J.B. Handley: No Study Shows “Vaccines Didn’t Cause My Son’s Autism”
A businessman whose son was diagnosed with autism, J.B. Handley co-founded the website Generation Rescue with his wife. It’s an autism advocacy site that has been highly effective in organizing a community of parents concerned about an autism-vaccine link. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Jan. 29, 2010. It was originally published on April 27, 2010.
How did your life change when you discovered your son had autism?
Everything changed from the day it happened. It was an immediate nightmare. It was 30 days of six, seven, eight hours of nonstop crying by both me and my wife. It was the painful realization that my son may not have the kind of life that I expected for him. And once the grief had passed just enough to get up off the floor, it was a mandate to do whatever I could do with the rest of my life to give him the best possible life.
How old was he when this happened?
He was just under 2 years old.
How did you discover this?
People sometimes talk about how these kids are diagnosed today at much higher rates, that we just have a more narrow filter, that parents are more paranoid.
You don’t miss this. This wasn’t something that was hard to figure out. The child stopped talking. He stopped socializing. He started doing extremely unusual behaviors that no other kid was doing — running on walls, turning his eyes to the side, spinning around in circles, laughing for no reason. I mean, we watched our son decline into something we’d never seen before, and it didn’t take us long, especially with the Internet, to go quickly look up some of these behaviors.
Did you know anything about autism at that time?
I didn’t know the first thing about autism. I’d seen Rain Man like a lot of other people had, but when my wife first brought up the word, I knew that was something we didn’t want for our son. But no, I didn’t know the first thing about it.
How did you educate yourself?
My wife and I both, from the day we had concerns about Jamison, we were on the Web trying to understand what is wrong with our son. We got absolutely no help from the local pediatrician who told us everything would be fine and he would come around. But literally spending 20 minutes doing an evaluation, we knew we had a serious, serious problem on our hands. He was hitting every single metric for autism.
What was the medical dogma about autism in terms of the cause?
It was very simple, and it was very straightforward. He was diagnosed at two of the premier institutions on the West Coast: UC San Francisco and Oregon Health Sciences University. It was genetic. There’s nothing we can do about it. It was lifelong. Institutionalization was likely, and we’d be lucky if he ever talked. It was a prognosis of doom that no parent could bear.
Why didn’t you accept that?
I think I would have in a vacuum if I’d had implicit trust in the people giving me the news. But the irony of the situation was, by the time we’d gotten the actual diagnosis, we’d done tons of research. So I was reading stories from parents of children who had fully recovered from autism and gone on to lead a normal life. I was reading stories from parents of causation. I was reading data about the dramatic rise in the number of kids. So I walked into that office because I had to get the formal diagnosis as part of the process, but it takes ages to get one fully informed. So there wasn’t a chance in hell I was going to believe what these people were telling me, because I was listening to parents with a completely different story, and I trust parents more than I trust doctors.
You connected with a parent group?
There are so many out there, and even back — this is now 2004 that we’re talking about — in that day and age, it was Yahoo! discussion groups, and if you looked you found them. Today it’s everywhere; it’s ubiquitous. You can’t move without finding them. But even back then there were literally thousands of parents online sharing their stories of hope, sharing their stories of recovery, sharing their theories of causation. As soon as you tapped into that vein of information, you were flooded with as much as you could handle, and it put us in a greater position to take action on our son immediately.
What were you hearing?
The thing that we were most focused on initially was how to get our son out of this. Is this something that he can recover from? And so the first thing we heard was that a regimen and diet could change the behavior of your kid and potentially get them back onto the right path, so we’d do those things immediately.
Then we heard there’s this whole network of doctors out there who are recovering these kids, so we immediately made an appointment with them. And then we heard the dreaded “V” word: vaccines. We heard that there was a possible correlation between the volume of vaccines being given to our son and his autism. So we were inundated with all the information that parents now get literally in a minute of typing in the word “autism” to Google.
What’s the theory of what DAN! [Defeat Autism Now!] doctors do?
Well, the theory of DAN! is that the behaviors that we have chosen to call autism are a manifestation of misalignments within the body, and those misalignments can be everything from a gut that’s been turned upside down, being the gut floor is not functioning properly, to foods that are coming into the system that aren’t well tolerated to viruses, bacteria and heavy metals that are overloading the system and preventing it from working properly.
So the basic premise behind DAN! is that if you bring down the toxic load and you get out the things in the system that are interfering with how it functions, you will see a return to normalcy. The behaviors that you call autism will start to disappear as you fix the body.
How did that work with Jamison?
Jamie is in the sixth inning of a nine-inning ballgame, recovering dramatically, getting all his words back, going to a normal school, and we’re still not done. Some kids come back in a year, some come back in five, and some recover a lot but don’t come back all the way, and that’s what we’re working on every day. So I would put my son as somewhere slightly above the midpoint of his speed of recovery, but every day he’s getting better.
Once you connected with these groups, you started to play a role in the organization?
If you saw The Matrix, it’s like all of a sudden you’re looking behind the matrix as to everything that’s going on. We’ve got 1 in 6 kids with learning disability, 1 in 12 with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], 1 in 110 with autism. What’s happening to our children is insane, and once my wife and I were pulled behind the matrix to see what was going on, we felt compelled to act, not only on behalf and in honor of our own son, but on behalf of all these other kids, too.
Tell us about the Web site you got involved in.
The organization that my wife and I created is called Generation Rescue. It was a simple premise. We spent hours and hours trying to compile all this information on how to treat our son biomedically. That’s the word we use for getting all these things out of his body, realigning his systems. We just wanted to put it all in one place, and we wanted parents to have access to other parents.
So when you go to Generation Rescue, that’s really what it’s about: What’s the action plan for a parent whose child was just diagnosed with autism, and how can they find other parents in their community to help them get started? Once you have a child diagnosed with autism, you are immediately ostracized from most of the world. The one group of people who you trust are other parents. So that was the whole premise behind Generation Rescue.
Generation Rescue can take advantage of social media. How significant are these in changing the balance of power?
I think the balance of power has been changed dramatically by the Internet alone, by the Web site, by the ability of somebody to search quickly for information and to have our site come up quickly. We’ve literally had tens of millions of hits. And so that information that was hard for my wife and I to find — it took weeks talking to parents, faxing, trading phone calls six, seven years ago — today a parent can find in seconds, and that makes a huge difference, because the way this whole thing will change is enough parents get converted to our community, and every day we get more converts, people who believe the things that we’re saying about why there’s so much autism.
Did Jenny McCarthy reach out to your Web site?
Within weeks of the site going up, literally within weeks, Jenny found the site. She credits it with initiating the treatment for her son, who has recovered, and she’s been with us almost ever since.
Talk about the viral spread of an image over the Internet, like [Redskins cheerleader] Desiree Jennings’ flu shot story, for example.
It’s remarkably powerful what an image or an idea can do in today’s day and age, and for a group of parents who feel completely outmatched — because think for a moment about who our enemy is; our enemies are the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet, making billions of dollars in net profit a year — you’d think that we could never compete with that. But an idea can transmit itself powerfully and very cheaply for millions to see.
So in the case of Desiree, here you have an image of this beautiful woman who’s been severely disabled that literally tens of millions of people view overnight, and imagine the chilling effect that has on a flu vaccine that she attributes as the cause of her condition. It’s remarkably powerful.
Does it matter whether it’s true or not?
Truth always bears out in the end, so I’m a firm believer in that. Are there moments in time where truth is exaggerated or expanded? Absolutely. But truth bears out in the end. …
Tell me about the ad you put in USA Today after you formed Generation Rescue.
Well, the first ad that we ever ran, which was in 2005, made a very simple statement and made it twice: ”Autism is preventable and reversible.” And our goal was to bypass a media that was largely intimidated to report on this topic and just talk directly to parents. We were grateful thatUSA Today has separate business and editorial departments, or that ad may have never seen the light of day. And it had a profound impact on the community — on the message, on the information and ultimately on the kids, which is the whole reason to do it in the first place.
Which was the ad with the two syringes?
We’ve run about a half dozen ads. Our most recent ads … have focused on this notion that we’re giving children too many vaccines. We’ve tried to contextualize the number of vaccines given. We’ve tried to compare it to other countries. We tried to look at some of the data that we see on vaccinated children and how much lower the prevalence of autism really is. And those ads with giant syringes have a very, very powerful visual impact on parents.
Tell me what the ad says with two syringes.
The purpose of the ad is to show visually for parents, because so few realize how many more vaccines we give kids today than we did back in the mid-80s. And in the mid-80s, perhaps not coincidentally, the prevalence of autism was dramatically lower than it is today. So it’s trying to show graphically, in a way that someone can immediately understand, how dramatically the number of vaccines we give our kids has grown.
You’re implying there is a connection, but the fact that two things go up at the same time doesn’t mean they’re associated.
No. So if you’re thinking about autism for a moment, and you accept that the prevalence has risen dramatically, which most mainstream scientists accept, there are still some doubters out there who you’ll be able to find who will try to give you this mythical notion that autism had already been with us at the same rate. But if you accept for a moment that prevalence has actually risen, which, again, most scientists, all the mainstream autism organizations, all accept that it has, then it has to be an environmental component. There has to be something in the environment going on that’s raising the prevalence. Well, if it has to be an environmental component, the right question is: What is it? Is it one thing? Is it five things? Is it 10 things? …
What are the crucial elements of the theory linking prevalence of autism with vaccines?
We know the rate is rising. We know prevalence is up dramatically. It’s 1 in 110 kids today. It was somewhere between 1 in 5,000 and 1 in 10,000 in the mid-80s. So that’s a 50- to hundredfold increase in autism.
The first set of data points, and perhaps the most important, is the literally tens of thousands of parental reports of children regressing and changing after vaccine appointments. Few people without kids today realize that when a child goes in for a doctor’s appointment — and they’re required to go in at 2 months, 4 months, 6 months and 12 months to get their initial vaccines — there are literally somewhere between five and seven vaccines lined up on the table. They’re all given simultaneously within about 12 minutes. Well, tens of thousands of parents have reported that their kid was never the same after those appointments. So that’s our first data point, if you will, is parental feedback.
The second data point is the knowledge that vaccines cause brain injury in a small segment of the population. We know that. The federal government knows it. They pay money to kids who have been injured that way. This is something that’s been known for years, and then we also know that the number of vaccines given has risen dramatically. So it does not take a rocket scientist to draw a possible correlation between the vaccines being given and the brain injury that our children are suffering, because autism is brain injury. …
When did you realize that you were taking this advocacy out to this group?
What you quickly realize when you’re trying to advocate for autism is the only thing that anybody wants to talk about is vaccines. The reason for that is that it’s a great media story. It’s a remarkable conflict. It’s a red-hot conflict, and you can’t help but get picked up by the mainstream press when you’re talking about the issue. So immediately we realized that the minute we put the word “autism” and “vaccines” together, everybody would be listening, and that’s great, because the truth is — and any public health official will tell you this — vaccines have great benefits, and vaccines have great risks. I fully accept the former, and our public health officials wish the latter didn’t exist, and that’s just not reality.
But would you vaccinate another child of yours?
Well, I wouldn’t personally vaccinate one of my own children, because my middle son demonstrated clearly that there’s something about our gene pool and vaccines that don’t get alone. But that’s not the advice I give my friends and other family members.
What do you expect the public health officials to do when you challenge them and scare people to think that autism is a side effect of the MMR [measles, mumps and rubella] vaccine?
I expect them to defend it at all costs irrespective of the facts, because their entire career, livelihood and legacy is on the line. And like every other person who was in that position in the history of humanity, they’ll be the last to admit that we’re actually right. That’s what I expect them to do.
You posed your theory as a theory, so it’s a hypothesis.
That means that still needs investigation.
It needs tremendous investigation. The dollars behind looking into the things we’re saying are still meager that have been attributed to the science so far.
… What I know that’s true, that’s unequivocal, is [that there are] tens of thousands of reports of kids who regressed after vaccine appointments and that vaccines are known to cause brain injury. Those are the only two things that I have certainty about. Everything else still needs to be studied.
When you go and isolate MMR — a kid who got five vaccines but one wasn’t MMR and a kid who got six vaccines including MMR — and you compare them and say there’s no difference in autism rates, that’s not science. That’s cover-up disguised as science to try to make the issue go away. There are 11 vaccines on the schedule for children in the United States. Our health authorities that you say have been so quick to study this issue have looked at exactly one vaccine. You have 10 vaccines that haven’t been evaluated in any context for autism, and yet parental reports every day talk about these appointments of five or six shots where the kids regress.
If a scientist was genuinely curious about whether or not this vaccine and autism were related, the first thing they [would] do is they would do an epidemiological study looking backward at kids who had never gotten any vaccines and those who had. And second thing they would do is they would take an animal model, like monkeys, chimpanzees — something close to us — and they’d give a group no vaccines and they’d give the other group the vaccines on the same kind of schedule that we give. Neither of those relatively simple acts of science have been done, because the results may devastate the public health program. …
They failed to find an association. At the time you started Generation Rescue, did you accept that piece of the puzzle?
No, because I was able to use my brain, and I’d taken my son to vaccine appointments, and I was able to say that the isolation they’d done in the studies and my son’s real-world experience had no bearing whatsoever on each other.
You’re talking about a different hypothesis. I’m talking about, is it MMR?
Yeah, it hasn’t been looked at in a proper way. So no, I wasn’t remotely convinced, and I don’t stand convinced today.
Did you accept that study?
No, I don’t remotely accept it, and I think it’s important to point out that the only thing the mainstream science has done is try to respond to fears that have made a lot of publicity, to quell those fears. What they haven’t done is taken the tens of thousands of case reports of children regressing after vaccine appointments and asking simple questions like, why?
The [Dr. Andrew] Wakefield issue, [in which the British medical journal The Lancet retracted an influential paper by Wakefield that supported a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and which had provided the impetus for many parents in Great Britain to forgo the vaccine for their children], brought headlines, so they tried to quell the headlines with very narrow science, with no bearing on the real world to quell the issue once and for all.
This is not some sort of honest scientist saying, ”Oh, my God, we might have a real issue here.” This is people funded by pharma, highly conflicted, saying: ”We’ve got to put this issue to bed. Let’s design a study that does that and move on.” That’s what’s been done. It’s dishonest science.
Talk to Bernadine Healy, the former director of the NIH. She’ll be the first to tell you they haven’t remotely looked at this topic in the way you would if you really wanted to get an answer. …
… My kid got six vaccines in one [day], and he regressed. You don’t have any science that can show me that the regression wasn’t triggered by the six vaccines. There is no real-world study that shows me that those six vaccines didn’t cause my son’s autism. I don’t give a crap about the MMR in isolation in one study.
What is the hypothesis testing now if it’s not MMR? Is it six vaccines?
We need to listen to the parents. What the parents are saying is, ”I went in for a vaccine appointment, my kid got six vaccines, and they regressed.” We need to ask the question as to why the regression took place — not whether the regression took place, why the regression took place. The only way to do that is to look at that load of vaccines and compare a group of kids or a group of animals who got the load and who didn’t. Until we make that very simple understanding clear, it’s going to be very hard to parse through. Is it one of the six? Is it when you give them all together? Is it because certain kids are on antibiotics? Is it because Tylenol is prescribed afterward? What about this event is triggering this regression that is very clearly happening in certain children?
The public health authorities would say that children develop autism with or without vaccines, and it could be coincidence.
You know what? They might be right, but there’s been no science to support or deny that position.
Do you believe that there was a conspiracy between parties that did these studies?
When you use the word ”conspiracy,” everybody likes to put you over in a corner. The appeal that I would make is with the billions of [dollars in] profit at stake, with the hundreds if not thousands of lives and careers that would be ruined, is it so hard to imagine that people might be motivated to bend the truth on this topic because of the scale of what will happen if it doesn’t?
We just saw a court case of Merck [& Co., Inc.,] for Vioxx in Australia, where the e-mails from the Merck employees revealed that they recommended seeking and destroying doctors who claimed there was a correlation between Vioxx and heart attacks. Let’s not be so naive [as] to think that we’re not seeing another example of that ”seek-and-destroy” approach by Merck, who happens to be the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world in this situation of vaccines and autism.
Isn’t it naive to think that pediatricians and researchers in many different countries, CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], NIH [National Institutes of Health] and WHO [World Health Organization] could all be part of this conspiracy?
You know what? If 100 percent of them all thought we were crazy, I think you’d have a point. But one of the things you don’t see is how many pediatricians are actually extremely sympathetic to our community, who have amended their pediatric practices, who feel there is a strong correlation between the way they choose to immunize and treat their kids and autism and who quietly support us while recognizing if their support becomes public, they’ll be put out of business.
The question is, of all these people in seven different countries doing epidemiological studies, how could they all be involved in some conspiracy?
… If you design the studies in a certain way, if you recognize the risks of the studies saying the wrong thing, I think it’s very possible to control the message for a period of time, and I think that’s exactly what’s happened. …
It’s amazing that you could make a statement, ”Vaccines do not cause autism,” when you’ve only looked at one vaccine. It would be like an airplane crashing, evaluating one wing, and declaring it’s mechanical failure. You’ve got the rest of the plane to still look at. We’ve got 10 vaccines that have never been studied, and yet public health officials will declare vaccines do not cause autism. … It’s very easy for moderate periods of time to fool a great portion of the public with bad science, and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here.
Are the other countries’ studies tied into the same conspiracy?
You know what? The best way to look at this is, have they asked the right question? And they haven’t remotely.
We’re never going to make any progress if you say to do a study, they do the study, and then you claim everybody is biased.
The way to make progress is to look at what’s being done in the real world and figure out if you actually understand the implications of that, isolating a bunch of kids who got a bunch of vaccines but not MMR, and a bunch of kids who got a bunch of vaccines including MMR, and then saying there’s no difference in autism prevalence and then claiming that means vaccines don’t cause autism.
It means MMR doesn’t.
But that’s what happens. That’s an idealistic interpretation of what actually happens. What actually happens is CDC officials, Paul Offit, whatever, they get up and in an exasperated way say: ”We need to move on past this topic. We’ve proven vaccines don’t cause autism.” They’re just lying. And when we see them lie in such a bold way in public, we realize that the studies aren’t there to actually figure out what happened to our kids. They’re there to move on away from this issue. …
Can you say, “Acting by itself, MMR, or thimerosal, have been studied, so let’s study something else”? Specifically, what is that thing you’re going to study?
You know, given the study design and the questions being asked, we have not remotely addressed the issue of the relationship between vaccines and autism. We need to take a step back, bring in scientists who are unbiased, who haven’t been through this before, and look at the real world of what’s being done to our kids.
… If you accept the official data, [the incidence of autism] was like 4 or 5 per 10,000 back in the ’70s, and it’s now 1 in 100, so about 25-fold. What is in dispute is what that measure means, right?
The definition of autism today is much broader than it was 30 years ago. True or false?
The question was, has the definition of autism changed, true or false, and you say no.
Oh, well, since 1940, yeah, absolutely. But I’m triggering my answer off of the ’70s figure for prevalence that you just gave me.
So you don’t dispute that 30 years ago there was just autism, and now there is autism spectrum disorder [ASD].
Absolutely. That’s absolutely right. And it’s the DSM-III [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition] versus the DSM-IV that we’re really talking about.
So you don’t dispute that there has been a broadening of the diagnostic categories?
No, absolutely not. There definitely has been.
So that would account for some of the increase?
There has been diagnostic substitution; cases previously diagnosed as mentally retarded or with language disorders now get an ASD diagnosis. True or false?
There’s science published on both sides of that topic. …
There is much more awareness of autism, and [health providers are] much better in earlier detection. True or false?
True. In awareness, absolutely.
At least some of this increase can be attributed to these definitional changes?
It seems to me you don’t disagree in that sense with the public health authorities.
Well, the devil’s in the details, isn’t it? We’re not talking about a doubling. We’re talking about somewhere between 20-, 50- or hundredfold, depending on what numbers you want to use.
If you use the ’80s numbers, the 1980s prevalence numbers, and today’s numbers and compared them, and you really believe that we have the same exact number of kids with autism today — autism, broadly defined ASD — as we had in the ’80s, you would have missed 97 percent of the kids in the ’80s. You would have not diagnosed 97 percent. That is what’s known as not passing the logic test. There is no logic that says you would miss 97 percent of children. …
I’d say the studies I’ve read from the scientists I trust would say a majority of the increase is due to something we can’t yet explain.
If there is a huge epidemic, then a lot of the power goes out of it.
If there’s no epidemic, there’s no environmental cause. And said another way, if there’s an epidemic, there is an environmental cause. It’s the issue from which everything else must follow, and it’s why it’s being defended so greatly, but it doesn’t pass the logic test. You can’t have missed 97 percent of the children in the ’80s who had autism. They’re trying to get the public to believe that kids who spin in circles, don’t speak, don’t socialize, can’t go to the bathroom by themselves all existed in our public high schools and elementary schools in the ’80s but only today have gotten a proper diagnosis. It’s incomprehensible.
They’re saying milder cases and Asperger’s syndrome were missed; they weren’t included, and now they’re on this spectrum. If you add all that up, this accounts for most of the variation.
It’s very hard for people to wrap their head around the kind of numbers we’re talking about. Twentyfold increases are not something we intuitively understand. And again, it’s the difference between, did they miss 97 percent of the cases or not? We say that’s impossible, and you have health officials who try to tell the public that it’s possible. And it’s the issue from which everything else follows.
Most public health authorities accept the increase in prevalence because you used the data from CDC, right?
They’ll accept today’s prevalence rate, absolutely, 1 in 110. CDC just published it.
So they’re able to generate honest data in some areas?
Well, that’s your inference. Do I think the number might actually be a lot higher? Yeah, because the 1-in-110 number is five years old.
This is the pattern which is shared over the world, so the highest figures are now in England and Japan.
Nope. Japan — that’s news to me.
If you have a theory of an environmental agent, what could that be that people around the world are exposed to?
In developed countries, which is where the prevalence rates are much higher, vaccines, cell phones, Starbucks coffee, the Internet — what’s grown dramatically during the same time period that the autism rate has gone up dramatically? That’s what I would be looking for.
If you were the head of CDC, what are three things you would do?
If I were head of CDC, I would commission a study of vaccinated versus unvaccinated children and see what the difference in neurological outcome is.
How would you do that?
I would find the populations throughout the country who by choice do not vaccinate their children. That would remove my ethical issue around not vaccinating a child since the parent had already made that decision for them. …
You realize that wouldn’t be a valid study because it would be a biased sample, being there might be something different about the people who chose not to vaccinate from the people who do.
Yeah, and it would get me on the road to understanding truth. So, great example, let’s say that there was bias because parents who didn’t vaccinate their kids also only fed them organic food. I would make sure that we were as thorough as possible in looking at possible other attributes that could explain this, because I would be deeply curious to try to find it. Since I haven’t yet found any cause, I would be deeply curious to try and find a cause and see if there was one.
In a study, the claim was made that people who went for vaccinations were healthier than the people who didn’t. They were measuring ”healthy user effect,” a confounder. You would have plenty of confounders in the study design that you’ve proposed.
As do many other studies, and that’s why science is an evolving truth rather than a singular truth by study. And the second study that I would commission would be an animal model, of animals with zero vaccines and animals vaccinated on our schedule and see if there was a difference in health outcomes or not. So that would be the second way I would go about it.
There is no animal model for autism.
There’s certainly animal models for neurological disorders that are clearly evident in the way the animals behave, can be measured through autopsies and what’s happened to the brain. So we’d have a much more complete understanding as to whether or not the vaccine was causing any kind of neurological disorder.
Would you stop insisting on the vaccine schedule?
I would immediately revert to the lowest number of vaccines given in a first-world country. I think the competing countries for that honor go to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, who give somewhere between 13 and 15 vaccines to their kids, whereas we give 36. So the first thing I would do is revert to the schedules of another first-world country. Then I would suspend all vaccines until a child reached their 6-month birthday.
In Denmark they still have rising autism rates, so how would you justify that? Why don’t you just get rid of vaccines?
I think that vaccines have risks and benefits, and when you’re talking about the difference between a polio vaccine and a flu vaccine, you’re talking about the difference between something that can truly save a life and something that I think is useless. And it’s just not reasonable to group all vaccines —
Which ones are useless?
The flu [vaccine] has never been proven to even work among kids. It’s often a dice roll as to whether or not they even get the right virus for the shot. Many countries don’t mandate flu vaccines for that very reason. …
I think some vaccines are far more important than others, and I wouldn’t — if I was running the CDC — I wouldn’t pull the vaccine program, but I’d be a hell of a lot more careful. I’d give far fewer shots, and I’d give them in a much more careful way. I’d put rules in place, like you can’t vaccinate a child while they’re on antibiotics. You can’t vaccinate a child who is either ill or has recently been ill. You can’t give more than one vaccine for appointments. I would exercise much more caution in how we administer the schedule to try to reduce the likelihood of an adverse event.
What makes you think you know better than all these scientists?
I just think the scientists who really stand at the front of this debate to contest our community are liars. I think they say things that are lies. I think they stand up there and say that it’s been proven that vaccines don’t cause autism. If they were parsing their words carefully and really being accurate relative to the science that has been done, I would trust them a lot more than I do. The minute something like that comes out of their mouth, I view them as partisan liars who don’t have our kids’ best interest at heart.
The only thing business has given me is the chance to detect lies and to see people clearly for what they are. I understand numbers very well. I’m perfectly capable of reading a scientific study and knowing what questions were asked and how the data was run and how it was analyzed.
There are some scientists — they’re few and far between on the other side — who tell the truth about what has and hasn’t been studied. But most use hyperbole and fear to try and get this issue to go away, and it’s just not going away, because I’m the guy who has to take the phone calls every day from the new parent who just watched their kid regress.
They say that by spilling out and scaring people who don’t have children with autism, you’ve jeopardized the public health.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, OK? Our vaccine schedule is bloated. It’s too large. It’s too dangerous. It’s the largest in the world by a meaningful factor. It’s double the size of the average other Western country in terms of the number of vaccines we give. They’ve overdone it.
Should we be so surprised that the pharmaceutical companies continue to develop vaccines when we immunize them from any kind of litigation? When we mandate the vaccines for our children, they’re going to keep going till somebody stops them.
Do you think you can stop them?
I know we can. …
Your mission seems to [be to] shut down the show and not be just a watchdog.
I don’t think that you could advocate as aggressively as we do for parents to change their behavior now and gain credibility as a nonpartisan group pursuing the science. I think that it takes different organizations.
We’ve chosen to communicate directly with the parents, all other things be damned, to try and save as many kids as we can. And there are other organizations in terrific positions to be much more in the middle, to be much more like a Switzerland in terms of being trusted by both sides, who will hopefully arbitrate at the end. We’re not going to be the arbiters of this debate. We’re going to be the instigators of its conclusion, and others will be left to clean up the mess and arbitrate. That’s how we want it.
What’s wrong with the analogy, we don’t know what causes autism and we go get treatments like chelation or hyperbaric oxygen?
There’s nothing wrong with that analogy, except that we could know so much more than we do right now. We are 100 times more sophisticated medically than we were seven years ago when that analogy took place. We can look inside the bodies of the children who have regressed and try and figure out what’s going on with them. So the science that would help us get so much further down this path is being muted because of the implications of that science. It’s always true that when a new and, in this case, extremely devastating condition comes along that parents or those affected are going to try anything to help their kids. I welcome further and further clarity, but I scrutinize heavily what has and hasn’t been done. There’s so much we don’t know that we have the capability to know very easily if that science could be done.
If you want to get the public health authorities to study autism, is the right way to go about it attacking their vaccines?
I think the chances of the public health authorities committing suicide on the autism issue are zero, so I don’t hold out one shred of hope.
What do you mean?
Self-implication by federal health authorities will never happen. I give the chances that the CDC or the NIH leads us out of this epidemic to be 0.0 percent. It will take private organizations with real money to produce enough evidence that they’ll have to break at that point. But I don’t waste a shred of my time thinking about public health officials helping my kid or the kids on this issue, because I don’t believe for a moment it will happen.
But what if autism has nothing to do with vaccines?
Then I’m going to have to eat a lot of crow.
Haven’t you missed the chance to get the research going in another direction? Aren’t you wasting time in the case?
I’ve personally fielded thousands of phone calls from parents. I’ve personally reviewed case studies of what vaccines can do to kids and to kids’ brains when they are either immunologically compromised or metabolically compromised. I view the chances that I’m wrong about what’s being done to our kids to be remote, and so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about other avenues. I do think you can have autism without having been vaccinated, but I think the likelihood of that is dramatically lower.
Walk us backward from the recovery process.
You know, the first truth is that kids recover from autism. Even that is actually controversial, and people will make all kinds of claims as to why they recovered. But the parents know the truth.
When we think about recovery from autism, we need to start with an understanding of what actually happened to the child. That’s where understanding causation is so critical. If you don’t know what happened, you don’t have a roadmap for how to treat the child. And maybe it’s just coincidence, but it seems that when we treat autism as a vaccine injury and we start doing things like antiviral therapy, removing heavy metals, addressing the gut that we know can be damaged through vaccination, the child recovers and gets better. So not only is the theory based on parental reports of what happens to their kid after the appointment, but it’s a theory that is bolstered by using that vaccine injury as a roadmap for treatment that appears to be working.
What is the responsibility for presenting accurate information and not just convincing information by your organization?
It’s been interesting in this debate that the media has done a good job of portraying this as a battle between parents and the science. It’s a very imposing battle. It makes it sound like one side has high credibility and one side is desperate and has none. The truth is far more gray. Our community — and I’m just a layperson member of it — takes our cues from doctors and scientists who have done real research. It’s not like there’s an absence of research that starts to demonstrate a clear correlation of causality on vaccines and their link to autism. If you go to our Web site, we have pages and pages of published research that people can pull up and read for themselves. So we do feel a responsibility to be true to the science and what doctors are telling us, but where we’re different is that we also feel a responsibility to encourage people to amend behavior now with their kids to try and have a different outcome.
Is this a fundamental change that groups like yours are going up against CDC as a democratization of knowledge in the world?
Absolutely. I think that those sources of power that historically have basically gotten the population to buy in — never 100 percent but much nearer to it — today are under assault. And I would argue — perhaps this sounds too noble or optimistic — but truth always prevails. You can always win when you’ve got truth on your side. They don’t have any truth to work with here. That makes it very tough to get the dike plugged for too long.
That’s a pretty wild statement.
When they’re standing up, they’re saying, ”Vaccines don’t cause autism, and the rate of autism hasn’t actually grown.” I would argue that those are two wildly false statements. So if that’s what they’re working with, then they literally have no truth on their side.
What is [Jenny] McCarthy’s “mother warrior”?
I think one of the things that’s interesting about autism that makes it distinctive from other childhood diseases and conditions is that you don’t see a parent community with other childhood diseases who so dramatically points their finger at vaccines or public health officials as blame for their children’s condition. So the first question is, why? Are we just uniquely crazy and go after it for our own strange reasons, or did we actually see something happen to our kids that a parent whose child has, God forbid, cancer or some other disease didn’t have that same experience with? From the get-go we’ve been armed with this information. We’ve been armed with what we bore witness to, which has made us very angry, very militant, very combative.
So you have these mother warriors who — all their protective instinct is channeled into fixing their child, and at the same time it is the instinct of any mother to try and protect other children from the same fate. So what becomes out of that is this very strong, powerful community of true fighters who are never going to give up on this. We are so convinced we’re right, and that may be scary to some people, but the truth is far scarier.
Do you think your son would have gotten autism anyway?
No, because I bore such witness to his decline, and I’ve gone back through it with the videotape side by side with the vaccine appointments and the antibiotics and everything else. I mean, he gets [diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or DTP vaccine,] at 2 months, and [in] two days he develops eczema, and his sleep stops at that point. You know, he comes back from an appointment, and we both note in the pediatric record that he’s extremely lethargic, and yet the lethargy never seems to dissolve. There’s such a clear cause and effect of decline [in] my son interrelated with his appointments and things that were done at those appointments that I feel like I have a really good handle. …
My strong personal feeling is that if the pediatric practices of the actual pediatrician who we used for our son were very different, then I wouldn’t have a son with autism today. And I actually believe that pediatricians deserve the ultimate blame for the autism epidemic because they are choosing to do things in their pediatric practices that are endangering our kids, and those who do things very differently in the pediatric world — and this is all anecdotal; I’ll be the first to concede it — appear to have much lower rates of autism within their practice.
Are you talking about spreading out the schedule?
I’m talking about many practices within the United States, pediatricians that I think are very dangerous to our kids. So those would include giving multiple vaccines at appointments, vaccinating on the first day of life, prescribing antibiotics at the first sign of ear infections when there are many other ways to deal with it, encouraging the use of Tylenol immediately after vaccination. These are things that if you actually listed them out to pediatricians in certain other countries, they’d be horrified to hear — and actually many of them know — that that’s how we do things here in the U.S. I think we endanger our kids from very early on with the aggressive practices that the AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics] and many, but not all, U.S. pediatricians endorse, and I think ultimately the pediatricians are responsible for what’s going on with our kids.
You take two children, and one gets six vaccines over a six-month period and no rounds of antibiotics and they never use Tylenol, and the other child gets six vaccines in one day while they’re sick, while they’re on antibiotics, with Tylenol for five nights afterward. I genuinely believe the health outcome of those two kids will be very different based on how they were treated. It’s no different than if a doctor told you to take an aspirin a day for three months but you decided to take all 90 on the last day. Would you have a different outcome?
This is your hypothesis?
This is my hypothesis, verified through conversations with dozens of pediatricians on the ground every day, and I’ll be the first to concede that I can’t cite a published report that supports it. …
Is there any research under way that you like that’s going on?
It’s interesting to trace the research that’s actually being done by ”our side,” because it’s all had to come through private funding. But we are actually, as we speak, having research done that does the very things I talked to you about: studying the unvaccinated populations, vaccinating a group of monkeys who get the whole vaccine schedule and those who don’t, and I think the outcomes of those studies will be extremely illuminating. …
Something’s got to explain where all these kids came from. I think we’ve figured it out, but I’d be the first to admit if the science was real and showed unequivocally that there was no correlation that we damn well better move on to the right answer. …
What if you’re wrong, and what if you’re right?
If we’re right, this makes the tobacco mess look like a rounding error — not only the scale of destruction, but you have children involved with lifelong conditions that require care. So not only do the major pharmaceutical companies take an enormous and potentially fatal hit, but you have the costs associated with treating an entire generation of children, many of whose parents can’t treat them past a certain age, and you have the careers that will be destroyed across the board from the pharmaceutical companies themselves to the entire leadership of the AAP to many pediatricians who spoke up to the entire public health establishment at both CDC and NIH. The scale of destruction, if we’re actually right, is so enormous I think it helps people understand why the debate is so fierce, why it’s taking so long and why they’re fighting so hard.
If you’re wrong, there is a fallout, too?
If we’re wrong, we put the fear of God in parents, and it was misplaced.