Respectful Insolence

The depths of antivaccination lunacy

I’ve posted many times about the pseudoscience of the mercury militia, that group of parents, bolstered by those Don Quixotes tilting at the mercury windmills in the cause of extracting more money from the government to compensate “vaccine-injured” children with autism, Mark and David Geier. These and other luminaries of the mecury militia blame vaccines for lots of bad things, be it autism, immune problems, “autistic enterocolitis,” and generalized “mercury toxicity,” all the while asserting piously (and, most amazingly of all, with a straight face) that, oh no, they aren’t in any way “antivaccine.” Oh, yes, they “support” vaccination, but think that it’s caused all sorts of “damage” to their (and other people’s) children. One of the vilest lies of antivaccination loons, a lie that I was reminded of by Flea recently, is the claim that shaken baby syndrome (SBS), a constellation of findings associated with the abuse of babies by vigorously shaking them, is in reality a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury, which, if you believe these cranks, can cause brain damage that very much looks like SBS.

No, I’m not making this one up.

As ludicrous as it sounds, there is actually a large contingent of the true antivax lunatic fringe that makes this claim and tries to torture science into supporting it. Don’t believe me? Just Google “vaccine shaken baby.” The vast majority of the initial hits that come up will be from antivaccination sites, including Whale.to, Shirley’s Wellness Cafe, Vaccine Liberation Information and Vaccine Information Service, claiming a that vaccines are the real cause of shaken baby syndrome. Only one skeptical take on this “connection” appears on the first two pages of search results, at least as of today. It’s truly a depressing thing to see, because no skeptical takes on it are to be found, at least not easily. A parent wondering if vaccines are associated with an SBS-like syndrome searching for information on the Internet will find a lot of misinformation, propaganda, and even outright lies and not a lot of reliable information.

Probably foremost among its advocates is Dr. Harold Buttram, who has made it his business to go about the country testifying for the defense in cases of shaken baby syndrome, trying to get child abusers off the hook by blaming babies’ injuries on vaccines. His most notable case was that of Alan Yurko, who was convicted of killing his infant son by shaking and who became a darling of the antivax movement as a “martyr” who was “falsely accused.” Also well-represented among this bunch is Dr. Viera Schreibner, a retired “Principle Research Scientist, with a doctorate in Natural Sciences,” who similarly peddles such pseudoscientific crap. Ironically enough, Dr. Mohammed Al-Bayati, the veterinary pathologist who used his pseudoscientific posturings to the case of Eliza Jane Scovill, the daughter of HIV-positive HIV/AIDS “dissident” Christine Maggiore (who did not take AZT to try to reduce maternal-fetal transmission of the HIV virus and breast fed her daughter, even though this increases the rate of mother-to-child transmission) to make the unlikely claim that EJ died of an allergic reaction to amoxicillin, rather than the AIDS complications of HIV encephalitis and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (which is what the pathologist found), cut his teeth doing this sort of pseudoscience for hire by writing a similarly ludicrously pseudoscientific torturing of the data to defend Alan Yurko against the charge that he killed his girlfriend’s son by shaking him. And, as though all of its other pseudoscientific and bizarre right-wing polemics masquerading as science doesn’t utterly destroy its credibility to begin with, the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, through its official journal, the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, has published several articles making the claim that many cases of shaken baby syndrome are misdiagnoses for vaccine injury. It’s the one claim so utterly despicable, so ungrounded in science of any kind (even more so than the whole “mercury causes autism” concept), that even the mercury militia, that lovely group who, against all emerging evidence otherwise, blames vaccines for the “autism epidemic,” wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

Or so I thought. I was wrong. It turns out that Kevin Champagne, a luminary of the mercury militia, has taken to reposting material blaming vaccines for shaken baby syndrome, even going so far as to repost an article by Schrieber herself! After a news article in which a case of shaken baby syndrome was described, Mr. Champagne opined:

I will bet that this kid was vaccinated within at least 20 days of this so-called shaken baby incident and most likely was vaccinated within 72 hours of this tragic event!

The 3 month old was cranky that day, throwing up, and appeared to have some type of seizure. Jay Lapham, staff attorney for the Shaken Baby Alliance in Fort Worth, Texas said; “The three (retinal bleeding, swelling of the brain, and bleeding in the subdural area of the brain) symptoms aren’t produced in any other medical condition”.

That’s wrong. These three syptoms are also produced shortly after the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) vaccine in some children.

Don’t believe me?

Read this“Two Children Die After Administering DPT Injection and Over 100 Ill” 17 Dec 2006

Of course, it’s impossible not to point out that the article to which Mr. Champagne links mentions nothing about any of the children showing the classic signs of shaken baby syndrome, including retinal hemorrhages and subdural hematomas, much less damage to the spine or rib fractures. Advocates claiming that vaccines cause shaken baby syndrome will often make the claim that vaccines cause cerebral edema (swelling), but they never seem able to explain how vaccines would cause subdural or intracerebral bleeding that so resembles trauma that it will fool pediatricians and forensic pathologists. Most frequently, they try to link the DTP vaccine to SBS, probably because it is the vaccine for which neurologic reactions have been most frequently reported. They in essence take advantage of the fact that abusive head trauma can be sometimes difficult for physicians to recognize and that the diagnostic criteria for SBS are sometimes in dispute.

It is interesting and instructive to consider the warped rationale used by antivaxers to support their claim that vaccines cause and SBS-like syndrome. Basically, there is no data published in decent peer-reviewed journals to support an etiological link between vaccines and subdural hemorrhage. So, instead, we get various handwaving claims that vaccines somehow can cause such bleeding in “sensitive” babies. However, the physical injuries associated with SBS are harder to pin on vaccines. After all, rib fractures, spine injuries, and broken bones are frequently associated with SBS. How do the antivaxers explain that?

Easy, they blame it on scurvy. They actually claim that vaccines cause vitamin C deficiency, as “Dr.” Schriebman states here:

These days, people generally think that nobody suffers scurvy, which used to be identified with long sea voyages during which the sailors were deprived of any fresh fruit and vegetables. The reality is far from such idealised perceptions. Most people probably have only marginal reserves of vitamin C and this applies particularly to babies and small children. Administration of vaccines depletes the marginal vitamin C reserves very quickly and this results in acute scurvy.

Vaccines of the kind given to babies as early as at birth and then one month later (hepatitis B vaccine) and DPT, Polio and Hib at 6 to 8 weeks of age, contain a number of toxins. The DPT (three in one vaccine), being the toxoid vaccine, contains pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus toxins which are treated with formaldehyde to decrease their toxicity. However, all of these treated toxins (toxoids) have the ability to revert back to their original toxicity by passage in the injected individuals, as demonstrated by Samore and Siber. These toxins are capable of causing, and they demonstrably cause, serious immunological, vascular and metabolic injuries, of which scurvy is one of many documented mechanisms.

“Documented”? No, it’s not, at least not in the peer-reviewed literature. The above claims are a load of hooey. There is no evidence that vaccines cause vitamin C depletion leading to fractures. There is no good data supporting the contention that DTP vaccine (or any other vaccine, for that matter) can result in the constellation of findings (subdural hematoma, retinal hemorrhage, fractures) that make up SBS. In reality, it’s just a claim that unscrupulous “expert witnesses,” motivated by antivax beliefs, use to keep child abusers from the punishment they so justly deserve. As David L. Chadwick and Rob Parrish put it:

The idea that DTP injection might produce the pathology seen in SBS has begun to appear in testimony during the last few years in spite of the fact that it has not appeared in a peer-reviewed medical article. “Expert witnesses” seeking to link SBS cases to DTP immunization must create a false causal connection. This involves sophistry and a willingness to ignore all requirements for the determination of causality. They can sometimes make this connection in a courtroom where the triers of fact are medically naive.

[...]

Medical expert testimony to the effect that DTP immunization might produce pathology of the type seen in SBS is clearly irresponsible. Although there is sometimes a temporal connection between reaction of a toddler or infant to a vaccination and inflicted head injuries, this is not particularly surprising given the additional stress of caring for a child who feels mild symptoms resulting from the vaccination. This temporal connection between head injuries and vaccination should not be mistaken for proof of a direct causal connection such reasoning is not scientific, logical, or reliable enough for courtroom proof. In the absence of empirical evidence supporting the view that abreaction to DTP or other vaccines can directly cause the constellation of brain damage, intracranial bleeding and ocular damage, witnesses who purport to be able to draw such a conclusion should be prohibited from testifying in court.

Another good rebuttal of “vaccines cause SBS” antivax loons can be found here.

Trying to blame SBS on “vaccine-induced encephalitis” is perhaps the most vile, despicable depths to which antivaxers sink. Indeed, in at least one case, this unscrupulous tactic seems to have worked, when, thanks in part to the incompetence of the medical examiner and in part to the claim that SBS was really a misdiagnosis for vaccine-induced encephalitis. This is the case of Alan Yurko, who was convicted of shaking his girlfriend’s son to death but then later acquitted on appeal. As Peter Bowditch put it:

I want you to think about a dead baby. This baby was ten weeks old when he died. The autopsy revealed bleeding around the brain, in the eyes and in the spinal column. There were bruises on the sides of his head. Another thing that the autopsy showed was four broken ribs. These fractures had started to heal, and therefore indicated a pattern of physical abuse prior to the date of death. The father admitted to holding the baby by his feet and hitting him shortly before he died. I now want to you to form an opinion of the father. If you are the sort of person who opposes vaccination, you would see this man as a hero. You would see him as a martyr to the cause and would try to get him released from prison. In a breathtaking demonstration of what it can mean to believe that the end justifies the means, the anti-vaccination liars have adopted Alan Yurko as a symbol that they can use to frighten parents into refusing vaccination for their children. You can read a loathsome justification for this murderer at http://www.woodmed.com/ShakenBabyAlan.htm.

As wrong-headed and wrong on the science I had always considered the mercury militia when they claim that vaccines cause autism, I didn’t think they’d fall so low as to start parroting the lies of this crowd. Most of them probably do not. However, Kevin Champagne, unfortunately, apparently does. I don’t hang out on the Evidence of Harm discussion mailing list, but it would be interesting to see what the response of other believers in the vaccine/thimerosal/autism “connection” think of Champagne’s post.

In a future post (probably next week), I will likely take on some of the claims of this particularly virulent and despicable variety of antivaxer in more detail.

Comments

  1. #1 anonimouse
    March 7, 2007

    The mercury militia does pander to the hardcore anti-vaccine groups. I distinctly remember a letter being passed around a couple of years ago (can’t remember how to google it) where SafeMinds was clearly pandering to a coalition of hardcore anti-vaxers, not in any way refuting the idea that ALL vaccines should be banned – not just those with mercury in them. I wish I could find that paper.

    Another thing – some anti-vaccine groups (like the NVIC) actually bring in more money than SafeMinds or NAA, and they’ve even collaborated on projects.

    And you will notice that the mercury militia, while not actively promoting these ideas, do very little to dismiss them either. Have you ever heard anyone from SafeMinds or Generation Rescue talk about how important vaccines are?

  2. #2 Dr Scott
    March 7, 2007

    The Alan Yurko case particularly bothers me. Not only was the man excused from a textbook case of SBS, but then he succeeded in convincing others that vaccines were in fact the real culprit. So now we have a cohort of unvaccinated children, thanks in part to him. Yurko (and his supporters) are willing to risk the health of other children in their zeal to acquit him of any wrongdoing. A truly frightening and utter lack of responsibility (or conscience).

  3. #3 Warren
    March 7, 2007

    …the claim that shaken baby syndrome (SBS), a constellation of findings associated with the abuse of babies by vigorously shaking them, is in reality a misdiagnosis for vaccine injury, which, if you believe these cranks, can cause brain damage that very much looks like SBS.

    Uh-huh. And when a person falls out of a tree and shows up at the ER with a broken arm, the injury is really due to fluoridation in the water, which causes bone fractures that look quite a lot like impact trauma.

    “Shameless” is not the adjective for these clowns. “Dangerous” is one. “Unacceptable” is better.

  4. #4 Catherina
    March 7, 2007

    Don’t worry Dr. Scott, Alan Yurko lost his supporters very very quickly after his release from jail (March 16, 2005) – the “free Yurko” page stops there, so does Yurko’s involvement in the anti-vaccine movement as far as I can tell. Yurko went back to jail in September 2005 for burglary and aggravated theft and was released at the end of November 2006. I have not seen his name pop up on any current anti-vaccine pages (although he was often quoted as a speaker before his release in March 2005)

  5. #5 isles
    March 7, 2007

    Not only do the mercury militia fail to voice approval of non-thimerosal-containing vaccines, they have begun to accuse all vaccines of causing autism. David Kirby’s recent statements (ever since the expiration of his self-designated time limit for the mercury idea to start showing results) accuse the entire vaccine program, and I could give you a list as long as my arm of statements made on the EOH list to the effect of “my children will never receive another vaccine.”

    As for the SBS thing – Orac already used every synonym for “horrifying” I can think of, so I’ll just say anyone who perpetuates it is a psychopath on the order of serial killers and war criminals.

  6. #6 anonimouse
    March 7, 2007

    It is completely not surprising that the anti-vaxers dropped Yurko like a hot potato once he was acquitted (and later put back in jail). It’s consistent with their behavior and attitude – dead kids are expendable, and once you outlive your usefulness as a martyr for the cause you are thrown away like garbage.

  7. #7 Thony C.
    March 7, 2007

    I feel sick! I feel very, very sick! I simple can not believe that people are so f***ing stupid. What will they dream up next? Vaccines cause babies to become gay muslims?

  8. #8 Brian
    March 7, 2007

    How exactly did they settle on SBS as a disease whose etiology was vaccine reactions? It seems like there are about a million diseases that they could have ignored 75% of the symptoms from and then falsely attributed the remaining 25% to vaccine reactions. But shaken baby syndrome? It seems like that disorder would be common sense to anybody who’s ever held or even looked at a baby. They’re not designed to be shaken.

    I don’t want to say that this is a group of people who might like experimenting on babies, by watching them get sick after you don’t do your minimal duty in getting them vaccinated, or watching them start to bleed internally after you shake them. But to pick *this* as an antivaccination issue is just so odd.

  9. #9 Shinga
    March 7, 2007

    Excellent. This could not be more timely and I look forward to the follow-up. I came across this issue tangentially when I was looking at some of the claims of Vitamins v. Vaccines and I could not believe my eyes.

    I am trying to do some follow-up on some of the more outrageous claims (difficult to pick, I know) but I am currently stymied by lack of access to the publications that purport to support these claims. Dr. Kalokerinos is a source of many of the claims about vitamin C and vaccination. Sadly, most of these papers were published in an australasian nursing journal that doesn’t have abstracts on Entrez PubMed and I haven’t been able to find them in the British Library as yet. Similarly, his most startling claim is that without his vitamin C intervention, 1 in 2 aborigine children were dying after vaccination. However, I can’t look into this because I can’t locate a copy of his book, Every Second Children.

  10. #10 Andy
    March 7, 2007

    hehe, buttram

  11. #11 anonimouse
    March 7, 2007

    But to pick *this* as an antivaccination issue is just so odd.

    Not really. Anti-vaccinators will do anything to keep kids from being vaccinated. It’s one thing to say that vaccines cause autism, or even diabetes – but that doesn’t dissuade everyone. No, if you can convince a parent that vaccines will cause SIDS or even make it look like they shook their baby when they didn’t, that will be more than enough to scare parents away.

    And then guess what the anti-vaccination doctors have for you to replace vaccines? Immune system boosters! Homeopathic remedies! Natural cures THEY don’t want you to know about!

  12. #12 anonimouse
    March 7, 2007

    Dr. Kalokerinos is probably the worst source ever.

    Here are some of his more choice tidbits from the “esteemed” conspiracy mongering site, whale.to:

    http://www.whale.to/vaccines/kalokerinos.html

  13. #13 Matt M
    March 8, 2007

    “hehe, buttram”

    Dr. Harold Buttram.

    Harry Buttram.

    hehe

  14. #14 ERV
    March 8, 2007

    It seems like most of the anti-vax claims center around children– whats their deal with vaccines for adults? Flu, meningitis, etc?

    I just got the first HPV shot yesterday– if you all hear of a 23 year old woman with shaken baby syndrome on the news, you know its me. *rolleyes*

  15. #15 Bartholomew Cubbins
    March 8, 2007

    whats their deal with vaccines for adults?

    Babies ellicit emotion in most people and fear is a great motivator.

    OT, but another great fear technique I heard used by animal rights activists was a web-based rumor publicizing a “science report” outlining BGH’s role in reducing penis size. Hilarious, I wonder how many people went “organic” after that.

  16. #16 kamagurka
    March 9, 2007

    Shit, I should really stop reading this blog, this shit makes me so sick, but it hurts soo good…

  17. #17 Steph
    March 13, 2007

    Very late to this party, but I feel compelled to point out that vaccines can make babies feverish and irritable, and those crying babies are more likely to be shaken by their asshole parents. Ergo, vaccines cause shaken baby syndrome.

  18. #18 David Marjanović
    March 13, 2007

    and those crying babies are more likely to be shaken by their asshole parents. Ergo, vaccines cause shaken baby syndrome.

    Because we’re talking about the country where guns don’t kill people, I feel obliged to point out that asshole parents cause SBS. Alone.

  19. #19 choo chun
    June 14, 2007

    inject your kids with what ever crap you want…no one is trying to stop you! infact, they are coming out with more and more shots all the time, so theres some new ones for you to jab as well….
    nothing is an absolute, and we once believed the world was flat….you lot sound just as pig headed and obstinately head in the sand as the anti vaccine mob…how about some degree of moderacy???

  20. #20 DeadOrac
    September 15, 2007

    Orac? Brilliant! Really it is!
    Do vaccines injure? You are a perfect example of the damage caused by vaccines. And quoting Bowditch? The guy has a criminal record and he’s been sued for libel and defamation.

    I understand you lost your last “job” because you’re a fucking arsehole. Where do you “work” now?

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