Oct 23 2007

Vaccines and Autism

The latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer features a cover article on vaccines and autism by yours truly. I have written quite a bit about this issue over the last year on this blog, and the article is a good compilation of everything I have written, and brings the reader up to date on this issue.

But of course the world of print media grinds much more slowly that the blogosphere. I wrote the article about three months ago and already there have been developments in the vaccines and autism story. As I wrote about in September, a large study conducted by the CDC was published and showed that use of thimerosal does not correlate with any adverse neurological outcome. The study did not look at autism specifically, but at a long list of neurological symptoms. A similar study looking at thimerosal and autism is under way and should be published next year. The mercury militia, true to form, completely misrepresented this negative study, claiming against the evidence that it showed a correlation.

Also since writing the article Jenny McCarthy has been making the rounds promoting her new book in which she claims that her mommy instinct trumps scientific evidence. She has a son with autism and has embraced the woo without reservation. Orac has done a find job, as usual, of exposing her nonsense, and the folly of Oprah and others who uncritically promote her. McCarthy is very confused on this issue, and the nature of science and evidence in general, but she has celebrity and she is using her celebrity to spread fear mongering and misinformation. Unfortunately it is a familiar formula: ignorance + celebrity = harm.

Another development is the increasing use of the religious exemption by parents to avoid giving their children vaccines, even though their decisions are not based upon faith but rather upon false fears about vaccines. Parents who have bought the mercury militia and Jenny McCarthy pseudoscience are exploiting the laws in some states regarding religious exemptions, essentially lying about their faith, in order to subvert mandatory vaccinations. In so doing they are not only putting their own children at risk but others as well. Vaccine efficacy is partly dependent upon herd immunity – that there are not enough susceptible hosts for a germ to spread. If enough people forgo the vaccine, infectious diseases can spread, including to those with weak immune systems or those for whom the vaccine was not adequate to provide protection.

In the article I wrote about the Autism Omnibus – the federal court that is hearing the first 9 test cases of claims that vaccines caused autism. There is no decision yet from the three special masters, judges appointed to hear the cases. We should hear something by early next year, however.

The story of false fears about the safety of vaccines is far from over. There is a dedicated and vocal group of anti-vaccination ideologues that are working to undermine the vaccine program. They are immune to reason and evidence. Theirs is an ideological crusade. Science bloggers, however, are on the case. We are the self-appointed watchdogs on pseudoscientific malfeasance. So stay tuned as we expose the nonsense as it occurs.

Meanwhile, pick up the latest issue of the Skeptical Inquirer. You can find it in most bookstores, or off the SI website. Despite the proliferation of skeptical writing (an outstanding development I have been happy to both watch and participate in) SI remains must reading for any self-respecting skeptic.

15 responses so far

15 thoughts on “Vaccines and Autism”

  1. jonny_eh says:

    I believe the latest issue of Skeptic Magazine also has a cover story on vaccines and autism.

    I enjoy both magazines, I recommend the both to any self respecting skeptic. They’re not monthly, so they’re easy to afford.

  2. sjones71 says:

    Very informative article. Well done. I hate to be one of those the-media-sucks-and-it’s-all-their-fault kind of people, but I just wish they’d talk to people like you to get a real view of the science behind this stuff. I’ve seen Jenny Freaking McCarthy on Oprah and Larry King so far. Jenny McCarthy as the vaccine authority? Are you kidding me? Tom Cruise as the depression authority is one thing, but Jenny McCarthy as an authority on anything other than how to survive being slightly famous and kind of pretty is revolting.

  3. Ralph says:

    Why isn’t there a real scientific study done? You know, one with a control group of non vaccinated children?

    Since there seems to be 0.3 percent unvaccinated, that leaves about 12,000. With 66 per 10,000 kids getting autism there should be a significant number in that group.

    Maybe the number would be so shocking there’s good reason to avoid a real scientific study.

  4. psamathos says:

    Yeesh, the Skeptical Inquirer web site is really out of date, but I’ll check news stands if only to read your article!

  5. Ralph,

    A number of “real” scientific studies have been done, looking at the correlation of vaccination an autism, comparing different populations, vaccinated and unvaccinated kids, the timing of vaccination, and the effects of the removal of vaccination. They all show no correlation.

    The anti-vaccinationists, however, always want one more study, and then they refuse to accept the results of such studies when they come out. The recent CDC study that showed no correlation between vaccines and neurological disorders is a good example. There is one ongoing specifically looking at autism, I predict it will be negative and the anti-vaccinationists will reject it out of hand.

    There is no conspiracy of avoidance here, as you imply. That is nothing but anti-vaccine propaganda. This is just the “one more study” strategy common to deniers.

  6. Ralph says:

    Thanks for your reply Steven.

    I was wondering, could you supply a link or reference to one of those studies you mention which use unvaccinated kids as a control group?

  7. DoC says:

    Uchiyama T, Kurosawa M, Inaba Y.
    J Autism Dev Disord. 2007 Feb;37(2):210-7.
    MMR-vaccine and regression in autism spectrum disorders: negative results presented from Japan.

    “During the period of MMR usage no significant difference was found in the incidence of regression between MMR-vaccinated children and non-vaccinated children.”

  8. Well, in humans it is not possible to do anything other than opine based on assumptions about thimerosal and what it is doing to kids. Not that this is a perfect model, but a highly controlled study has been carried out at UC Davis with the MIND institute testing the role of thimerosal in the normal development of mice. They actually find null effects, which is to say nothing. The provisos are that the mouse used in studies showing thimerosal are poor mice anyways and the more recent study simply refuted the earlier.

    Here is the link tot he direct article:

    Berman RF, Pessah IN, Mouton PR, Mav D, & Harry J (2007 in press) Low Level Neonatal Thimerosal Exposure: Further Evaluation of Altered Neurotoxic Potential in SJL Mice. Toxicological Sciences.

  9. kes says:

    I take great offense when anyone tries to use genetics as part of their argument against the vaccine connection. The research I’ve read has had led me to conclude that these children are more susceptible to damage from toxins because of their genetics. What about the G alpha protein defect theory? Just casually referring to genetics can be as damaging as the public health nurse who told me, “vaccines can’t cause autism. autism is genetic.” Funny. I haven’t read any news about that discovery. Did they isolate something and forget to tell all of us parents?

  10. Ralph says:

    “Government Concedes Vaccine-Autism Case in Federal Court – Now What?”

  11. Ralph says:

    Posted on December 13, 2007 by WHY

    The Public Health Council in New Jersey has voted to require all children attending preschool or daycare to be injected with four different vaccines….. This means that those parents who refuse to participate in such vaccination programs would be labeled “criminals” and arrested at gunpoint.

    MEDICAL TYRANNY IN MARYLAND: Parents Threatened With Jail Time for Not Vaccinating Children

    State Attorney General Glenn F. Ivey has announced he is willing to criminalize parents if they don’t bring them to the courthouse to have them injected, on the spot……

    This will all be conducted at gunpoint, with armed personnel and attack dogs at the ready………

    Want to learn more about Vaccines and Autism? Want to learn why the Amish show no signs of Autism while one in 166 who get vaccinated also get Autism?


  12. kater says:

    Jenny McCarthy is truly annoying. I have two autistic sons. I don’t believe that their autism was caused by vaccinations. I don’t know what caused their autism but I believe it was “there” since birth. I also have my sons on the special diet and supplements. They also have intensive therapy for behaviour, speech and motor skills. I know how much all this costs. Jenny McCarthy is proclaimed a “warrior Mom”, a hero for her son. She IS a hero for her son. She’s done everything she can for him and it seems to be helping. I’m very happy for her that her son is doing so well but the real heros are the parents who have to re-mortgage their homes, go into horrible debt, etc. or the single moms (or dads) doing it alone struggling to make ends meet and trying to give their children what help they can. All the while, waiting for government services to kick in. It’s all very well and easy to say” do this, do that” when you’ve got the money and the “status” behind you. Try doing the same thing, Jenny, on one income, working full-time without a nanny. Then we’ll talk about warriors.

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