Monday, August 16, 2010

Autism and Vaccines: The Misinformation Superhighway

I have been hesitant to touch this topic.  The internet is teaming with people who believe vaccines cause autism, and for these people every claim that vaccines are safe strengthens their conviction that they are dangerous.  Those who promote the safety that science has proven are either misguided or even deceitful.  For some, a conspiracy of monumental proportions exists.  Any argument to the counter is simply part of the conspiracy.  It is difficult to argue against the conspiracy theory, when those who believe immunizations are safe can easily be filed into the section labeled "Part of the Conspiracy".   The internet has become a powerful tool to spread information.... and misinformation. 

With that being said, I think those who have the science to back their claims need to be vocal.  People go to the internet to get information and the information that is there can be misleading.  The scientific data is simply swept away by a brisk current of parental case reports and YouTube videos.  How is the open-minded, concerned parent supposed to find the truth in this sea of static?  People like me need to be more vocal. 

So what do we know?  After close to ten years of looking at the subject of vaccines and autism there is not one credible scientific study showing a link between the two.  Not one.  Large epidemiological studies from different countries by different researchers show the same results:  Immunizations are not associated with autism. 

What about thimerosal (the mercury based preservative formerly in vaccines)?  There is no scientific data that thimerosal in vaccines causes autism or neurological problems in children.  None.  Except for multi-dose flu vaccine vials, thimerosal has been removed from vaccines in the US.  Despite this the rate of autism has not decreased.

What about giving children all these vaccines when they are so young?  There is no scientific evidence that vaccinating at an early age leads to autism or neurological problems.  None.  In fact a recently published study looked at this very fact.  What they found was that, in terms of neurological testing, children who received vaccines as recommended by the CDC were no different from those who did not receive vaccines at an early age. 

But these illnesses are not around anymore, right?  Wrong.  Each year there are outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illness in the US, including measles, the whooping cough, chickenpox, etc.  These outbreaks typically happen in communities with low immunization rates.

I am a minimalist at heart.  I think modern medicine often tries to do too much.  However, I think immunizing children is the most important thing I do.  It prevents disease and changes outcomes.  Many illnesses that once cause pain, suffering, and death in children are now rare thanks to immunizations.

At some point, those on the immunization fence are going to have to decide whether they will trust the science that exists or put their faith in vocal celebrities, the lady down the street, or the internet persona that will invariably flame me for this post.   I know which one I have trusted when making decisions about my children.  That was easy.

A great link for more on this topic:  The Vaccine Song


  1. Hi Michael, this is a great website. Such a good idea. We loved the video of the spitting up baby investor.

    but ohhh big topic here. :)
    Did you know that there the Pig-Flu vaccine is seen as down right scandalous in Germany and Luxembourg? Both nations bought huge amounts and tried their best to convince their citizens that it was necessay. In the end hardly anyone vaccinated themselves (including the health profession) and now it is apparant that (a) there was no pandemic, and (b) both countries are sitting on giantic and expensive stockpiles of vaccine that weren't necessary.
    This is a prime example of the political economic dimension to this discussion. There is an excellent french documentary that follows the changes in policy at the WHO that paved the way for these international pharmaceutical trades. This did not get aired in english media because of the language barrier. Guardasil and Hep B for newborns are similarly problematic.

    And how can medical universities built and run by pharma companies (such as Novartis in Basel, whose profits form the bulk tax revenue for the city), come out with objective scientific results?

    What is perhaps most unfortuate is is that this pharmaceutical misinformation superhighway overshadows the science of vaccines that really are necessary tetanus, for example.

    But I agree with your brother. Big Topic!! You are brave. ..and well, I suppose I am brave for posting this response as well. :)

    cousin connie

  2. Dearest Connie,
    Thanks for the comment. Your point is well taken. I totally agree that pharmaceutical companies can use their money and power to promote a certain idea, buy off some politicians, run ads that influence people, etc. However, I do not believe that they have to the power to pull the wool over the entire medical world with regards to vaccines and neurologic outcomes (ie, autism). There are too many people out there that love their children, care about their community, and have a moral compass that would prevent them from playing along with purposeful deception.

    I am not familiar with the idea of medical schools being owned by pharmaceutical companies, that alliance does not exist in the US. Certainly, pharmaceutical companies can pump money into institutions in the US to support research, and the argument can be made that this fact can influence outcomes. That is why scientific evidence needs to be reproducible by third parties, before it is widely accepted. In the case of Dr. Andrew Wakefield who started the whole MMR/autism scare and was funded by a lawyer looking to sue vaccine manufacturers, his research was never reproducible. Hundreds of different researchers, on different continents, supported by different funding, have not been able to show any link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Study after study seems to show the same thing: no relationship. At some point, we have to accept that the relation does not exist, or that everyone involved looking at this topic over the past 10 years is falsifying data to support Big Pharma. I personally believe the former seems more rational.

    As far as the H1N1 flu, there definitely was a pandemic. I saw it with my own eyes. Last September I saw 10 to 15 kids a day with flu-like illnesses, many of which tested positive for the flu. This is unheard of in September. Specimens from around the country were sent to the CDC lab that confirmed the H1N1 flu. So, there is no doubt that there was a new strain of Influenza circulating last year. I think what you are saying is that it was not as big of a deal as everyone made it out to be and I agree. Fortunately, H1N1 was not significantly more deadly than the typical seasonal flu in terms of overall mortality rates. What was unique about H1N1 was those who were dying from it, namely the young and healthy. So overall the same percentage of people who contracted it died, but the populations that died were different than the seasonal flu (ie, children, pregnant women versus the elderly).

    I am not a big fan of things being over hyped, but in the case of a new strain of influenza, I am alright with it. New strains of the flu have historically been very deadly, such as the "Spanish Flu" which is estimated to have killed 3% of the world's population. So if the media jumps all over it and it makes people get their flu shot, I am OK with that. Because if we have another "Spanish Flu", immunizations are going to save more lives than anything else we do.

    Thanks again for the comment and the best to you and your family.

  3. It's important to be vaccinated at an early age to protect the child.

  4. I have to agree, if it's what's important for the improvement of the situation then I'm all for it. Thanks.

  5. It is therefore very clear that vaccines have nothing to do with autism. I hope that this pandemic defect will be resolved by incorporating the power of technology.