Back in the summer of 2005, I asked then-CDC Director (now Merck vaccine prexy) Julie Gerberding the following 19-word question (or 20 words, if you count U and S as two words, but I don't, especially because in their abbreviated form they run together without a space between them).
Dan Olmsted: Has the government ever looked at the autism rate in an unvaccinated U.S. population, and if not, why not?
Julie Gerberding: In this country, we have very high levels of vaccination as you probably know, and I think this year we have record immunization levels among all of our children, so to (select an unvaccinated group) that on a population basis would be representative to look at incidence in that population compared to the other population would be something that could be done.
But as we’re learning, just trying to look at autism in a community the size of Atlanta, it’s very, very difficult to get an effective numerator and denominator to get a reliable diagnosis.
I think those kind of studies could be done and should be done. You’d have to adjust for the strong genetic component that also distinguishes, for example, people in Amish communities who may elect not to be immunized (and) also have genetic connectivity that would make them different from populations that are in other sectors of the United States. So drawing some conclusions from them would be very difficult.
I think with reference to the timing of all of this, good science does take time, and it’s part of one of the messages I feel like I’ve learned from the feedback that we’ve gotten from parents groups this summer (in) struggling with developing a more robust and a faster research agenda, is let’s speed this up. Let’s look for the early studies that could give us at least some hypotheses to test and evaluate and get information flowing through the research pipeline as quickly as we can.
So we are committed to doing that, and as I mentioned, in terms of just measuring the frequency of autism in the population some pretty big steps have been taken. We’re careful not to jump ahead of our data, but we think we will be able to provide more accurate information in the next year or so than we’ve been able to do up to this point. And I know that is our responsibility.
We’ve also benefited from some increased investments in these areas that have allowed us to do this, and so we thank Congress and we thank the administration for supporting those investments, not just at CDC but also at NIH and FDA.