Monday, May 23, 2005

Kirby challenges CDC on autism data

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:45 AM |  

Although much criticism has been leveled at the Huffington Post by established members of the blogosphere, that shouldn’t negate the possibility that some very good pieces might be posted there. Case in point is a piece today by David Kirby, author of “"Evidence of Harm -- Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic, A Medical Controversy."In the piece entitled “Memo to the CDC: We’re not Getting our Money’s Worth,” Kirby writes --

Can mercury in vaccines cause autism in children? This hotly disputed question will only burn brighter as more biological evidence surfaces to suggest a link. But a definitive answer might take years. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sitting on a multi-million-dollar database – paid for by you and me – that could probably resolve this contretemps within weeks.

They have the data. We paid for the data. Yet we cannot see the data. The information is kept under lock and key within the massive health agency -- as jealously guarded as nuclear secrets.

The CDC tells us that they have looked at the data exhaustively and found “no evidence of harm.” They implied that their own scientists are perfectly capable of analyzing the data, thank you very much, and outside researchers cannot be trusted to independently verify their analyses, nor to protect the confidentiality of patients whose numbers they would be crunching.
Kirby notes that only two researchers, Mark and David Geier, have managed to gain access to the raw CDC data. Despite roadblocks thrown their way by CDC officials, the Geirs found highly elevated risks for autism among children the higher their exposure to mercury through vaccinations they received. This stands in direct contradiction to a four-year study by the CDC of the data.

The CDC study originally showed highly elevated, statistically significant increased risks for autism and other disorders among the kids receiving the most mercury. After four years and five reiterations, that finding was reduced to statistical insignificance. As Kirby notes --

So we now have two extremely different interpretations of the same data. It is way past time that the CDC allow a third team – outside researchers completely acceptable to all parties involved in this dispute – into the database to conduct any analyses they see fit. (Patients names are removed from the data, making it exceedingly hard for researchers to identify anyone, even if they desired, which is extremely unlikely in itself).
Here’s where parents, researchers and journalists calling for the CDC to open the data base run into a perception problem; their critics, rather than open data that they claim shows "no evidence of harm" to children from mercury in vaccines, resort to labeling the parents and others as “conspiracy theorists." Never, however, do they address basic questions like those Kirby goes on to propose --

If that is true, then why are they so reluctant to let someone else in to verify this claim? I cannot answer that question, because the CDC is not talking to me. But I do know that people with nothing to hide are unencumbered by doubts of what others will find if they rifle through their closet.

If the data can prove that injecting a known neurotoxin into infants at levels up to 125 times over federal safety limits was a safe and sane thing to do, then why isn’t the CDC having an open house for all researchers worth their salt to come on down and have a look-see for themselves?
He goes on to note --

Without access to the raw data, parents who support the thimerosal theory – and their allies in Congress, academia and law – are falling back on other recent studies that show a possible link between mercury and autism. They may not have the epidemiology on their side, yet, but the mounting evidence emerging from the fields of biology and toxicology is becoming too urgent to ignore.


David Kirby will be making two appearances in Minneapolis on Wednesday, May 25.

From 2 - 4 p.m. he will presenting an overview of the thimerosal, mercury, autism controversy at Lake Harriet Spiritual Community Church, 4401 Upton Avenue South, Minneapolis. The presentation is open to the public; donation of $8.00 at the door.

At 7:30 Kirby will do a book signing and discussion at Bound to be Read, 870 Grand Avenue in St. Paul

UPDATE: The following letter was posted on the Yahoo Evidence of Harm discussion group.

Dear Tim,

In response to your question, we are still having significant trouble with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) allowing us access to the VSD database.

As it turns-out, the National Immunization Program (NIP), the group that created the VSD database, is no longer in charge of allowing external researchers to access the VSD database, and has turned-over its authority to grant access to external researchers to see the VSD database to the Research Data Center (RDC) of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The RDC has become the new road block to us being able to see a VSD database assembled that meets our vaccine safety proposal specifications. The RDC has engaged in a process of delaying our appropriate access to the VSD database by requiring numerous further clarifications/consultations, and as of today, still have not assemble a VSD dataset that reflects the requests we made for access to data in the VSD in our original proposals to analyze the VSD database that was approved by the CDC in December 2002.

In addition, they have restricted access to important portions of the VSD database, such as the data post-2000 (i.e. this is the data of most interest in the VSD database regarding the neurodevelopmental disorder epidemic, because thimerosal was begun to be phased-out of some childhood vaccines by the end of 1999).

All of the difficulties are occurring despite the fact, as you said, that in February 2005, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report was issued regarding the CDC's VSD research activities and difficulties experienced by external researchers attempting to access the VSD database, which stated that the CDC needed to maintain, and even help to facilitate, open access by external researchers to the VSD database.

Furthermore, regarding the February 2005 IOM, a day after this report was issued the NIP of the CDC was fired, meaning that the Immunization Safety Branch (ISB) of the CDC, which had been in charge of vaccine safety for many years was removed from the NIP and placed under Dr. Julie Gerberding (Director of the CDC)'s personal control, and the ISB former Chief, Dr. Robert Chen was removed, and a new Chief was installed to head the ISB (see New York Times article 25 February 2005 “Health Agency Splits Program”).

We hope that this brief commentary is useful.

Dr. Mark Geier
David Geier