Vaccines and autism – science says they are unrelated

vaccines and autism

Vaccines and autism are not linked or related according to real science, published in real scientific journals written by top scientists and physicians.

But this false claim is in the news again. Probably as a result of reports that more and more children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. So let’s take a look at the science.

On 28 March 2014, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that new data show that the estimated number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a disorder of neural development, usually appearing before the age of 3 years, characterized by impaired social interaction and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior, continues to rise.  The picture of ASD in US communities is changing. Continue reading “Vaccines and autism – science says they are unrelated”

Andrew Wakefield discredited – a collection of his attacks on vaccines

Andrew Wakefield discredited

Between Dorit Rubinstein Reiss and I, we have written over 100 articles about that cunning fraud, Andrew Wakefield. Are you going to find anything positive about him in any of those +100 articles? No way. Is Andrew Wakefield discredited as a physician, scientist, and vaccine expert? You bet.

Why are we so obsessed with pointing out that he has been discredited? Because he has become, through media manipulation and many anti-vaccine acolytes and sycophants, the face of the “vaccines cause autism” meme. Note to the casual reader – there is absolutely no evidence that vaccines cause autism.

Is Andrew Wakefield discredited? Damn straight he is.

Mr. Wakefield is no doctor. He has been stricken off the list of physicians in the UK which is tantamount to having his license to practice medicine revoked. Because he is no longer a physician, he can no longer be found in the Royal College of Surgeons.

And let’s not forget that Wakefield’s article, that made him a hero to the antivaccine crowd, in the Lancet was disowned by his coauthors and eventually retracted by the journal. Interesting little bit of trivia – the very first article (other than a welcome-test article) I ever wrote on here was about Wakefield.

Just to make life easier for those of you researching Andrew Wakefield and his various frauds, I’ve organized many of my posts into categories. Have fun debunking the basket of deplorables.  Continue reading “Andrew Wakefield discredited – a collection of his attacks on vaccines”

Anti-vaccine tweets correlated with affluent white women in five states

anti-vaccine tweets

Although there’s evidence that the anti-science beliefs surrounding vaccines cross a broad political spectrum, I’ve always wondered if rich white liberal women were the center of the anti-vaccine universe – this is based on my own personal anecdotal evidence, so let’s just consider that a belief than a fact. A recent analysis of anti-vaccine tweets may or may not confirm my beliefs about these rich white liberals.

There has been a dramatic increase, over the past few years, in the volume of tweets that claim that life-saving vaccines are linked to autism. Anyone who reads this blog knows that that claim is demonstrably and scientifically false. Despite the science, the belief that vaccines cause autism remains. And this view is promulgated on various locations on the internet.

Like with a lot of other controversial topics, the Twitter outrage about the danger of vaccines doesn’t actually reflect a sudden surge in anti-vaccine beliefs amongst the general population. According to a recently published peer-reviewed article, most of increase in these anti-vaccine tweets represent a very specific demographic. Individuals from affluent, populated areas in five states – California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania – seem to be the backbone of this sudden increase in anti-vaccine tweets.

Let’s take a look at this new paper. It could provide us with some information about the who is pushing the anti-vaccine narrative. Continue reading “Anti-vaccine tweets correlated with affluent white women in five states”

Aluminum causes autism? Anti-vaccine Shaw and Tomljenovic UPDATED

aluminum causes autism

Every morning I wake up with the vain hope that the vaccine deniers will give up on the thoroughly debunked vaccines-cause-autism tropes. And every morning I’m disappointed. Today’s trope is that vaccine aluminum causes autism. Despite the claims, there still is no evidence.

Two of our favorite anti-vaccine shills, Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic, have been the subject of scathing reviews numerous times by the feathery dinosaur. And they’re back again, using bad science, trying to convince the world that aluminum in vaccines is somehow linked to autism.

Well, let’s take a look at research, but don’t expect a different result when I last looked at a Shaw and Tomljenovic article about aluminum in vaccines. Which was retracted. Continue reading “Aluminum causes autism? Anti-vaccine Shaw and Tomljenovic UPDATED”

CDC vaccine patents – Robert F Kennedy Jr gets this one wrong too

CDC vaccine patents

There are some very elaborate conspiracy theories set up by the anti-vaccine tinfoil hat crowd, but I ran across a new one that use such a tortured path of logical fallacies and outright misunderstandings that I just had to review it. The claim is that the CDC vaccine patents are so valuable that the CDC itself sets aside all morality and ethics to endorse these vaccines to make more money for the CDC.

This particular conspiracy theory arises from none other than Robert F Kennedy, Jr, one of Donald Trump’s lapdogs for vaccines. Kennedy has made this claim for several years now, but repeated it in a recent interview, stating that, “the CDC is a subsidiary of the pharmaceutical industry. The agency owns more than 20 vaccine patents and purchases and sells $4.1 billion in vaccines annually.” Typically, Kennedy provides absolutely nothing in the form of supporting evidence. It makes no sense to argue against an imaginary claim – this is a pretty good example of an opinion rather than facts.

But here comes Ginger Taylor, one of the most ardent and science-ignoring anti-vaccine activists around these parts. In fact, she inspired my article entitled, Vaccines and autism science says they are unrelatedTaylor, who apparently has an autistic child, believes that vaccines “damaged” her child because, as a mother, she knows more than science. She considers science to be an elitist pursuit, it’s not data and evidence that matter but her opinion. Seriously, she has an utter lack of self-awareness, which apparently broke one of Orac’s favorite Big Pharma Irony Meters™. Her opinion of her own scientific knowledge is betrayed by the reality of her science knowledge.

So this same Ginger Taylor, vaccine denying silly person, decides to write an article with another torturous description of the CDC vaccine patents conspiracy theory, trying to support Kennedy’s outlandish claims. And she wrote this article in GreenMedInfo, one of the most ignorant anti-science websites on the inter webs, just a bit below NaturalNews in quality.

The problems with Taylor’s article are multi-fold – but generally, like so many  anti-vaccine types, they think they know a lot about a topic based on their 15 minutes of Google search time. But because Taylor is utterly uneducated and inexperienced with patents, she gets nearly all of her conspiracy theory wrong. Like almost all conspiracies.

So here we go, debunking another anti-vaccine myth.

Continue reading “CDC vaccine patents – Robert F Kennedy Jr gets this one wrong too”

Price v HHS – statute of limitations, tolling, vaccines and autism

Price v HHS

On Thursday May 9, 2014 the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that Christopher Wynn (pdf), in the case of Price v HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services), could not be compensated through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) – even if he proved a vaccine injury – because his mother, Chandra Price, waited too long to pursue his claim. The court ruled against Ms. Price and Christopher on jurisdictional grounds, but also decided that there was no reason to use equitable tolling, a legal doctrine that allows the court to set aside a technical objection for reasons of fairness. Continue reading “Price v HHS – statute of limitations, tolling, vaccines and autism”

Paul Offit MD – debunking the anti-vaccine tropes and myths

Paul Offit

I have long considered Paul Offit MD as one of heroes and leaders of the public discussion of how vaccines save lives, and how they have made the lives of the world’s children healthier and better. Dr. Offit, together with Edward Jenner (the father of immunology), Jonas Salk (discoverer of the polio vaccine), and Maurice Hillman (inventor of the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella), should have statues place outside of every pediatric hospital in the country for the number of lives that they have saved.

Unfortunately, since Dr. Offit is considered one of the “leaders” of the pro-vaccine majority, his name has been demonized by the anti-vaccine cult. These people use the Big Liea Nazi propaganda technique where a known falsehood is repeatedly stated, then treated as if it is self-evidently true in hopes of swaying the course of an argument in a direction that takes the big lie for granted rather than critically questioning it or ignoring it.

The vaccine deniers constantly repeat untruths about Dr. Offit so that those lies eventually evolve into apparent truths, at least for those who hold onto their pseudoscientific anti-vaccine beliefs.

The problem is, of course, that if you’re a new parent who is confused by what vaccines may or may not do, you’d assume you could not accept anything that Dr. Offit says because of those Big Lies, and many of the ridiculous tropes and memes of the vaccine denialists. And this is sad.

Let’s counter the Big Lie with the Big Facts.

Continue reading “Paul Offit MD – debunking the anti-vaccine tropes and myths”

Vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders

Vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders

This post examines the treatment by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) of the first of two claims (see second one here) heard from those claiming vaccines cause more injuries than acknowledged in recent days. This article will focus on vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders – while the second one will cover an NVICP decision with respect to a form of an autoimmune syndrome.

The Special Master’s decisions – as many decisions in NVICP are – are long, complex, and examine the evidence closely and in detail. They address factual debates, expert disagreements specific to the case and expert disagreements on the science.

This post won’t cover them – that’s not my goal. All I will address are the Special Master’s conclusion about two hypotheses raised by those who believe vaccines injured their child (and also promoted by anti-vaccine organizations).

The NVICP (commonly called the Vaccine Court) is a no-fault program created by Congress to serve two goals: to protect the vaccine supply by offering limited liability protections to vaccine manufacturers and providers and to help those injured by vaccines – or even those who may have been so injured – be compensated more easily than in the regular courts.

As I addressed in the past, NVICP provides petitioners – as claimants are called – with substantial breaks compared to the regular courts. Petitioners do not have to prove a product defect or any kind of fault; the requirements for proving causation are relaxed; evidentiary rules are relaxed, allowing the introduction of evidence and experts that would not be allowed in a regular court.

NVICP is not, however, a benefits program. Its goal is not providing any parent with a child with a problem support. The United States certainly needs to offer more support to families of children with disabilities, but NVICP’s aim is different: it focuses on compensating injuries that may, at least, have been caused by vaccines.

To be compensated by an NVICP decision a petitioner does need to meet minimal standards suggesting a possible connection between a vaccine and an injury (a settlement does not require similar proof; parties settle for all kinds of reasons, including a view that the case isn’t worth litigating). At the very least a petitioner needs to show an injury, and provide expert testimony (expert testimony is generally needed when someone claims medical causation in the courts as well – that a medical act, device, drug etc. caused harm – with very narrow exceptions).

Continue reading “Vaccine injury compensation and mitochondrial disorders”

Vaxxed misinformation – legal remedies for those harmed?

vaxxed misinformation

The documentary Vaxxed uses misrepresentation to scare people from vaccinating and protecting their kids from disease. For example, it strongly suggests that MMR causes autism, and doesn’t mention that studies from all around the world show otherwise. Scientific research solidly refutes any link between vaccines and autism. I think it is time to examine if there are any legal remedies for those harmed by Vaxxed misinformation.

The documentary claims that there is a conspiracy by the CDC to hide the link between MMR and autism, even though the documents supposed to support that conspiracy do not support such accusations. In spite of the fact that even if the CDC wanted to hide such a link, it couldn’t control studies done in other countries looking at the issue (and finding no link). It makes untrue statements about vaccine testing, like falsely claiming that vaccines are not tested in combination.

In addition, in several cities, the Vaxxed team – discredited scientist Andrew Wakefield, his collaborator Polly Tommey, and producer Del Bigtree, and occasionally others – followed certain screenings with a question and answer session. In those sessions they made false claims that could mislead parents away from protecting their children by vaccinating.

The Vaxxed team claimed that preventable diseases were not prevented by vaccines. Among other things they claimed that vaccines were both ineffective and unsafe, ignoring abundant research showing the opposite: modern vaccines are extremely safe and effective.

Del Bigtree falsely described the hepatitis B vaccine – that protects against a virus that can cause liver disease and cancer – as “injecting a sexually transmitted disease”, potentially scaring parents off protecting their children against this dangerous infection. Finally, the Vaxxed team warned listeners against seeing pediatricians, because they can’t be trusted (see here and here for more of their misrepresentations and misinformation).

If a viewer watches Vaxxed and listens to the team’s advice, decides not to vaccinate based on this misleading information, and their child gets a preventable disease and is harmed by it, can they sue for money damages in torts?

What if their unvaccinated child infected a third party who was harmed?  Continue reading “Vaxxed misinformation – legal remedies for those harmed?”

What causes autism – real science says it is not vaccines

what causes autism

Real science has shown us that vaccines are unrelated to autism. Over a hundred peer-reviewed published studies refute the hypothesis that vaccines are linked to autism spectrum disorders (ASD). And despite the pseudoscience pushed by vaccine deniers, the scientific consensus is that vaccines do not cause autism. So, what causes autism? That’s a question that has not been completely answered, but we have a lot of evidence supporting a few hypotheses.

There have been a whole bunch of proposed causes for autism, other than vaccines. GMOs. Pesticides. Emily Willingham, Ph.D., whom I consider to be one of the leading ASD scientific experts on this planet, wrote a hysterical, but still appropriate, article about all the popular “causes” of autism:

This last week or so, every day seemed to bring a new finding about something linked to autism. I blogged one of them — diabetes — but who really would have the wherewithal to follow the growing list of factors linked to autism? I guess I would because below, I give you that very list, including current pop hits and some blasts from the past, with some brief commentary. Without further ado — The ever-changing face of autism — or, as some have wisely suggested we call it — the autisms.

What causes autism is a question that does not have “vaccines” as the answer. And despite all of the memes, Facebook groups, and nonsense pushed by pseudoscience websites, like Age of Autism, science actually has a pretty good idea about what causes autism. And let me repeat it once more, it isn’t vaccines.


What is autism spectrum disorder

I’m not going to go into all the details about ASD diagnosis, symptoms and treatments – that would take up a book. But, I will spend a bit of time defining what constitutes autism spectrum disorder. ASD is a range of different conditions classified as neurodevelopmental disorders in DSM-5. However, individuals diagnosed with ASD must present with two general symptoms:

  • Deficits in social interaction and communication
  • Repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior interests or activities

Autism spectrum disorder encompasses diagnoses of autism, Asperger syndromepervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and childhood disintegrative disorder. All of these disorders include the following features – social deficits, communications difficulties, repetitive behaviors and interests, sensory issues, and, occasionally, cognitive delays.

Furthermore, there is a range of symptoms from minor to severe, with each person with ASD expressing it in an almost infinite variety of symptoms and severity. Although ASD is considered “incurable,” it is not a sentence of a mental prison for the patient. The lay public tends to box ASD children into one small stereotype, like people do with most mental health disorders, despite the fact that there is huge variability in how a child expresses ASD.

There is a variety of evidence-based interventions for autistic children. Many of the methods employ a psychoeducational approach to enhance cognitive, communication, behavioral, and social skills. There is no one single treatment that is best for all children with ASD, so treatment is typically adjusted to meet the needs of the child.

Although evidence-based interventions for autistic children vary in their methods, many adopt a psychoeducational approach to enhancing cognitive, communication, and social skills while minimizing problem behaviors. It has been argued that no single treatment is best and treatment is typically tailored to the child’s needs.

I think the most important thing to note about ASD is that it is a complex disorder with a wide range of symptoms. It’s not a “death sentence” for either the parents or child, despite what you may have heard on the internet.


What causes autism – genetics

The best evidence we have is that ASD is a genetic disorder. Researchers first recognized genetics as the foundation of ASD in the 1970s. Studies on twins showed that monozygotic twins (genetically identical) were more likely to share a diagnosis of ASD than dizygotic (non-identical) twins. That is a strong indicator of a genetic relationship to ASD.

More recently, a large population study, which included over 7,000 pairs of twins, provided further evidence of a genetic link for ASD. The authors concluded that,

Genetic factors underpinning individual differences in autism like traits show considerable overlap with genetic influences on diagnosed ASD.

Studies have consistently found that the prevalence of autism in siblings of autistic children is approximately 15-30 times greater than the rate in the general population. Based on all of this supporting evidence, researchers have come to deduced that shared genetic variants in families are probably more important than shared environments for triggering ASD in children.

Actually, there have been over 100 genes that have been identified to be linked to ASD. That’s more linkage to genetics than other common health problems that are known to have links to genetics like cardiovascular diseases or some cancers.

The big question that remains is how do these genes affect the brain that leads to ASD. Research is moving to examining those gene mutations that increases (or decreases) the risk of developing ASD.

I know that there is a tendency to want to blame something for ASD. It’s a hard realization that ASD is related to one’s genes that they pass on to their children. But there’s no blame there – it’s how genes randomly combine to form your child.


What causes autism – exposure to infections and medications during pregnancy

Let’s be clear – not everyone with the genes discussed above has ASD. Because mutations to genes alone may not be solely responsible for ASD. Once a child has an underlying genetic predisposition or mutation to ASD, it may take a trigger from an environmental factor to fully cause ASD.

This is where the science starts to get a little hazy – there are tons of different potential environmental factors that might contribute to or trigger autism. And no, vaccines are not one of them, that’s been dismissed by scientific evidence. But other contributors are still in the hypothesis stage – pollution, pesticides, anti-depressants, and viral infections. Unfortunately, like Dr. Willingham implied, there are a bunch of hypotheses that lack robust evidence to support them. In many cases, we have robust evidence that the hypothesis is completely wrong (did I mention vaccines?).

We have a lot of confidence that there is a genetic pre-disposition to autism. Very robust, repeated, and published evidence. On the environmental side, there is little clarity (except that vaccines are not related – am I repeating myself?).

So what do we have? There is very strong evidence that a rubella infection during pregnancy leads to a significantly increased risk of autism in her baby. Immunization against rubella before or during may be an effective strategy to reduce the risk of autism in children of those mothers.

The evidence of a relationship between other viruses and autism is not quite as strong. For example, there is some very weak evidence (reviewed here) that influenza in pregnant mothers may be related to an increased risk of autism in their children. Since the flu vaccine is very safe for use in pregnant mothers, it is a good argument to get the vaccine.

Despite what you’ve read on the internet, most of the other evidence is weak, conflicting, or downright inconclusive. For example, what about SSRI antidepressants? Actually, a meta-review of anti-depressant use during pregnancy showed no effect on the risk of ASD in babies as a result of antidepressant use by the mother. However, it is possible that depression (not the use of antidepressants) in the mother prior to conception may be an environmental risk factor.

A massive meta-review of environmental risk factors showed either a small correlation to ASD. Or none at all. Here are some of the factors where there is no robust evidence that there is either a positive or negative association between it and ASD:

  • Preconception chemical exposure
  • Pesticide exposure during pregnancy
  • Pesticide exposure during childhood
  • Air pollution
  • Heavy metals (including mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminum, arsenic, nickel, uranium, and tin)
  • Urine porphyrin
  • Solvents
  • Folic acid
  • Camel milk (yes, camel milk)
  • Gluten free diet
  • Omega-3

In fact, the review found only one environmental risk factor that has a strong association with ASD – valproate, a medication used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder.

Another environmental factor seems to be strongly linked to ASD – being male. According to research, autism spectrum disorder affects boys about 4X more than girls. It also appears that it takes fewer genetic mutations for boys to get autism than girls. The reason for this male risk factor is unknown, though there’s a lot of wild speculation, including that there might not be sex-based differences in risk, it’s just harder to diagnose in girls.


What causes autism? Still not vaccines

After reviewing the evidence, we know two things for sure:

  • Vaccines are not related to autism.
  • Genetics are related to autism.

Other than those two scientifically supported conclusions, research is still ongoing and is mostly inconclusive. So why do some parents still want to blame vaccines? There are probably a lot of reasons, but mostly it’s because they ignore the ironclad conclusive evidence about vaccines and ASD, and focus on the general lack of strong evidence in other areas.

The evidence about autism and genetics is complicated and not prone to a simplistic, one-sentence descriptions. It’s easy to wrap your arms around it like “vaccines cause autism” – it’s simple and easy to state.  On the other hand, there’s the little issue that if your child has autism and that’s a result of genes, those genes come from only two places – the mother and father. Maybe its just easier to blame vaccines or gluten in the diet rather than accept that one’s own genes are to blame.

There is a boatload more research that needs to be done for us to completely understand what causes autism spectrum disorders. But we have a boatload of evidence that it’s not vaccines.