A former biochemistry professor from the University of Kentucky, a local Lake Delton physician and a doctor from a Chicago practice convened this month to debate the health effects of vaccines, including the recent H1N1 vaccine, at a conference at Kalahari Resort.
Concerns raised during the conference included whether vaccines cause autism or are related to the nation's relatively high infant death rate and whether it should be a personal choice to decide whether a vaccine should be injected into one's body.
Panelists were Dr. Maureen Murphy of the Lake Delton Integrative Clinic, Dr. Boyd Haley, professor emeritus of chemistry and biochemistry and researcher at the University of Kentucky and Mayer Eisenstein, a doctor at Home First Health Services in a Chicago suburb.
The conference was held by a Baraboo non-profit, Autism-There is Hope. The group organized the 4D Conference on May 8 to 9 to facilitate dialogue on illnesses like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Alzheimer's, asthma and arthritis and whether treatments doctors recommend work.
Panelists answered whether they vaccinated pregnant women against the H1N1 flu and why or why not.
Murphy said she did recommend the vaccine for her pregnant patients and children, too. The H1N1 flu posed serious health risks for pregnant women that she outlined in a slide presentation.
From April to October 2009 there were 788 cases of the H1N1 flu in pregnant women, 115 were admitted to an intensive care unit and 30 died. Murphy said that was a 5 percent death rate.
She said people wonder why a pregnancy places a woman at greater risk, and she gave three reasons: a pregnant woman has a " ‘slowed' immune system and is not as reactive; as the baby grows, chest anatomy changes and respiratory volume decreases; and it becomes more difficult to get airflow into the lungs if one gets pneumonia from the flu; increased fluid makes getting antibiotics, etc to the cells more challenging."
Murphy said she believes the vaccine is the best choice.
"We have antiviral medication, but that's shown to be no where near as effective as the vaccine," she said.
Her views were challenged. Eisenstein doesn't recommend vaccinations, and he didn't change his policy for the H1N1 flu vaccine. He criticized the vaccination program for providing vaccines with the toxin, thimerosol, said the vaccine wasn't labeled to be given to pregnant women and thinks it's more effective and safer to increase intake of Vitamin D to combat the flu.
"I think we have to really reevaluate this whole program. Obviously 200 million people in this country rejected it, and I'm very curious to find out why people rejected it," Eisenstein said.
Eisenstein answered a question on why there is little or no autism among those not vaccinated, but he said he could only speak for his own patients. About 40,000 children seen by Home First Health Services don't receive vaccines and there is "virtually" no autism among them, he said.
"I think there is a direct link between autism and vaccines," Eisenstein said.
He said public opinion is shifting on vaccines, more and more parents are questioning them.
"The bottom line is all vaccines cause neurological damage," he said.
Murphy said any link between vaccines and autism should be disproved by the work of Anders Hviid, an epidemiologist in Denmark. Hviid studied data of 500,000 children and found no link between MMR and an increased rate of autism or between mercury, or thimerosol, and autism, she said.
She said the Centers for Disease Control, Institute for Medicine and Academy of Pediatrics all reject any correlation between vaccines and autism.
Haley, who said he's not necessarily against vaccines but wants to ensure they are done safely, wasn't convinced that is the case. For one, he criticized the study because Denmark has a low number of autism cases in its population, and he likened the effort to something like studying malaria caused by mosquitoes in the Alaskan population.
Haley thinks the thimerosal in mandated vaccines administered to newborns is the cause of a spike in autism in the U.S.
Haley rejects the notion that autism is caused by genetics. Instead, the disorder may be caused by a "genetic susceptibility to an environmental toxicant."
He argues children would have had to have been exposed to the toxic substance at about the same time in all 50 states, exposure had to happen before 2 years of age which rules out drugs and dietary chemicals, the toxicant has to affect boys more than girls and mercury is known for this.
Also according to his presentation, "Any suggested toxicant has to explain the multiple cellular and biochemical abnormalities observed clinically in autistics. Only mercury can do this."
Individuals' rights were examined by the panelists when the question was raised whether people should have the freedom to decide whether to get vaccinated.
Murphy said not getting vaccinated if a person has no underlying condition is a health risk to others.
If an unimmunized person gets a disease they threaten other unimmunized children, she said. As it is now, even in a totally immunized population a small percentage will remain vulnerable to disease. People with underlying conditions who could not take a vaccine and who rely on herd immunity - herd immunity being the concept that most in a population are vaccinated - would be harmed from contracting a disease from an unvaccinated person. The immunized are harmed by the cost of medical care for those who choose not to immunize and then get a disease that was preventable with a vaccine.
"Not to immunize is less risky due to herd immunity. So those of us in this conference who choose not to, it's not probably going to be harmful because we have herd immunity," she said.
Haley said something is wrong when the U.S. does the most infant vaccinations and has about the 39th highest infant death rate out of countries ranked.