Last night I placed a link to the following article on my facebook page:
I also included a relatively lengthy commentary on it. I am sharing that commentary again as note for convenience:
This is yet another very well designed study that not only fails to show any link between autism and vaccination, it actually finds that non-autistic individuals have had more exposure to thimerasol than autistic individuals. That finding, while it could appear to be odd or counterintuitive, is likely to be simply a reflection of the impact of the movement away from vaccination by families that feel they are at risk for having children with autism (such as those that already have a child with autism).
Regardless of the reason for this reversed finding, this is not the first study to show this. More importantly, it almost completely eliminates any possible way vaccines could be associated with autism.
Here's a shocking statement: I believe that we should not be funding research to answer the question "Can vaccines cause autism?". Why do I say that? Because the evidence is already overwhelming that vaccines cannot cause autism, regardless of what type of vaccine we are talking about. Instead of spending money on understanding the developmental processes that lead to the development of autistic features, we are chasing a lie.
Yes. A LIE.
If you bare with me, allow me to explain why I made such a statement. And I warn you: Because I am rather passionate about this, this commentary might be rather long.
In my child psychiatric practice, I specialize in the treatment of developmental disabilities that are complicated with psychiatric disorders. At least half of the children I see and treat have an autistic-spectrum diagnosis. I meet families of autistic children every day, and have been doing so for years. It never ceases to amaze me what the parents of these children are willing to do or believe in order to better cope with this disorder. And I know I would have probably done the same things and even believed the same things! It is incredibly difficult to imagine the experience of a parent who is trying to connect to a child that does not have the same emotional language that the parents speak. The experience of raising an autistic child is so incredibly out of the ordinary, it takes, and has taken, many books to even come close to explain. The desperation that some families experience is often impossible to fathom.
So when irresponsible, unethical scientists make false claims in relation to autism, these families will listen. And many will believe. That is exactly what these parents should have done: Believed the science. And in doing so, the unethical scientists have created an unending nightmare and brought shame to the entire scientific community. Not only that, but some children died, other became disabled, and many will continue to have these terrible outcomes BECAUSE of these false claims.
How would a parent be able to decide who to believe when one scientist makes a claim and another makes the opposite claim? How are they to believe anything scientists say at all when they discover that some of them fabricate their data?
Here is the story: A group of scientists published a paper in one of the top medical journals that described data showing a link between the MMR vaccine and autism in the 1990s. That has resulted in an incredible series of huge epidemiological studies to examine the veracity of such claims. NONE has been able to show any links. This study I am sharing is just the latest of them. There is such strong research refuting any link to autism that this negative evidence is now almost comparable to research showing the link between smoking and lung cancer, or obesity and ischemic heart disease.
But the real story is that one of the authors of the paper that claimed that a link existed has publicly recanted and wanted no association with that research. This has prompted the scientific journal to audit the original data used in the research and, surprise surprise... The data was found to have been falsified.
Would that be enough to convince parents that a link does not exist? No. The reason? Most autistic symptoms become prominent after the child enters the second year of life. It just so happens that the vaccine precedes that development. In some autistic children, the symptoms of autism seem to develop rapidly after the child had attained some language and minimal social skills, further enhancing the impression that "something must have abruptly caused it". It is very difficult to undo this contingency when you provide the parents with a target causation that would seem to have some pseudo-logical manner in which it could generate the disorder (mercury in thimerasol was claimed to produce the brain damage responsible for the disorder).
But then what happens, and this is unfortunately not talked about much in the media, is that small epidemics of measles and mumps take place as a result of a section of the public's avoidance of these vaccines. Many will say, "so what? Didn't everybody used to get the measles?" Well, the reason why these vaccines were instituted in the first place is that these common viral illnesses carried a "relatively" high risk for extremely dangerous complications. Before these vaccines most children were eventually infected with the measles virus, and if not while children they were infected as adults. When 0.3% of the millions that would get the measles annually die and 0.01% of them develop Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), an extremely damaging brain infection, then it became clear that the cost of this virus to society was extremely high. When 5-10% of people infected with the mumps would develop a form of meningitis, and some of those sustain significant brain damage, not counting those who have miscarriages or testicular damage as a result of the infection, then it became clear that a vaccine is necessary. Well, fatalities and cases of SSPE have begun again, in North America and Europe! I have treated disabled children whose disability was caused by SSPE, and the reason why they developed SSPE was that they did not get the vaccine. All because of the shameful, unethical, and in my opinion criminal conduct of a few scientists.
I spend hours explaining to parents what the current neuroscientific theories are that try to explain the development of autism in order to undo the many myths around this disorder. I know I would have appreciated such explanations had I been in their place, but these explanations are really difficult. The reality is that autism is a developmental disorder. It begins at the moment brain cells begin forming in the womb. And it is precisely because of how the brain develops in early life that some symptoms are late to manifest. In autism, it begins in the first few years of life, but there are developmental disorders that begin much later: In adolescence or early adulthood in the case of schizophrenia for example. The development of the brain is an extremely complex and long process that is most active early but continues for most of our lives. These developmental disorders are related to genetic and epigenetic (gene-environment interactions) that are there at or soon after conception and are part and parcel of the formation of the most complex structure known to man: the human brain.
I wish it were easy to explain autism, but it isn't. I would be delighted to find out that a single environmental toxin exposed to at a critical period of time explains autism. A discovery such as that would be celebrated by scientists all over the world, because it would create a path to prevention. Just like the MMR vaccine created a path to prevention of SSPE. Contrary to commonly jaded beliefs, likely resulting from such examples of shameful conduct by scientists, most scientists and physicians truly want to rid humanity of debilitating conditions, and autism is no exception.
The autism-vaccine story has to come to an end. It is, literally, a damaging story.