Over and over, I have seen media reports that claim, regarding the 1976 flu vaccine and Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS): “scientists never proved whether that link was real or coincidence”–as reported in Lauran Neergard’s Associated Press article Sept. 15 and again by her on September 27. Or by Maggie Fox (Reuters) on Sept. 17: “Guillain-Barre was never definitively linked with the vaccine, but many Americans have viewed immunizations with suspicion ever since.” The NYT’s Donald McNeil has now [9/27] gotten into the act, saying “Experts still disagree over whether the vaccine caused ]GBS] cases to increase that year.
(Since his and Neergard’s articles on 9/27 cite the same stats from CDC, I am afraid the disinfo probably has its origins there. Too bad. Director Tom Frieden has been very honest, but his agency has a history of dissembling for our own good. Hopefully he can elevate the culture of PR in Atlanta.)
UPDATE: Now the “experts” are being trotted out (in the BMJ) to recite the mantra as well:
Robert Dingwall, director of the University of Nottingham’s Institute for Science and Society, who was speaking at a press briefing on swine flu vaccination, said that people would be more likely to get Guillain-Barré syndrome as a result of flu itself than from the vaccine. He added that the compensation claims paid out in the US would be unlikely to succeed today. “In 1976 the science was less well developed, and in the framework of the American legal system there was considerable pressure to make some payment on the basis of a possible link. Thirty years on from that it looks as if that link probably doesn’t exist and that those compensation claims probably weren’t paid appropriately,” he said.
Mike Skinner, senior lecturer in virology at Imperial College in London, agreed, saying that all flu vaccines since 1976 have had an excellent safety record and that a link between Guillain-Barré syndrome and vaccination was “basically impossible at this stage to demonstrate.” [Excuse me; ten studies conducted in the late 1970s–early 1980s did prove the link. It does not need to be restudied now when many of those affected and their physicians are dead. One only needs to read the contemporaneous literature. However, these experts don’t seem to have done that.–Nass]
I find examples of rewriting history difficult to stomach. When they appear to result from a deliberate media campaign, the effect is beyond nauseating. Why is this particular mantra being repeated over and over?
Back in February 2008, before there was a swine flu pandemic, Dr. John Iskander, acting head of the CDC’s Immunization Safety Office, had this to say about the link:
“A proven association between the 1976-1977 swine influenza vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome halted that particular national vaccination campaign.”
His article was titled, Monitoring the safety of annual and pandemic influenza vaccines: lessons from the US experience, and it was published in Expert Review of Vaccines. Here is an excerpt:
Although a great deal of safety data has been accumulated, concerns remain regarding rare, serious adverse events following immunization. A proven association between the 1976-1977 swine influenza vaccine and Guillain-Barré syndrome halted that particular national vaccination campaign. Recently, annual influenza vaccines have been associated with novel adverse events, for example, oculorespiratory syndrome in Canada. Any vaccine used against an influenza strain of pandemic potential will have an incompletely described safety profile. Thus, the challenge of influenza vaccine safety is to detect new safety concerns that may arise during seasonal campaigns, while preparing vaccine safety systems for the timely detection of adverse events in the setting of a pandemic.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration website expanded on Dr. Iskander’s report above in March 2008:
“An NVPO (National Vaccine Program Office at CDC)–sponsored animal study at the University of Pennsylvania showed that swine flu vaccine does induce antibodies that may be related to GBS, and further studies are planned. Non-federal scientists, looking at VAERS data, have suggested that vaccines other than influenza vaccine could be associated with GBS.”
BTW, the authors of all other reviews I found in the National Library of Medicine database on the subject of vaccines and GBS agreed with the causative link between the 1976 swine flu vaccine and GBS. If someone can show otherwise, I will be happy to post the evidence here.