Vaccines cause diabetes – another myth refuted and debunked

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.

A lot of the vaccine deniers believe that vaccines cause a lot of everything, and several claim that vaccines cause Type 1 diabetes (or here), based on little evidence. As far as I can tell, this myth is based on the “research” from  J. Barthelow Classen, M.D., who has pushed the idea that vaccines causes type 1 diabetes, through some magical process that has never been supported by other independent evidence.

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. At best, Classen has cherry-picked statistics to support his predetermined conclusions, “comparing apples to oranges with health data from different countries, and misrepresenting studies to back his claim.”

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.

All about diabetes

It’s going to get a bit science-y in this section. Sorry about that, but diabetes is complicated, it never can be explained with an 140 character Tweet.

What is Type 1 diabetes? The basic power source of our body is glucose, which is produced from almost anything we eat (carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, and fats). It is usually tightly regulated by the body, so that when you have excess glucose in the blood, it is taken out of the blood and stored–but when the blood glucose drops, it is then released from storage to be used for energy.

The key hormone, insulin, which regulates the level of glucose in the body is released by the Beta cells of the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas when blood sugar goes up–insulin induces storage cells to remove and store glucose from the blood. In a complex interaction, the hormone glucagon, produced by other cells in the pancreas when the blood glucose level is too low, which then induces release of that stored glucose. (This once again goes to show how complex living systems are, and simple explanations are laughable and should be dismissed.) It’s a fascinating system of the body, and it’s remarkable that it works so well in 99% of people.

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own antibodies attack the Islets of Langerhans, causing the production of insulin to drop or even to be halted. As of today, there are no cures, and the only way to treat someone is to regularly inject human insulin, which is produced by bioengineered E. coli.

Ironically, the human insulin gene has been inserted in GM safflower, to be used as another method of mass-producing human insulin. Before the wide availability of insulin in the 1920’s (usually pig insulin whose structure is similar to human insulin, but still caused a lot of allergic reactions), children simply died of the disease. Nothing could be done.

T1D should not be confused with two other types of diabetes, one called latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (sometimes called LADA or Type 1.5 diabetes), but really has no practical difference with T1D except age of the commencement of symptoms. Instead of showing symptoms as a child, it appears in late adulthood, typically 30’s and early 40’s. Like typical Type 1 diabetes, the only treatment for LADA is insulin injections.

The other form is Type 2 diabetes (T2D), which is probably caused by a combination of genetics, obesity, eating behavior, and several other lifestyle factors. Usually in T2D, the pancreas produces sufficient insulin, but the body’s cells and organs become “resistant” to the insulin, meaning that they ignore the signal to store glucose, and thus the blood glucose remains high.

Oral medications, behavioral changes, such as improved diet and exercise, can often help manage if not reverse T2D. And “natural supplements” probably won’t help at all. Eventually, a person with chronic T2D may also have to take insulin.

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes are truly two different kinds of diseases with one common symptom, excess blood glucose levels. As far as I know, no one has ever attempted to link, with or without scientific evidence, T2D to vaccines.

Autoimmune disorders and T1D

Although a scientific consensus has not been fully developed, it is clear that some sort of infection induces the autoimmune disease that causes the destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Two recent publications providing exciting and compelling evidence that the Coxsackievirus B1, a pathogenic enterovirus that cannot be treated, and as of today, cannot be prevented, may induce the autoimmune disease. In a lot of children, the Coxsackievirus infection is non-symptomatic, but may still induce the autoimmune disease. Coxsackievirus B1 is not associated with any vaccines currently administered, so going down that path is only for those who invent conspiracies.

Vaccines cause diabetes according to Markus Heinze

Probably the biggest champion of this “vaccines cause diabetes” trope is Markus Heinze, an antivaccine author, whose daughter contracted Type 1 diabetes when she was young. Predictably, he blamed a vaccine for his daughter’s T1D.

In a long-winded rant, Heinze brings up the old ad hominem argument about not trusting research paid off by pharmaceutical companies, because they’re hiding all the evil about vaccines. That doctors are clueless, because Heinze’s 2 hours of Google research is more valuable.

Oh and his 18 months studying psychology at a low level college in Kentucky somehow makes him an expert on anti-psychotics and depression medications. You know, because the four years of medical school, and another 8 years of post medical-school training to be a psychiatrist is irrelevant to him. Yes, he’s an arrogant man who probably worships at the Dunning-Kruger altar of cognitive bias.

Using a pretzel-like logic, the pseudoscientific methodology of those like Heinze who lack a rigorous scientific background (and he has no formal education or training in endocrinology, virology, immunology, or anything), Heinze has taken numerous peer-reviewed articles that certain infections may be related to diabetes, and manipulated the results to support his truly unsupportable hypotheses.

He claims, and it’s hard to write this while stifling laughter, he found a 25 year old article that showed that measles virus is found in the pancreatic tissue of someone with Type 1 diabetes. Heinze then blames the MMR vaccine for this infection, despite the fact that the MMR vaccines contains the live-attenuated (meaning non-pathogenic, it cannot spread in the body, nor incorporate itself into the RNA of any cells), and cannot infect pancreas cells.

Amusingly, Heinze actually thinks he’s got an “ah ha” moment, when all he has done is invent a conclusion, where the real researchers who did the real research made no such claim. Besides, since this was a cell culture, we know it was probably not immunized with MMR vaccine.

Why is Heinze so obsessive about vaccines and diabetes? Because his young daughter became diabetic, and at the time, typical of any parent, he lashed out at anything that he could blame for it.

I empathize with Heinze about his child, because I also have Type 1 diabetes. But I never blamed anyone or anything for it. I accepted it, and I use the most advanced science I can find to treat it. And because of that, I have little or no serious issues from the disease, and hope to live a long life. And so will Heinze’s daughter. But just because he’s going through this, he doesn’t have the right to invent bad science to scare people.

Irony! Diabetics need vaccines.
Irony! Diabetics need vaccines.

Real science finds no link to vaccines

Does an infection explain the 3-5% annual increase in Type 1 diabetes? First of all, it’s difficult to really determine the exact increase of diabetes in the modern era. Remember, before the 1920’s, children simply died from diabetes, so it’s almost impossible to determine the prevalence of the diseases before then. Even after 1920, insulin was not exactly widely available, and the methods to inject it were expensive. It’s possible that up through the 1950’s, the rate of diagnosed T1D was lower than the actual number.

A lot of hypotheses have been offered by the scientific world (ignoring Heinze’s unscientific logic) regarding the increase in the rate of the disease.

Sure, some real scientists have actively sought out the possibility that vaccines are causal to T1D. But according to the best systemic reviews, the MMR vaccine is not linked to Type 1 diabetes. But don’t tell Heinze about this research, because using his vast scientific skills, he invented a link between MMR and diabetes, basically because the measles virus appeared in cell culture.

There is other evidence that clearly rejects a correlation between vaccines and diabetes. The haemophilus influenzae type B vaccine is not linked to diabetes. In a large, population controlled study, there was no link, none, between any of the common childhood vaccines and Type 1 diabetes. None.

There is also no evidence that HPV vaccines are related to diabetes. None.

Once a hypothesis is solidly refuted by large clinical studies, it then becomes the responsibility of those who advocate the opposite hypothesis, that vaccines cause T1D, to bring evidence. And that evidence has to be of similar size and quality.

What might cause increase in T1D?

Another hypothesis for the increase in Type 1 diabetes is something that is actually kind of frightening. It’s possible that obesity, even at a very young age, might be the precursor to the autoimmune disease that causes the destruction of parts of the pancreas through some complicated but plausible physiological pathway.

And as the general weight of children across the world increases, it might potentially be the correlative factor that induces the disease. But still, it’s probably a complex interaction between a genetic defect, environmental factors, a virus, and weight.

But right now, we haven’t pinpointed the actual cause, except to know it’s some type of autoimmune disease. And just because we don’t know what is the actual cause does not mean we can invent whatever cause strikes our mind. That’s what’s called an argument from ignorance.

Vaccines cause diabetes – TL;DR version

In looking at this issue with a scientific and skeptical eye, here’s what I’ve found:

  1. Yes, the rate of childhood diabetes is rising rapidly.
  2. It is absolutely not associated with vaccines, although we all know that your typical antivaccination promoter will use every argument to demand the one clinical trial to rule them all to “prove” that every singe vaccine in every single companion does not cause diabetes. Well, we have enough evidence to dismiss that implausible hypothesis, but, being the openminded sort, if anyone wants to provide a peer-reviewed article which shows a correlation, that also hasn’t been thoroughly dismissed by science, please provide it to us. Because real science depends on real evidence, even if we don’t like it.
  3. We don’t have a solid consensus as to what might be causing the rise in diabetes. There is some fascinating research that’s getting us close to the answer. That’s the great thing about science. Finding the answer to a question is all about the evidence, it’s not about inventing imaginary stuff.
  4. Just as bonus information, because when I do research, I try to be thorough, a systemic review concluded that gluten and cow’s milk are not associated with an increased risk of Type 1 diabetes autoimmune disorders. (But to be fair, the data did show longer breastfeeding might lower the risk.)

Ironically, researchers have found a potential method to reverse and/or prevent diabetes, and it might be available in the not too distant future. It’s a vaccine.

So Markus Heinze, I am sympathetic to what you’re experiencing with your daughter. But you have absolutely no, that would be zero, evidence that vaccines had anything to do with it. Get over it, because soon there will be a vaccine to reverse her disease, and you will be the first person in line to make sure she gets that vaccine.

As you should be, since it’s about your daughter.

But quit lying that vaccines cause diabetes. You’ve created a myth that is ridiculous, unscientific, and is harming children by making parents maybe decide against vaccines, though I hate to give you that much credit. Start thinking Markus, if you are capable of that.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 2014. It has been revised and updated to include more new scientific information, to improve formatting, and to fix dead links. 

Key citations:

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!
  • mike c

    Whoever wrote this article is a full of it. The doctors from the social security administration, on their payroll, told my daughter that the mumps vaccine was the cause of her diabetes when she was 6 yeas old. It was an adverse reaction to the vaccine. Seems to occur too often. Once is too often. A lifetime of insulin dependence because of a bad vaccine. I’m not saying vaccines are bad, they work most of the time. Who benefits from a large population of insulin dependants.
    “Don’t believe anything you read and only half of what you see.”

  • Bonnie Rourke

    Children who breastfeed get the benefit of immunity from their mother’s milk. That is how the immune system works.

  • Muni_Corp_Citizen

    WTF is this drivel? MERCK’s MMR II insert actually states that an adverse reaction to the vaccine can be diabetes. It’s located on page seven herein under Endocrine system:

    • You fail to understand that Package Inserts do not represent scientifically based causation or even correlation. Diabetes is an observation without any correlation or causation shown. The best fucking research says there’s no link. Apparently, you can’t read.

      Damn I loathe ignorant people.

      • mike c

        The best fucking research is bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the vaccines. Any other research done is touted as conspiratorial or lies by the pharmaceutical companies and cronies like you Skeptical Raptor. Are you actually saying the package inserts are for entertainment value only and aren’t backed by research? They are put there to give the receiver a false sense of doom if they choose to use the vaccine?

  • Dred Dormammu

    Is Merck paying this guy to write this dribble?

  • See top of page 7, under ‘Adverse Reactions’: Once a rare disease, it’s become quite common and making huge profits for big pharma: I became a victim thirty years ago, I remember the correlation quite clearly and I’ve been researching ever since.

    • Ah ad hominem attacks. That’s because you haven’t got one single tiny bit of evidence that supports your lying lies. What a maroon.

      • Chris Seal

        “Ad hominem reasoning is not always fallacious, for example, when it relates to the credibility of statements of fact”

        • Well, his crazy comments indicate his lack of credibility. So, yes, I can ad hominem the asshole from here until next year. 🙂

  • pruttmaster

    from Department of Public Health and Neurosciences, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.

    CONCLUSIONS: “According to our findings, mumps and rubella viral infections are associated with the onset of Type 1 diabetes.”

    anything on skepticalraptor is pure big pharma shillery . if they “debunk it” it usually means they are under attack and their Edward Bernaise style decepticon think tanks get to work!

    • Huh. What’s that got to do with vaccines? What an ignorant moron.

      • mike c

        You are the ignorant moron Skeptical Raptor. You support the pharmaceutical companies with no second thought. Educated or not your blind to follow any large corporations and assume they have done no wrong ever. Your probably a troll, just here to cause drama.

  • Thank you for this blog…love the style and rigour.

  • Steffe Storm

    I got hit with Diabetes type 1 at the age of 30 about after my second shot of Twinrix vaccine. Concidering type 1 diabetes is revealed pretty fast, it’s easy to make the connection. Sure it might not have been the twinrix itself. Maybe I had the Coxsackievirusin my system at the time and the vaccine triggered my immune system to get alert to complications in the liver where the beta cells are residing. It might have been a event that would eventually come sooner or later, but the vaccine made sure it happened when it happened.

    But if that is so, maybe something needs to be cleared out before vaccine is taken. If a vaccine is given when currently having something in the body that can cause ill-sided effects, one should wait with the vaccine. Or if the threat for something is so great (ebola, etc), maybe one can make a decision whether or not to take a certain vaccine.

    But we’re not there yet. Once we know more of viruses in the body and vaccine and it’s effect in a few hundred years from now, then we can forsee side effects of vaccine and how to prevent them better.

    • Too often, humans think that an observation after one event is caused by the first event. This type of thinking is a result of evolutionary pressures. We had a simple view of the natural world, so if we ran across a red berry and we ate it, got sick, we would avoid red berries. We could not transmit information from generation to generation, so we had to limit ourselves to what we observed.

      You are making a post-hoc fallacy in attempting to link Twinrix to Type 1 diabetes. First of all, you are not correct in assuming that T1D has a fast course. In adults, it actually has a relatively slow course, as the autoimmune disease that causes failure of the pancreas is kind of slow. It may actually be preventable in the form I believe you have, Latent autoimmune diabetes of adults (LADA), because the destruction of the beta cells of the islets of Langerhans take a significant amount of time, maybe years. So, it is nearly improbable that your form of diabetes was temporally linked to the vaccination.

      Moreover, there is simply no biological plausibility that would suggest a vaccine could cause any form of Type 1 Diabetes. First, there is a genetic component over which we have no control. Second, there’s some intriguing evidence that lifestyle has some influence over T1D. But lastly, even if coxsackie virus is causal, and there’s only preliminary and cautious evidence that it is, why would a vaccine cause it to attack your pancreas. Do you realize you get attacked by nearly 1 million different antigens every day just from breathing, let alone eating. Why would the Twinrix antigens be any different than the 999,999 others? They aren’t.

      Don’t invent a link where there is none. And remember, the evidence indicates that there is no link for vaccine after vaccine. Diabetes happens randomly and you have no control over whether you’ll get it or not. Bad luck (if I believed in luck, which I don’t) is to blame.

      For those with Type 2 diabetes, I can definitively place the blame, but not with Type 1 or the Latent autoimmune version.

      Finally, we don’t “foresee” anything, because we don’t have crystal balls. You’re playing to the Argument from Ignorance and Precautionary Principle, which basically says you’ll be unconvinced until we do 4 million different types of studies to show that vaccines did not cause your diabetes. Well, it probably didn’t, and no studies are going to be done until there is a plausible justification for doing so. And after examining millions of patients, case control studies for many vaccines have not shown a causal link.

      Yes, you can say “but you haven’t looked.” That’s not how it works. Tell us why it might have happened with reasonable observations, and then we look. Some fraud named Andy Wakefield lied and claimed that vaccines caused autism. It seemed like a reasonable observation, but we didn’t know he was a lying sociopath. After billions of dollars were spent on clinical research to determine if vaccines caused autism, despite no one proffering a reasonable and plausible biological path from vaccine to autism, we found nothing. They are totally and absolutely unrelated no matter how you look at the evidence.

      You need to relax. Your post hoc belief can be set aside by really understanding the physiology and not assuming some temporal relationship that probably wasn’t there.

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  • skyoss

    Ahh, the vitriol… the language of absolutism…. When one makes statements like you have here you really must perform your due diligence. I would recommend that you google JB Classen and review the work he has done on the link between Type 1 diabetes and vaccination.. it is compelling.. and certainly cause to utilize a tone that is less definitive…less absolute…

    • Classen’s work is bogus and has been refuted by tons of evidence. Precisely because I don’t use “google” to do my research is why I am superior to you in all ways. I feel absolutely superior.

      • skyoss

        Ahh yes the close minded seek out data to support their arguments regardless of the veracity of such data and reject opposing data out of hand. (Anger usually being the common thread of any post.) Dr. Classen is a medical physician interested in a trend, an undeniable trend of increasing rates of type one diabetes. (Also a connection between type 2 diabetes and vaccines). He has identified a connection between the rise in vaccination administration and this trend. I am also a medical physician and am interested in the interplay between the nervous system, the endocrine system and the immune system. As we learn more about the connections we have realized that they are not separately functioning entities but interdependent. This is where the connection between vaccination and type one diabetes may lie. I post here to balance your unbalanced diatribe. He has articles published in the British Medical Journal… google “JB Classen MD British Medical Journal” and you can peruse at your leisure.

        • kellymbray

          You sound more like a chiropractor or a naturopath

          • skyoss

            Is that your best refutation of the data?

            • My refutation is above. There is no link based on real research published in real journals, not fake research published in non peer-reviewed or fake peer-reviewed journals.

              Yes Classen used to be a real researcher. Then he went off the rails. Lots of them do, he should be committed.

              None of his diabetes research has been confirmed by anyone. So, you’re a fucking ignorant idiot. Go away troll. I don’t have time to reply to your stupidity.

            • skyoss

              Methinks the moderator is the one who may be ‘off the rails’ Hmmm?

            • Sullivan ThePoop

              What data?

    • Dorit Reiss

      The post actually addresses Dr. Classen’s work – which does not have good data behind it, has never been replicated, and is used to support several patents.

      • skyoss

        Ok so you read Wikipedia.. the fact remains that while some feel as if his research is bunk others, namely the peer reviewers and editorial boards of the British Medical Journal, Autoimmunity, Medical Hypothesis, the Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and metabolism, Diabetes Care, Diabetologia, etc, believe that there is something to his findings. It is not uncommon to have different studies come to the exact opposite conclusions.When this happens the need to continue to research the premise of the study seems obvious, but usually people from both sides of the argument choose the studies that agree with their personal bias and tout their superiority … the above article is an example of this. I will say again my point here is to provide a balance to the bloggers article.. medicine is in its infancy, and those who speak in medical absolutes are bound to look foolish in fifty years… remember the American Medical Journal advertised cigarettes well into the the ’50’s…

        • “Medical Hypothesis” is a bogus journal that is pay to play. At this point, not much else to discuss.

          If his garbage research actually was supported by real science, it would have been after 25 years. It hasn’t. LOL

          Oh, and the cigarette lie. We only discovered the link between cigarette smoking and cancer in the late 40’s early 50’s. So, you accept lies as facts, you’re just simply ignorant. Good luck with that.

          Classen has no class. LOL

          • skyoss

            Umm the cigarette and cancer link was discovered by a German physician, Fritz Lickint in the 20’s. Wonder why it took so long for the medical community to take action? I again direct you to Google to round out your knowledge.

            • Sullivan ThePoop

              Google is the problem not the solution.

    • Sullivan ThePoop

      There is absolutely nothing compelling about JB Classen’s work. Although you are right about the language the antivaxxers use and how they never do their due diligence.

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