I love Saturday mornings. I usually get up early, make coffee, hang out with my daughter. Before my daughter wakes up and makes me change the channel, I usually catch a few minutes of CNN, which, at that time of day, features fellow Michigander Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Today, he started out talking about women and heart disease, an important topic. Then he moved on to a discussion with Dr. Bernadine Healy about vaccines. This is where it got ugly. In fact, I was emailing Orac about an unrelated matter, and I began to rant incoherently. Orac reeled me back in, and was kind enough to send me a few additional links regarding Dr. Healy.
Dr. Healy is the former director of the National Institutes of Health, and former head of the American Red Cross. She is currently a health writer for U.S. News and World Report. And now, she is officially an anti-vaccine denialist.
As has been addressed ad nauseaum, there is no connection between vaccines and autism, or mercury and autism. Also, there is no evidence that thimerosal, the mercury compound that used to be present in vaccines, is at all harmful. But that doesn’t stop Dr. Healy from “dancing with woo”. Thankfully, CNN is quick with the transcripts (all emphasis mine):
GUPTA: I’m going to switch topics for one second. I think it’s important question to ask you for any parent out there. You wrote a piece recently for “U.S. News and World Report” specifically about autism, where you said that it was biologically plausible that vaccines could cause autism. And that was a pretty surprising, I think, maybe striking comment, given your position, your scientific background. Where did that come from?
HEALY: Well, I think there is a science base. And historically, we do know that in susceptible individuals in an almost inexplicably, some patients will have neurotoxicity from vaccines. We’ve known that for years going back to 1930s. We knew about swine flu and (INAUDIBLE). We do know that that happens.
It is a plausible hypothesis. I think the second thing is the mercury in vaccines, and I know families have been criticized for raising that issue, but we have to realize we’re giving kids three, four times the number of vaccines that we were doing 10 or 15 years ago. Or certainly my little girls were getting their vaccines. And that for a while, they were getting toxic levels cumulatively.
So when parents got together and said wait a minute, we’re giving our kids toxic level of mercury, that was a legitimate thing for them to raise. It was a legitimate concern. And there is evidence that that can be brain toxic probably in susceptible individuals. And we don’t know which ones.
What I was trying to get across in that editorial is something that is a message for every drug you put in your mouth, for every therapy. And that is individuals react differently.
In addition to Healy inexplicably falling in line with the mercury militia, she uses the Hannah Poling case like a true believer. Despite the fact that the court in the Poling case in no way implicated a connection between vaccines and autism, she repeats the same canards as the rest of the anti-vaccine denialists.
But, hey, this is just one interview. Perhaps she was trying to make a different point and it just came out wrong.
Nope. She said exactly what she meant. Her US News article is right out of the mercury militia play book. And it doesn’t stop there. She’s pretty much anti-science when it comes to medicine in general.
She seems to think that evidence-based medicine, the scientific revolution that has saved so many lives, is some sort of fascism. And to top it off, the AAPS, the bizarre organization that seems to include every doctor that shows up on Quackwatch, likes her.
It’s sad and embarrassing to see one of my colleagues get sucked into the pseudoscientific realm of medical denialism. But most of all, it’s dangerous. She speaks from a position of authority, and people believe her. It makes our work that much harder and that much more important.