Avian Flu and Burning Witches
By streiff Posted in User Blogs — Comments (107) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Human nature abhors the unexplained and the unexplainable. In the past, man turned to religion to answer questions like "why do bad things happen to good people" and "why do innocents suffer," today a large number of people turn to science.
One of the consequences of a society moving from worshiping God to worshiping science is that the priesthood is filled with infinitely more charlatans with no way for the lay person to begin to sort them out. Instead of merely producing heretical texts that may or may not gather a following today's priesthood produces "science" that influences public policy and kills people. Where Elmer Gantry is an object of derision the scientific fraud is often revered.
Autism is a terrible affliction. It affects about 1.5 million Americans. The symptoms typically manifest themselves in the first three years of life and, as a father of three, I can't imagine the pain of watching your toddler slip away into a world you can neither enter nor fully comprehend. There is no known cause and while there are therapies that can mitigate some of the symptoms in some patients there is no cure. There is no physical test to diagnose autism, diagnosis is accomplished via Diagnositic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition or DSM IV.
There doesn't seem to be a preference for ethnicity, income, race, or geography, those markers that would set off epidemiological alarm bells. Males are about four times as likely as females to be diagnosed with autism but that is a common feature of the diagnosis of learning disabilities.
Any parent confronted with this awful situation immediately asks why my child? Was it something I did? Was it something someone did to me? In earlier times some might have treated the affliction as retribution for their own sins. Some would have regarded it as force majeure, an Act of God beyond the ken of mortals. Or they might have looked around for an unpopular person, maybe aesthetically challenged, declared them to be a witch and burned them. In today's world we don't accept the very real mathematical phenomenon of chance, the Law of Truly Large Numbers. We demand to find who is to blame and we demand that they pay money out the wazoo. Essentially, we burn witches.
Enter junk science. Stage left.
In 1997 the Food and Drug Administration promulgated a fairly straightforward and sensible rule. All makers of pharmaceuticals had to disclose the presence of mercury in their products. Most, if not all, manufacturers of vaccines used thimerosal as a preservative. It contains mercury. It was further discovered that the total mercury dose administered according to the recommended regimen for childhood immunizations exceeded the EPA standard for mercury exposure (how the EPA arrived at their own personal standard independently of the National Academy of Sciences and CDC is another story entirely). In a flash the ideal villain was created.
Since virtually all the children stricken with autism had received their childhood vaccination series we now had the epidemiological link that had previously eluded researchers.
It was the wonderful nexus of an incurable condition, helpless children, evil corporations (Big Pharma), unknown risk (previously undisclosed presence of mercury), a known toxin (mercury), an unacceptable level (above EPA standard), unpreventable by even the most diligent parent (try not getting your kid vaccinated), and vociferous advocates.
Some diligent soul discovered that the additive thimerosal was not required by the feds and hence the manufacturers were not shielded under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. The rush was on. To the cry of "there's gold in them thar shots" rang out and the lawyers were unleashed.
No amount of research has been able to stop the fearmongering. So where does this bring us? It brings us to the sad fact that there are exactly two manufacturers of flu vaccine in the world: Chiron and Sanofi Pasteur. Glaxo makes a limited amount of additive free vaccine but without thimerosal the shelf life is very limited. It also brings us to the point were twenty states, including New York and California, forbid the use of vaccines with even trace amounts of mercury.
As the prospect of avian flu looms on the horizon we have the possibility of a double whammy. Not only may there not be a suitable vaccine for H5N1-derived influenza but if there is a vaccine as much as half of the nation would have difficulty in receiving a dose because that vaccine will probably be made by Chiron and will overwhelmingly use thimerosal.
So, for all our obeisance to science we are barely a step removed from witchburners. In this case the victim was not some vaguely threatening crone but an industry and the inquisitors were neither Dominicans nor Puritans but a battery of barely qualified charlatans and highly competent attorneys.