Aftermath Of Initial Controversy
Wakefield continued to conduct clinical research in the United States after leaving the Royal Free Hospital in December 2001. He joined a controversial American researcher, Jeff Bradstreet, at the International Child Development Resource Center, to conduct further studies on the possible relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism.
In 2004, Wakefield began working at the Thoughtful House research center in Austin, Texas. Wakefield served as Executive Director of Thoughtful House until February 2010, when he resigned in the wake of findings against him by the British General Medical Council.
Twenty-four hours before the 2004 Sunday Times report by Deer, The Lancet‘s editor Richard Horton responded to the investigation in a public statement, describing Wakefield’s research as “fatally flawed” and said he believed the paper would have been rejected as biased if the peer reviewers had been aware of Wakefield’s conflict of interest. Ten of Wakefield’s twelve co-authors of the paper in The Lancet later published a retraction of an interpretation. The section of the paper retracted read as follows:
Interpretation. We identified associated gastrointestinal disease and developmental regression in a group of previously normal children, which was generally associated in time with possible environmental triggers.
The retraction stated:
What Is Known About Mercury And Developmental Disorders
Thimerosal is metabolized to ethylmercury, which is thought to have similar effects to methylmercury. Apart from recognized delayed sensitivity reactions, high dose exposure is known to include neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity. Chronic low dose exposure may cause subtle neurological abnormalities. Weir and Chance have reviewed the data on pollution from environmental mercury and the measures taken to minimize exposure of Canadians. Ball et al have reviewed the few human studies evaluating thimerosal. None of these investigations have found evidence of toxicity after low dose exposure. Health Canada has recently published a thorough review of all the data and has concluded that thimerosal-free vaccines are now available for all children in Canada for routine immunizations . A certain number of special vaccines containing thimerosal are still used in some Canadian jurisdictions. Influenza vaccine still contains a very low concentration of thimerosal, but is not used in infants. These should still be offered in all instances where no thimerosal-free alternative is available because the balance of benefit is clearly in favour of preventing infection.
As a result of Balls review and an independent review by the Institute of Medicine , the following conclusions regarding mercury and vaccines have been reached.
Are Vaccines Linked To Autism
The topic of childhood vaccines leading to autism spectrum disorder is one that never seems to fades away.
Concerns about vaccines leading to autism surfaced in 1999 and initially involved the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.
Because the MMR vaccine is usually given at age 12 to 15 months, and the first signs of autism often appear at this time, concerns were raised about a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has conducted 9 studies that have found no association between thimerosal-containing vaccines and ASD, or between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and ASD in children.
In 2019, in the largest study ever published on this topic, investigators found no evidence that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism when looking at over 650,000 Danish children. This result held true even when researchers focused on children at greater risk for developing autism. The results were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Unfortunately researchers are skeptical the new data will change the mind of so-called “anti-vaxxers”. However, they feel the large study might provide reassurance to certain parents who are willing to listen to science.
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Conflict Of Interest And Research Dont Mix
In 2004, a UK journalist named Brian Deer helped to expose the fact that Wakefield had a financial conflict of interest related to the study.7 Firstly, the Wakefield studys funding sources included a lawyer who was working on an anti-vaccine lawsuit for people who believed that the vaccines caused their childrens medical conditions. Secondly, the lawyer paid Wakefield to assist with the lawsuit. Ten of the thirteen co-authors then withdrew their support of the Lancet papers interpretation section. Their retraction read, We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between vaccine and autism, as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of such a link was raised, and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.8
The Debate Is Launched
Wakefield et als first publication in 1998 reported a consecutive series of 12 patients presenting with a loss of acquired language associated with diarrhea and abdominal pain. Thorough, multisystem investigation demonstrated no definitive abnormalities other than nonspecific colitis and ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia that was found in nine of the children. Parents reported gastrointestinal symptoms for these children starting soon after their MMR vaccination. Wakefield suggested that these findings were likely initiated by an environmental trigger, although initially he did not make the direct link with the vaccine. Instead, he merely commented on his theory of a link between gastrointestinal inflammation and measles virus and the temporal association of MMR with autism.
In Wakefields subsequent communication to the American Academy of Pediatrics committee , he proposed that associated changes in intestinal permeability and altered peptidase activity allow neurotoxic intestinal products to reach the brain, which is particularly susceptible to permanent damage during times of rapid cerebral development in infancy. He added the following :
The sentiment of this statement continues to be delivered by Dr Wakefield to parents in autism meetings around the world. A survey at the Autism Society of America in 2000 indicated that more than 50% of parents present felt that vaccines were the main causal factor in their childs autism .
Measles and leaky gut
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Thimerosal And Autism: What’s The Link
Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines by 2001 . That’s because researchers worried that children were being exposed to too-high levels from receiving multiple vaccinations in a short timeframe. This decision was based on what levels were considered safe for methyl mercurythe kind in fish, which is structurally very different from the ethyl mercury found in thimerosal. Although scientists suspected that thimerosal was much safer than methyl mercury, they decided to remove it anyway, just to be super-careful.
However, a large study published in Archives of General Psychiatry in 2008 found that cases of autism continued to increase in California long after 2001, when thimerosal was removed from most vaccines. “If thimerosal in vaccines were causing autism, we’d expect that diagnoses of autism would decrease dramatically after the chemical was removed from vaccines,” says Eric Fombonne, M.D., director of the psychiatry division at Montreal Children’s Hospital and a member of the National Institutes of Health advisory board for autism research programs. “Not only did cases not decrease, but they continued to rise. That tells us that something else must be responsible for rising rates of autism in this country.”
A series of many studies in other countries and populations drew similar conclusions. “Thimerosal was removed from vaccines in Canada in 1996 and in Denmark in 1992,” says Dr. Fombonne. “Autism is still on the rise in those countries as well.”
Why Were Vaccines Linked To Autism
In the late 1990s, some researchers raised concerns over the amount of thimerosala mercury-containing preservativefound in many children’s vaccines. Although thimerosal had been used as an anti-contamination agent for decades, the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccination was the only thimerosal-containing shot recommended for infants and children until 1991.
The researchers hypothesized that, as more thimerosal-containing vaccines like hepatitis B and Hib were added to the recommended schedule, babies were receiving too much of the chemical in too short a timeframe, which could potentially impact brain development.
In a totally separate issue around this time, another group of researchers lead by a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield theorized that children who received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine were more likely to develop autism than those who did not receive it. By January 2011, however, Dr. Wakefield’s study was discredited by the British Medical Journal.
Today, scientists and experts are confident that vaccines play no role in the onset of this developmental disorder. “More than a dozen studies across researchers, study designs, and populations have all concluded that there’s no relation between vaccines and autism,” says Matthew Daley, M.D., a pediatrician for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado and a researcher who studies vaccine topics. Read on to find out more about these studies.
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Part Two: If Mmr Is Not Causing Autism Is It Mercury
Mercury derived from thimerosal has also received a great deal of attention on the Internet and through litigation proceedings against companies producing vaccines in the United States. This has served to heighten parents concerns regarding vaccine safety, especially for children who are seen as particularly vulnerable.
Media coverage of published reports such as the article by Bernard et al has had a big impact on the general public. Bernard claims that the cumulative effects of mercury from a series of immunizations in the first two years of life may represent an unrecognized mercurial syndrome leading to autism in susceptible children. This has led to a trend to use chelators, most often oral dimercaptosuccinic acid , in American and Canadian children with autism. Many parents feel guilty if they do not take a chance with chelation treatment despite possible side effects or risks, and physicians who will prescribe chelators become very popular and very much in demand with parent groups.
If, as suggested, mercury in vaccines contributes to autism, one would then expect Canadian incidence figures for autism to be lower than international figures. In fact, Nova Scotia data from the 1980s and anecdotal data from physicians practices in Canada are quite comparable with those reported in other countries .
The Price Continues To Be Paid
The concept that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly refuted from a scientific standpoint, but it lives on in autism biomed communities. Whether as a result of the increasing level of scientific evidence refuting the connection between vaccines and autism or for other reasons, the concept of seemingly everything under the sun as a cause for autism exacts a steep price, both from the psyches and pocketbooks of parents and from the health and well-being of autistic children, who are subjected to innumerable forms of quackery in the quest to recover them, as discussed above. This is the sort of price that drives parents to flit from dubious practitioner to dubious practitioner looking for the cure that will work. Two other recent examples of this were featured onwhere else?The Thinking Moms Revolution blog. In the first post, Denial Land, a woman going by the nym Lionness expresses regret that she let her son have a hepatitis B vaccine and that she agreed to have a flu shot while pregnant, blaming herself for her sons autism in much the same way that Mountain Mama did.
Saw practitioner, drew blood, got new protocol, PAID BILL.
And then flew back home, concluding:
4 flights. 2673 miles. 30 hours start to finish. We were in St. Louis for a grand total of 6 hours.
This is what we do for recovery. For healing. For our beautiful kids. All in the name of love.
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Blame And Magical Thinking: The Consequences Of The Autism Biomed Movement
That the myth that vaccines cause autism is indeed nothing more than a myth, a phantom, a delusion unsupported by science is no longer in doubt. In fact, its been many years now since it was last taken seriously by real scientists and physicians, as opposed to crank scientists and physicians, who are still selling the myth. Thanks to them, and a dedicated cadre of antivaccine activists, the myth is like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Freddy Krueger at the end of one of their slasher flicks. The slasher or monster appears to be dead, but we know that he isnt because we know that hell eventually return in another movie to kill and terrorize a new batch of unlucky and invariably not so bright teenagers. And he always does, eventually.
General Medical Council Hearings
Between July 2007 and May 2010, a 217-day “fitness to practise” hearing of the UK General Medical Council examined charges of professional misconduct against Wakefield and two colleagues involved in the paper in The Lancet. The charges included that he:
- “Was being paid to conduct the study by solicitors representing parents who believed their children had been harmed by MMR”.
- Ordered investigations “without the requisite paediatric qualifications” including colonoscopies, colon biopsies and lumbar punctures on his research subjects without the approval of his department’s ethics board and contrary to the children’s clinical interests, when these diagnostic tests were not indicated by the children’s symptoms or medical history.
- “Act ‘dishonestly and irresponsibly’ in failing to disclose … how patients were recruited for the study” as well as in his descriptions in the Lancet papers and in questions after the paper published, about what ailments the children had, and when those ailments were observed relative to their getting vaccinated.:Paragraphs 3336,pp 4548
- “Conduct the study on a basis not approved by the hospital’s ethics committee.”
- Purchased blood samplesfor £5 eachfrom children present at his son’s birthday party, which Wakefield joked about in a later presentation.
- “howed callous disregard for any distress or pain the children might suffer”
Structural Abnormalities Of The Nervous System
Toxic or viral insults to the fetus that cause autism, as well as certain central nervous system disorders associated with autism, support the notion that autism is likely to occur in the womb. For example, children exposed to thalidomide during the first or early second trimester were found to have an increased incidence of autism. Thalidomide was a medication that used to be prescribed to pregnant women to treat nausea. However, autism occurred in children with ear, but not arm or leg, abnormalities. Because ears develop before 24 days gestation, and arms and legs develop after 24 days gestation, the risk period for autism following receipt of thalidomide must have been before 24 days gestation. In support of this finding, Rodier and colleagues found evidence for structural abnormalities of the nervous system in children with autism. These abnormalities could only have occurred during development of the nervous system in the womb.
So What Does Cause Autism
At the end of the day, autism is a complex disability and as far as we know theres no single cause. Instead, its likely to be due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors .
What research has told us is, there do seem to be a few factors that can increase the risk of autism, such as:
- Your childs sex: autism is four times more common in boys than girls.
- Family history: families who have a child with autism have an increased risk of having another child with the disorder.
- Other disorders: children with certain medical conditions have a higher risk of autism, or autism-like symptoms .
- Extremely pre-term babies: babies born under 26 weeks may have a higher risk of autism.
While these factors may increase the risk, it is important to know that falling into one of these categories does not mean that you or your child will definitely develop autism.
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What Are The Rates Of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Rates of autism are on the rise. However, rates may not be increasing solely because there are more cases of ASD they might also be increasing due to a broader definition and a better diagnosis of ASD. As the numbers of ASD increase, additional community resources need grow too, such as educational services and a coordinated response to families whose children have ASD.
The CDC has tracked data using the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network Sites. The goals of the ADDM Network are to:
- Describe the population of children with ASD
- Compare how common ASD is in different areas of the country
- Identify changes in ASD occurrence over time
- Understand the impact of ASD and related conditions in US communities
Researchers Long Ago Rejected The Theory That Vaccines Cause Autism Yet Many Parents Don’t Believe Them Can Scientists Bridge The Gap Between Evidence And Doubt
Citation: Gross L A Broken Trust: Lessons from the VaccineAutism Wars. PLoS Biol 7: e1000114. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1000114
May 26, 2009
Copyright: © 2009 Liza Gross. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Until the summer of 2005, Sharon Kaufman had never paid much attention to the shifting theories blaming vaccines for a surge in reported cases of autism. Kaufman, a medical anthropologist at the University of California, San Francisco, knew that the leading health institutions in the United States had reviewed the body of evidence, and that they found no reason to think vaccines had anything to do with autism. But when she read that scientists and public officials who commented on the studies routinely endured malevolent emails, abusive phone calls, and even death threats, she took notice.
Hecklers were issuing death threats to spokespeople, Kaufman exclaims, people who simply related the scientists’ findings. To a researcher with a keen eye for detecting major cultural shifts, these unsettling events signaled a deeper trend. What happens when the facts of bioscience are relayed to the public and there is disbelief, lack of trust? Kaufman wondered. Where does that lead us?
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