Media nutritionism is a crowded field, but John Briffa has managed to carve out a niche for himself. And Briffa’s take on vaccines stands out, even among media nutritionists. JDC takes a broader look at Briffa’s take on autism, but I’m going to focus on Briffa’s claim that:
the US Government recently looked at such evidence relating to just one girl (Hannah Poling) and concluded that vaccination had contributed significantly to her autism.
As readers of this blog can probably spot, almost every word of that statement is inaccurate: impressive work, indeed.
Firstly, the US government did not concede that vaccines caused the feature’s of autism that Poling’s father attributes to vaccines. Instead, as Offit notes, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program requires a lower level of proof than civil and criminal courts in the US:
Now, petitioners need merely propose a biologically plausible mechanism by which a vaccine might cause harm — even if their explanation contradicts published studies.
In the Poling case, “the court conceded that the claim was biologically plausible” and therefore a settlement was offered, and the Poling’s accepted. In no way, shape or form is this the same as the US government concluding that vaccines have contributed significantly to Poling’s autism.
Secondly, in Poling’s case the Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation apparently concluded that
the facts of this case meet the statutory criteria for demonstrating that the vaccinations [Poling] received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder.
Features of autism are not the same thing as autism. It appears that the case was conceded due to the possibility that the vaccines contributed to some of Poling’s autistic traits. The symptoms attributed to vaccines by Poling’s father would not – in themselves – be enough for an autism diagnosis.
As Novella argues, it is therefore worth emphasising that the Poling case
is highly complex and not necessarily representative of any other case and cannot be reasonably used to support the vaccine/autism connection
In other words, even if Briffa’s interpretation of the case were right – it’s not – this would still not provide significant support for those claiming a widespread vaccine/autism connection. Not only is Briffa wrong, but he is also wrong in his interpretation of the results of his wrongness.
Of course, it would only be fair to end by acknowledging what Briffa got right in the above quote. After all, the grammar in that sentence was spot-on and he did spell Hannah’s name right.