Sometimes, people are stupid. Our sensationalist (and often scientifically clueless) media doesn’t help matters.
Back in January, Kottke collected a handful of links about how schools are dealing with anti-vaccine nutters, including banning students who never got measles vaccinations (there was a local outbreak at the time). My favorite line: “If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn’t be able to bring preventable diseases.”
Last week, a blog sponsored by Boy Scouts of America posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek admonition for scouts to be properly vaccinated. The anti-vax crowd descended in force, claiming “extensive scientific evidence” supporting such a link (nope!), and down-voting anyone disagreed with their crack-pot fringe misinterpretations of science.
(Do I feel strongly about this? Why, yes, yes I do. As the parent of a kid who at times had a very compromised immune system, I sympathize with parents in similar plights. Yes, if one has a legitimate religious objection, that’s one thing, but if a parent doesn’t vaccinate because of fears of autism linkage, they’re just wrong.)
So, I ended up going down the rabbit hole. Because someone is wrong on the Internet.
First, there is extensive evidence that vaccines are not linked to autism. It is the strong consensus of the scientific community.
To list just a few:
- Taylor B., et al. (1999) “Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association” The Lancet (353:9169), 12 June 1999, pp. 2026–2029. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)01239-8 (Sample size 498 persons with autism.)
- Frank DeStefano, Robert T Chen. “Negative association between MMR and autism” The Lancet (353:9169), 12 June 1999, pp 1987–1988 doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(99)00160-9 (These Lancet articles were both early responses to the original claim.)
- Flaherty, D. K. (2011) “The Vaccine-Autism Connection: A Public Health Crisis Caused by Unethical Medical Practices and Fraudulent Science” Annuals of Pharmacotherapy (45:10) pp. 1302–1304 doi:10.1345/aph.1Q318 (Key quote: “The alleged autism-vaccine connection is, perhaps, the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.”)
- DeStefano, F, et al. (2013) “Increasing Exposure to Antibody-Stimulating Proteins and Polysaccharides in Vaccines Is Not Associated with Risk of Autism” Journal of Pediatrics pp. 561–567 pdf (Perhaps the biggest, most authoritative study, conducted, in part, by the CDC. Sample size of more than 3,000.)
Other articles of interest:
- “Vaccines do Not Cause Autism”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which links to many other studies.
- Hamilton, J. “Number Of Early Childhood Vaccines Not Linked To Autism”, National Public Radio, 29 March 2013
The “anti-vaxxing” controversy started with Andrew Wakefield, via an article published in The Lancet in 1998. The article was later thoroughly discredited. Journalist Brian Deer demonstrated that in addition to poor methodology, Wakefield also falsified many of his findings in the study based on only 12 (yes, twelve) patients and minor temporal association (stuff happened close together, but one did not necessarily cause the other). Contrast that with many studies since with hundreds or thousands of patients that show no link. It was also discovered that Wakefield’s undisclosed agenda was to support a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. One by one, the paper’s co-authors withdrew their support for the paper and its conclusions, and the paper was officially retracted by the journal in 2010.
In addition to forging data, other problems with Wakefield’s sample included undisclosed familial ties between 2 of the 12 patients (they were brothers), mis-representing autism diagnoses for at least 3 patients, not disclosing that parents of one patient were active campaigners against the MMR vaccine, incorrectly describing developmentally delayed patients as “previously normal”, and parents of another were blaming vaccination. (See, e.g., Brian Deer, “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed”, 6 Jan 2011)
In any case, the whole of “scientific evidence” claimed by ant-vaxxers in top, peer-reviewed medical journals rests on Wakefield’s single article about 12 patients, data for most of was fraudulently altered. No study since has been able to replicate those findings. (There is another paper, also retracted for error of data, which anti-vaxxers cling to. Snopes has a takedown of that claim.) To the contrary, multiple credible studies, each with thousands of participants have demonstrated no observable statistical link.
So, can we please stop believing there is no evidence against an autism–vaccine link? Study after study has been unable to find a link, or has significant statistical results demonstrating no link.
For LDS readers: The LDS Church has officially endorsed vaccinations for more than 35 years (according to a 1978 letter from the First Presidency letter; “We urge members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to protect their own children through immunization.”, Spencer W. Kimball, from “Immunize Children, Leaders Urge”) In 2003, the Church donated $3 million to fund measles/MMR vaccinations through its Humanitarian Services Division, and continues to provide millions in funding for pro-vaccination initiatives. (“Church Makes Immunizations an Official Initiative, Provides Social Mobilization”, Church News, 13 June 2012)