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October 23rd, 2007 · 21 Comments · Urban legend

Do vaccines cause autism? The idea has never had much support from scientists, who tell us there is no empirical support for the claim. Lawyers, on the other hand, are divided on the question.

In a remarkable series of court hearings which started last summer in the U.S. Court of Claims’ Office of Special Masters in Washington, D.C., lawyers and judges will be sorting through evidence and testimony to determine if the parents of alleged “vaccine damage” children deserve compensation. An enterprising reporter is sure to find a petitioning parent nearby, since the claimants include nearly 5,000 children.

But before you leap into vaccine court, there’s a whole lot you’ll need to know. You can start by reading Tragically Wrong in the latest Hoover Digest. Arthur Allen, the author of Vaccine, tells us the back story to the dubious vaccine-autism connection, starting with Dr. Andrew Wakefield, an ethically-challenged UK physician who fled to the United States in the wake of his discredited Lancet study:

The vaccine-autism case had its genesis in 1996, when a British legal firm approached gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield of London’s Royal Free Hospital and asked him to examine a group of children whose parents were suing the pharmaceutical giant Merck. The parents alleged that after being vaccinated with MMR, a vaccine that contains weakened measles, mumps, and rubella viruses, their children had developed the distressing constellation of repetitive movements and language deficiencies known as autism. Wakefield had published a paper that hypothesized a link between MMR vaccination and inflammatory bowel disease, and the children in the 1996 case had an assortment of bowel problems as well as autism.

A year later, Wakefield filed a patent for a single-valent measles vaccine— a shot useful only should public confidence falter in the existing three-in-one MMR vaccine. Then, in February 1998, Wakefield took a step that would cause just such a dip in public confidence: he published a report in the prestigious journal Lancet of twelve autistic children with severe gastrointestinal problems, eight of whom were reported to have become ill after MMR shots. Wakefield’s hypothesis was that the measles component of the vaccine had infected the children’s intestines, causing them to leak poisons into the blood that caused brain damage. Wakefield did not mention the litigation or his patent application to the Lancet or his colleagues. When the true context of the study was revealed by a British investigative journalist six years later, the Lancet withdrew part of his paper.

In a perfect world, science would trump emotion on important matters of public health. But vaccine court is a far from perfect venue for deciding all over again what science determined years ago.

Transcripts and recordings of the July vaccine court hearing can be found here.

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21 responses so far ↓

  • 1 passionlessDrone // Oct 24, 2007 at 11:48 am

    Hi autism news beat –

    I’m curious, what studies (i.e., evidence) can you provide that show, for example, that children who receive ten vaccinations versus children that receive twenty five vaccinations have the same rate of autism or other neurological disorders? After all, this is an evidence based board, why not provide reporters with the evidence that the current vacination schedule has been proven as safe as what was in place twenty years ago?

    What studies were performed to show that receiving five (or more) vaccinations at once at a two month appointment is equivalent safety wise to receiving the same number of vaccinations over a several month period?

    This should be a simple task if the science showing this is indeed available.

    I’m not saying that vaccinations cause autism; far from it; but saying something like ‘science has shown vaccinations don’t cause autism’ which is only true if taken in a very, very specific context (i.,e one particular vaccination has been studied a lot) or particular vaccine ingredient (i.e., thimerosal) is as unresponsible, and inaccurate, as the misinformation you are supposedly trying to combat with this site.

    Take care!

    – pD

  • 2 autblog // Oct 24, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    I’m not seeing where I wrote “science has shown vaccinations don’t cause autism”

  • 3 passionlessDrone // Oct 24, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    “I’m not seeing where I wrote “science has shown vaccinations don’t cause autism”

    I’d say it was the vein of your entire posting.

    You say:

    “Do vaccines cause autism? The idea has never had much support from scientists, who tell us there is no empirical support for the claim”

    Yet the remainder of your post provides no such evidence to back this up, instead you go on to highlight the MMR controversy and the alleged ethical, concerns over one particular physician.

    What is to keep the casual reader from determining that scientists have performed empircal research on the vaccine schedule of twenty years ago compared to that of today and found no association? Certainly nothing in your posting makes it clear that such research has not been performed.

    There is a big, big difference betweeen the studies on the MMR, and persistence of mealses in autism, the topic of the remainder of your post, and vaccinations as a whole, don’t you think? Yet, you fail to make such a distinction, grouping the MMR issue into vaccinations as a whole.

    Also, you say this:

    “But vaccine court is a far from perfect venue for deciding all over again what science determined years ago.”

    If the vein of your article is not that science has shown vaccines don’t cause autism, the above statement seems curiously misplaced. What, exactly, has ‘science determined years ago’?

    – pD

  • 4 autblog // Oct 24, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    That there is no credible support for the hypothesis that links vaccines and autism. Dr. Mark Geier, MD, a legend in the bio-med treatment community, admitted under oath in 2004 that he could not name a single study that conclusively shows a link between mercury and autism. Has something changed since then? Nobody has duplicated Wakefield’s fraudulent 1998 Lancet paper linking MMR and autism, though researchers have demonstrated how Wakefield’s results were more likely caused by contamination in the lab.

    I don’t mind that you hold evidence-based skeptics to high standards, but it would be a little easier to swallow if your side played by the same rules. You do realize, for instance, that science cannot prove a negative. It cannot be proven that vaccines don’t cause autism, which is why I was careful not to say “science has shown vaccinations don’t cause autism.” But that didn’t stop you from attributing those words to me none the less. Why was that? If it was an honest mistake, then say so and we can move on. But I don’t see the point in discussing this topic with someone who wants to hold my discourse to a higher standard than his own.

  • 5 passionlessDrone // Oct 24, 2007 at 4:13 pm

    Hi autism news beat –

    “Dr. Mark Geier, MD, a legend in the bio-med treatment community, admitted under oath in 2004 that he could not name a single study that conclusively shows a link between mercury and autism.”

    The notion that Geier is a ‘legend’ in any community is as speculative as any claim of associations you would like to disprove. What’s more, this is a discussion about vaccinations, not mercury. (I thought)

    The claims I am making are simply that very little research has actually been done once we let go of MMR studies and preservative studies. As I stated clearly, this is a big, huge difference from vaccines as a whole. I am making no other claims.

    ” You do realize, for instance, that science cannot prove a negative. It cannot be proven that vaccines don’t cause autism, which is why I was careful not to say “science has shown vaccinations don’t cause autism.” But that didn’t stop you from attributing those words to me none the less.”

    Can I attribute this to you?

    “But vaccine court is a far from perfect venue for deciding all over again what science determined years ago.” (?)

    Maybe my mistake is my reading comprehension, I guess I’m confused. But, we can clear this up, very easily. I made the assumption that the above statement meant science has determined years ago that vaccines do not cause autism. If this assumption was incorrect, it was an honest mistake; but it does leave me wondering, what, exactly, ‘science determined years ago’?

    Take care!

    – pd

  • 6 autblog // Oct 24, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    The post is about vaccine court, where three questions are being addressed:

    1. Whether thimerosal in vaccines is responsible for autism;
    2. Whether MMR is resonsible for autism;
    3. Whether a combination of thimerosal and MMR is responsible for autism

    What are you talking about? You already said you don’t believe vaccines cause autism. So what do they cause? Health?

  • 7 Ms. Clark // Oct 24, 2007 at 11:23 pm

    25 vaccines cause criminal tendencies.
    25 vaccines cause acne and hair loss.
    25 vaccines cause poor cell phone reception.
    25 vaccines cause dyslexia.
    25 vaccines cause a lack of interest in intelligent discuss.

    No one can disprove any of those things. There’s also absolutely no reason to suspect that vaccines do any of those things.

    It’s just “viral” this idea that any combination of vaccines COULD cause autism in so many people’s heads, which is something that Arthur Allen touched on in his article.

    HOW COULD VACCINES EVER CAUSE AUTISM?
    HOW? (excuse the shouting, please)

    What’s the mechanism?
    What is the meck.a.niz.em?
    You need a plausible mechanism before there’s a reason to discuss it as a possiblity. There is no mechanism. So no reason to discuss it as if it could happen. But feel free, anyone, to keep harping on the idea of vaccines causing autism or something else.

  • 8 Ms. Clark // Oct 24, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    Sorry, I’m not typing well.
    “25 vaccines cause a lack of interest in intelligent discussion.” … was what I meant.

  • 9 autblog // Oct 24, 2007 at 11:36 pm

    25 vaccines cause fat fingers on the keyboard. Prove I’m wrong! Ha! I thought so! Your must work for a drug company!

  • 10 Veritas // Oct 25, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    Thimerosal causes autism.

  • 11 autblog // Oct 25, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    In vino veritas!

  • 12 Joseph // Oct 25, 2007 at 2:19 pm

    Hey, autism news beat – you claim to be all about science and all. What evidence do you have that kids who eat one order of french fries a week versus children who eat one order of french fries a day have the same rate of autism? Why don’t you have all the answers?!

  • 13 Ms. Clark // Oct 25, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    25 vaccines is nothing compared to the toxic waste, fetal cells lines, dead viruses and live bacteria in french fries. The Illuminati have everyone covered, even the antivaxers, so long as they eat french fries. There there’s the neurophone radio waves, or something… the Illuminati are just sneaky. :-)

  • 14 Spucatum Tauri // Oct 25, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    The standard pediatric vaccines make one taller and better looking that they normally would be. Also, in later years vaccines help to forestall the aging process and are suspected in preventing male pattern baldness.

    So far no one has been able to prove any of the above theories to be wrong.

  • 15 passionlessDrone // Oct 27, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Hi Ms. Clark and everyone else –

    “HOW COULD VACCINES EVER CAUSE AUTISM? What’s the mechanism?”

    The mechanism, could be, viral infection of the CNS.

    It seems very likely you are aware that infection by ruebella prenatally has been associated with autism. Likewise, there are reports of late onset autistic behavior associated with herpes infections. We have several animal studies showing infections can lead to autistic like behaviors, as well as physiological differences frequently found in autism. Most of these studies are in conjunction with prenatal exposure to infection; which, of course, has been shown to be associated with higher rates of neurological disorders in humans already.

    Let us be clear, I’m not advocating that I believe this to be the cause of autism; merely pointing out that there is a possible mechanism that is more than just tin foil hats and shouting conspiracy theories. [I happen to believe that there are likely many things that eventually lead to the set of behaviors defined as autism.]

    As for a good deal of the rest of the responses, tearing down strawmen is simple, and apparently to some, quite the pasttime. Fine. But this does nothing to mitigate the fact that there have been no real studies evaluating the impact of the changes in the vaccine schedule on neurological disorders. Nor does it change the fact that there is a wealth of information providing evidence that infection by a variety of agents can lead to neurological disorders.

    If the recent recommendation that children now should not be given cold relievers tells us anything, it is that our most commonly held beliefs of what is safe, what has undergone rigorous testing for efficacy and safety, how well we should trust the judgement of regulatory agencies need to be questioned. No doubt, had two months ago I questioned the safely or efficacy of cold medicine for children, I would have received the same catcalls of misinformed alarmism, paranoia, and analogies to absurd claims (which I did not make). Go figure.

    Take care!

    – pD

  • 16 autblog // Oct 27, 2007 at 9:23 pm

    That’s still an extraordinary claim you are making, and extraordinary proof is called for. Until you or anyone can back up your conjectyure with evidence, expect lots of questions. Wakefield tried 10 years ago to show MMR caused autism. Is that the mechanism you’re talking about? Which vaccines do you suspect of introducing live virus into children? Science can’t prove a negative. If anyone thinks vaccines cause autism, then the burden of proof is on them to show evidence. So far, that evidence is wanting. That was the point of my post – that real scientists have recognized for several years that the case against vaccines is weak, and now the courts are catching up.

  • 17 Prometheus // Oct 28, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    pD makes the all-too-common mistake of misplacing the responsibility to support a claim.

    The claim that needs to be supported is:

    “Vaccines cause autism.”

    This claim has not yet been supported by data. In fact, available data (including a very sloppy telephone survey by Generation Rescue) indicates that vaccines don’t have anything to do with autism.

    So, pD, rather than making an unsupported assertion (“vaccines cause autism”) and expecting someone else to do the legwork, how about providing the data that supports your assertion.

    If, on the other hand, you are just “playing Devil’s Advocate”, you still have the same obligation.

    It’s an interesting hypothesis, pD – where’s the data to support it?

    Prometheus

  • 18 Timelord // Oct 29, 2007 at 6:23 am

    Autism Diva noted on the Quackbusters list that as the Autism DX has increased, the diagnosis of mental retardation and special learning disability has gone down – at almost exactly the same rate. What does that tell you?

    I’ve always said the reason for the increase in DX was the DSM-IV, and the DSM-IV-TR – not any other factors.

    I also take offence to the word “epidemic”. That should be reserved for diseases. Autism is not a disease. It is a genetic difference – no different to skin colour, gender or whatever else.

  • 19 Timelord // Oct 29, 2007 at 6:27 am

    The key to the claim that thiomersal causes Autism revolves around one critical need. The assertion that there were no Autistics at all before 1931.

    Which the CDDS data that I’ve seen mentioned on Joseph’s blog (as well as the dearly departed LB/RB) ably disproves with three people currently listed – and born before 1931. And that’s just currently listed.

    Just as a note – there are two more hearings in the vaccine court in the chute. One is being heard as we speak if it hasn’t already finished. The other starts next month. Both of them are concentrating on thiomersal (the Cedillo Case went after the combination of MMR and thiomersal).

    Unfortunately the case would be seen as a precedent for the lawyers who are representing the mercury militia effectively. All it needs is a decision in the Cedillo’s favour – and that will open one huge can of worms.

    I’ve got a feeling the above post of mine should have gone on the other thread! I should go to bed I think!

  • 20 passionlessDrone // Oct 29, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Hi Promotheus –

    “pD makes the all-too-common mistake of misplacing the responsibility to support a claim.”

    This site is (supposedly) about making good information available to reporters. My contention all along was simply that the information provided here was an incomplete picture of the total of research done in regards to a possible link between vaccination and autism. I am not making any request that the author ‘prove’ anything; merely acknowledge that large areas are still unstudies.

    As far as my (?) hypothesis, I was simply showing that there is a possible mechanism of action, something which Ms. Clark thought did not exist. At the very least, we should be able to agree that there is a possible mechanism of action. I’ll be the first to admit that this mechanism of action has very little evidence, but would contend this is a reflection of the fact that it hasn’t been studied, which is distinctly different than it having been studied, and found to be inadequate.

    Take care!

    – pD

  • 21 passionlessDrone // Oct 29, 2007 at 1:33 pm

    Hi Promotheus –

    Part of my job would be much harder without google, but would I get more done because I’d be researching autism less? That is a question like whether we can truly know if there is an epidemic or not; we may never know the answer.

    Anyways, check this study out:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=15976761&ordinalpos=9&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    From the abstract:

    “Despite wide use of the influenza vaccine, relatively little is known about its effect on the measurement of inflammatory markers. ” (no kidding!)

    “There was a significant increase in mean IL-6 (P

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