Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Vaccine developer Dr. Maurice Hilleman dies --
Did he do a "disservice" to the public?

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:05 PM |  

Having just posted that I don’t hold a lot of stock in conspiracy theories, it’s a little awkward to post one. Nonetheless, consider this preemptive inoculation against those who would use the undeniable benefits provided by the National Immunization Program to make the logically false argument that therefore vaccinations cannot cause harm.

The Pioneer Press today notes the passing of Dr. Maurice Hilleman, a world-renowned vaccine developer, “who may have saved more lives than any other scientist of the 20th century.”

Knowing the critic's predilection for doing scientific research on the pages of the Pioneer Press, it would not surprise me if the justifiably flattering eulogy to Dr. Hilleman were used to re-sanctify the national vaccination program and discredit questions about the safety of mercury-based thimerosal used as a vaccine preservative.

Indeed, the world owes Dr. Hilleman its gratitude.

In a remarkably productive career, Hilleman and his team created more than 40 human and animal vaccines, including those for measles, mumps, chickenpox, rubella, hepatitis A and B and meningitis.

His team at Merck & Co. developed eight of the 14 vaccines that are now routinely given to young children in the United States, effectively banishing many of the most disabling and deadly diseases of childhood in the United States and throughout the world.

Hilleman was also the first to identify how the influenza virus mutates and nearly single-handedly spearheaded creation of the vaccine that prevented the Asian flu outbreak of 1957 from becoming a repeat of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed 20 million people worldwide.

He played key roles in the discovery of the cold-producing adenoviruses, the hepatitis viruses and the cancer-causing virus SV-40, among others. He was also the first to produce a vaccine against a virally-induced cancer.

"Hilleman is one of the true giants of science, medicine and public health in the 20th century," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "One can say without hyperbole that Maurice has changed the world."

In his later life, Hilleman was an adviser to the World Health Organization, the U.S. National Vaccine Program and other groups, traveling throughout the world to promote vaccination.

He never won a Nobel Prize for his achievements because those awards are designed to honor basic research, not practical applications, but Hilleman received a host of other awards, including the 1988 National Medal of Science, the U.S.'s highest honor, awarded by President Reagan.
Dr. Hilleman’s career represents scientific research at its best. His life demonstrates that a great mind can overcome great challenges for the benefit of all mankind. Unfortunately, sometimes a great mind is no match for small minds with power.

According to published reports (including a Los Angeles Times piece by Myron Levin), in 1991 Dr. Hilleman, in a consulting role, warned Merck executives that children administered vaccinations on the recommended schedule received mercury exposure 87 times the government safety standard (400 times the current safety level).
"When viewed in this way, the mercury load appears rather large," he wrote. . . .“It appears essentially impossible, based on current information, to ascertain whether thimerosal in vaccines constitutes or does not constitute a significant addition to the normal daily input of mercury from diverse sources” . . . .“It is reasonable to conclude" that it should be eliminated where possible, he said, "especially where use in infants and young children is anticipated."
Levin writes --
The [seven-page] memo was prepared at a time when U.S. health authorities were aggressively expanding their immunization schedule by adding five new shots for children in their first six months. Many of these shots, as well as some previously included on the vaccine schedule, contained thimerosal, an antibacterial compound that is nearly 50% ethyl mercury, a neurotoxin.

In the U.S., however, thimerosal continued to be added throughout the '90s to a number of widely used pediatric vaccines for hepatitis B, bacterial meningitis, diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.

It was added to multi-dose vials of vaccine to prevent contamination from repeated insertion of needles to extract the medicine. It was not needed in single-dose vials, but most doctors and clinics preferred to order vaccine in multi-dose containers because of the lower cost and easier storage.

The Hilleman memo said that unlike regulators in Sweden and some other countries, "the U.S. Food and Drug Administration … does not have this concern for thimerosal."

A turning point came in 1997 when Congress passed a bill ordering an FDA review of mercury ingredients in food and drugs.

Completed in 1999, the review revealed the high level of mercury exposure from pediatric vaccines and raised a furor. In e-mails later released at a congressional hearing, an FDA official said health authorities could be criticized for "being 'asleep at the switch' for decades by allowing a potentially hazardous compound to remain in many childhood vaccines, and not forcing manufacturers to exclude it from new products."

It would not have taken "rocket science" to add up the amount of exposure as the prescribed number of shots was increasing, one of the e-mails said.
Dr. Hilleman’s memo was written to the president of Merck's vaccine division., Dr. Gordon Douglas, then head of Merck's vaccine division and now a consultant for the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health.

It was Dr. Douglas who said that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee charged with studying the plausibility of a link between vaccinations and autism was hired by the CDC to “rule out the proposed links.”
Douglas stated in a Princeton University lecture summary that, “Four current studies are taking place at the CDC in collaboration with the NIH to rule out the proposed links between immunizations and autism, immunizations and possible developmental regression, inflammatory bowel disease and the MMR vaccine, and thimerosal and the risk of autism. In order to undo the harmful effects of research claiming to link the MMR vaccine to an elevated risk of autism, we need to conduct and publicise additional studies, strengthen the program to assure parents of MMR's safety, and further educate pediatricians and primary care physicians.”
The IOM reports are part of the “overwhelming body of scientific evidence” cited by Dr. Hull in ruling out any connection between childhood vaccinations and autism.

Dr. Hull made the mistake once of using the Pioneer Press for scientific research. Hopefully he won’t use the Pioneer Press exploit Dr. Hilleman’s passing. I can't feel too bad that the medical establishment dismisses what I have to say -- they didn't even listen to a man like Dr. Hilleman. I guess they thought his 1991 memo was a "disservice"?