Monthly Archives: September 2014

NVIC, Paul Offit, and the “Hear This Well” Campaign

Welcome to the Let’s Be Honest blog, where we hope to deconstruct the claims of the United State’s largest anti-vaccine organization, National Vaccine Information Center. Little by little, we hope to reveal the agenda and the falsehooods NVIC promotes in order to help the public decide how to interpret their claims.

Case File #1: Hear This Well, Paul Offit?

On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, NVIC posted on its Facebook page a photo of Paul Offit. Overwritten on the photo were the words: “A baby’s immune system could handle as many as 10000 vaccines. Vaccine Zealot, Paul Offit.” The caption did not match the photo and was on an entirely different topic: “Meet Billy. He’s 18 and vaccine injured. Listen to Billy describe how he likes to spend his time. His mother feels that she’s one of the lucky ones– at least he can speak to her…” with a link to the Hear This Well website.

Karen's Offit NVIC screenshot

What is NVIC claiming?

NVIC’s claims are two-fold here. In the photo, they are claiming that Dr. Paul Offit, because of his overzealousness for vaccines, has asserted that babies can receive 10,000 vaccines at once. The claim in the caption is that vaccines cause autism, as “vaccine injury” is their code for autism and the Hear This Well campaign is one attempting to respond to one reporter’s comment about a study disproving the vaccine-autism connection that some people don’t “hear well” that vaccine do not cause autism. Multiple anti-vaccine groups and organizations have been trying to push the Hear This Well campaign, but it has garnered almost no traction outside their ranks.

How accurate are their claims?

Let’s look at the claims about Dr. Paul Offit first. NVIC claims that Dr. Offit is a “Vaccine Zealot,” but who is he really? Dr. Offit is the co-inventor of one of the Rotavirus vaccines currently in use today. He has authored several books, including books about autism, vaccines, and alternative medicine. At time, Dr. Offit has spoken against the use of vaccines, such as his argument that we not immunize people in healthcare against smallpox. All in all, Dr. Offit’s views are in line with the views of the CDC, the AAP, and almost every other doctor and medical scientist in the world. Those who disagree with him are a very small minority and are almost always part of an anti-vaccine organization. So the term “Vaccine Zealot” could be classified as unfair and inaccurate.

Did Dr. Offit Really claim that babies can receive 10,000 vaccines are once? According to the History of Vaccines blog, this claim has been taken out of context and is meant to address whether or not a baby’s immune system is up to the challenge of handling a vaccine:

In a kind of thought experiment he worked out in a 2002 Pediatrics article, [Dr. Offit] estimated that a child’s immune system could theoretically respond to the antigens in 10,000 or more vaccines at once. He made clear this was a theoretical position based solely on immune cell potential. (Giving 10,000 vaccines at once would be harmful in many ways: just the amount of water in that number of vaccines would cause death.) Offit has since been taken to task for this statement on anti-vaccine sites like Age of Autism, where commentors often claim that he advocates that many shots at once, or by others volunteering to give him that many shots.

Dr. Offit’s actual explanation addresses how many antigens are in a vaccine compared to how many antigens babies are exposed to on a regular basis. It was never meant to assert that babies could or should receive 10,000 actual vaccines, so this claim is clearly inaccurate.

And what about the claim that vaccines cause autism? The story that NVIC has linked to is certainly an emotional plea from a parent who believes her child not to be autistic but to be “vaccine injured.” Is there any credence to that?

The most recent research into the causes of autism suggest that autism begins before a child is born–before that child would ever receive a vaccine. National Public Radio reported on this study:

Brain tissue taken from children who died and also happened to have autism revealed patches of disorganization in the cortex, a thin sheet of cells that’s critical for learning and memory, researchers report in the New England Journal of Medicine. Tissue samples from children without autism didn’t have those characteristic patches.

Organization of the cortex begins in the second trimester of pregnancy. “So something must have gone wrong at or before that time,” says Eric Courchesne, an author of the paper and director of the Autism Center of Excellence at the University of California, San Diego.

Furthermore, for nearly 20 years, scientists have been studying multiple theories about how vaccines could cause autism, and those studies have failed to support at all the notion that vaccines cause autism. In other words, all of the best science we have to date shows that vaccines do not and could not cause autism.

The parent narratives about vaccines causing autism can be convincing, but the science does not support those narratives. Furthermore, it could be that these parents who are convinced their children’s autism was caused by vaccines are the victims of hearing other similar reports, and their memories of the events leading to a diagnosis are themselves faulty.

Since the science about vaccines and autism is convincingly against NVIC’s claims, these claims can be dismissed as inaccurate.

Final Evaluation

In this September 24 Facebook post, NVIC has presented several misleading points and other clearly false assertions. We encourage you to dismiss these allegations and to keep in mind this misleading post when evaluating all other NVIC promotional materials.

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