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.
One of the age-old tropes of the anti-vaccine statistics world is that kids who have been vaccinated against the measles are more likely to get measles than those who are not vaccinated. I squashed this myth severaltimes; unfortunately, those are old articles with broken links and such.
If you cruise around the internet, engaging with the antivaccination cult (not recommended), you will pick up on their standard tropes, lies, and other anti-science commentary. One that has always bothered me, not because that it was a lie, but because I had enough evidence floating in my brain that I was wondering if it were true–that vaccines cause diabetes, especially the Type 1 version.
In another example of the antivaccination world’s cherry picking evidence to support their a priori conclusions, they ignore the utter lack of plausibility supporting any link between vaccines and Type 1 diabetes.
Moreover, Classen seems to come to his beliefs based on population-wide correlations that rely on post hoc fallacies, rather than actually showing causality between vaccines and diabetes. It’s like finding that a 5% increase in consumption of Big Macs is correlated with Republican wins in elections. They may happen at the same time, but it would take a laughable series events to show any relationship.
About two years ago, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed SB277 into law, which mandated that all school age children must have all vaccines appropriate for their age before they could enter private or public schools. The law nearly eliminated the ability to get personal belief exemptions (PBE), which allowed parents to object to vaccinations for almost any reason. The new law does allow for medical exemptions, that is, children who have some medical condition that contraindicates a vaccine may be exempted from these rules. As a result of this law, it was predicted that the California vaccine uptake for school age children would increase substantially, while reducing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases.
Those of us who have been keen observers and supporters of SB277 were hoping for the best – that the vaccination rate in the state would show increases quickly. And it did.
Data released this week (pdf), from the California Department of Public Health, showed an exceptional increase in the percentage of California’s kindergarteners who were fully vaccinated (for their age group) – it rose from 92.8% to 95.6%. But, there’s even more astonishing data underneath that. With the advent of the new law, 97.3% of California’s kindergartners have received both MMR vaccinations, up from 94.5% in 2016 and 92.6% in 2014. The same was shown for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine – it went from 94.2% in 2015 to 96.9% in 2016. There should be cheering in the streets of California for the success of SB277.
The increase in vaccine uptake for all mandated vaccines is dramatic – not only does it show that SB277 has stemmed the overuse of personal belief exemptions that was slowly reducing California vaccine uptake, but it also has increased that uptake to levels far above historical. This graph illustrates how well the law has worked in a short period of time:
The best part of the law is that it’s increasing vaccine uptake in areas of the state where the overuse of PBEs was pushing the vaccination rate down. Most California’s counties have vaccination rates above 95%, which is considered the level at which the herd effect for measles vaccinations prevent the rapid spreading of the disease. Furthermore, only 4 relatively small counties in California have rates below 90%.
California state Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who is also a pediatrician and who was one of the primary supporters of SB277, tweeted out “Great News.” Obviously he’s ecstatic with this data on California vaccine uptake across the state.
Dr. Pan was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, and said,
Measles certainly hasn’t gone away. We need to be sure to have our immunization levels high enough. The fact that this class and the state overall has now achieved this level is one further step to restore the community immunity we had before.
He also noted that the data shows the significant increase in very young children, kindergartners. He mentioned that there are still significant number of older children who are not vaccinated because of the lax requirements in previous vaccine laws, which made PBEs very easy to get. SB277 also requires 7th graders to be completely up-t0-date on their vaccines, so all children should eventually be caught up with their vaccines. Unfortunately, many students who have passed that 7th grade vaccination checkpoint may be insufficiently vaccinated. Or not vaccinated at all.
The University of California (UC) system has stated that it will require vaccines for all new enrollees at its 10 campuses (along with the UC Hastings College of Law which has decided to comply with the UC requirements). Like the state law, it eliminates all personal belief exemptions, but does allow medical ones. Eventually, this mandate will cover the over 230,000 students in the system.
There are reasons to cheer all of this news out of California regarding immunization rates. But that’s just one state, albeit the largest and arguably the most influential state in the country. Other than California, only two other states have laws that have eliminated personal belief exemptions for immunizations – Mississippi and West Virginia, both of which have high vaccine uptake. And the easy availability of personal belief exemptions have lead many states to have vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine that are far below the 95% target. This graphic shows which states have significant deviations from the 95% standard for MMR vaccine (thanks to BuzzFeedNews):
Sadly, it may not be possible for a lot of states to copy California’s success with vaccines. One of the worst performing states for the MMR vaccine is Colorado, and, according to BuzzFeed News,
Vaccine advocates in Colorado are envious of their counterparts in California. “We are watching California very closely, and kudos to them for getting that bill through,” Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, told BuzzFeed News.
She believes it would be very difficult to enact similar legislation in Colorado, which has libertarian conservatives who reject government mandates on vaccines, as well as liberal enclaves like Boulder where many parents seek out alternative health care and see vaccines as a tool of Big Pharma.
Libertarian conservatives and liberals on the same side of the fence on vaccines? The problem with both groups is that they ignore the health of children just to be “politically virtuous” about vaccines. Except they are scientifically and medically wrong.
So let’s give an ovation for hard working politicians of California, who decided that the health of the state’s children was the paramount consideration for vaccinations. Dr. Pan and many other state legislators decided that the most effective way of increasing the California vaccine uptake was to reduce the availability of personal belief exemptions. And they were right – California’s immunization rate has increased appreciably because of SB277.
Several of the ongoing memes, tropes and fabrications of the vaccine deniers is somehow, somewhere, in some Big Pharma boardroom, a group of men and women in suits choose the next vaccine in some magical way, and foist it upon the world just to make billions of dollars through vaccine profits. Of course, while magically concocting this vaccine brew, these pharmaceutical execs ignore ethics and morals just to make a profit on hapless vaccine-injured victims worldwide.
The Big Pharma vaccine profits conspiracy trope ranges across the junk medicine world. Homeopathy, for example, claims that Big Pharma suppresses the data that shows water cures all diseases. Like Ebola.
But the Big Pharma vaccine profits conspiracy is still one of most amusing myths of the antivaccination world.
In this post I explain how one goes about proving a case in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), and how that differs from proving a case in the civil courts, focusing on what it means to have a no-fault program and proving causation. I will use a case that started with the tragic death of a young child after a vaccine to illustrate the complexity and operation of the program, and also to address the idea of federal preemption, and how it limits the ability of those claiming vaccine injuries to use state courts for their claims.
The goal of this article is to respond to a number of recurring myths raised by anti-vaccine activists regarding vaccine testing and safety – a common trope used against vaccines.
The bottom line is that vaccines are extensively and carefully tested for safety, and that vaccine safety is shown by many, many studies from a variety of sources, reinforcing each other and all pointing to the same result – serious problems from vaccines are possible, but extremely rare. And those small, rare risks are far outweighed by the benefits vaccines provide by protecting us against much larger risks.
I have written more about the question, “are vaccines and autism linked?,” than just about any other topic other than the cancer preventing HPV vaccine, Gardasil. Unless you want to ignore the overwhelming evidence, the scientific consensus is pretty clear – vaccines are not linked to autism.
In my article, Vaccines and autism – science says they are unrelated, I list out over 125 published, peer-reviewed articles (as of today) that basically provide us with some of the overwhelming evidence that debunks the myth that vaccines cause autism. But that’s a long list that takes quite a bit of time to absorb. I think it’s more important to focus on the handful of the best studies that provide the best evidence. I hope this kind of resource helps you refute arguments from patients, friends, and family members who might try to claim that “we don’t vaccinate because of the autism risk.” I can’t guarantee that a few important studies will convince anyone, but maybe it will help with a fence sitter.
I’m relying upon Dr. Peter Hotez’s article, The “Why Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism” Papers, published in PLOS Blogs to choose the best of the best papers. I’m going to add a couple of more categories, because they discredit some of the arguments that try to state that the answer to the question, are vaccines and autism linked, is yes.
I have been unwavering on this one point – there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They are simply unrelated, based on high quality evidence published in respected peer-reviewed journals across the world. To dispute this conclusion, using only low quality evidence published in predatory and low impact factor journals, is the epitome of science denialism.
There are some interesting early results from a study, published in Nature, that is examining brain development in infants who are at risk for autism spectrum disorder. The study hasn’t uncovered any new information about what may cause autism, but it did confirm that the MMR vaccine is unrelated to autism. Throw this study onto the mountain of evidence that completely debunks that myth.
The ongoing study’s results indicates that changes in the brain in early infancy may be predictive of an autism diagnosis at age 2 in children who have higher odds of autism because an older sibling has been diagnosed with ASD. The researchers took MRI images of the brains of children at higher risk at ages 6, 12, and 24 months, along with administering a test at age 24 months that assists in the diagnosis of autism along with another test that evaluates social skills.
The early results (the final paper will come out within a year or two) suggests that rapid growth of the surface of the cerebrum from ages 6-12 months preceded an increase in brain volume at age 12-24 months in children at risk for ASD and who were diagnosed with ASD at 24 months. Based on this cortical surface growth, the researchers were able to predict an ASD diagnosis in 81% of high risk children who eventually were diagnosed with ASD.
Again, this study didn’t provide us with any information about possible causality for ASD – it provides us some evidence of predictive diagnostic methods. Moreover, the study had a relatively low study population, and we really need repeated studies to confirm the value of this study.
Emily Willingham, writing in Forbes, does a rather thorough review of the study for those interested in the predictive ability of the study. She says this about what this study says about any relationship between the MMR vaccine and an ASD diagnosis:
Finally, these changes before age 12 months that are associated with a later autism diagnosis precede the timing of administration of the MMR vaccine. This vaccine, readers may recall, is the one that true-believer anti-vaccine activists consistently promote as causative in autism. According to the vaccination schedule, it is administered at age 12 months. These latest detected changes arise before that age, but the rapid growth associated with them kicks in right at about age 12 months, once again illustrating that coincidence of events doesn’t always mean their association.
Dr. Willingham states that the changes that precede a diagnosis of autism appear well before the first administration of the vaccine. The first MMR vaccination just happens to be coincidental to the rapid growth that is associated with ASD. Remember correlation doesn’t imply causation, especially now that we have evidence that the brain changes indicated in ASD occur prior to administration of the MMR vaccine.
I know that the “true-believer anti-vaccine activists” will be unconvinced by this evidence, and that is sad. There is simply no evidence that MMR vaccine and autism are related. In fact, evidence suggest that they are not related.
The MMR vaccine saves lives, so let’s just protect our children with it.
Hazlett HC, Gu H, Munsell BC, Kim SH, Styner M, Wolff JJ, Elison JT, Swanson MR, Zhu H, Botteron KN, Collins DL, Constantino JN, Dager SR, Estes AM, Evans AC, Fonov VS, Gerig G, Kostopoulos P, McKinstry RC, Pandey J, Paterson S, Pruett JR, Schultz RT, Shaw DW, Zwaigenbaum L, Piven J; IBIS Network.; Clinical Sites.; Data Coordinating Center.; Image Processing Core.; Statistical Analysis.. Early brain development in infants at high risk for autism spectrum disorder. Nature. 2017 Feb 15;542(7641):348-351. doi: 10.1038/nature21369. PubMed PMID: 28202961.
Other than stating that I objectively support Dr. Summers’ statements and conclusions, I don’t have much else to say. But you and I know that an op-ed piece by a real doctor will be noticed by someone in the vaccine denier world, and they will pull out every single trope, myth, and conspiracy theory to claim that Dr. Summers is wrong and that there really is a “vaccines cause autism debate.”
I came across an article by Jeremy R Hammond in the right wing alternative news website, Personal Liberty, which attacked Dr. Summers with those aforementioned tropes, myths, and conspiracy theories. The same ones you’d see from any of your standard, run-of-the-mill vaccine denier.
Let’s take a look at Hammond’s article. Generally, I can only get through about half of an anti-vaccine article when I have to stop because I’m banging my head against the desk too much. I need to protect the neurons in my brain from further damage. But I will try to persevere in the name of science.