A Most Dangerous Medical Mandate? (the Last Word)

By Howd, Aimee | Insight on the News, June 21, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Most Dangerous Medical Mandate? (the Last Word)


Howd, Aimee, Insight on the News


Two months ago Insight called for Congress to look into the thousands of hepatitis B vaccine-injury claims registered with the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA (see "Ounce of Prevention, Pound of Misery," March 22). Hearings were held on May 18, but testimony left investigators with more questions than answers.

"It's a fine line," said Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican. "Where does the government stop in its efforts to try to protect all the public health vs. the potential for damage in adverse reactions and people not having the right to opt out or the adequate information to make an intelligent decision?"

Mica, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, called the hearings to investigate 24,000 reports of injuries and deaths following inoculation with the hepatitis B vaccine. The vaccine first was recommended for universal infant immunization by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, in 1991 and is mandated in at least 35 states.

Government officials from the CDC and FDA said no proven scientific link exists between the vaccine and subsequent adverse events. Autoimmune and neurological illness reported to the FDA's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System are mere "coincidence," testified Susan Ellenberg, FDA chief of biostatistics. Thus, Associated Press headlines the day after the hearings proclaimed, "Feds Deem Hepatitis B Vaccine Safe."

Yet the feds were but two of 16 witnesses to testify at the packed all-day hearing. The testimony of independent scientists and victims of both the vaccine and the virus showed that the ostensible "safety and efficacy" of the inoculation is not nearly as indisputable as the federal health bureaucracy and patent-medicine manufacturers insist.

"We will probably do some follow-up hearings as a result," Mica tells Insight.

Hepatitis B virus, or HBV, is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids. In the United States, the disease infects mostly intravenous drug users and people who are sexually promiscuous. A smaller number of cases occurs in blood-transfusion recipients, health-care workers and babies born to high-risk mothers.

The CDC routinely claims 150,000 to 300,000 cases occur per year in the United States. However, only about 10,000 cases actually were reported in 1997. The statistical discrepancy exists because hepatitis B does not produce symptoms in the vast majority of cases. In a small percentage of cases, the infection becomes chronic and causes devastating cirrhosis of the liver resulting in liver failure or cancer. …

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