Bernadine Healy: The Question of a Link Between Vaccines and Autism is Unanswered

Bernadine Healy: The Question of a Link Between Vaccines and Autism is Unanswered
7 years old boy looking to the street
“I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.” — Bernadine Healy, MD, former director of the National Institutes of Health

The late Bernadine Healy, MD was an American cardiologist and internist. She was professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Hospital and dean of Ohio State University Medical School. She was president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross. She was health editor for the magazine U.S. News & World Report. She also served as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from Apr. 9, 1991 to June 30, 1993.1 2

On May 12, 2008, Dr. Healy was interviewed on television by investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News. The interview (click here) focused on the possible link between autism and vaccines. The first time I saw the interview, I could feel my jaw dropping. After all the repeated confirmations, promises, and assurances by U.S. health authorities and the mainstream medical community that there is no causal connection between vaccines and the rising epidemic of autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD), there on video was a former director of NIH saying, “I think you can’t say that. You can’t say that.”3

So, on the matter of whether vaccines may cause autism and ASD, Attkisson asked, “Do you feel the government was too quick to dismiss of hand that there was this possibility of a link between vaccines autism?”4

In what to me seems like a stunningly revealing, as well as refreshingly honest, response, Dr. Healy said:

I think that the government or certain public health officials in the government have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational the concerns of these families without studying the population that got sick. I haven’t seen major studies that focus on 300 kids who got autistic symptoms within a period of a few weeks of the vaccine. I think that the public health officials have been to quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational without sufficient studies of causation. I think that they have been too quick to dismiss studies in the animal laboratory, either in mice, in primates that do show some concern with regard to certain vaccines and also to the mercury preservative in vaccines.”4

Dr. Healy was confirming what many people have long suspected—that the studies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the mainstream medical community have consistently held up as having proven no causal connection between vaccines and autism are untrustworthy because they do not provide sufficient scientific evidence for such a conclusion. Furthermore, Dr. Healy was clearly pointing out that were studies suggesting the opposite—that there could well be a causal link.

So why not take seriously and follow up on the scientific data indicating a possible link? That would seem the most reasonable thing to do if you’re faced with a serious and growing health epidemic such as autism that shows no signs of abating and which has left everyone mystified as to its cause. Dr. Healy offered this revealing and troubling insight:

The government has said in a report by the Institute of Medicine, and by the way I’m a member of the Institute of Medicine, I love the Institute of Medicine… but a report in 2004, it basically said, ‘Do not pursue susceptibility groups, don’t look for those patients whose children who may be vulnerable. I really take issue with that conclusion. The reason why they didn’t want to look for those susceptibility groups is because they are afraid is that if they found them, however big or small they were, that that would scare the public away.4

… I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show.4

In video, you can see that Attkisson sensed the immense significance of Dr. Healy’s comments, and so she followed up to make sure there was no misunderstanding.

You’re saying that public health officials have turned their back on a viable area of research largely because they’re afraid of what might be found.4

According to Dr. Healy, yes. She reiterated:

There is a completely expressed concern that they don’t want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people. I don’t believe the truth ever scares people. And if it does have an edge to it, then that’s the obligation of those who are delivering those facts, to do it in a responsible way so you don’t terrify the public. One never should shy away from science. One should never shy away from getting causality information in a setting in which you can test it. Populations do not test causality, they test association. You have to go into the laboratory and you have to do designed research studies in animal.4

Note the part where Dr. Healy said, “Populations do not test causality, they test association.” She was referring to the numerous epidemiological cohort studies that have been conducted to prove or disprove that vaccines may cause autism hypothesis. She was making the point that you cannot rely solely on epidemiological studies to test causality, because, at best, those kind of studies only have the ability to show a correlation. And correlation is simply not the same as causation.

According to Michael Green, JD, Michal Freedman, JD, MPH and Leon Gordis, MD, determining a “specific causation” between a virus or bacteria, for example, and a disease is “beyond the domain of the science of epidemiology.”5 6 “Even the most rigorous epidemiological studies suffer from a fundamental limitation,” says Georgia Ede, MD. “At best, they can show only association, not causation.”7

In an editorial piece I wrote last year, I cautioned against relying solely or to much on epidemiological cohort studies, which, for some odd reason, have become the be-all and end-all at the CDC. The fact is that epidemiology is a basic science, rather than an applied science. It is not equipped to prove anything. It is only capable of coming up with interesting data that might indicate a need for further research employing other kinds of studies, such as observational, biological mechanism, and animal studies, which can produce more conclusive results.5 This is what Dr. Healy was alluding to when she said you have to “go into the laboratory.”

“It sounds like you don’t think the hypothesis of a link between vaccines and autism is completely irrational?” asked Attkisson.

Again, Dr. Healy was extremely candid in her response, revealing that she too initially dismissed the possibility of such a link. She said:

When I first heard that there was a link between autism and vaccines, I thought,  well, that’s silly. Really, I mean I tended to dismiss it just on the superficial reading, or just reading what was in the papers, no offense to the media. So when I first heard about it, I thought, that doesn’t make sense to me. The more you delve into it, if you look at the basic science, if you look at the research that’s been done in animals. If you also look at some of these individual cases, and if you look at the evidence that there is no link, what I come away with is… the question has not been answered.4

The question has not been answered?

That may be the most powerful and honest statement made by anyone in the ongoing debate about vaccines and autism. The fact that it was made by such a high-profile and highly respected physician, professor of medicine, and former director of the NIH should be more than enough to give us all pause.

Given the gravity of the autism epidemic in the United States (1 in 45 children 3-17 years of age have ASD8), you would think that such a statement should certainly nudge public health officials, doctors, and scientists to be less complacent about what they think they know and be inspired to go back to the drawing board and rethink this issue and the methodologies used to come up with the popularized conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism.

Is it possible that this complacency is based more on the fear of scaring the public than on actual science? That there can be no causal link between vaccines and autism because the thought and consequences of having gotten this conclusion wrong would just be too horrible to contemplate?


1 National Institutes of Health. The NIH Almanac, Bernadine Healy, MD.
2 Staff Writer. Bernadine Healy, MD. U.S. News & World Report.
3 Attkisson S. Leading Dr.: Vaccines-Autism Worth Study. CBS News May 12, 2008.
4 Dr Bernadine Healy CBS 2008 vaccin autisme. (published by Nello Nobili) Oct. 11, 2015. 
5 Cáceres M. Oh Sanjay… The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 25, 2015.
6 Green MD, Freedman DM, Gordis L. What Role Does Epidemiology Play inProving Specific Causation? Reference Guide on Epidemiology: 381-382.
7 Ede G. The Problem With Epidemiological Studies. Diagnosis: Diet.
8 TVR Staff. CDC: 1 in 45 Children Diagnosed With Autism. The Vaccine Reaction Dec. 8, 2015.

Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers.  The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.


7 Responses to "Bernadine Healy: The Question of a Link Between Vaccines and Autism is Unanswered"

  1. Num Guy   November 11, 2016 at 6:36 pm

    Misinformation, incomplete information, wrong information is the norm these days. How many kids are completely normal before they get an MMR shot and then they are completely changed. Forever!! Sadly, too many parents have seen this first hand.

    But the CDC and the FDA do not care. They are happy taking Big Pharma’s money and doing their bidding! This will continue unabated and with increasing ferocity unless We The People mobilize!!

    Let’s start by repealing the “1986 Vaccine Injury Law Information”. This law has been shielding Big Pharma for over 30 years from all lawsuits.

    Please google “Repeal Immunity for Drug Companies Against Vaccine Injuries” and sign the petition. This 1986 law must go. Otherwise, no amount of talk will make things better.
    Please take a moment to sign and please share with friends and family.

  2. J   November 11, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    She’s easing her way into a honest appraisal of causation, as many in her position would do IF they had the courage. Perhaps shes in a place in her career that allows her to begin exposing, in the careful and couched language she uses. I’d like to see Robert Gallo grow a pair an begin telling the American public how terribly wrong he got the causal relationship of HIV = AIDS. And perhaps Mr. Popovic too. At least Montagnier has admitted that he never purified.

    On the same subject, or close, a wonderful exposing of how medical, clinical trials are under reporting outcomes not desirable to funders, or careers or relationships so on and so forth. The public is thoroughly stupefied in this area of medicine/science.

    Thank you NVIC for this very informative newsletter, The Reaction. And thank you Marco.

  3. J   November 11, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    So sorry, I wrote that not even acknowledging that Dr. Healy has passed. Obviously she was retired and not working directly for any of her past agencies. Sorry.Sloppy on my part.

    • Jaanko   November 17, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      Thank you David for that. It is true that when people are in the system, conflicts of interest are very real. And this continues even past employment where people in these high level positions typically are asked to sign termination agreements that include not attacking or going after the institution of employment. Often severance is tied to this clause and penalties may apply that could be held up in court. Professional reputations could be attacked and credibility.

      So that Dr. Healy agreed to this interview is bold.

  4. David Weiner   November 14, 2016 at 11:54 am

    I give the late Dr. Healy a lot of credit for her integrity and her honesty in making these statements.

    However, I disagree with one thing that she stated:

    “I don’t believe the truth ever scares people. And if it does have an edge to it, then that’s the obligation of those who are delivering those facts, to do it in a responsible way so you don’t terrify the public.”

    I think that the truth in this regard WOULD scare people, and rightly so. And that the public SHOULD BE terrified about what has happened and is continuing to happen. What’s more, the so-called public health authorities really don’t mind scaring people, as they do 24/7, in order to subject their kids and themselves to medical procedures that they wouldn’t undergo, if they were making rational, objective assessments.

    What they really don’t want is 1) people forsaking their sacred vaccine program and 2) people taking out pitchforks and holding the government accountable for its criminal behavior.

    • Thomas   November 16, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      Well said David. SPOT ON !!!

  5. Gyan Millar   November 19, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    The information regarding the contaminated polio vaccine (SV40) was withheld from the public as well for decades because of the belief that the public would not trust vaccines in general and be wary of their use. This attitude by those who believe they know better is playing out once again.


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