot.