At a House Health and Human Services Policy Committee hearing on Wednesday for Rochester Representative Kim Norton's HF181, which would require insurance companies to cover treatments for autism spectrum disorder, Representative Mary Franson repeated discredited theories linking autism and childhood vaccines, noting that she no longer had her own child vaccinated.
Committee chair Tina Liebling quickly brought the hearing back to the subject of the bill, which will help families struggling to pay for expensive but promising treatments. For a good introduction to the issue, Bluestem recommends City Pages' former staff writer Nick Pinto's feature article, Intensive Early Intervention Behavioral Therapy could cure autism and CP's Olivia LaVecchia's more recent post, Debate over autism coverage continues as mom sues providers for discrimination.
Near the end of the hearing, Franson says:
Representative Norton, thank you for bringing this bill forward. As a mother of three children, I am very thankful than none of my children have had to experience autism, or my family hasn't had to go through that experience.
But also, I'm one of those parents that no longer vaccines either because of the fear that I have had talking to other parents that have experienced their child becoming --experiencing autism after what they found, what they believed correlated with the vaccinations.
But I'm just curious: you know we can talk about insuring and that's great, that's hope for the families that are experiencing autism now, but what I'm really interested is ending autism and so that autism is a thing of the past.
And with my own research online, mercury is one of those things, it's a poison, it's a neurological poison here that affects developing babies in the womb, it affects small children. . . California, Oregon and Minnesota are the three states that have the highest incidences of autism. Could you or do you know of any information that you may be able to share with us on what your beliefs are or theories are from the task force on what is being done to hopefully end this?
At this point, Tina Liebling steps as chair:
Representative Franson, this is really off-topic. The bill is not about the origins of autism, so I thinkI'm just going to go on to the next person. I think there will be other opportunities to have this kind of discussion, but today in not the day. And as I said, we're going to reconvene at four in the basement. We can talk about the bill for as long as members want, into the night. . .
Here's the clip:
Representative Liebling had more patience with Franson than people who read MinnPost staffer James Nord's tweet:
Rep. Mary Franson says she's stopped vaccinating her children.— James Nord (@Jvnord) January 30, 2013
@jvnord If I had kids, I would make sure they didn't attend the same school as hers......— Kate Brickman (@katebrickman) January 30, 2013
@jvnord Has someone contacted the child protection authorities?— Adam Miller (@adammiller67) January 30, 2013
@jvnord Yay Jenny McCarthy!Congrats for ruining society!— Andy York (@yorka1982) January 30, 2013
@jvnord More cvg planned? Any MD or RN from a peds ICU could tell you what a reckless decision this is; hope the rep reverses her decision.— Allison Sandve (@AllisonSandve) January 31, 2013
The anxious tweeps were alarmed because the theory that links vaccination and autism has been discredited, although demogoguing on the issue persists--and it's not just Hollywood mom Jenny McCarthy spreading this malarky, as Forbes' Steven Salzberg noted in Congress Holds An Anti-Vaccination Hearing.
Salzberg went beyond the Washington hearing, and reviewed the evidence against the anti-vaxers:
. . . Dozens of studies, involving hundreds of thousands of children, have found the same thing: there is no link whatsoever between thimerosal and autism, or between vaccines and autism. . . .
. . . multiple studies, looking carefully and objectively at the data, indicate that all or nearly all of the rise in autism cases is due to increasing diagnoses, which in turn is due to multiple factors: a dramatically broading of the definition of autism in the early 1990s, a greater awareness of the condition, and a greater willingness of doctors and parents to accept the diagnosis. For an objective summary of the evidence, see the articles by neurologist Steven Novella here and here, which summarize a dozen epidemiological studies. The weight of the evidence shows that the actual incidence of autism is either stable or possibly rising very slowly. There is no “autism epidemic.” . . .
. . .over the past decade, the anti-vaccine movement has successfully convinced millions of parents to leave their kids unvaccinated, and the result has been serious outbreaks of whooping cough, haemophilus, measles, chicken pox, and mumps around the U.S. and Europe.
Salzberg has more elsewhere on the bogus research by Andrew Wakefield that spawned the fears that Franson now shares from her reading of online sources. At the end of December, the Guardian reported in Struck off MMR doctor handed award for 'lifetime achievement in quackery':
Andrew Wakefield, the doctor struck off the medical register for his discredited research that claimed to find a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, can add another honour to his list this Christmas: the inaugural Golden Duck award for lifetime achievement in quackery, set up by the science writer Simon Singh. . . .
In 1998, Wakefield was the lead author of a paper in the Lancet medical journal that suggested a link between the measles virus and inflammatory bowel disease. The paper also suggested the virus played a role in the development of autism. Wakefield later said that his research led him to believe that, instead of the MMR triple vaccine, children should be given a series of single vaccines. His statements led to alarm around the world, a drop in the rate of MMR vaccination and, in the UK, a rise in cases of measles cases.
In 2010, the Lancet formally retracted Wakefield's paper and he was struck off the medical register after being found guilty of serious professional misconduct. Subsequent studies have found no credible link between MMR and either autism or Crohn's disease.
Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at Bristol University, said that Wakefield's legacy was "many, many thousands of unimmunised children born over the last 15 years whose parents decided MMR was too risky at the time and subsequently have forgotten all about it. Measles rates are up and they will only decline when this accumulation of susceptibles has either had the vaccine or the disease."
Minnesota has been struck by an outbreak of whooping cough in the past year, TC Daily Planet reported in Keeping Minnesota kids healthy: Lagging immunization rates and a whooping cough epidemic. In addition to those going without immunization, the current version of the whooping cough vaccine requires a booster shoot after a few years to stay effective.
The state is ranked 44th in immunization rates and parents who sincerely believe that vaccination is wrong can opt out of vaccinating their school-aged children, as Franson has done.
Bluestem believes that Franson sincerely thinks that she has done the right thing by her children. Nonetheless, her skills at evaluating medical claims are unfortunate and we side with another friend, mother of beautiful boy who was nonetheless very tiny at birth. His mother fretted during the epidemic, when her son was too young for his shots, that foolish theories might cause the wee baby to catch the disease.
That he was put at risk because of anti-science fanaticism promoted by nitwits like Jenny McCarthy is unacceptable--and Minnesota House committees are no place for repeating this foolishness.
Photo: Representative Mary Franson.
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