PBS Nova Vaccines Calling the Shots

PBS released a documentary about how diseases were largely eradicated in the US a century ago and goes into the science of vaccines. The documentary is a collection of interviews from vaccine injured parents, scientists, pediatricians, and neurologists who discuss the risks and benefits of vaccines.

The documentary does a great job at exploring the emotional aspects of parents hesitant about vaccines, but does very little to allay the really disturbing scientific, economic, and political concerns one might have about vaccines. For example, the documentary did not discuss why they relied on whimsical incident data instead of death-rates to evaluate vaccine efficacy. They did not address how to remove confounding nutritional and sanitary advances from the fall in rates of infectious diseases. They did not discuss the moral-hazard of establishing a vaccine-court and the outrage at not being able to sue the vaccine manufacturers and the pediatricians who administer them. They did not address the sham of the Verstraeten studies, the phony Danish studies, and the host of incriminating memo’s from the IOM, CDC, FDA, that are circulating the public domain. They didn’t even mention the Simpsonwood conference. They didn’t address the recent press-release from the CDC Whistleblower, William Thompson. And they didn’t address the lack of transparency and withholding of data from the Freedom of Information Acts. But, thank God they didn’t mention Jenny McCarthy.

The documentary makes the same typical contradictions you find in pro-vaccine propaganda. Statements like “sometimes vaccines are blamed for causing harm when there is no scientific proof” are followed with admissions and even interviews with children who were vaccine damaged, like David Salomone who was paralyzed as a result of the live Oral Polio Vaccine. We are told that these are rare and that serious, lethal injuries happen in 1 in 1M children. My objection is that if you are going to make a claim that “there is no scientific proof” then please don’t then admit that “there are extremely rare cases where it has done harm”. No proof means nada, not even rare.

They interview Ingrid Scheffer a Neuroscientist who investigates cases of brain damage following vaccinations. Parents of Luke Philburn who investigated their child’s vaccine-triggered seizures were relieved to hear that their child had a genetic mutation called SCN1A that impacts key pathways in the brain that leads to Dravet syndrome – a situation where the child develops normally in their 1st year or 2, but then exhibits debilitating seizures that leads to dementia. Ingrid Scheffer make the point that Dravet syndrome is caused by the SCN1A mutation and that vaccines is most a trigger, not a cause. Most people with seizures have triggers like sleep deprivation or stress, but they are triggers not causative. This reminds me that “guns don’t kill people – people do”, but you still need a trigger to fire a a gun and this documentary points out that vaccines are just that trigger.

Moreover, few people know that viruses often embed themselves into our DNA causing epigenetic changes that alter gene expression. Luke Philburn was going for routine vaccinations that would have included rotavirus, measles, mumps, rubella, Hep B, polio which are all either DNA or RNA viruses. According to a publication in Nature:

“Virus infection especially DNA viruses and retroviruses, which may cause insertion of viral DNA sequence into the host genome, often triggers the host defense mechanism, particularly, DNA methylation machinery [i.e. epigenetics], to cause the methylation of foreign movable viral genome. DNA methylation of these viral DNAs is an effective method to silence viral gene expression.”

(Pai, Hsin, etal. “Epigenetic changes in virus-associated human cancers” )

What this is saying is that epigenetics, which is like the software that runs the DNA hardware, changes in defense to the viral infection which weakens the virus’s gene expression, but that also conceivably leads to altered methylation status of the host.

“Virus infection is one of the many factors having been linked to the development of various human cancers. Since virus genome may cause disruption of the host genome by insertion mutations and chromosomal rearrangements, cells infected by virus can be predisposed into cancer.”

It is conceivable that viruses in the vaccine could have heightened gene expression of the SCN1A mutation or could have caused the mutation to begin with. There’s other disturbing stories published in Emerging Infectious Diseases where

“A Fundamental characteristic of these viruses, because of their segmented genome, is that 2 distinct viruses can infect the same cell and combine their genomes, thus generating novel viruses” and “This novel reovirus [like Rotavirus] is a new etiologic [ie. causative] agent of encephalitis [i.e. brain seizures].”

(Outtara, Louise, et al., Novel Human Reovirus Isolated from Children with Acute Necrotizing Encephalopathy”, Emerg Infect Dis. Aug 2011; 17(8): 1436-1444)

I wonder if we are asking the right questions, if all the questions have been asked, and if we are properly testing individuals who might be susceptible. Did your pediatrician test your child for mitochondrial disease, SCN1A mutations, before administering your child’s routine vaccination? What happens when you create a cocktail of vaccine attenuated DNA and RNA viruses and they affect the same cells?

Throughout the documentary I was reminded of the quote that the “consistent error is in the assumption that this [vaccine risk] derives from a small risk conferred by [vaccines] to many individuals rather than a substantial risk to a small number of individuals with a subsequent and specific representation.” (Andrew Wakefield, Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines: The Truth Behind a Tragedy). What if instead of risks being small, the risks are huge for a small subset of people? Yet when I visit a pediatrician, vaccines are administered, and no questions are asked.

The documentary concludes that “vaccines deliver an invisible gift”. And I agree. I agree so much that the gift is nowhere to be seen in downward falling death-rates that could have been explained by sanitation, education, awareness, suburbanization, and nutrition. Indeed the effect on actual mortality data is truly invisible. Wish that the documentary would discuss this concern instead of relying on the vaccines-save-lives premise without actually coughing up any data to show that that is the case, especially since the whole cost-benefit analysis follows from that premise. We are so conditioned to believing that vaccines save lives that we forget to test the assumption using actual death rates (not diagnoses).

There’s so much more than a story of emotional hysterics resistant to vaccines than the PBS documentary would like us to believe. The stories of children damaged by vaccines and what their parents have to go through are truly disturbing, but there are so many factors that were left unexplored. With sound-bites all the same, with nothing novel being presented, and without honestly addressing the void that is called scientific evidence, there was little content except a propaganda piece to solidify existing beliefs and to further polarize attitudes towards vaccination.

About PD

PD is passionate about applying his background in math, statistics, and economics to apply new and interesting ideas about health, nutrition, and the incentives that drive products and the policies that surround them.