By Anne Dachel
If you’re like me, you’re sick to death of reporters telling you that all the science shows no link between vaccines and autism. Members of the press don’t hesitate to remind the public on a daily basis that only misguided parents believe vaccinations can cause autism. It’s usually a one sentence dismissal in a news report--more evidence that no one really wants to look into a controversy that could implicate the government and the medical community in an unprecedented health care scandal.
There are some huge chinks in the armor of the no link claim, however. I’m referring to the public acknowledgement by some top medical experts that yes, vaccinations do sometimes cause children to become autistic.
There are more and more independent doctors out there saying there is a link, but I’m talking about doctors who are often cited in news stories denying any causal relationship, yet who will also admit that, yes, sometimes vaccines are responsible.
One of them is a well-know autism expert, Dr. Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer for Autism Speaks. She is cited everywhere by the press as one of the top doctors when it comes to autism.
During an interview on NPR in Boston on April 2, 2012, Dawson had this to say about the link between vaccines and autism:
“There is no evidence that the increase in prevalence that we’re seeing in Autism Spectrum Disorder is linked to the MMR vaccine. If vaccines play a role, and there has not been any evidence thus far to show that it has, it would be with a very small minority of individuals who have an underlying medical condition where the vaccine may be have triggered an onset of symptoms for an already existing condition or vulnerability. So we do not believe that vaccines are an explanation for the increase and we strongly encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.”
This is hardly going to convince worried parents that vaccines have been exonerated. While still in denial, Dawson leaves the door open to the possibility that for some, vaccines are the trigger that leaves them disabled for life with autism.
There are other high profile experts making similar comments about the link between vaccines and autism.
April 2, 2012, the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC radio featured Dr. Walter Zahorodny talking about the latest autism rate jump. Zahorondny is important because he’s an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark and he was the lead researcher on the New Jersey portion of the new CDC rate study.
During the interview, the host brought up research on the possible causes for autism and he made this comment: “I guess we know what they aren’t, for instance, childhood vaccines, right?”
This was Zahorodny’s stunning response: “Vaccines don’t play a significant role in autism increasing. Some small number of children probably do have autism because of an adverse vaccine reaction, but they don’t make for the overall rise. Similarly, thimerosal, the additive in vaccines which was almost entirely out of the picture by 2000, which was when our children in the ’08 study were born. So these kids, which would have seen declining autism prevalence if thimerosal was an important risk factor, not increasing prevalence. So I rule those two things out. There are other factors that would be more likely at play—demographical factors related to parents’ age and other factors linked to that.”
While Zahorondny’s claim that thimerosal was removed by 2000 is clearly wrong, his admission that yes, some kids really do become autistic after vaccinations, is alarming.
In April, 2011, Dr. David Amaral, Director of Research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UC Davis MIND Institute, was interviewed for PBS by Robert MacNeil.
He was asked if vaccines can cause autism and he said this: “I think it's pretty clear that, in general, vaccines are not the culprit. There has been enough epidemiological evidence showing that if you look at children that receive the standard childhood vaccines that, if anything, those children are at slightly less risk of having autism than children that aren't immunized.
“And so, you know, I think it probably is a waste of effort at this time to try and understand vaccines as a major culprit for, or a major cause of, autism. It's not to say, however, that there isn't a small subset of children who may be particularly vulnerable to vaccines.
“And in their case, having the vaccines, or particular vaccines, particularly in certain kinds of situations -- if the child was ill, if the child had a precondition, like a mitochondrial defect. Vaccinations for those children actually may be the environmental factor that tipped them over the edge of autism. And I think it is incredibly important, still, to try and figure out what, if any, vulnerabilities, in a small subset of children, might make them at risk for having certain vaccinations."
It’s shocking to listen to well-credentialed experts deny any link at the same time they also casually talk about the possibility vaccines are a factors in autism. That was never supposed to happen. Dawson’s “very small minority of individuals," Zahorondny’s “some small number of children,” and Amaral’s “small subset of children” might include my child. And how big is “small”? And where is the proof that the vulnerable group of children is “small”? There isn’t a single study that has looked at the children who regressed into autism following routine vaccinations.
It was the late Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health, who was on CBS News in 2008 calling for such a study. She said, “This is the time when we do have the opportunity to understand whether or not there are susceptible children … that makes them more susceptible to vaccines plural, to one particular vaccine, or to components of a vaccine, like mercury. …We have to take another look at that hypothesis, not deny it….”
CBS reporter, Sharyl Attkisson: “Do you think the government was too quick to dismiss out of hand that there was this possibility of a link between vaccines and autism?”
Healy: “I think the government or certain health officials in the government have been too quick to dismiss the concerns of these families without studying the population that got sick. I haven’t seen major studies that focus on 300 kids who got autistic symptoms within a period of a few weeks of a vaccine. I think that public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational without sufficient studies of causation.”
Healy’s words are chilling. The science really isn’t there to back the claims of those who flatly deny any connection between vaccines and autism. The science isn’t there to prove that only a small subset of children might be harmed by vaccines either.
Dawson, Zahorodny, and Amaral are basically telling parents to play Russian roulette with their children’s health. Acknowledging that vaccines can trigger autism in a system where neither the doctor nor the vaccine makers is liable, is a really frightening gamble.
Experts who admit there’s a link but also claim that studies show no link, have absolutely no credibility. These people have no right to tell us anything when it comes to the health care decisions affecting our children.
This only adds to the confusion in the minds of parents. Whom can they trust when at the same time mainstream medicine denies a link between vaccines and autism, there’s Hannah Poling, the young Georgia girl whose vaccine injury case was conceded by HHS and she received compensation for damage that included autism? See CBS News:
T here’s the news from last year that the federal government compensated 83 vaccine injury cases where the child was left with autism.
There’s the new movie, The Greater Good, which presents experts on both sides of the vaccine safety debate and a lot of serious questions that need to be asked and answered.
There’s also the mounting independent science challenging “the studies” that show no link, like this one from the University of British Columbia, Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevalence of autism?
And on May 26, 2012, Age of Autism had the story, Comment on IOM Study Designs for the Safety Evaluation of Different Childhood Immunization Schedules.
It's seems that the Committee on Assessment of Studies of Health Outcomes Related to the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule at the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to decision makers and the public, is going to look into the cumulative effect of so many vaccines, so soon, on the health of a child.
We were told:
"To date, much of the debate on vaccine safety in the context of autism has focused on the safety of individual vaccines, the adjuvants used (e.g. mercury, aluminum) etc. The childhood vaccine schedule currently followed by the CDC requires that vaccinations start at birth and calls for ~48 doses of 14 vaccines prior to the age of six. Some people believe that the rate of increase in autism is directly correlated to the vaccine schedule, and changes made in this schedule over the last few decades. In other words, some people believe that the autism epidemic is caused by the vaccine SCHEDULE and the neuro-immunological consequences of giving many vaccines at once, with the first one given at birth. Their contention is that the current vaccine schedule has not been adequately evaluated for risks due to the age at which vaccines are given, the effect of giving several vaccines at once etc.
"To understand whether this is true or not, the vaccine schedules as well as vaccine-vaccine interactions will have to be studied. The IOM is inviting public comment on a study on the safety of various vaccine schedules through May 31st."
"Most post-marketing studies evaluate the general question as to whether or not a vaccine causes an adverse event among the majority of children receiving the vaccine. Very few post-marketing studies have evaluated whether the risk of adverse events depends on the scheduling of the vaccines. For example, very few post-marketing studies have evaluated whether the risk of adverse events depends on the age at which a vaccine is given; on the relative timing of two different vaccines; or on a combined cumulative effect generated by the timing of dozens of different vaccines."
In addition, on May 29, 2012, the Committee on the Assessment of Studies of Health Outcomes Related to the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule put out this announcement:
“The IOM will conduct an independent assessment surrounding the feasibility of studying health outcomes in children who were vaccinated according to the CDC recommended schedule and those who were not (e.g. children who were unvaccinated or vaccinated with an alternate schedule). The IOM will review scientific findings and stakeholder concerns related to the safety of the recommended childhood immunization schedule. Further, the IOM will identify potential research approaches, methodologies, and study designs that could inform this question, including an assessment of the potential strengths and limitations of each approach, methodology and design, as well as the financial and ethical feasibility of doing them. A report will be issued in mid-2012 summarizing the IOM's findings and conclusions.”
After years of demands from the public that there be a study comparing the health of never-vaccinated and fully-vaccinated children, the government is finally looking into the possibility of doing this research. Public confidence in the ever-expanding vaccination schedule has eroded to the point where this is urgently needed. If one in every 88 never-vaccinated children also has an autism diagnosis, the proof of no link would be there for all to see. Until such a study is done, the question remains open.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor for Age of Autism. Subscribe to her newsfeed at AnneDachel.com.