A disappearance in a CBS News flu vaccine story…and the persistence of disinformation

January 28th, 2011 → 10:17 pm @ // No Comments

Two days ago, CBS News’s Sharyl Attkisson posted a story on the CBS web site titled, “Child Flu Vaccine Seizures?” It ended thusly:

That link above is to a PDF stored on the CBS News site* for Amy Brooks-Kayal’s paper, “Molecular Mechanisms of Cognitive and Behavioral Comorbidities of Epilepsy in Children.” The problem is, Brooks-Kayal’s paper didn’t say anything about vaccine-related febrile seizures. In fact, her recent work has showed the high risks of not vaccinating: A December 2010 study in the Archives of Neurology on which Brooks-Kayal was one of the authors detailed “a high rate of serious complications from the H1N1 flu in pediatric patients with neurological problems, particularly recurrent seizures (epilepsy), emphasizing why it is so important for children to receive this vaccination.”

This isn’t the first time Attkisson’s reporting on the issue of vaccine safety has been particularly troubling (I’ll hopefully have time to write about this in more detail before long). In this case, when CBS was alerted to the problem, the network took a page from Rolling Stone‘s playbook: In the piece’s current posted version, that last paragraph has simply…disappeared. In my opinion, that’s a weasely way to deal with mistakes. (It’s one reason why I posted corrections to all of my books on my site.) By not publicly acknowledging that she screwed up, Attkisson is not taking responsibility for the disinformation she helped to spread.

And make no mistake: It did (and continues to) spread: For more than a day now, the entire piece has been reprinted, word for word, on Age of Autism — last paragraph and all.

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13 Comments → “A disappearance in a CBS News flu vaccine story…and the persistence of disinformation”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bora Zivkovic, Bryan Vartabedian, Adam Nally, D.O., Dana Hunter, mem_somerville and others. mem_somerville said: RT @sethmnookin: CBS disappears disinformation in a flu vaccine scare story…but the damage is already done. http://ht.ly/3MnpC […]


  2. bensmyson

    13 years ago


    Molecular mechanisms of cognitive and behavioral comorbidities of epilepsy in children
    Amy Brooks-Kayal
    Departments of Pediatrics and Neurology, Division of Pediatric Neurology, University of Colorado Denver School
    of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, U.S.A.

    “In a recent study, animals that experienced prolonged febrile seizures (PFS) in early life under-went MRI imaging after seizures and then testing of spatial learning and memory in adulthood (Dube et al., 2009). Half of animals exposed to PFS were found to have T2-signal abnormalities in hippocampus, and the spatial learning and memory performances in rats that experienced PFS and also had T2 MRI changes were impaired compared to the rats that had prolonged febrile seizures (>10 minutes in duration) with no T2 changes, thus identifying MRI imaging as a possible biomarker for future hippocampal learning and memory dysfunction after early life seizures.”

    One third of febrile seizures are “complex,” since they are either multiple, focal, or prolonged.

    Febrile seizures recur in a third of children and are associated with a low risk of epilepsy

    Febrile seizures are prolonged in 9% of cases.

    Prolonged febrile seizures increase the incidence of epilepsy to 21%.

    9/10,000 develop febrile seizures as a result of the use of ProQuad, an MMRV


    Approximately 9 out of 10,000 children 6-23 months of age require hospitalization each season for reasons related to influenza.


    Curious, if the chances of your child having serious complication of the flu scare you, shouldn’t it also be a case of concern that your child may receive a seizure brought on by an MMRV vaccine?

    And if your child has a febrile seizure, he will roughly have a 1 in 10 chance of developing serious brain injuries as a result as well as a chance of developing epilepsy, which is associated with ASD.


    • Michele

      13 years ago

      I am the parent of a child with special needs who has a rare genetic disorder and I run an advocacy group for her disease. It is a challenge to be a parent now with conflicting information coming at you from all sides–much of it deliberately alarming in order to generate ‘views’ or ‘clicks’ or ‘audience share.’ In our group, chronic lung infection leads to severely damaged lungs and the eventual need for transplant. There is no treatment and the only cure is to prevent damage to the extent possible using antibiotics and steroids–both of which have been badly battered in the mainstream media over the past several decades. It is not an ideal situation, however it is possible to make a reasonable risk/benefit analysis based on what is known about these drugs and what is known about what happens when parents refuse to use them. The picture is clear. Yes, there is a slight risk of side effects from using antibiotics and steroids, but there is certain (100%) damage and loss of lung function from not using them. Despite this, despite evidence that their child will sustain permanent damage from un or under-treated infections, a surprising number of parents are more concerned about the tiny possible percentage of experiencing consequences from using antibiotics and steroids. I think a similar difficulty with assessing actual risk exists around vaccination. There are risks to being vaccinated, but how do they realistically compare to the risks you are taking by leaving your child vulnerable and unprotected against some of the deadliest known microbes on the planet? If your child contracts one of these microbes, they will almost certainly get sick. Maybe it won’t be a serious or devastating illness (but it could be), but it is a sure thing that they will suffer versus a very small and currently unproven risk of developing cognitive issues from vaccination. Granted, maybe your child will never contract a specific communicable disease, but with immunizations rates going down we are already seeing previously functionally eradicated deadly infectious diseases making a rebound, so that also needs to be factored into the equation.

      If I felt my child had been damaged because of a vaccination (and full disclosure, I have a niece with ASD whose mother believed she contracted if from a vaccine until we discovered that her cognitive issues are one manifestation of a larger genetic syndrome) I would be angry, frustrated and very hesitant to support future vaccinations. However, I think I would try to keep in mind that we live in a world now where strength of conviction is often mistaken for rightness of position and I would seek out objective sources for information and try to shut out the noise. The fact is that just because you really, really, really believe something doesn’t make it true–no matter how creatively the data can be interpreted to make it fit–and it distracts from getting real answers. This is the biggest tragedy of all. These demands and distractions ultimately cost all of us because the squeakiness of the wheel, rather than the merit of the science is sadly what often drives funding today. This is why taxpayers are now footing the bill for a multi-million dollar CDC study on a disease (Morgellon’s) the vast majority of medical professionals and scientists agree doesn’t really exist, while most rare diseases–despite having devastating consequences–can’t get any research funding attention at all.

      I hope you will take this in the spirit it is intended–one parent trying to parse the complicated world of medicine with a special needs child to another. Bottom line is we both looked at available evidence and came to completely different conclusions. I am just explaining my thought process.


  3. AutismNewsBeat

    13 years ago

    Why does CBS care more about its sports coverage than how correspondents cover science and health? Attkisson’s mistake is the equivalent of calling Aaron Rodgers a defensive halfback.

    A more important story might be that without context, it’s easy to scare parents about preliminary and possible flawed data regarding a non-fatal and common childhood seizure which most kids outgrow. But then Attkisson would have to provide context, which would either crate a rift with her anti-vaccine pals, or challenge her skill set to the breaking point. Either way CBS needs to start looking for a new correspondent. It doesn’t speak well for the network. Walter Kronkite is spinning in his grave.


    • bensmyson

      13 years ago

      What’s a “defensive halfback”? And who is Walter “Kronkite”? You mean Cronkite?

      You said, “…it’s easy to scare parents about preliminary and possible flawed data regarding a non-fatal and common childhood seizure which most kids outgrow. ”

      One third of febrile seizures are “complex,” since they are either multiple, focal, or prolonged. 33% those “common childhood seizures” you point to will be dangerous.

      Really, “defensive halfback”? Might want to put down the Martha Stewart magazine and pick up a Sports Illustrated.


  4. rlneub

    13 years ago


  5. Sullivan

    13 years ago


    did you miss the point? CBS had a paragraph linking to a recent study. The paragraph made it seem like the study would suggest that the febrile seizures resulting from flu vaccines could be causing autism and intellectual disabilities.

    For that part, yes, I’d say that CBS made up the link. Take a look at Mr. Mnookin’s latest blog post which includes a statement from the author of the study on seizures–the study that CBS linked to in the now-deleted paragraph.

    bensmyson, I see that in your original comment on the Age of Autism blog, you linked to this study:

    The summary was missing in your comment. Here it is:


    Febrile seizures are a common benign disorder with an excellent outcome. Exclusion of central nervous system infection such as meningitis and encephalitis is important, particularly in a child with febrile status epilepticus. Education and reassurance remains the mainstay of management for families faced with these frightening attacks. ”

    Not the scary story you tried to create, is it?

    I’ll trust a pediatric neurologist who has studied febrile seizures, such as the Dr. Brooks-Kayal for medical advice in this case.


    • bensmyson

      13 years ago

      Sully, Sorry I dont get your point, if it was meant to be a point.

      I said, “One third of febrile seizures are “complex,” since they are either multiple, focal, or prolonged.”

      From Pediatrics:

      “Although there has existed ample investigation and data concerning initial management, treatment approaches, and outcomes in children with simple febrile seizures, there has been somewhat less well-developed data concerning complex febrile seizures.” http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/117/2/528

      This study shows a corresponding relationship between epilepsy and the onset of developmental delays. Complex Febrile Seizures also have a direct relationship with the onset of epilepsy.

      Yes MOST febrile seizures are benign. One third of them are not. Do you honestly think more than 5% of the parents know what a febrile seizure is? How many do you think can identify the symptoms of encephalitis in a year old child? These things can be caused by vaccines, statistically it may be a small percentage but the injuries exist. The question is, are they causing developmental delays?

      Dr. Brooks-Kayal’s study shows that they do.


  6. Seth Mnookin

    13 years ago

    Bensmyson, you’re making one unsupported statement and using that as a building block to make other unsupported statements.

    The Pediatrics study you repeatedly cite does not say that one-third of febrile seizures are complex.

    Dr. Brooks-Kayal explicitly said that your interpretation of her work is categorically incorrect. When CBS made the same inference you did, she objected. The network clearly agreed that they’d made an error because they removed the passage in question.

    Using data from febrile seizures generally and applying it to events related to vaccination is misleading and incorrect. It’s like comparing data from dog bites generally to dog bites from one particular type of dog. As Dr. Brooks-Kayal herself wrote when asked about this issue, “The type of seizures that I refer to in my article are not the type of seizure typically brought on by vaccination (which as you note are usually brief febrile seizures), and to my knowledge there has been no valid scientific link between brief febrile seizures after the flu vaccine and permanent neurological injury.”


    • bensmyson

      13 years ago

      From the Brooks-Kayal study:

      Prolonged postnatal febrile (hyperthermic) seizures
      produce a profound, long-lasting enhancement of intrinsic
      hyperpolarization activated membrane current, Ih, (Chen
      et al., 2001) due to a decrease in hyperpolarization acti-
      vated, cyclic nucleotide-gated channel-1 (HCN1) mRNA
      and simultaneous enhancement of HCN2 mRNA expres-
      sion in hippocampal CA1 neurons (Brewster et al., 2002,
      2005). These changes are associated with persistent limbic
      hyperexcitability and a 35% incidence of spontaneous sei-
      zures in adulthood (Dube et al., 2000, 2006; Chen et al.,
      2001). This suggests that a variety of receptors and impor-
      tant cell signaling proteins may be permanently altered
      following early life seizures.
      Changes in neuromodulatory pathways may also con-
      tribute to learning and behavioral differences after early
      life seizures. cAMP response element binding protein
      (CREB) is a key mediator of stimulus-induced changes in
      gene expression that underlie plasticity of the nervous sys-
      tem, and phosphorylation of CREB is required for LTP,
      learning, and memory (Lonze & Ginty, 2002). CREB
      phosphorylation with learning has been shown to be
      diminished after repetitive febrile seizures in animals
      (Chang et al., 2003). Corticotropin-releasing hormone
      (CRH) is a neuromodulatory peptide released from hippo-
      campal interneurons in response to stress. Early life sei-
      zures have been shown to enhance hippocampal CRH
      mRNA expression in adulthood (Brunson et al., 2001b),
      and excessive CRH (Chen et al., 2004) and early life stress
      (Brunson et al., 2005) have been shown to lead to reduc-
      tions in dendritic length and arborization as well as pro-
      gressive cognitive deficits.

      As Dr. Brooks-Kayal herself wrote when asked about this issue, “The type of seizures that I refer to in my article are not the type of seizure ** typically ** brought on by vaccination (which as you note are usually brief febrile seizures), and to my knowledge there has been no valid scientific link between brief febrile seizures after the flu vaccine and permanent neurological injury.”

      33% of ALL febrile seizures are Complex Febrile Seizures. They are, in fact, non-typical.

      Complex Febrile seizures such as Prolonged Febrile Seizures, according to to Dr. Brooks-Kayal’s conclusion, “Early life seizures may produce a variety of cellular and molecular changes in hippocampus that may contribute to the enhanced risk of IDDs and ASDs in patients with early life seizures and epilepsy.”

      Vaccines can cause Prolonged Febrile Seizures, the tetanus toxoid, reduced diphtheria toxoid, and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap), according to the CDC and manufacturers of the vaccine, can cause such an injury. http://www.jfponline.com/Pages.asp?AID=5013 http://www.drugs.com/pro/kinrix.html

      I am not doubting Dr. Brooks-Kayal has no knowledge of any link between febrile seizures, brief or otherwise, because she did not investigate that in her study. However the CDC has, ” In April 2010, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration reported preliminary data indicating an elevated risk for febrile reactions, including febrile seizures, among young children in Australia who received the 2010 trivalent vaccine Fluvax Jr., the southern hemisphere inactivated trivalent vaccine for children manufactured by CSL Biotherapies. The risk for febrile seizures was estimated to be as high as five to nine cases per 1,000 vaccinated children aged younger than 5 years, and most seizures occurred among children aged younger than 3 years.” http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/acip/adversetiv.htm

      Is it your opinion that vaccines have never caused brain injuries, seizures or any serious nervous system problems? Or you just talking about flu vaccines? http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm

      “It’s like comparing data from dog bites generally to dog bites from one particular type of dog.”

      I have a dog in this fight. Do you?


  7. Moderation

    13 years ago


    I am not sure where you got your numbers, but they appear to be pulled out of thin air … which is especially disappointing considering how easy it is to find the actual, correct numbers. For example: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/febrile_seizures/detail_febrile_seizures.htm. Clearly the numbers there don’t match up tp yours … shoot even Wikipedia has the correct number and stats the last time I checked.


  8. DAVID

    13 years ago



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