Sunday, October 02, 2005

DARTH OFFIT IS AT IT AGAIN

Foreword (a look back at this post with the perspective of time): One of the few regrets I have about doing this blog is the title of this post. It was childish and disrespectful -- not so much to Dr. Offit as to the tenor of the debate. You see, it makes a joke, and I've come to realize that there's nothing at all funny about Paul Offit or anything he has to say. For more, see That's His Story and He's Sticking To It, A Response to JP, The Cutter Incident and Paranoia, Here We Go Again, The Disingenuous Salesman, The Willingness to Confront Uncomfortable Questions, Why Is Anyone Taking This Guy Seriously, and A Friend Responds to the False (Pr)Offit.

Regular readers might know that I make one exception to my rule of “civility at all times.” That exception exists for Paul Offit, who never met a neurotoxin-containing vaccine he didn’t like. Well, he’s back!!!

Dr. Offitt recently published an op-ed piece in which he weighs in on the tragic death of Abubakar Nadama. Like too many other people, Offit just couldn’t wait for all the facts to come out. Instead, he decided to use this boy’s death -- before we even know what went wrong or what really happened -- to further his agenda of discrediting anyone who dares to question the wisdom of adding neurotoxins to vaccines, or who dares to question the wisdom of adding more and more and more vaccines to an already bloated schedule.

We get unintended irony this time from Dr. Offit, who now complains that the press is being too sensationalistic because they don’t give a balanced look at the issue. Many of us, though, remember the hatchet job by Dan Rather when 60 Minutes ran a story on the thimerosal controversy. On one side was a small group of “mercury moms,” who were made to seem like modern-day Luddites shunning anything smacking of science. On the other side was kindly Doc Offit, who oozed sympathy for the poor, misguided parents who just didn’t seem to understand that there was no science at all behind this crazy theory about an environmental trigger for autism. There was no mention of any of the scientists or physicians who believe there is evidence of a link between thimerosal and/or live-virus vaccines and the triggering of ASD. There never is (except for the relatively recent segment on Meet the Press).

Dr. Offit dismisses scientists and physicians who disagree with his position as a “few marginal scientists and clinicians.” Well, I’ll stick with those marginal scientists and clinicians who freely admit that their clinical and biological studies are still in the early stages, rather than with a doctor, no matter how many titles he may have, who refers to a small handful of extremely flawed epidemiological studies as having “answered the question of whether vaccines cause autism.” First, Dr. Offit misstates the hypothesis; the belief is that vaccines may play a role in triggering ASD in genetically susceptible children, not that vaccines, in and of themselves, “cause autism.” Second, regardless of the hypothesis, the epidemiologicial studies did not answer any questions. Certainly, safety studies for thimerosal prove nothing about long-term effects, primarily because there have been no such studies.

Of course, Dr. Offit will never tell the whole story, because he will not even tell the whole story about himself. The only information ever given about him is that he is the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Not once in any of Dr. Offit’s numerous media forays has it ever been mentioned that he holds a patent for a thimerosal-containing vaccine, or that he has numerous ties to the vaccine industry, including a consulting contract to “educate” physicians and the public about vaccines. In other words, when Dr. Offit appears on television or publishes a piece in the newspaper, he is paid to do so under the guise of “educating” us.

I’ve had about all the "education" I can stand from Paul Offit.

7 Comments:

Blogger JP said...

Wade,

While I've disagree with your position on the thimerosal-autism issue, I have been more than impressed with your ability to at least paint the state of the science that supports it in more realistic terms. For that, I think you add tremendous value to the debate as someone who isn't out there boldly proclaiming "mercury posioning is autism sue the drug companies now chelate your kids every last one".

However, with regards to Paul Offit, I mostly disagree with this entry.

Paul Offit makes the statement in his op-ed piece that the death of Nadama was due to the use of chelation therapy. Seeing that 5-year-old kids generally don't die of cardiac arrest as a rule, and ten minutes after a procedure known to provoke heart problems Nadama died from cardiac arrest, it is not an unreasonable position to take. While a final coroner's report might indicate that the cause of death is "inconclusive" (which is certainly possible given the nature of this case) the most plausible explanation for the child's death is the use of EDTA. Otherwise, little that Offit says about that hasn't been echoed before.

Offit also makes the claim that the media gives too much credence to the anti-thimerosal theory. As someone who wrote for a newspaper for a while, I can say that Offit has a point, but doesn't understand the nature of the beast.

The reality is that most journalists looking at a "controversy" such as this will tend to do what they're supposed to do - present both sides of the issue. Sometimes, in the case of the 60 Minutes piece, they'll present what appears to be a one-sided argument against your side. (To be fair, I've always thought that 60 Minutes could've found a better spokesman for the opposing side than Barbara Loe Fisher - who treads far closer to being anti-vaccine than she is simply anti-thimerosal.) In other cases, such as the Dan Olmstead articles for UPI, he'll present a far more sympathetic point of view.

But most often (especially in print journalism) writers will do exactly what they're trained to do - give fairly equal space to both sides of an argument. Paul Offit might think that's a bad idea. It may be. But unless the writers crafting these stories are scientifically savvy (and I'd suggest most are not) they're not going to know which since the true proponderance of evidence sits. It is what it is, which is why any newspaper article on the subject must be taken with a major grain of salt.

I do disagree with your premise that the epidemiological studies proved "nothing" with regards to autism. For example, I've posted several refutations now of the common complaints against the Verstraeten study...the study, for all of its minor nits, does illustrate fairly conclusively that there isn't much of an association between thimerosal use and autism. At least on a population-based level. At least on a level that would move the needle towards "1 in 166", as claimed by so many in the mercury=autism camp.

I would suggest, Wade, that your premise that vaccines only cause ASD in "susceptible" children is incongruent with the widely-held belief that use of thimerosal played a substantial role in the increase of autism as a whole. And that what you state is not what the more vocal advocates of your position are claiming.

Finally, I have put (to some degree) the "Paul Offit is a pharma shill" argument to rest on another entry on my blog. To wit:

Yes, Paul Offit does have a patent on a rotavirus vaccine called RotaTeq. However, since this is a live oral vaccine, it cannot contain thimerosal. (Thimerosal is never used in live vaccines because it would render them ineffective.)

Paul Offit has never taken grant money directly from Merck or any other drug company. Investigation on RotaTeq was funded through an NIH grant. Another researcher in his group does receive money from Merck to test the vaccine, but that makes sense considering it is in Phase III trials.

As to his speaking engagements, Offit does not get an honorarium (like a doctor might get to shill a particular drug) from any drug company. He does speak at symposiums sponsored by groups that may receive "unrestricted educational grants" from drug companies - so in a roundabout way he might be receiving money from those companies in order to speak. But the whole premise of an "unrestricted educational grant" is that the company has no control over the content of the talk. I guess if you want to use tortured logic, then, yeah, maybe Paul Offit takes money from drug companies. But then so does just about any clinician or researcher of any note. Are they all equally bought off?

In the end, Wade, it's perfectly acceptable to disagree with Paul Offit's opinion. But I think it's intellectually lazy for many people (not yourself) to simply dismiss Offit as a "pharma shill". His position should be evaluated on its merits, and when you do that, there's a lot more truth than most would like to believe. If you're asking me who I trust more - Paul Offit or Rashid Buttar, Paul Offit or Andrew Wakefield...with all due respect, I trust Paul Offit.

10/7/05, 10:08 AM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

jp,

I thank you for the respectful tone of your comment. We must agree to disagree.

It is simply too easy to say chelation killed a child, without asking what chelaator was used, why it was used, and under what conditions was it used. Saying that an improper use of EDTA means that DMSA or DMPS are inherrently dangerous just deosn't make sense.

Most if us on "this side" agree that some genetic predisposition is involved, and that's why we so often point to Dr. Jill James' work.

Finally, "shill" is not a word I throw around loosely. For example, I will gladly state for the record that I have seen that charge unfairly leveled against you without any real basis. But Dr. Offitt's ties to the industry go far deeper than you portray.

For maore reasons to dislike DR. Offitt, see my latest post, THAT'S HIS STORY AND HE'S STICKING TO IT.

10/9/05, 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So imagine this... you've developed a vaccine that could potentially eliminate hundreds of thousands of doctor and hospital visits yearly in the US alone and around half a million deaths per year worldwide. Now you know that in the current market it will cost several hundered million dollars to get the vaccine in the hands of those it can help. You can't just take out a loan for that kind of money and set up your own major vaccine manufacturer. There are only a handfull of companies in the world that can navigate a potential vaccine through clinical trials, production, and lisencing and all roads lead through them. So yeah, I guess you could say he has close ties to the vaccine industry and Merck in particular. It's one thing to argue about side effects and adverse events, it's another to prevent hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations per year (The GSK vaccine will probably be more likely to save the half million lives). So what is it you're doing when you're not busy with the name calling? I'd rather have the pride of that accomplishment than all the money in the world, and he must feel the same way.

4/20/06, 3:53 AM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

“Anonymous,”

First of all, welcome back. I find it curious that with all of the posts about your hero that have been out up here since this one, you chose to post your comment on this one from five months ago.

It’s impossible to discuss Dr. Offit without taking his ties ⎯ ties that go well beyond one particular manufacturer and one particular vaccine ⎯ with the industry into account, but those ties are not really the focus of my distaste for the man. Indeed, I’ve never faulted Dr. Offit for developing a vaccine; I’m sure his motives ⎯ at least with regard to that particular enterprise ⎯ are noble. My problem with Dr. Offit has always stemmed from his intellectual dishonesty in the way he condescends, in the way he preys on baser emotions, and in the way he “reshapes the truth” to suit his argument.

Now, as to your question of what I do when I’m not “busy with the name calling.” Much of my time is taken up with a career. A very little (not as much as once was true) is devoted to charitable and church-related endeavors. But the bulk of my non-professional time these days is spent helping to care for a young boy who has special needs that are, at least in part, the result of a poorly devised vaccination program that is built on the twin pillars of greed and incompetence.

4/20/06, 5:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem knowledgable. Why has the rates of Autism not decreased in Denmark since they stopped using Thimerosol in their vaccines back in 1992? Could this be due to the fact that Autism is caused by something entirely different than Thimerosol?

On another note, I wish that articles such as the one by Kennedy, would always end by saying that it is EXTEREMLY important to still vaccinate your children. Most vaccines no longer contain Thimerosol so their is no reason to not vaccinate your children. If you've ever seen a child with Pertussis (whooping cough) or someone permanently confined to a wheelchair due to Polio then you don't fully realize the benifit of vaccines. Smallpox was the greatest killer on this planet until a vaccine was used. But, unlike smallpox, Polio and Pertussis have not been eradicated. They still exist and someone who is unvaccinated is very susceptible to infection. A parent who does not vaccinate their child would be unable to live with themself if that child had Polio and ended up in a wheelchair for their entire life. In summary, I just wish that those who wish for litigation would still encourage vaccination to prevent catastrophic consequences.

11/26/06, 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your article. I am at a loss as to why anyone would think the 'studies' done so far would prove anything either way. Why the wait to do a real safety study comparing the vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated? This has never been done. Why not? Once this study has been done and its shown that the two groups have no difference in the rates of allergies, autism, nuerological disorders and SIDS, Paul Offit can educate the public all he wants. Until then, he can keep his judgemental, offensive comments to himself.

10/18/07, 10:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

in the end, were there is big money there is corruption. i have opened my eyes about many subjects in the last year or so, i just do not see why more americans open theirs.

6/18/08, 2:23 AM  

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