For sheer spectacle, it’s hard to top – and maybe a little hard to watch – Autism Speaks flip, flop and flounder in the perilous sea of autism causation.
But now they’ve really cast their lot with the vaccine injury deniers. I don’t see much more wiggle room. On Thursday, Ronan Farrow on MSNBC did an interview that managed to mangle just about every fact surround the William Thompson whistleblower controversy. He began by announcing that some are calling this Vaccine Injury Awareness Month.
Farrow attributed this to the “anti-vaccine” movement and said one of the most common alleged vaccine injuries on this group’s list was autism. “The problem,” he said, “is there’s zero evidence of such a link. The Centers for Disease Control, reviewing existing literature, concluding there’s not a causal relationship between certain vaccine types and autism.” No mention of the inherent conflict that the CDC promotes vaccination.
“Where does the autism conspiracy theory come from?” Farrow asks. “Well, a study published in 2004 found a potential link between vaccines and autism in African-American boys. But this past August, two of the authors did a re-analysis of the data and concluded that their earlier analysis was faulty, apologizing for omitting key information.”
Say what now? This is pretty close to gibberish.
“The report has since been removed from the public domain. So what is fact and what is fiction?”
Enter AS. “So joining me now is Paul Wang,” senior vice president and director of medical research for Autism Speaks. “Clarity is the most important thing here,” Farrow says, having already muddled things irretrievably. “So first of all walk me through what happens with this mysterious study. It seems to have proven back in 2004 that there was a link, but there are problems.”
What now, again?
Wang says: “It’s a very interesting study. If you look back at the original study from 2004, it did say -- there was no cover-up – it did say there seemed to be a higher risk for autism among children who got the MMR vaccine before three years of age. The part that nobody’s talking about if you looked in that study, children who got the MMR on time, which is before 18 months, there is no increased risk. So it actually looked like the increased risk was in people who were getting it late. There’s no cover-up there, that’s in the original study.
“Even this new analysis, which has since been retracted, doesn’t challenge that. People who got it on time have no increased risk for autism.”
“Absolutely not,” says Wang. “I think another really important point is that the safety of the MMR vaccine doesn’t hang on one study. There’ve been many studies looking at literally millions of children who received these vaccines and there is no increased risk of autism. In fact, a recent meta-analysis that looked across all these studies suggests that the MMR vaccine seems to protect people against autism. Indeed the autism rate is lower among people who got the vaccine than those who didn’t.”
Then it’s Ronan’s turn. “Indeed a supposed whistleblower that tends to be mentioned in this cover-up theory at the CDC has come out and said, ‘I support vaccines, I don’t want my comments to be taken in that context.’” He tends to be "mentioned in this cover-up theory at the CDC" because he is the source of this coverup theory at the CDC, where he is a senior scientist!
“That’s exactly right,” Wang says. Well, except that Thompson said he’d never let his wife get a mercury-containing influenza vaccine during pregnancy because that causes tics, tics are more common in autism, and there is biological plausibility right now to the theory that vaccines cause autism. And that’s exactly what the CDC recommends. And he’s “ashamed” when he sees autism families because he helped cover up the increased risk in black males who got the MMR before 36 months.
By this point Wang is really using a shovel to help the CDC cover it all up. But let’s soldier on, shall we?
Ronan: “’So Autism Speaks, quote, strongly encourages parents to have their children vaccinated.’ Has there been pushback from anti-vaccine activists on your organization?”
Wang: “Absolutely. We listen to the entire community. We do hear those voices. And of course it’s tragic whenever a child is diagnosed. And too often parents do see this coincidence. They see the symptoms of autism appearing around the time that the vaccine is given.
“What research has shown in the last couple of years especially is that even though parents don’t see it before then, there are subtle signs of autism well before the MMR vaccine, before a child turns one year of age. So there are signs in the behavior. If you do very careful subtle videotape analyses, there are signs on brain wave tracing as well, there’s also research showing some of the brain changes start before birth.”
“Look I have autism in my own family,” Ronan says. “Our thoughts are always with parents who are wrestling with this in their children. But this kind of medical clarity is the most important thing to have in this conversation.”
Help me, Lord. Two besetting sins of the age of autism are on display here – Wong’s ridiculous assertions, and the complete unclarity and incomprehension exhibited by Farrow.
What a mess.
(Update: Ronan had our own Contributing Editor and Thinking Mom Lisa Goes on his show Friday -- titled "Debunking the Anti-Vaccine Movement -- Ronan Farrow Talks To One Mom With a Strong Stance Against Vaccinating Children." Again he was so confused about the basic facts of the whistleblower saga that Lisa politely spent a good deal of time trying to get him back on track. He kept interrupting her to say the science has spoken, regardless of what she and so many parents have seen with their own eyes. "Parents, do the work," she said at the end. Yes!)
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.