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Jim Carrey, you are part of the problem for us in the Autism Community

15 Jul

Years back Jim Carrey was and autism were mentioned together regularly in the news.  This was at the height of the vaccine misinformation campaign of his then partner, Jenny McCarthy.  Mr. Carrey went so far as to be a speaker at the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington.  That was 2008. Since then the Green Our Vaccines as a movement has died, Jenny McCarthy has tried to distance herself from her very vocal stance on vaccines, and given that Mr. Carrey and Ms. McCarthy split, it seemed like we had seen the last of Mr. Carrey.

Until recently.

You see Mr. Carrey took offense to new legislation in California.  A bill that will roll back vaccine exemptions to where personal belief exemptions will no longer be accepted in the schools here.  In other words, for the most part one will now need an actual medical reason to avoid vaccination in order to register for public school.

Mr. Carrey took to twitter with his complaints about the new law.  All well and good, free speech and all.  But Mr. Carrey went too far. He decided to take pictures of kids in distress and the implication that this is what happens when you vaccinate your kids. One tweet read ““A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!”” and included a picture of an autistic kid (the other pictures he used appear to have been stock images). The story is discussed by Emily Willingham as Jim Carrey Unwittingly Brings Attention To Something Actually Linked To Autism

And Time Magazine in Jim Carrey Apologizes for Using Photo of Autistic Boy in Anti-Vaccination Tweet.

Because, to give him credit, Mr. Carrey did apologize to that family. (Ironically, it turns out that the kid was unvaccinated when he was first diagnosed autistic).

I harken back to Mr. Carrey’s time with the autism community (remember when Generation Rescue was tagged as “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization”?). At one speech, probably the Green Our Vaccines Rally, Mr. Carrey made the pseduo-profound statement, “We are not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

So while I do appreciate Mr. Carrey stepping up and apologizing to one family, I do want to point out: Mr. Carrey, you were one of the problems for the autism community. And you apparently still are.

Ms. McCarthy introduced you to a closed group of people, a small sampling of the autism community. You likely came away thinking that they *are* the autism community, because that’s how they think of themselves.

They aren’t.

Most of us autism parents don’t subscribe to the vaccine causation idea. I can provide the links to multiple studies if you like, but it’s just the way things are.

And autism parents are not the autism community. One thing that Generation Rescue and like organizations have done is act like autistics are some sort of second class citizens in the community. Who do you think the community primarily is, autistics or parents?

Here’s the thing: the vaccine-causation idea is probably the most damaging notion to have hit the autism community. Did you hear about the “refrigerator mother” theory during your time at Generation Rescue? It’s second to the vaccine causation theory. Telling generations of disabled kids that they are less than they are, that they should be someone else, is damaging. Mr. Carrey, did you attend any of those parent conventions, like AutismOne? Perhaps you look at alternative medicine favorably. Well, the vaccine causation idea is used to sell “therapies” that aren’t close to being “alternative”. They are just wrong. And, frankly, abusive. Chemical castration of disabled children? This was promoted multiple times at conventions where your former partner was a keynote speaker. Fake diagnoses of mercury poisoning, followed by chelation? Same. And even a major promoter of chelation has a new study showing it doesn’t work. Did anyone tell you why the NIH autism/chelation trial was stopped? Because if you chelate test animals who do not have mercury intoxication, they go down cognitively. If the same happens in humans, tens of thousands of autistic children lost some IQ due to chelation. Think that one over, since GR started out as primarily an org promoting chelation. Daily bleach drinks and bleach enemas? That one is probably new since you dropped out. But, yep, that gets sold as a cure for “vaccine injury”. Shall I go on? Because I can. The autism=vaccine injury idea sells junk medicine which is subjected upon disabled children.

And you added your voice to the vaccine-causation idea.

You’ve apologized to one family. That took guts. Now step up and start making amends to the rest of us. Parents and, especially, autistics.


By Matt Carey

Press Release: New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Infant Primates

26 Apr

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center (formerly Thoughtful House). It is about a recent follow-up study they performed (discussed here). I’ll give the press release below with no further comment except to highlight this statement by the lead researcher: “Despite these limitations, the data in this primate study overwhelmingly provides support for the safety of pediatric vaccines.

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – February 18, 2015 – A research study published today in Environmental Health Perspectivesreported that vaccination of infant macaques with thimerosal-containing vaccines did not negatively impact neurodevelopment, cognition, or behavior. In this study animals received several pediatric vaccines containing thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in a schedule similar to that given to infants in the 1990s. Other animals received just the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, which does not contain thimerosal, or an expanded vaccine schedule similar to that recommended for US infants today. Control animals received a saline injection. Regardless of vaccination status, all animals developed normally.

“This comprehensive study of infant primate development, including analyses of learning, cognition, and social development, indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal or the MMR vaccine; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded vaccine schedule” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, the principle investigator of the study.

Hewitson worked with a team of researchers at the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory and the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA. According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was still used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. Although in 1999 the FDA and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended that thimerosal be removed from vaccines in the US, it is still used as a preservative in multi-dose flu shots, which are recommended for pregnant women and children 6 months of age and older.

“This is the first time the safety of the entire pediatric vaccine schedule has been investigated in a relevant animal model,” said Dr. Judy Van de Water from the UC-Davis MIND Institute, who was not involved in this study.

Hewitson also noted, “As with any animal study, assessments were implemented under controlled laboratory conditions. We did not test all of the interacting variables that could contribute to an adverse outcome, such as birth weight, gestational age, genetic vulnerability, or in utero and post-natal chemical exposures. The interaction between multiple environmental exposures or genetic factors that may impact vaccine response, which is an important aspect of the vaccine debate, was not addressed in this study. Despite these limitations, the data in this primate study overwhelmingly provides support for the safety of pediatric vaccines.”

Citation

Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. Britni Curtis, Noelle Liberato, Megan Rulien, Kelly Morrisroe, Caroline Kenney, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, C. Nathan Marti, Dorothy Mandell, Thomas M. Burbacher, Gene P. Sackett and Laura Hewitson. Environmental Health Perspectives, Feb 18, 2015; doi:10.1289/ehp.1408257.
Once the embargo lifts, this article can be downloaded for free at http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1408257.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR00166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

About The Johnson Center

The mission of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development is to advance the understanding of childhood development through clinical care, research, and education.


By Matt Carey

“light it up blue” isn’t autism awareness, it’s advertising for Autism Speaks

2 Apr

Tomorrow is Autism Awareness Day, by some calendars at least.  The United Nations, for example made a resolution in 2007 to designate April 2nd as “World Autism Awareness Day”.

Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 18 December 2007 [on the report of the Third Committee (A/62/435)] 62/139.

World Autism Awareness Day The General Assembly,

Recalling the 2005 World Summit Outcome and the United Nations Millennium Declaration, as well as the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields,

Recalling also the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, according to which children with disabilities should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community, as well as the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis with other children,

Affirming that ensuring and promoting the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all persons with disabilities is critical to achieving internationally agreed development goals, Aware that autism is a lifelong developmental disability that manifests itself during the first three years of life and results from a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, mostly affecting children in many countries irrespective of gender, race or socio-economic status, and characterized by impairments in social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and activities,

Deeply concerned by the prevalence and high rate of autism in children in all regions of the world and the consequent development challenges to long-term health care, education, training and intervention programmes undertaken by Governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, as well as its tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies,

Recalling that early diagnosis and appropriate research and interventions are vital to the growth and development of the individual,

1. Decides to designate 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day, to be observed every year beginning in 2008;

2. Invites all Member States, relevant organizations of the United Nations system and other international organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and the private sector, to observe World Autism Awareness Day in an appropriate manner, in order to raise public awareness of autism;

3. Encourages Member States to take measures to raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding children with autism;

4. Requests the Secretary-General to bring the present resolution to the attention of all Member States and United Nations organizations.

76th plenary meeting 18 December 2007

While I’m sure that Autism Speaks lobbying had much to do with that resolution, it’s an awareness event. No where do you see any mention of Autism Speaks nor statements that we should “light it up blue”. Yet over the years, Autism Speaks has made autism awareness into autism speaks awareness. And no where is that more obvious than on April 2nd with their “light it up blue” event.

Is blue the color of autism? No. It’s the color of Autism Speaks. But Autism Speaks is out there asking people to shine blue lights for autism awareness. A whole section of their shop (yes, they have an online shop) is devoted to “light it up blue” merchandise. All complete with the Autism Speaks logo.

Here’s the text from the Autism Speaks web page on how to “light it up blue”. Each section brings you back to Autism Speaks. Shine a blue light..and project the Autism Speaks logo. Wear blue, including autism speaks pins or accessories. Blue=Autism speaks, basically.

How to LIUB

In honor of people with autism worldwide, iconic landmarks, hotels, sporting venues, concert halls, museums, schools, universities, bridges, retail stores, and thousands of homes will light blue beginning on April 2!

Light Homes, Businesses, Schools, and Landmarks Blue

Change outdoor or indoor white bulbs to blue bulbs.

Tint windows with blue gel sheets

Cover existing fixtures with blue gel filters

Project the Autism Speaks puzzle piece or Light It Up Blue logo on walls or buildings

Wear Blue

Ask family, friends, coworkers, and staff to wear blue (ties, scarfs, shirts, etc.)

Supply Autism Speaks lapel pins, bracelets, or other blue accessories to wear during the month of April.

Post Blue

Personalize your LIUB Selfie Sign to tell us where you Light It Up Blue

Post your photos on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, or Flickr with the hashtag #LIUB to be a part of the global autism awareness movement!

Turn your website blue with our Site It Up Blue kit or add the Light It Up Blue logo with a link to autismspeaks.org/liub

Turn your Facebook or Twitter profile picture blue

Tweet autism facts with the hashtag #LIUB

Raise Awareness with Blue

Distribute information about autism, World Autism Awareness Day, and Light It Up Blue in your establishment, neighborhood, or company.

Invite a local Autism Speaks representative to speak to your staff, school, or town about autism and the Light It Up Blue campaign.

Reach out to local media to let the community know about your great work for the autism community and your support of autism speaks!

Donate

Click here to donate!

Text AUTISM to 25383 to give $10*

Host your own fundraising event

Use this form to mail funds to Autism Speaks

Hey, you can take a “light it up blue” selfie. Complete with Autism Speaks logo.

yeah blue for AS

Autism Speaks is corporate autism. They do some things I appreciate and many things I really, really (really) don’t. For example, perpetuating the vaccines-cause-autism idea, an idea which may be second only to the refrigerator mother idea in causing harm to our community. Just in the past couple weeks Autism Speaks had to put out a new message on the idea, because the science based and helpful message by their Chief Science Officer conflicted with the non-science educated founder’s beliefs. Autism Speaks doesn’t have autistic voices in important positions within the organization, an amazing position given the sizable self-advocate population they claim to serve. Autism Speaks has a history of perpetuating stigmatizing messages (search for “I am autism” if you are unaware of this). Autism Speaks has funded quality research over the years and I appreciate that. But every time I start thinking Autism Speaks is starting down a good path they do something that reminds me: they are not my family’s autism organization. They don’t represent my values. They don’t represent my family.

I won’t be “lighting it up blue” tomorrow. I won’t be encouraging people to “light it up blue”. I hope people will be more aware of the needs of people like my kid. I hope more that they will act. I will follow up with another post, but I’ll say it here now: remember the phrase “think globally, act locally”? Feel like donating to an autism charity? I bet you have an autism school in your area and autism schools need donations. I bet there are adult programs in your area that could use some support. That’s my suggestion for April 2nd.


By Matt Carey

Autism Speaks:  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism…but doesn’t let that statement stand alone.

26 Mar

Autism Speaks has come out with some very strong statements about autism and vaccines.  And the back peddled. 

First, here is a statement by Robert Ring, Chief Science Officer:

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.

Rob Ring
Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks

 
In the past Autism Speaks had been sympathetic towards the idea that vaccines cause autism.  More than sympathetic, some would say.  Such a clear statement as above would have been unthinkable from Autism Speaks only a few years ago.
I wish they had made these statements earlier, but I am glad they are making these statements now.  The vaccine hypothesis has been the most damaging idea in autism since the refrigerator mother theory.  With Autism Speaks position as a well known autism organization, perhaps even fewer families will get caught in the vaccines-cause-autism trap in the future.Here’s the way the Autism Speaks vaccines and autism page looked just last year.  It includes many problematic statements and concludes: “A list of publications that used VAERS information to study associations with autism can be found here“.  “Here” is a link to pubmed with the search terms “vaers” and “autism”.  No surprise, it’s a list that is padded out by works by Mark and David Geier.  The Geiers have been performing poor research for years and have been discussed here at Left Brain/Right Brain many times.


The above statement by Mr. Ring was picked up by the press in February as it was so clear.
Next, Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks:
 

Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually  made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.

Bob Wright
Co-founder, Autism Speaks

It’s a fairly stilted paragraph in my read.  It comes across as though Mr. Wright is trying to appear to ride the fence while at the same time pulling back dramatically from the clear statement by Mr. Ring.  Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines?

Even with that, I can’t imagine that admitting that vaccines are “important” will go over well in some circles.  Close circles.  Even “important” is to positive a word for some.  But, seriously, here we have an invention that has saved more lives that possibly any other in medical history and we get “important”?

Yes, Mr. Wright, efforts must be made to educate parents about vaccine safety.  That’s what your chief science officer did.  Sadly, you can’t let Autism Speaks be a science led organization.

By Matt Carey

Note: I accidentally published an early draft of this article yesterday.

Is Andrew Wakefield’s Strategic Autism Initiative failing?

3 Mar

When Andrew Wakefield left Thoughtful House he set up a charity, the Strategic Autism Initiative.  Interestingly even now, years after it was founded, it appears to have no website or Facebook page.  What it does have is tax forms because every charity must make those public.   Last year when I looked these tax forms, a few points became apparent.  Most of the money the SAI had taken in (58%) had gone to salaries, with the lion’s share of that going to Mr. Wakefield himself.  In 2012 more money was spent on salaries that was taken in.  SAI appears to have two employees, Andrew Wakefield and Terri Arranga.  Here are the contributions to the SAI, Mr. Wakefield’s salary and Ms. Arranga’s salary for the years 2010, 2011, 2012.

SAI contributions and salaries

And here are the tax forms:

Strategic Autism Initiative 2010 tax form
Strategic Autism Initiative 2011 tax form
Strategic Autism Initiative 2012 tax form

It is worth noting that the SAI was formed towards the end of 2010, hence the low salaries for that year.

Donations were down dramatically from 2011 to 2012 leaving one to wonder: what would 2013 bring?  Did the downward trend continue? Well, here’s the 2013 tax form:

Strategic Autism Initiative 2013 tax form.

Gross receipts: $50,498, down from $113,501 for tax year 2012.  A drop of over 50%.  The SAI ran a deficit of $97,514, nearly twice what they took in.  Mr. Wakefield took no salary, Teri Arranga only $5,000.  The SAI only had $21,396 in assets at the end of the year.

In short: the SAI appears to be failing. OK, in terms of benefit to the autism communities, the SAI has continually failed.

SAI 2013 form 990

Below are the “program service accomplishments” for the SAI in 2012 and 2013.  Program services are the heart of what a charity is doing.  Well, a standard charity.  That said, ignore the money amounts listed and tell me if you can see any difference in the text.  It looks to me like they copy and pasted the accomplishments from 2012 into 2013.  If I wrote the same accomplishments one year to the next, my management would likely let me go for accomplishing nothing in a year.

SAI 2012 program services SAI 2013 program services

This tax form–the most recent one available–is from 2013.  We will have to wait for the 2014 form but if this trend continued, the SAI is either failing or has failed as an organization.

By Matt Carey

Was autism ever a first advocacy priority for those promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism?

2 Mar

Years back the evidence was rolling in debunking the hypotheses that the MMR and/or thimerosal in vaccines causes autism. At that time I naively wrote some colleagues in online writer’s community about how perhaps the groups that had been advocating about autism being a vaccine-induced epidemic would now become actual autism advocacy groups. They were at a fork in the road: become autism organizations or focus solely on vaccines. But acting like they were doing both was no longer going to work. One writer responded in a way that has stuck with me as he has been shown to be dead on right. Dr. David Gorski (who writes at Science Based Medicine among other places) was the colleague and I he said essentially: it has always been about the vaccines for them and it always will.

Years later it’s obvious: Dr. Gorski was correct. I was wrong. And we are seeing good examples of that now in this measles outbreak as groups like Safeminds and, of course, the Age of Autism blog chime in with articles downplaying the dangers of measles. A prime example recently came on AoA from Mark Blaxill. Mr. Blaxill is largely responsible for the thimerosal scare of the past decade. He wrote a paper (published in the non peer reviewed Medical Hypotheses) Thimerosal and autism? A plausible hypothesis that should not be dismissed. It was junk when it was published, it’s junk now.

His recent article on AoA is “Measles Hysteria — The Truth About a Non-Epidemic in Eight Simple Slides”. It’s junk and one could spend an article debunking each point. But Let’s take a more focused look. He has a slide “Why Measles is No Longer a Threat in the U.S.” (click to enlarge)

M Blaxill misinfo 1

So, it was supposedly 1500 infections ago that someone in the U.S. died of measles. Only 1 in 1500 or so and so it’s not a big deal. Mr. Blaxill even called (or got someone from his organization to call) the CDC for a statement. Who knows what was asked, what was said. Maybe the CDC spokesperson made a mistake. You see, Dr. Vincent Iannelli at Pediatrics.About.Com actually tabulated measles deaths in the U.S. in recent years. Even with a low infection rate, people die of measles and have died in the U.S.. After presenting the data for each year he summarizes:

So that’s 10 measles deaths since 2000 and at least 7 measles deaths since 2005.

Why do people say that there have been no measles deaths in the United States in the past 10 years? Whether they are misinformed or intentionally trying to misinform people, they are wrong.

One can confirm this on the CDC Wonder website. Here’s a screenshot.

This isn’t about proving Mark Blaxill wrong on some point. Because in the end it doesn’t matter if it’s one death or ten deaths, it’s too many. But I suspect 1 death or 10 deaths wouldn’t change Mr. Blaxill’s assertion that measles is a minor deasease.

\Those 10 measles deaths Dr. Iannelli mentions are deaths that occur during the infection, usually from complications like pneumonia or encephalitis. But the thing about measles is that it can kill years later. There’s a condition called SSPE, Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis. You see, for some people, the measles virus enters the brain and stays there. And slowly kills.

From Dr. Iannelli:

About 6 to 8 years after having measles, children with SSPE develop progressive neurological symptoms, including memory loss, behavior changes, uncontrollable movements, and even seizures. As symptoms progress, they may become blind, develop stiff muscles, become unable to walk, and eventually deteriorate to a persistent vegetative state.

Children with SSPE usually die within 1 to 3 years of first developing symptoms

and

That’s 32 SSPE deaths since 2000 and at least 19 SSPE deaths since 2005. Why so many? Many of them can likely be attributed to the large number of cases associated with measles outbreaks from 1989 to 1991.

There is no cure for measles infection. There is no cure for SSPE. One can read more about SSPE at the link given above or at a recent article at Science Based Medicine: SSPE: A Deadly and Not-That-Rare Complication of Measles.

Mr. Blaxill includes a quote from someone in the 1963 who stated that measles is of “moderate severity” or “low fatality”. Perhaps to someone who lived through the early 20th century when measles was even more deadly, this might seem so. Perhaps. But not now. And how can someone ever use the phrase “self limiting” about a disease that can lead to SSPE? SSPE is only “self limiting” in the death of the patient.

Another of Mr. Blaxill’s slides shows the decline in measles infections and deaths following the introduction of the vaccine. Mr. Blaxill annotated this with his own observations (click to enlarge):

M Blaxill misinfo 2

Here’s the thing that pops out of that graph: the death rate has remained constant at about 1 in 1,000 since at least 1950. Take a look at any datapoint in the deaths and go up a factor of 1,000 and there’s the infection rate. And that doesn’t account for SSPE deaths years later.

Over the years I’ve found that Mr. Blaxill often takes an unreasonable and unfounded stance on issues. But since when is a death rate of 1 in 1,000 low enough to state “Why Measles is No Longer a Threat in the U.S.”?

For comparison, Mr. Blaxill informs us that there have been 80 deaths attributed to measles containing vaccines reported to VAERS (the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) in the past 10 years. He ignores, as most people do who use VAERS in this manner, to include the disclaimer one must acknowledge in order to access VAERS data, which concludes that VAERS data do not imply causality. But let’s for the moment assume that every report to VAERS is causal. 80 deaths. There are about 4 million babies born in the U.S. each year. About 90% get the MMR vaccine. Twice. Over 10 years. That’s nearly 80 million doses of MMR vaccine administered. So, even if we take each report to VAERS as causal, that would be 1 death in 1 million doses. 1 death in 500,000 infants. This is a huge over estimate given the assumptions, but let’s do the difficult: compare these numbers. To Mr. Blaxill 1 in 500,000 is too many, but 1 in 1,500 is “low fatality”.

Even using the Mr. Blaxill’s flawed assumptions, his logic doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s take a look at Mr. Blaxill’s concluding slide so I can bring this back to how it shows that he has abandoned not just logic but also the autism community. I’ve highlighted one sentence that is particularly important. (click to enlarge):

M Blaxill misinfo 3

Measles has ceased to be a dangerous illness? Seriously? First, the idea that we can accept 1 out of 1000 people dying due to measles is just astonishingly bad advocacy. For that point alone we in the autism community need to distance ourselves from Mr. Blaxill and people like him. These irresponsible actions are not the actions of the autism community.

That said, let’s consider this key phrase: “in healthy children”. If you will, try to recall back in the day when Mr. Blaxill presented himself as an autism advocate. Actually, we don’t even have to go back that far, only recently he was telling a congressional hearing:

In New Jersey, 1 in 29 boys born in 2000 were diagnosed autistic.

What’s going on? Why are so many American children sick?

The message he had for many years was that autistic children are sick. Not healthy. His former organization (Safeminds) would be quick to point out a number of conditions that are more common in autistics than in the general population. Since even by his own definition autistics are not “healthy”, why should we let measles return in force to the U.S.? Of course it is Mr. Blaxill’s failed hypothesis that vaccines are making children “sick”. But let’s consider this very real point: the developmentally disabled are more likely to become sickened by infectious diseases and they are more likely to die (Why vaccination uptake matters to the autism community).

And that’s ignoring the fact that a large fraction of autistics are also epileptic. And a huge trigger for seizures is infectious disease and the prolonged fever that comes with it. Perhaps Mr. Blaxill is unaware of the term status epilepticus, the situation where someone gets into a state of constant seizures. And, yes, this can be brought on by infection.

Or perhaps Mr. Blaxill has forgotten the emphasis his community placed on mitochondrial disease and autism just a few short years ago.

From a U.C. San Diego Metabolic Deseaese Center website, the paragraph: What is Mitochondrial Disease?

If a child is stricken with a catastrophic disease affecting three or more organ systems, or if a child has been afflicted with a relapsing disease that affects two or more organ systems and leads to slow but measurable deterioration, he or she may have a mitochondrial disease. At times, mitochondrial diseases can cause isolated symptoms. These may include unexplained seizures, low blood counts, dystonia (abnormal muscle tone or spasms), blindness, deafness, dementia, ataxia (stumbling or tremors), cerebral palsy, heart failure, or progressive muscle weakness. More often, however, several organ systems are affected in sequence, one faltering or failing after another. Good periods are frequently punctuated by abrupt deteriorations that are caused by simple infections. For children with mitochondrial disease these infections can be life threatening, and leave them with deficits that cannot be recovered.

Emphasis added. Some fraction of our population does have mitochondrial disease. Allowing diseases like measles back would put this community (as well as those with mitochondrial disease without autism) at huge risk.

I’d like to say that Mr. Blaxill, like many in the “autism is a vaccine-induced epidemic” camp, has lost his way. A very valid question is whether Mr. Blaxill and his colleagues were ever on the path of autism advocacy. Was it always, as Dr. Gorski opined, about the vaccines?

While I’ve entitled this article “Was autism ever a first advocacy priority for those promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism?”, in the end motivations are secondary. Mr. Blaxill’s actions are and have been irresponsible. They are an example of the actions of a group of faux autism advocates that have a history of irresponsible actions. Not just to public health but to the autism communities.


By Matt Carey

Comment on: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior.

21 Feb

There is a common myth one hears from one group of autism parents: there is no research on autism and vaccines being performed. Usually this is combined with the insinuation that the government is scared of vaccine/autism research. The claims are often made by people who should (and likely do) know better.

One of the few places one can find a discussion of the ongoing vaccine/autism work is here at Left Brain/Right Brain. In a post last year I address the question of Why won’t the government fund vaccine/autism research?, which was really a post about how there is work being funded. In case the title was unclear, I also wrote More of that vaccine/autism research that doesn’t exist. Other articles include What projects are being funded in autism research? Part 1: vaccines and GI issues.

In one of those articles I wrote:

There’s a study by Gene Sackett’s group, A PRIMATE MODEL OF GUT, IMMUNE, AND CNS RESPONSE TO CHILDHOOD VACCINES. This appears to be a follow on project to the Laura Hewitson studies that were discussed a great deal online a few years ago.

And, guess what? A study by Gene Sackett, together with Laura Hewitson and others, has just been published: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. It may not be the study referenced above as that study was government funded, but this new study addresses some of the concerns raised by previous studies published by Laura Hewitson’s team. If you wonder what I mean by “addressed”, here’s the last phrase of the abstract: the study “…provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.”

No evidence of harm.

Gene Sackett was a collaborator on one of those previous studies by Laura Hewitson: Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: influence of gestational age and birth weight. This study was discussed a great deal by those promoting the vaccine/autism link (say here, here, here and elsewhere. It was called a “blockbuster” study by Mark Blaxill (then of SafeMinds, now of the Canary Party, both groups who promote the failed idea that the rise in autism diagnoses was caused by thimerosal in vaccines) on the Age of Autism blog. Dan Olmsted (of the same blog) called the results “explosive”. They both downplayed the preliminary nature of the study and the small sample size and way overplayed the importance of the results.

And as this new study clarifies, both were wrong. Both spread guilt and fear: one can still find parents talking online about how their child was delayed in one of the reflexes discussed in the study and, thus, was harmed by thimerosal in vaccines. Just an example of the harm the people pushing the idea that vaccines and autism are linked have caused.

As noted above, this new study clears up the concerns raised by the earlier studies. If history is any guide, Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill will not demonstrate the courage needed to admit their mistakes nor try to correct the damage they have caused. I would love to be wrong and have to write an apology to them.

Here is the abstract to Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior.

Abstract
BACKGROUND:
In the 1990s, the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, was used in most pediatric vaccines. While there are currently only two thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) recommended for pediatric use, parental perceptions that vaccines pose safety concerns are affecting vaccination rates, particularly in light of the much expanded and more complex schedule in place today.
OBJECTIVES:
The objective of this study was to examine the safety of pediatric vaccine schedules in a non-human primate model.
METHODS:
We administered vaccines to 6 groups of infant male rhesus macaques (n=12-16/group) using a standardized thimerosal dose where appropriate. Study groups included the recommended 1990s pediatric vaccine schedule, an accelerated 1990s primate schedule with or without the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, the MMR vaccine only, and the expanded 2008 schedule. We administered saline injections to age-matched control animals (n=16). Infant development was assessed from birth-12 months of age by examining the acquisition of neonatal reflexes, the development of object concept permanence (OCP), computerized tests of discrimination learning, and infant social behavior. Data were analyzed using ANOVAs, multi-level modeling, and survival analyses, where appropriate.
RESULTS:
There were no group differences in the acquisition of OCP. During discrimination learning animals receiving TCVs had improved performance on reversal testing, although some of these same animals performed poorer in subsequent learning set testing. Analysis of social and non-social behaviors identified few instances of negative behaviors across the entire infancy period. While some group differences in specific behaviors were reported at 2 months of age, by 12 months all infants, irrespective of vaccination status, had developed the typical repertoire of macaque behaviors.
CONCLUSIONS:
This comprehensive five-year, case-control study, which closely examined the effects of pediatric vaccines on early primate development, provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.

Let’s repeat that conclusion for emphasis: This comprehensive five-year, case-control study, which closely examined the effects of pediatric vaccines on early primate development, provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.

The full paper is available online. In it you can read this:

This data is in contrast to our previous pilot study in which a delay in the acquisition of the root, suck, and snout survival reflexes were reported for primate infants following exposure to the birth dose of the thimerosal containing Hep B vaccine (Hewitson et al. 2010a). This discrepancy is most likely due to the larger number of animals in the present study providing more accurate estimates. Furthermore, in the present study reflexes were examined from birth to 21 days of age, during which some animals received multiple TCVs (not just a single Hep B vaccine as was used in the previous 23 study), and yet no detrimental effects on the acquisition of survival reflexes were reported for these animals.

Hewitson 2010a is Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: Influence of gestational age and birth weight. This is the “blockbuster” study according to Mark Blaxill. Ironically, Mr. Blaxill’s article links to the first publication of the “blockbuster”, the version that was retracted.

The first thing that people who promote the vaccine/autism link would do with a study like this, one that doesn’t find a link between vaccines and harm, is claim that it isn’t “independent” and the authors and/or funding agencies are too biased. So, let’s look at the authors

Britni Curtis,1 Noelle Liberato,1 Megan Rulien,1 Kelly Morrisroe,1 Caroline Kenney,1 Vernon Yutuc,1 Clayton Ferrier,1 C. Nathan Marti,2 Dorothy Mandell,3 Thomas M. Burbacher,1,4 Gene P. Sackett,1,5 and Laura Hewitson1,6,7

1Infant Primate Research Laboratory (IPRL), Washington National Primate Research Center, and Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD), Seattle, Washington, USA; 2Abacist Analytics, LLC, Austin, Texas, USA; 3Independent Consultant, Austin, Texas, USA; 4Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA; 5Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA; 6The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, Austin, Texas, USA; 7Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, Texas, USA

Laura Hewitson was the lead researcher in the previous macaque studies, the ones often quoted as providing evidence of a link between thimerosal and autism. Her organization (The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development) was formerly referred to as Thoughtful House and was directed in that time by Andrew Wakefield. Thomas Burbacher and Gene Sackett have also been involved with previous animal studies on thimerosal, including this one often cited again as evidence of a link between vaccines and autism.

The funding?

This work was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR0166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

Both SafeMinds and the National Autism Association are strong proponents of the idea that vaccines cause autism.

Under competing financial interests we read:

Competing financial interests: Drs. Marti and Mandell provided consulting services as independent contractors in regards to the data analyses. Neither person has provided services to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines or their representatives, nor have they been an expert witness in thimerosal, or similar suits. The other authors declare they have no actual or potential competing financial interests.

I will leave you with the final paragraph of the new study

In summary, we did not find evidence of an adverse impact of vaccination status on early neurodevelopmental measures, including the acquisition of neonatal reflexes and the development of object permanence. This was true for animals receiving TCVs, as well as animals in the 2008 group, which received the expanded pediatric vaccine schedule that remains very similar to the currently recommended schedule. Although some animals receiving TCVs performed better in the reversal phase of discrimination learning compared to controls, this association was not consistent across all study groups with thimerosal exposure. Furthermore, learning set performance appeared to be poorest for animals in the TCV group but this observation was not mirrored in the 1990s Primate group. Finally, all infants, irrespective of vaccine status, developed the typical social behaviors for this age of animal, with very few instances of negative behaviors reported. While the data as a whole does not support a consistent adverse effect of TCVs on primate development, factors that may modulate the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of thimerosal, such as genetics, gender, birth weight, gestational age, maternal health, and chemical co-exposures, should be thoroughly investigated.


By Matt Carey

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