It's no wonder that there's still so much argument over autism and vaccines. Paranoia is an endlessly renewable resource - big glowing hunks of it are always being dug out of the ground and put to use. For an unfortunately typical example, take a look at this piece from the New York Times. Some fifteen years ago, studies were carried out in New York to determine the safety and efficacy of pediatric doses of the existing HIV medications:
The controversy extends back to a bleak period in New York City history when well over a hundred children a year were dying of AIDS, most under the age of 5. As many as one in every five children infected with H.I.V. were dead by 2, doctors now say; up to 50 percent were dead by 4.
There were no AIDS drugs approved for children in those years. The first AIDS drug, AZT, was approved for adults in 1987. Babies were being abandoned in hospitals, their mothers unable to care for them and with no foster homes available. About 40 percent of the children with H.I.V. were in foster care.
As a result, pediatricians began pressing pharmaceutical companies to let them try drugs shown to work in adults. . .
. . .One center that took part in the trials was a small boarding home for H.I.V.-infected foster children called Incarnation Children's Center, the brainchild of Dr. Stephen W. Nicholas, now director of pediatrics at Harlem Hospital Center. With as many as 24 infected children abandoned in the hospital in 1988, the idea of finding them a home outside the hospital came to him after a young patient greeted him with, "Hi, Daddy."
Working with Columbia University and the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Dr. Nicholas became the medical director of Incarnation, on Audubon Avenue in Washington Heights, which opened in 1989 and added an outpatient clinic in 1992. Foster children there and elsewhere were enrolled in trials - at first, trials of single drugs like AZT, and later, of multiple-drug cocktails and protease inhibitors, which by 1996 were helping turn AIDS into a manageable, if still chronic, disease.
For his trouble, Dr. Nicholas became the focus of attention from one Liam Scheff, who published a screed 18 months ago on Indymedia (and didn't I groan when I saw that phrase in the article) accusing the Incarnacion facility of forcing poisonous drugs down the throats of innocent children, killing who knows how many in the process, et cetera, et cetera. I should mention that Scheff doesn't think that HIV is likely to be the cause of AIDS, doesn't think that the drugs against it necessarily have done any good, and so on - just so you all know where he's coming from.
Witness now how avalanches start: That Indymedia piece set off a group called the Alliance for Human Research Protection, whose publicity got the New York Post going, which led to a BBC-financed film ("The New York Experiment - Guinea Pig Kids"), which ignited the activists at a Brooklyn-based group that seeks reparations for slavery and whose leader claims (with no apparent evidence) that many of the children didn't even have HIV:
What we know already," he said, "is that 98 percent of the children experimented on were black and Latino and that the fundamental basis of why they chose those kids was racism. They have the arrogance to say it was for their own good, but we know it was racism."
That brought a couple of city councilmen into camera range, and things have continued to deteriorate. At this point, what really happened in the late 1980s doesn't seem to matter much, but for the record:
"Pediatricians involved in the trials say they are mystified by the onslaught. While powerful drugs do have side effects, many said, they remembered no fatal reactions. At Incarnation, Dr. Nicholas said, no child had died of a reaction and "no child ever had an unexpected side effect."
He said that, with one exception, no children had been included in the trials without "absolute proof" by advanced testing methods that they were infected and not simply carrying their mother's antibodies. He said the exception was a trial that proved that by giving AZT to pregnant, infected women and then to their newborns in the first six weeks of life it was possible to sharply reduce the rate of H.I.V. transmission from mother to child. He called that study "the most important clinical trial in the history of AIDS."
Well, yeah, fine - but what about the secret experiments? Evil corporations and secretive government agencies? Racist plots and toxic drugs administered by sinister doctors? What about the good stuff? Hasn't Dr. Nicholas watched any TV, seen any hit movies? Doesn't he know how this country really works?
My heart goes out to him, actually. From all I can tell, he has done the world a real service, and saved more children than could we can count from awful, lingering deaths. For this, he and his co-workers get the Mengele/Tuskegee treatment from publicity hounds and people who've rotted their brains reading Indymedia. What a reward.