Violinist Schools Us on Vaccines (Hilarity Ensues)

Have I told you that Pedro, my partner, (not her real name) is a car mechanic? Yeah, and that makes me an expert in fixing cars. Why, I’m the best car-fixer there ever was, all because of Pedro.

If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

So why is it that Alison Peters Fujito is schooling us about vaccines? She’s a violinist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and there is nothing remotely associated with vaccines that she has studied, according to her page on the Orchestra’s site. The only thing I can think of is that her husband is a professor of chemistry at LaRoche College.

So what does Alison Peters Fujito say about vaccines? She wrote an “editorial” at the website of one Sharyl Attkisson, titled “Vaccine-autism link: A rebuttal to the “There is no debate” narrative.” First, now that you know that Alison Peters Fujito is a violinist, you must next know who Sharyl Attkisson is as well.

Sharyl fancies herself a journalist, much like I fancy myself an airplane pilot because I have dozens of hours of flight experience. Sharyl Attkisson once thought that her computer had been hacked by the Obama Administration, posting a video of the alleged hacking. Numerous tech blogs were able reproduce the effect she was showing and explained that it was just a stuck delete key on her keyboard. You shouldn’t be surprised that this and other conspiracy theory shenanigans got Sharyl Attkisson a little estranged from CBS. No worries, though, Sinclair Broadcasting gave her a syndicated show to push more conspiracy theories.

Like all good conspiracy nuts, Sharyl Attkisson seems to love the idea that vaccines cause autism. There is no evidence of this, of course. All the science points away from any kind of link between vaccines and autism. The more we epidemiologists, scientists, medical professionals and the like (but not violinists) look into it, we find even more evidence that such a link doesn’t exist. But that’s not enough for anti-vaccine conspiracy nuts. They need a link to exist, or they are nothing.

Such is the case with Alison Peters Fujito, it seems. She begins her editorial with a few sentences that reminded me more of Sharyl Attkisson than the person she is criticizing:

Some people are unable to see any perspective other than their own. It’s already disturbing when they insist, over and over, that opposing facts don’t exist, as though repetition can make unpleasant truths disappear. But when they resort to misdirection, deliberate pejoratives, and outright lies, there is more going on than just myopia.

It sounds spot on like this was going to be a takedown of Sharyl Attkisson. Instead, she’s trying to take down a medical doctor, vaccine expert and father of an autistic young woman:

This past week, in response to Sharyl Attkisson’s op-ed two days prior, vaccine developer Dr. Peter Hotez wrote an op-ed piece in The Hill, claiming “there is no debate” in a manner eerily reminiscent of “the Party is always right” from George Orwell’s 1984. The entire basis of Attkisson’s piece was the recent affidavit of Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, one of the country’s top pediatric neurologists, who served as the US government’s expert witness defending vaccines in the so-called “Vaccine Court.” In a stunning about-face, he testified that vaccines can cause autism in children with pre-existing mitochondrial dysfunction, and that he had communicated this to DOJ lawyers in 2007.

Ah, yes, Dr. Peter Hotez is a pharma shill because he’s worked on the development of vaccines. He is not to be trusted because of the decades of experience in vaccine science. To the conspiracy nuts, he probably doesn’t even have a daughter, let alone one who is autistic.

And that affidavit by Dr. Andrew Zimmerman? It was much ado about nothing. As Orac explains, Dr. Zimmerman himself has explained that his affidavit is being misinterpreted by “the media” (i.e. Sharyl Attkisson), and that he supports vaccination. The problem is that Dr. Zimmerman tied himself into a knot trying to push an idea that linked autism-like outcomes with mitochondrial dysfunction and mitochondrial dysfunction with infectious disease. The anti-vaccine loons took that and said, “Hey, if you can have mitochondrial dysfunction with an infection, then you surely must have it with vaccines… And if vaccines can cause mitochondrial dysfunction, they surely cause autism.”

Such are the leaps of the anti-vaccine groups. So Alison Peters Fujito continues:

Other neurologists have observed the same link. Zimmerman himself claims that there was a cover-up. Yet, Hotez never directly addressed Zimmerman’s affidavit, or mentioned mitochondrial dysfunction or its relationship to autism and vaccines.

Instead, he repeated his version of “the Party is always right,” trotted out links to vaccine industry “astroturf” blogs, and presented irrelevant and flawed studies (this one actually gave the same vaccine/thimerosal dosage to both cases and controls, while this one was shown to be in error, and this one is debunked here ), none of which address the possibility of mitochondrial dysfunction.

As a scientist, Hotez should know that there’s no such thing as a “study showing there’s no link” to anything. A study may fail to show a link, but that doesn’t mean there’s no link. Surely we learned this from the tobacco industry’s “studies.”

Dr. Hotez has written books about this. He’s published studies about this. The fact that Alison Peters Fujito is so angry about his links to blogs and “flawed studies” shows how narrow her view is, something that she criticized in her opening paragraph. The studies are flawed because, in the anti-vaccine view, all studies need to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children. That is, they want children to be unvaccinated and see if they die or not. (Spoiler alert: They die at higher rates than vaccinated children.)

Then, with what I assume was a straight look on her face, Alison Peters Fujito mentions “astroturf” blogs. This, as most anti-vaccine information comes from blogs by non-experts… By, say, violinists at orchestras who are married to chemistry professors. (“Astroturf blogs” are Sharyl Attkisson’s words, so I’m wondering if Alison Peters Fujito is sucking up to Sharyl Attkisson, or if Sharyl Attkisson spruced Alison’s blog post a little.)

This blog, for example, is astroturf to Sharyl Attkisson. She probably thinks I’m getting a ton of cash for writing this. (Fifty cents per word, actually… In Colombian pesos.)

Alison Peters Fujito continues:

Yet that’s exactly what Hotez did, claiming “clinical studies with over one million children enrolled, showing there’s no link between vaccines and autism,” [bolding mine] linking only a single, severely-flawed meta-analysis (with no children enrolled) of older studies that looked at either one ingredient (thimerosal) or one vaccine (MMR)

The conclusion of that meta-analysis is based in part on studies rejected by the Institute of Medicine as too flawed to be considered for their 2012 report on the vaccines/autism link. Regardless, none of those studies considered the possibility of mitochondrial dysfunction.

Despite Hotez’s reference to “at least 99 autism genes,” no specific genes are known to cause autism. In fact, the study he linked does not identify genes that cause autism, but merely notes some frequency of some de novo variants among some individuals with autism.

Dr. Hotez seems to forget that correlation does not equal causation.

I like how Alison Peters Fujito, violinist, has determined that studies cannot show no association but only fail to show an association. I giggle at the thought of her holding her violin and sitting in an epidemiology class, arguing that all the evidence in the world can only “fail to show an association.” That’s not how it works, Carol… I mean, Alison.

Epidemiological studies can be done in a way that you can say with confidence that one thing is not associated with the other, including causal association, not just correlation. These studies can be observational or experimental, and both types have been done to look at autism and vaccines.

We, scientists (not violinists), have looked at newborns and followed them through their childhood. We then look at the ones eventually diagnosed with autism and those who are deemed neurotypical. We then compare their vaccination status, which vaccines they’ve received, and whether or not there are confounding factors involved. Again, spoiler alert, there is no association between vaccines and autism.

We, scientists (not violinists), have looked at autistic children and neurotypical children and gone backwards through their medical histories. There are no differences in vaccination rates, controlling for other factors like having anti-vaccine parents. There’s just nothing different as far as vaccination is concerned between autistic children and neurotypical children, no matter what Sharyl Attkisson and Alison Peters Fujito want you to believe.

Alison Peters Fujito finishes her blog post (in case you thought it was a published piece of research, like the ones Dr. Hotez has actually written in peer-reviewed journals) with a misrepresentation of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:

The right to decline an unwanted medical intervention, free from coercion, is, in fact, codified in Article 6 (Consent) of UNESCO’s 2005 Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:

Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be express and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice. (bolding mine)

Please note section 3 of the same Article, which protects us all from the Orwellian principles Hotez seems to be espousing:

In no case should a collective community agreement or the consent of a community leader or other authority substitute for an individual’s informed consent.

We should all be troubled by scientists, doctors, or any industry insider so enraged by our reluctance to buy what they’re selling, they try to censor all conversation that disagrees with their sales pitch.

That’s not science, it’s not good medicine, and it’s deceptive.

What is deceptive is that Alison Peters Fujito is not giving you the full idea of what those passages mean. There is consent and there is assent. Consent comes into play if you’re an adult in full use of all your mental capabilities. Then you as an individual can make the choice of whether or not you want a medical procedure to be performed on you. You can weigh the risks and benefits to yourself.

But what if you’re a child? Can a newborn baby weight the risks of not vaccinating and understand that those risks far outweigh the risks of vaccinating? Of course not. It’s up to the parents to make that decision. Children need to assent to the better judgment of the adults caring for them. We, as a society, are also responsible for those children, and that is why the courts — and reasonable people — are in agreement that children can and should be removed from the care of irresponsible parents.

So, yes, you can say that you don’t want a vaccine for yourself, but you are mistaken if you decide that a child is “yours” (as in your property) and that you have the right to place that child in danger. You don’t, and no human rights declaration in the world would ever agree with you. In fact, children have a universal human right to be healthy, and that health comes with vaccination.

It’s not up for debate. Vaccines work. Vaccines save lives. The only people who don’t think so rely on their “instincts” and “feelings,” or on the misinformation shared by people like Sharyl Attkisson and Alison Peters Fujito. Absent vaccines, I think these two would find a way to argue that the Earth is flat, and that you have a right to ignore things disappearing over the horizon.

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2 thoughts on “Violinist Schools Us on Vaccines (Hilarity Ensues)

  1. I’m sure Ms. Fujito is mostly a nice, reasonable person, but as you’re pointing out, she’s speaking out of her area of knowledge, and trying to go against an expert.
    It’s especially galling that she uses “vaccine developer” as a way to dismiss Dr. Hotez, who works on vaccines for the poorest of the poor, vaccines that do not have realistic profit prospects behind them.

    It’s an inappropriate use of the shill gambit.

    Oh, and are “opposing facts” like “alternative facts”?

    • Well, “vaccine developer” is far more pejorative than the more common occupation of “vaccine researcher”.
      And yes, “opposing facts” are indeed “alternative facts”, which the sane part of the world understands to be blatant lies.
      Of course, I’m no great expert in such things, as EPA regulations expressly prohibit my use of a violin, due to the severity of hearing damage inflicted whenever I attempted to produce even a single note from that infernal instrument.

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