Debunking Antivaccinationist John Stone & the CDC “Whistleblower”: Review of “DeStefano Rides Again”

by Joel A. Harrison, PhD, MPH
Posted: December 5, 2015

Debunking Antivaccinationist John Stone
and the CDC "Whistleblower": A Review of
John Stone’s “DeStefano
Rides Again: GSK Rotavirus Vaccine
Study Loses 80% Of Cases And 18
Deaths”(Age of Autism, August 25, 2015,
reposted October 27, 2015)


Executive Summary

I’ve written several articles for Every Child By Two. Each of them shows clearly the poor scholarship, deficient science, and often lack of common sense contained in articles written by antivaccinationists. The bottom line is they don’t know what they are talking about. If people are to decide on whether to vaccinate their children or not, it should be based on scholarly, well-grounded science, and reflect basic common sense, not claims made by people who are deficient in these.

John Stone is the UK editor for the online blog, Age of Autism. In a recent article, Stone writes:

Frank DeStefano, the CDC's Director of Immunization Safety and the lead author at the center of CDC whistleblower William Thompson’s allegations about destroying MMR/autism data, is involved in another case of apparently hiding data, this time involving intussusception and death, in a newly published paper concerning the safety of GSK’s rotavirus vaccine, Rotarix.

Last month Representative Posey revealed to Congress that Thompson told Dr. Brian Hooker in a taped telephone conversation regarding the DeStefano MMR paper that:

Sometime soon after the meeting, we decided to exclude reporting any race effects, the co-authors scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study. The remaining four coauthors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room and reviewed and went through all the hard copy documents that we had thought we should discard and put them in a huge garbage can.

The new CDC based study of GSK’s Rotarix vaccine by Haber et al., of which DeStefano is senior author and therefore responsible for research integrity, admits a small association with the serious condition of intussusception (an intestinal obstruction secondary to the inversion of one portion of the intestine within another). The paper states that from February 2008 to December 2014 the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) “received 108 confirmed insusceptible reports after RV1” (Rotarix). However, a careful review of the database reveals no less than 565 cases for the period. The paper claims to have excluded only 4 reports as unconfirmed (making a total of only 112). (Stone, 2015a; reposted 2015b)

In an Addendum posted a day after the reposting of his article, Stone writes:

I took this article down for 24 hours to consider the points made by "n davis" and "n davis is correct". I had overlooked the fact that the paper selects US cases only - that there are only a trickle of cases from the US against a relative flood from abroad - and this is basis of massive selection bias, particularly in relation to deaths. It also shows that the US reporting system while always vastly inadequate is wilting. Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to forward reports from abroad where they come to their attention: there is nothing in n davis's claim that these reports were unavailable to DeStefano - anyone interested in the safety of the vaccine to US children or any other would have considered all of the reports. (Stone 2015c)

Summary

  1. Stone claims that a recent article by Haber et al. (2015) omitted a large number of cases of intussusception and some deaths. Stone writes: “a careful review of the database reveals no less than 565 cases for the period. The paper claims to have excluded only 4 reports as unconfirmed (making a total of only 112).” Stone’s article attacks the integrity of CDC researchers.

  2. Stone repeats the claims made by Thompson, the so-called CDC whistleblower, that the CDC destroyed data from an earlier study (DeStefano, 2004) and withheld a finding associating MMR vaccine and African American males under 36 months of age.

  3. Stone subsequently admitted he was wrong about Haber et al. omitting cases of intussusception; but, in a lame attempt to justify himself, he writes: “that I had overlooked the fact that the paper selects US cases only - that there are only a trickle of cases from the US against a relative flood from abroad - and this is basis of massive selection bias, particularly in relation to deaths. It also shows that the US reporting system while always vastly inadequate is wilting. Pharmaceutical companies are required by law to forward reports from abroad where they come to their attention. . . anyone interested in the safety of the vaccine to US children or any other would have considered all of the reports. (Stone, 2015c)

  4. Stone failed to note that the Haber et al. study included verifying the reported cases from the medical records, something that would be near impossible for foreign cases. Stone also fails to understand that deaths reflect levels of medical care which can be less effective than in the US. He also fails to understand that diagnoses vary in accuracy, the reason for Haber et al. conducting chart audits. Stone also fails to understand that the denominator, that is, the population of the US vs. the non-US population influences the incidence of cases. Quite simply, the larger number of cases from outside the US could reflect a much larger population and, thus, not a higher incidence of cases.

  5. By analogy, using US crime data, most Americans would be interested in how safe it is in the US, NOT how many Americans are killed abroad.

  6. Stone claims, without any justification, that pharmaceutical companies would proportionately receive more reports abroad of vaccine-related adverse events and would be more law abiding in reporting them than in the US.

  7. While Stone states: “anyone interested in the safety of the vaccine to US children or any other would have considered all of the reports;” he and other antivaccinationists, when critiquing the effectiveness of vaccines, exclude international data on vaccine-preventable disease morbidity and mortality. In other words, if international data supports their position, great, if it doesn’t, ignore it.

  8. Stone and other antivaccinationists imply that since they had not heard of rotavirus prior to the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine that it is a disease manufactured to sell a vaccine. Rotavirus was first discovered in 1973, and was quickly recognized to be the major cause of childhood diarrhea, long before development of a vaccine had been contemplated. Stone apparently is unaware that approximately 80% of serious cases of diarrhea in infants resulting in hospitalization had unknown causes prior to the 1970s when rotavirus was discovered and long before the first vaccine was approved the medical literature contained an ever-increasing number of studies of rotavirus. Fascinating how Stone twists his ignorance into a justification for attacking the vaccine.

  9. Despite Thompson’s repeated claims that the CDC destroyed data, parroted by Stone and other antivaccinationists, the data is not only available in electronic form for re-analysis as posted on the CDC website; but Brian Hooker actually obtained the data and used them for his now-retracted article.

  10. Despite Thompson’s repeated claims that the DeStefano article omitted analyses on African American boys, they did include this in their paper. However, the article by Hooker was retracted because he used an analysis of a cohort design for data collected for a case-control study and based his conclusion on changing the age range so he could get a minimum of 5 kids in one cell of the analysis. Stone and other antivaccinationists not only ignore this; but fail to understand some of the basics of epidemiological design and statistical significance testing.


If this were simply a debate on Piltdown Man, it would be partly sad because of the fraud involved and, perhaps, intellectually amusing. However, antivaccinationists are undermining one of the most important tools we have to prevent suffering, morbidity and mortality, one of the main contributors to increases in life-expectancy. Parents, in deciding on whether to vaccinate their children or not, should be wary of claims made by people so deficient in just about everything. Do NOT allow the lie told most often to become the truth!

Read Dr. Harrison's full article as a PDF version by clicking here.