Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Autism-Vaccine Connection? The Question Is Not Settled, All The Studies Have Not Been Done

In New MMR and autism study: no correlation my friend Kev, at Left Brain/Right Brain, has seized upon an English abstract of a Polish study to state that "there is no correlation between autism and MMR. Neither at ‘general’ ASD level, nor at specific ‘severe’ level." I do not read Polish in which the study itself is written, and apparently neither does Kev, but he felt comfortable in using this study to help justify mocking, in offensive terms, those who believe that there is an autism-vaccine connection. (I personally do not believe a vaccine-autism link has been established on the evidence but I do not think any such connection can be ruled out on the basis of the studies to date). Kev asked this question:

"Do we really need to keep on churning out results and studies until every last person on the earth gets the point? Or do we cut our losses, accept that there will always be some idiots who will never get it and…move on….to a research future where we can get back to thinking about autism, how we can help autistic people to live their lives and hopefully a future where children don’t die of vaccine preventable diseases."

Personally, I find the reference to people as "some idiots" offensive towards persons with actual cognitive impairments, learning disabilities and severe autistic disorders. It is equally offensive to use such attacks as a means of preventing rational discussion of controversial issues. In somewhat more polite language some commentators on that opinion piece stated:

1. "One of my resolutions for the new year is to say, enough, let the AOA’s have the mercury/vaccine talk, and onward for those of us who know the question is settled"

kristina (Kristina Chew, Ph D, classic literature)

2. yet another study that fails to demonstrate a link. i doubt that the Mercury Militia will acknowledge defeat here. tough. they like to look like idiots? then let them.

David N. Andrews, M. Ed. (Distinction)

3.All of the studies in the world won’t convince some people...


Notwithstanding the brilliance of Kev and David N. Andrews, M.Ed.(Distinction) I am sure that even they can not truly consider Dr. Bernadine Healy, cardiologist and former head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Red Cross to be "an idiot" as they described those who do not consider the vaccine-autism issue closed. In addition to that career background Wikipedia indicates that Dr. Healy :

"was the top student of her high school class at Hunter College High School. Healy then attended Vassar College and graduated summa cum laude with a major in chemistry and a minor in philosophy in 1965. She was one of only ten women out of 120 students in her Harvard Medical School class. In 1970 she graduated with her MD cum laude. For Healy's post graduate training, she stayed in the Washington, D. C. area. She completed her internship and residency training in cardiology at Johns Hopkins."

Dr. Healy has pointed out that, contrary to the belief of Kev and his gang at Left Brain/Right Brain, the question of a possible vaccine autism connection is not closed and "all the studies in the world" have not been done". See her statements in Fighting the Autism-Vaccine War, US News & World Report, April 10, 2008 :

“vaccine experts tend to look at the population as a whole, not at individual patients. And population studies are not granular enough to detect individual metabolic, genetic, or immunological variation that might make some children under certain circumstances susceptible to neurological complications after vaccination.


There is no evidence that removal of thimerosal from vaccines has lowered autism rates. But autism numbers are not precise, so I would say that considerably more research is still needed on some provocative findings. After all, thimerosal crosses the placenta, and pregnant women are advised to get flu shots, which often contain it. Studies in mice suggest that genetic variation influences brain sensitivity to the toxic effects of mercury. And a primate study designed to mimic vaccination in infants reported in 2005 that thimerosal may clear from the blood in a matter of days but leaves inorganic mercury behind in the brain.

The debate roils on—even about research. The Institute of Medicine in its last report on vaccines and autism in 2004 said that more research on the vaccine question is counterproductive: Finding a susceptibility to this risk in some infants would call into question the universal vaccination strategy that is a bedrock of immunization programs and could lead to widespread rejection of vaccines. The IOM concluded that efforts to find a link between vaccines and autism “must be balanced against the broader benefit of the current vaccine program for all children.”

Wow. Medicine has moved ahead only because doctors, researchers, and yes, families, have openly challenged even the most sacred medical dogma. At the risk of incurring the wrath of some of my dearest colleagues, I say thank goodness for the vaccine court.”

Following is the Sharyl Attkisson/CBS interview of Dr Healy:

As I said earlier I have never claimed that vaccines cause autism. But the attempt to suggest that the question is closed is simply an attempt to stop examination of what is an important and controversial issue. If some cases of autism are caused by maternal exposure to thimerosal containing vaccines or by any other route, or if some subset of children are more vulnerable to the potential negative effects, including autism, of vaccines than research should be conducted to confirm or refute those possibilities.

Only when the research is done will the autism/vaccine question be settled.

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