Well, do they?
There has been so much confusion on this issue. First there was the famous Wakefield saga that began in 1998, where the media reported “Vaccine cause autism!” And of course since then, there have been retractions, accusations, and more. The media likes to confuse the issue, too, by claiming that the question has been resolved “once and for all,” and refusing to acknowledge any alternate view points.
No mention is ever made of other studies which may have been completed — if any — and what their conclusions were. The whole thing is so crazy to sort through that most parents simply pick a side and stick to it. This is usually dependent on where their biases lie (for example, most doctors say “absolutely not,” and parents of children who’ve been clearly affected by autism often say “yes of course!”). But it’s just not that simple.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
This is a crucial issue to address, because it is the reason most often blamed for parents refusing vaccines. And the media usually reports this as the only reason that parents refuse vaccines, says the paper was retracted, and uses the situation to stir up anger and fear towards those who don’t vaccinate. This is not productive to the discussion and does nothing to reassure anyone. We need to look beyond this hot button issue to what is really going on.
The truth is: we don’t know if vaccines cause autism. We don’t have the final answer. We don’t fully know what causes autism at all! (However, there’s a lot of evidence, more every year, that vaccines do cause autism.) But, there’s a lot of information we can sort through that will shed some light on this whole situation.
First, the Dr. Andrew Wakefield story. What really happened there? It’s the most often-pointed to piece of “evidence” that vaccines do or don’t cause autism. But what was that study really about?
The Dr. Wakefield Saga
In 1997, Dr. Wakefield was a researcher in Britain who was looking at different types of bowel disease. That is his area of expertise and he was near the top of his field. Parents, knowing that this was his area, started to call him, saying, “Our children have bowel disease and autism. Would you please do a study about this?”
Dr. Wakefield found this interesting enough to begin a study. He gathered a team of 12 researchers and 12 families. They began to gather data about these children. Dr. Wakefield, himself, never examined any of the children; he was an “overseer” of the project, responsible primarily for collaborating all the data.
The initial set of data they were looking at came from average hospital pathologists: whoever was on call the day the kids came into the hospital. Most of these had concluded that these children did not suffer from any sort of bowel disease. However, when Wakefield’s team (comprised of doctors at the top of their fields) looked at the pathology slides, they diagnosed the children with colitis.
In the interest of accuracy, they passed all of the pathology slides onto another top-notch pathologist, without giving him any details about the children or their health history. He was asked to make a diagnosis only on the slides presented. He concurred that the children suffered from colitis. These three sets of data later confused Brian Deer (who was not on the staff at the Sunday Times, but was instead on the payroll of the pharmaceutical companies) and he accused Wakefield of “falsifying” the data in order to make it look like he was right. In fact, that’s not what occurred; Wakefield’s team asked an objective third party to verify their data.
After noting that there was an apparent connection between autism and bowel disease (the entire point of the paper), Wakefield’s team happened to note that in several (but not all) of the children, the measles strain used in the MMR vaccine was found in the bowel. Their parents self-reported to Wakefield that their children had “changed” after the vaccine, and said that they blamed the vaccine.
In Wakefield’s conclusions, he noted the correlation between autism and bowel disease (not noting a causative relationship, only that they were related), and also reported finding the measles virus and the parents’ opinions. His final thoughts on the matter? That there was no possible way to say if the MMR vaccine was in any way involved in autism; it was merely an interesting side note, one that required further research.
Wakefield’s paper DID NOT CONCLUDE THAT THE MMR, OR ANY VACCINE, CAUSED AUTISM.
That is a crucial point to understand, because everything that followed is based on the assumption that his paper did conclude that vaccines caused autism. Dr. Wakefield, in fact, was appropriately cautious in noting that with the preliminary research, based primarily on parents self-reported information, that there was no way to draw a conclusion, and suggested further research.
Unfortunately, the media, as it usually does, ran with it. And it reported: “MMR Causes Autism!” This was extremely irresponsible. It caused parents to panic and stop vaccinating their children without doing any research. I do not recommend this approach at all. Vaccinating is not a decision to be taken lightly, and a great deal of research is required.
So, enter Brian Deer. He is a journalist who was on the payroll of the pharmaceutical companies. He made wild accusations against Dr. Wakefield and his entire team. Ultimately, it was demanded that Dr. Wakefield’s team retract the statement that vaccines caused autism (can you imagine how bewildered they must have been by this, seeing as they never stated it in the first place?). They agreed to do so, and the matter was dropped. For awhile.
In 2010, the matter again surfaced as more (false) accusations were brought against Dr. Wakefield, and they were forced to retract the entire paper. Which is blatantly ridiculous, seeing as the purpose of the paper was to show a correlation between autism and bowel disease, and had nothing at all to do with vaccines. The relationship between autism and bowel disease still exists. But, no one remembers — or cares — what the paper was initially about, anyway.
The entire thing is a huge media scare-tactic, first against vaccines, and now for them. But it’s filled with misinformation and, in my opinion, should be dismissed outright as “evidence” for or against vaccines.
Are There Any Studies??
Since this study was not what it was said to be, the next question most parents have is, have there been any studies done? And if so, what were their conclusions?
We are reassured over and over that there is “no link” based on “many studies.” At this point, most official media begins to belittle parents who don’t vaccinate: “First they blamed the MMR, but that’s not related. Then they blamed thimerosal, but it’s been removed and autism rates and still rising. Now they’re grasping at straws by trying to say that the vaccine schedule as a whole is causing it. Ridiculous.”
This type of language does nothing to reassure parents, nor to respect the honest concerns they have about their child’s health and safety. It is abhorrent that public officials are so non-responsive, and outright hostile, to parents that are asking important and intelligent questions (whatever their ultimate conclusions).
There have, in fact, been many studies completed — at least 19 (frequently cites in the media) that I have found so far. You can read the details (the site’s author’s conclusions as well as the original published data) at Fourteen Studies. It’s interesting to note that several of the studies are reviews, do not ask relevant questions, and are written primarily by those with huge conflicts of interest (CDC employees, pharmaceutical employees in the vaccine division). For example, one study looks at differences between children who received all the same vaccines, but at different times. This does not adequately assess the effect of vaccines on childrens’ immune systems. These studies are primarily used to “prove” that there is no association, but they really deserve a second look (some have been heavily criticized even by the scientific community).
There are 34 published studies (and one phone survey) that suggest there may be a link between autism and vaccines — these are never mentioned (in the media).
Dr. Wakefield completed another study, which was blocked from publication. It looked at the Hep B series in monkeys, and noted that the monkeys receiving it were more likely to lose reflexes crucial to survival than those who didn’t (part of this study was published, but the final results were blocked).
The point is — there are a lot of studies that have been done, and the conclusions currently support both sides of the issue. There is absolutely no way anyone can claim “there are no studies that support a link” — that is patently false (see link above). When anyone does discuss these studies, they usually say that the other side had conflicts of interest or used “bad science,” and therefore those studies are invalid (I find it hard to believe that this is always true, though I’m sure it is some of the time).
There is also no way that anyone can claim “The question is completely settled.” — It’s not. There are plenty of questions that haven’t been asked yet. There have been, to date, no published studies comparing completely unvaccinated children with vaccinated children. There are no studies that look at the safety of the vaccine schedule as a whole. There are no studies that look at individual vaccines beyond a 6-week period (and sometimes symptoms could be delayed, albeit hard to prove a link). There are no studies that compare vaccines to a true placebo (saline); only to previously manufactured vaccines.
There are just too many questions yet to be asked, and very few are doing this research. This is because if anyone does try to ask honest questions, they are ridiculed and shut down. There is very little funding for those who want to ask unbiased questions that may turn up unfavorable results. The lack of answers is most definitely political.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
We cannot say for sure.
Without answering several additional questions, and completing quite a bit of longitudinal, unbiased research, there is no way to say “yes” or “no” for sure. This leaves parents in a very difficult and precarious position, to try to make a decision about what is best for their children without all the information they need and nowhere to get it!
The likely answer is, in healthy individuals, no, vaccines do not cause autism. It is illogical to assume that injecting an otherwise normal person with a simple vaccine is going to cause instant and permanent regression into a debilitating developmental disease. Vaccines have some serious ingredients in them, which I don’t believe promote health, but they are not “strong” enough to actually force a healthy individual to regress into autism.
Many people are not healthy these days. Many are born with abnormal gut flora from allergies and other disturbances in their parents’ generation, repeated antibiotic use, and so on. Many are born via c-section and not breastfed. Many have asthma and allergies. These individuals are in fragile health. Their systems have not developed properly and are weak. These are the people who, if given a vaccine, could regress into autism. The vaccine did not really “cause” the autism, per se; but it was the “final straw” in triggering problems that were already partially there.
Even the U.S. government, with the Hannah Poling case, admitted that this is a medical possibility.
The unfortunate part is that we often don’t know who these “sensitive” children are until it is too late. Allergies may not show up until 6 – 12 months. Asthma may not either. There is no reliable, common test for “abnormal gut flora” at this time (it is possible to get this tested; but try asking your doctor for it and see what kind of looks you get!). There is certainly no time to assess risk before giving a newborn a Hep B shot.
What’s the Bottom Line?
Vaccines, autism, and health in general just do not have a simple answer or association. There is no way to say exactly how they are related, where problems may have started.
Health, or the lack thereof, is a cascading series of events. Eating food of poor nutritional quality, being exposed to pesticides and chemical fertilizers, poisons in the water supply, excessive use of pharmaceutical drugs, etc. all slowly chip away at your health, and this is magnified through the generations. We can’t point our fingers at any one cause of poor health — or autism. It is a truly cumulative effect.
So, I can’t answer the question for you today. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to truly answer it. We may be able to note that vaccines are a “contributing factor” in autism (and I believe that is true). It’s up to each parent, though, in their individual circumstances, to decide whether vaccines are worth it, based on a variety of factors.
In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be looking at more aspects of the vaccine debate.
Do you believe that vaccines cause autism? Why or why not?
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