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Vaccines & Autism: 'Elaborate Fraud'; Can GOP Erase Health Care Law?

Aired January 8, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Welcome to the program.

First up, you have heard the stories linking vaccines to autism. You know, frankly, it terrified millions of parents. Well, now, there's new allegations that the study that sort of started all this wasn't just a mistake, but a deliberate fraud. Well, what does it mean to you? We're going to explain.

And also, Republicans have taken control of the House and launched their mission to repeal the health care reform law. I'm going to talk to a Republican congressman who's also a doctor about his specific problems with the act.

Plus, he's a famous neurologist, that he never recognizes a face, sometimes not even his own.

Let's get started.


GUPTA: We begin this morning, though, with shocking allegations of deliberate fraud against the doctor who first reported a link between autism and a childhood vaccine. Now, in many ways, the 1998 study is credited for having started the anti-vaccine movement among concerned parents. It isn't the first time the study has been called into question by medical experts though.

Last year, "The Lancet" retracted the study, citing numerous problems with its methods as well ethical missteps and financial conflicts of interest. But "The British Medical Journal" says it goes beyond just bad science. It accuses researcher Andrew Wakefield of intentionally publishing fabricated information to suit his theory that vaccines cause autism. It's being dubbed an elaborate hoax.

Now, the article alleges that Wakefield was being paid by a litigation team in England who is suing vaccine managers. They say this enticed him to have sort of preconceived idea about what he might find, leading him to falsify evidence to fit in to what his notion was.

For example, Dr. Wakefield claimed that the children he studied would get the vaccine and develop symptoms within a few days. But according "The British Medical Journal," medical records show, in one of the cases, the child actually had symptoms before the vaccine was ever given, not after. In another case, the child didn't develop symptoms of autism until six months afterwards, which negates any sort of relationships between vaccines and autism.

Now, the study was also not randomized, meaning, Wakefield handpicked the 12 children -- again, a very small study. It also says that he paid these children.

Now, why would Andrew Wakefield fabricate the study? I decided to try and find out myself and I went straight to Wakefield for an answer.


GUPTA: Since 1988, you've obviously been dealing with this. But these charges that are bad deal in the world of medicine, that you paid patients, that you did not randomize them, meaning you selected patients that you thought would be better for your study. And now, the most -- the most damming evidence of all that perhaps, these numbers, the dates were all fabricated to sort of make a case.

Did you have some sort of preconceived notion of a link between the vaccine MMR and autism before you conducted the study?

DR. DAVID WAKEFIELD, ACCUSED OF FALSIFYING STUDY DATA: Absolutely not. Dr. Gupta, please, I urge you, go and read my book. I'll send you my book. I'm not trying to promote my book, I'm not trying to make money.

Take the book and read it and understand the truth. You will understand it. Many people don't.

The parents understand it. They get it because they've lived it. OK? And the claims to whether the vaccine caused their children harm or not came from the parents. Not me. I didn't have a preconceived notion of it at all.

I hadn't heard of autism since medical school and this was a clinical examination of children on the merits of their clinical problems by the best people in the world, best clinical experts and pediatric gastroenterology in the world. And they came to the diagnosis, not me.


GUPTA: Now, I tell you, Wakefield stands behind the study, believes that vaccines may cause autism, although there have been any major studies that have replicated this. That's what a lot of people are talking about.

Lee Grossman is here. He's president of the Autism Society of America. He joins us now from Washington.

Thanks so much for joining us, Doc.

LEE GROSSMAN, PRES. & CEO, AUTISM SOCIETY: Thank you for having us on. GUPTA: You -- I think your phones must have been quite busy, obviously, some pretty interesting claims being made.


GUPTA: What is -- what is the position of the Autism Society of America and what's happened with Dr. Wakefield?

GROSSMAN: We are hoping that we are going to be able to now use this spotlight that's now again shown on autism, to change the conversation on autism, to talk about what it is that we need to do moving forward to help people with autism and support the families that are the primary caregivers for these people.

GUPTA: How important is it to find a cause for autism and how much of your organization's attention is focused on that?

GROSSMAN: There's much being -- much time, much money, many resources being spent on the medical side and developing the research to find those answers. We support that. We support that greatly.

The issue, though, that we see is so important in autism is that there's -- it's not being carefully balanced to serve the needs of those that are living with autism now. This ongoing conversation and dialogue that's going on and finding the definitive cause and maybe even the cure really isn't delivering and improving the services that people are asking for now. That is what our families are continually asking for.

GUPTA: Lee Grossman, we are obviously going stay talking about this. We appreciate your perspective very much. Thank you for your time.

GROSSMAN: OK. Thank you.

GUPTA: It's an emotional and its controversial issue, obviously, for many families simply looking for some answers, wanting to protect their children's health any they can.

So, joining me more to talk about this Dr. Roy Sanders, pediatric psychiatrist, medical director for the Marcus Autism Center; and my colleague, patient advocate, Elizabeth Cohen.

Just like with Lee Grossman, I'm sure you've been very busy, given the sort of work that you do. Families come to you to ask about vaccinations.


GUPTA: Should I get my child vaccinated?

SANDERS: Yes, a lot of times

GUPTA: What do you tell them?

SANDERS: Yes, what the families are coming is because I've already taken care of kids that where they have one child who's been diagnosed with autism, ask me about a second child being immunized and what we need to do about a second child being immunized or we diagnose the child early because we are able to diagnose some kids relative early, whether they continue with the vaccination process.

And what I tell them right now is the risk associated with not vaccinating is greater than the risk of vaccinating. And I tell them that in our own case, because I have an older son with autism and a younger son who is typical, that we had both sons vaccinated.

GUPTA: On schedule.

SANDERS: On schedule, on time.

GUPTA: Elizabeth, you've been talking to a lot of parents as well, you know, who are struggling with this. They hear something like this and I think as Lee Grossman was saying, it just added more confusion rather than clarification. What are you hearing from moms and dads both about this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Sanjay, I think there's two camps of parents here. There are some parents who are what I called true believers. They really believe that vaccines are the devil, that they give kids autism and this latest news this week doesn't really matter to them. They still are against vaccines and they still defend Dr. Wakefield.

But then there's other camp of parents and I know both of us know parents in these camps, who are kind of on the fence and who aren't sure and who are anxious when they hear news about this link, at this alleged linking. And they are sort of feeling better today because they feel, wow, that was a hoax. I didn't need to worry about this. I can vaccinate and feel calm about it.

GUPTA: We don't know what causes autism.


GUPTA: But there have been a lot of papers suggesting that vaccines don't.


GUPTA: And speaking of middle of the road, one thing that parents will try to do is split up vaccines. Is that something that you've heard from parents as well? Is that sort of their "let's play it safe" sort of route?

COHEN: You probably remember those visits with your daughters where you go in and the pediatrician goes out with a tray of like six shots, right? And each of those, they have more than one, you know, vaccine in them. That's a lot to get at one time and pediatricians will tell you that it's safe.

And I have some friends who are very anxious about that. GUPTA: And a lot of people will say, look, that is crazy. Not only crazy but it's dangerous because in the interim period, they say, don't bring the child back or even in the interim period, before you do bring the child back. They're at risk when they didn't need to be.

SANDERS: They are at risk and they're also putting other children at risk. And that's one of the things that I talked to parents about is, that you're not just being a good parent to your child by getting your child immunized, you're also being a good parent to all the other children that your child comes in contact with by getting them immunized.

COHEN: I'm not saying they're skipping immunizations. I'm talking about if you want to delay by a week or two.

GUPTA: It is amazing to think that the vaccines that we give nowadays, even though they may be greater in number, still aren't as -- don't generate the same sort of immune response that vaccines of the past did and the autism rates were presumably lower.


GUPTA: You have a child with autism.


GUPTA: A teenager now.


GUPTA: Lee Grossman was just about this a little bit. But what are the challenges of raising now a teenager with autism?

SANDERS: It's been a challenge, you know, all along. It was a struggle getting diagnosed. I was seen as being a crazy dad who thought that something was wrong with their child when there really wasn't anything wrong. We talked about the fact that one of us essentially had to go to work to make at least $100,000 a year, you know, before the taxes in order to pay the $60,000 a year it costs to do the applied behavioral interventions and integrated therapy and to have somebody there to take care of him all the time to work with it.

Now, that being said, he was classically autistic at 4 and 5, completely withdrawn stereotypic, fixated, rigid, tantrums all the time, rarely talked. And now, you know, he is getting ready. He's really pushing us. He's wanting to go into high school at this point. He's much more involved with other people. He still has a lot of problems but he is definitely on his way to becoming a functional adult.

GUPTA: Well, I'm glad we had a chance to talk about this. I know we could talk about it all the day. But we ran out of time.

Dr. Sanders, thanks so much.

Elizabeth, this is something that we're going to be talking about it. Appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks. Thanks a lot.

GUPTA: Well, the GOP has taken control of the House. And the first thing on their agenda: repealing health care reform. I'm going to ask a Republican congressman who happens to be a doctor as well what he wants to repeal and why.

That's next.


GUPTA: We are back with SGMD.

You know, it's been a spirited start to the New Year on Capitol Hill. After a historically huge election victory, House Republicans swept into power and their very first order of business: trying to erase the massive health care reform law. And next week, the big vote. Will they repeal the reforms that we've heard so much about over the past two years?

Well, senior congressional correspondent Dana bash has more.



You know, House Republicans are wasting no time flexing the muscle of their new big majority here. Just two days after taking control of the House, they made moves to make good on a central campaign promise, which, of course, is repealing the health care law.

On Friday, we saw a procedural vote that passed overwhelmingly along party lines that sets up a final House vote this coming Wednesday to repeal the health care law. And we saw Republicans go to the floor of the House and argue that they're just following the will of the people who, they say, believe that the health care law is too big and cumbersome, ineffective and hurts small businesses.

As for Democrats, you remember during the campaign -- they were reluctant to defend this health care law. That has now changed. Democrats are relishing this repeal fight, arguing Republicans are trying to take away popular benefits for the young and the old.

Now, despite all of the sound and fury, we should leave our viewers with this reality check. There's virtually no chance that this repeal will pass the Senate.

Back to you, Sanjay.


GUPTA: Joining me now from Capitol Hill, Georgia Republican Congressman Tom Price, Dr. Tom Price. He spent 20 years as an orthopedic surgeon, now a congressman, obviously. Thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: Oh, thank you, Sanjay. Great to be with you. Thank you.

GUPTA: Lots of discussion, obviously, about the Affordable Care Act. It has been going on for some time. It's a very large bill. I've read it twice, I'll have you know. It is supposed to insure an extra 30 million to 32 million people. It's supposed to save the country $143 billion over 10 years according to the CBO estimates.

You don't like it. You want to get rid of it in its entirety?

PRICE: Well, I think the premise of the bill was that it was going to decrease the affordability for individuals, make it so that health care was more affordable, that it was going to increase accessibility and increase quality. And I would suggest that it doesn't do any of those things. In fact, it increases the costs as we've seen already. It will decrease access to care not just for seniors and we're already seeing that, but for the majority of Americans, for the kind of care that they want.

And I believe that there's a very strong argument that can be made that it decreases quality of care for a variety of reasons.

GUPTA: How does that decrease --

PRICE: And for those reasons, we believe that it ought to be -- that it ought to be repealed and we ought to move forward with patient-centered reforms.

GUPTA: Let me just take a couple of those issues in terms of access specifically.

PRICE: Sure.

GUPTA: Explain that to me. How is it going to decrease access?

PRICE: Well, right now, individuals -- you know, the line was: if you like what you have, you can keep it.

GUPTA: Right.

PRICE: Well, the fact of the matter is that if you -- if you like what you have but it doesn't fit the definition of health coverage in the bill, which is very, very broad and specific. Then you can't keep it.

So, we've already seen decreased ability to use flexible savings accounts for the purchase of over-the-counter drugs. We've seen a decrease in over 3 million seniors who are not able to keep their own Medicare Advantage plan that they like.

GUPTA: One of the numbers that a lot of people pay attention are the numbers that are uninsured altogether. And the fact that this would 32 million more people to the insurance coffers overall -- as a doctor, now a congressman, you must want that as well, that more people to have insurance.

PRICE: Absolutely.


GUPTA: Is this part of the price you pay to get that many more people insured, are there some things that have to be sort of given up in order to make that happen?

PRICE: No. No. That's what we don't believe.

The status quo is clearly unacceptable. It's unacceptable for physicians, it's unacceptable for patients and it's unacceptable for the folks who are providing the monies through the tax receipts to be able to cover those who are less fortunate.

Those 32 million that you talk about increasing the ability to have coverage, the vast majority of those, if not all of them, will be thrown under the rules of Medicaid at the state level. We can get every single American covered getting the insurance that they want for themselves and their families, not that the government wants for them, in ways that are very, very progressive and making it so they are patient-centered. That is the response --


GUPTA: What does that mean exactly, patient-centered? Give me an example.

PRICE: Allowing patients and their families to be able to select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves. Health care coverage, as you well know, Sanjay, is very personal. And health care is very personal.

The last thing that I think we want to do and that I think the vast majority of Americans don't want to do as a country is to say, the federal government now defines what kind of health care you may receive. That's unacceptable to me and I think unacceptable to the majority of Americans.

GUPTA: Is that really the government -- how is the government defining that? I understand that there may be some changes for example on the limits on your FSAs, your flexible savings accounts. But take the average person who's watching right now who has insurance through their employer, who says, I've been paying attention to this debate because I'm curious. But I don't really think this is going to affect me at all.

How is this affecting them?

PRICE: Well, it will be a huge effect. And if your health coverage plan that you want for yourself and for your family doesn't comply with all those requirements, then it won't be available. It will be against the law to sell it. That's how specific this legislation is. GUPTA: A lot of people will say, look, that already happens. I mean, the private sector, the way the insurance companies set their businesses up now, a lot of that already happens. I mean, you probably felt as an orthopedic surgeon being told by a private sector insurance company, Dr. Price, you can do this, you can't do that --

PRICE: Sure.

GUPTA: -- wasn't that part of the problem already?

PRICE: You are absolutely right. And that's why the status quo was unacceptable.

But what we believe and I think if people were honest with themselves, they know that if the patient is in control of things and the physician is their advocate and their ally in all of this, then patients and physicians stand a much better chance with the panoply of options that would be out there in the private market as opposed to the federal government saying, this is what you must do. That's the concern that we have because when the federal says, this is what you must do, you have no recourse.

GUPTA: Really quickly, Congressman, the numbers people are going to pay attention to is the 32 million or so million more people have insurance, $143 billion in savings over 10 years. Plan B or another plan, so to speak -- what would the Republicans plan do for America in terms of things like that?

PRICE: Well, it's important to know that that $143 billion that are supposedly saved over the next 10 years is not a factual number. The fact of the number is that there was a report that came out recently --

GUPTA: It comes from the Congressional Budget Office.


GUPTA: Right.

PRICE: And I understand and that's an appropriate thing to use. However, what the Congressional Budget Office scores, how it figures out what that cost is, is based upon the information that it is given. It doesn't go out and get new information.

GUPTA: How many millions of people for the planned that's being proposed by the Republicans --

PRICE: The plan that we put -- the plan that we put together, HR-3200 that we put together, we believe would cover every single American that wanted coverage. But it would be coverage that they selected for themselves and for their families. We solve the insurance challenges of affordability. You ought not lose insurance if you change your job or you lose your job. And you ought not be priced out of the market if you have an awful diagnosis, the preexisting kinds of things. And we also need to address the whole issue of lawsuit abuse. As you know, the practice of defensive medicine is huge, over $60 billion of money wasted every single year on the practice of defensive medicine. Think what we could do with those resources if we put them to the appropriate use.

GUPTA: We want to talk more with you as plans develop. I think that what's happening this week, happened this past week with the vote obviously may not be that meaningful as I think most people have acknowledged because of what will subsequently happen in the Senate and certainly at the desk of the president.

But it's curious to see what will happen over the next several months and hope we can have you back to talk about it.

PRICE: Thanks, Dr. Gupta.

GUPTA: Thanks so much, sir. Appreciate it.

Up next: he's a neurologist, a doctor of the mind of sorts, but sometimes doesn't even recognize his own face. I spoke with Dr. Oliver Sacks about oddities of the brain.

Stay with SGMD.


GUPTA: Welcome back to SGMD.

By now, you probably know, on this show, we like to introduce you to ordinary people doing some extraordinary things. Well, today, a famous neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks, who knows from personal experience that sometimes an otherwise normal brain can just go haywire.


GUPTA: Oliver Sacks maybe a world famous neurologist. But there's one simple thing, something important, something most of us take for granted that he can barely do at all -- that's to recognize a face, even a famous one.

(on camera): How about this one?

DR. OLIVER SACKS, NEUROLOGIST: Soft focus. The owner of this face is looking tough. But, I don't know who it is. Sometimes I fail to recognize myself.

GUPTA: Even yourself?

SACKS: Yes, I have occasionally started apologizing to a clumsy bearded man, to realize that this is a mirror.

GUPTA (voice-over): He's face-blind. It's a rare and incurable condition that he's had since birth. Sacks suspects it's genetic, since his brother suffers from the same condition. He can see each facial feature just fine, but putting it all together, that's the problem.

(on camera): How about this picture?

SACKS: Well, that is very beautiful, immortal and actress. Well, I think one thinks of Marilyn Monroe.

GUPTA: I'm curious. You're looking at me right now -- can you describe what you're seeing?

SACKS: You have very beautiful white teeth. So, I would recognize you especially by your teeth.

GUPTA (voice-over): You see, he finds a way -- a way to adopt.

SACKS: I mean, now, I have outed myself about face blindness. It makes it easier.

GUPTA (on camera): Would you want to be cured of this if you could?

SACKS: I think so. I think if I was suddenly presented with thousands of familiar -- potential familiar faces, I think this might overwhelm me.

GUPTA (voice-over): A doctor of the mind, always looking to see the world with fresh eyes. He's still writing. He's still practicing as a physician. He even makes house calls.

SACKS: I want to get a whole picture, not only get a diagnosis of the matter but how the condition is affecting the person, how they are reacting to it, what I can do. But the whole person is very important for me.


GUPTA: I tell you, making the situation all the more challenging, Dr. Sacks recently found a tumor behind his right eye, a melanoma. And the treatment left him blind in that eye. So, he's adapting using just his left eye in addition to the face blindness. Just unbelievable.

Dr. Sachs, good luck to you. We all wish you very, very well.

And we'll be right back. Stay with SGMD.


GUPTA: We are back with SGMD.

You know, it's hard to believe it's been nearly a year since that devastating earthquake struck Haiti. I remember it so well. Over 200,000 lives lost, 300,000 people injured, millions left homeless. No doubt, it's been frustrating for you, for me, to watch just how slow the rebuilding process has been.

It's a story that's very close to my heart. And I'm going to head back to Port-au-Prince next week to bring you the latest on the progress and also to investigate where the money that you donated is really being spent. So, make sure to watch next week in a very special edition of SGMD.

And thanks for watching this weekend. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

More news on CNN starts right now.