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

30 Sep

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center for Child Health and Development (formerly Thoughtful House). The press release discusses a recent study which investigated the safety of vaccine schedules (present and past) using monkeys as test subjects.

The study is a follow on study to a previous series of pilot studies involving some of the same authors. The pilot studies were considered by many to be an indication of evidence that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. This larger study shows no evidence of adverse effects from vaccines.

Here is the press release:

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – September 28, 2015 – New research finds no evidence that thimerosal- containing vaccines cause negative behaviors or result in neuropathology in infant primates, according to a study that will be published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, conducted by Dr. Dwight German of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, and colleagues, infant rhesus macaques 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 normal social behaviors. Cellular analysis of three brain regions, the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus (all known to be altered in autism), was similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated animals.

“This comprehensive analysis of social behavior and neuropathology in 12-18 month old rhesus macaques indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded 2008 vaccine schedule, which is similar to that recommended for US infants today” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, one of the principle investigators working on the study. Hewitson was part of a team of researchers from The Johnson Center; the University of Texas Southwestern; the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory; the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA; and Texas A&M Health Science Center & Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. The data from this study indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques did not result in neuropathological abnormalities,or aberrant behaviors, like those often observed in autism.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology. Bharathi S. Gadad, Wenhao Li, Umar Yazdani, Stephen Grady, Trevor Johnson, Jacob Hammond, Howard Gunn, Britni Curtis, Chris English, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, Gene P. Sackett, C. Nathan Marti, Keith Young, Laura Hewitson and Dwight C. German. PNAS

This article can be downloaded for free here.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, and the Johnson and Vernick families. 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.

Previous Press Releases
For Immediate Release

By Matt Carey

D.A.I.R. Foundation 2013 tax form, about $100k in revenue, $20k in program expenses

5 Mar Dr-Wakefield-Solina-and-Lee[1]

A few years back Andrew Wakefield decided to sue the BMJ and Brian Deer.  This followed a series of articles and public statements that Mr. Wakefield’s work was an “elaborate fraud” and Mr. Wakefield himself was a fraud.   Lawsuits involve attorneys and attorneys cost money, so a few efforts arose to help Mr. Wakefield pay for these costs.  I believe the first was the “Dr. Wakefield Justice Fund”.  This didn’t come across as a major effort, the twitter account made three tweets, the website appears to be down (here’s an archived version), and it doesn’t appear to have made charity status.  Another effort that came out was the Academic Integrity fund.  Again, the website seems to be down, but again there’s the archive.  In many ways it’s too bad that site didn’t continue as it because a place for Mr. Wakefield to place essays.  And his writing, while tedious, produced interesting insights into his thoughts. For example:

Obama must meet the autism tragedy head on and deal with the proximate cause of the epidemic – unsafe and untested vaccination practices.

This from a man whose supporters claim never says that vaccines cause autism.

And we can also read the approach that would later prove fatal for Alex Spourdalakis: autism must be considered a medical, especially gastrointestinal, condition and that psychiatric medications to be avoided and that are behind mass murderers.

Tragically, predictably, there will be more events like at Sandy Hook Elementary. The vast number of individuals with developmental disorders presages such events. This is not because of their diagnosis, per se, but rather I would suggest, because they may be at increased risk for adverse reactions (due to pre-existing conditions) and are being inappropriately medicated with drugs for which violence is a recognized adverse reaction. These drugs are being prescribed by a “mainstream”

Not all the fundraising efforts failed.  We also saw the rise of a group calling itself the “Defending Academic Integrity and Research” or D.A.I.R. Foundation.  D.A.I.R. states under “what we do”:

Justice is accessible only to those who can afford it. D.A.I.R. Foundation provides legal aid, coordinated public relations support, and educational materials that support the work of our sponsored applicants.

Reading their site, one applies for support and D.A.I.R. provides financial support, PR and other help.

D.A.I.R. Foundation has an open request for proposals from researchers, physicians, scientists, and academic policy drivers who have come under attack and are interested in applying for legal aid. Please Contact Us and note in the subject line “Applicant Inquiry”. Applicants follow an approval review process. Applicants who are accepted will be expected to agree to terms and conditions of the legal aid process to include partnership in strategy that assures success and can be leveraged in future cases, proceeds to D.A.I.R. Foundation following legal compensation, and development of educational and public relations materials. We also assist in reputation management

I emailed them asking for a copy of their “terms and conditions” but they did not reply.  I find it interesting that people are expected to work with D.A.I.R in developing educational an public relations materials, and apparently provide a share of the proceeds of any legal settlements they achieve.

They hold fundraisers, and it appears that Andrew Wakefield is a featured speaker at these events.  The event linked on their website was not inexpensive, but also appears to have left a large number of seats unsold. (click to enlarge)

DAIR fundraiser

Of course this leaves us wondering, how much money did D.A.I.R. bring in and how did they use it?  Well, here’s the D.A.I.R. Foundation 2013 form 990.

From this we learn that they brought in $104,488.  Of that $20,859 was spent on a grant (I assume to Andrew Wakefield).  But that is less than 1/3 of their expenses. (click to enlarge)


They spent $14,889 on salary for Dawn Loughborough (the executive director). They spent $15,256 on catering and $7,383 on travel, plus other expenses. (click to enlarge)


Or, to put it simply: they took in about $100k.  Of this about $20k went to actual program expenses, over $45k went to salary and other expenses and about $37k was left in the bank.

If you dontated, about $0.20 of each dollar went to program expenses (presumably Mr. Wakefield’s expenses) about $0.45 went to overhead and about $0.35 may be used for program expenses at a later time.

Should this grant have gone to Mr. Wakefield, I don’t see that covering a large fraction of his expenses for his failed lawsuit.  Perhaps I’m wrong, but the effort involved multiple lawyers and many, many pages of documents.

By Matt Carey

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

Andrew Wakefield discusses “his war with vaccines”

20 Feb

For many years Andrew Wakefield put forth the image of the reasonable scientist who has been persecuted for merely asking questions about vaccines. Over the past year, that image has been fading as Mr. Wakefield has taken a more direct approach to criticizing vaccines and those involved with vaccines. His video claiming the CDC were involved in a “Tuskegee” like experiment and were worse than Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot was an epic departure from his previous restraint.

His latest interview, while not quite in the epic stature of the “Hitler et al.” video comments, is another example of Mr. Wakefield’s evolving rhetoric. He was interviewed by Alex Jones. Just being on the Alex Jones show is a poor choice for anyone who values accuracy over meager publicity.

The title of the video is “Dr. Unloads On Safe Vaccines”. And beneath that we can read this line:

Published on Feb 13, 2015
Alex Jones welcomes Dr. Andrew Wakefield to the studio to talk about his war with vaccines.

Here’s a screenshot of the YouTube page (click to enlarge):

alex jones on Wakefield

So, we get Mr. Wakefield’s “war on vaccines”. We of course get the obligatory, “We aren’t anti-vaccine”. OK. We also get comparisons of the vaccine program to Nazi Germany. More than once.

Mr. Wakefield seems to be saying that the MMR vaccine does not protect against measles, only the single measles vaccine does. Right. Amazing how we’ve gone so long without major outbreaks of measles with the MMR in use.

Readers may recall that last year Mr. Wakefield bungled the PR campaign for a paper by Brian Hooker. Mr. Hooker’s paper (since retracted) presented a reanalysis of an old CDC dataset on autism and claimed:

Additional research is required to better understand the relationship between MMR exposure and autism in African American males.

It was at best not a strong result in a not strong paper. But even in that paper the assertion that a causal connection was not made. But, how is this work being described now? From Mr. Wakefield on the Alex Jones show:

“And now that Dr. William Thompson, senior CDC scientist, has come forward and said that they have known for 13 years that MMR vaccine is causally associated with autism and they have hidden it from the public, from doctors from public health officials, from everybody.”

The “reanalysis” doesn’t say there’s a causal connection. Mr. Thompson’s public statement doesn’t say “causal” at all. But, hey, Alex Jones and his listeners are not the types to actually fact check Mr. Wakefield.

One could go on and on analyzing the misinformation in that interview. But statements like these make the point: Mr. Wakefield is moving away from his “reasonable guy just asking questions” mode. But we knew that when he put out his race baiting YouTube video last year.

I would be very interested in how Mr. Thompson feels about how he is represented by Mr. Wakefield. Mr. Thompson has made only the one public statement and it does not say what Mr. Wakefield claims.

By Matt Carey

National Geographic, “The War on Science”, includes discussion of vaccines and autism

19 Feb natgeo

I just got my copy of the March 2015 issue of National Geographic a couple of days ago. Imagine my reaction when I saw this cover (click to enlarge):


In case you are having trouble imagining my reaction–it includes a big THANK YOU to National Geographic.

Yes, they put “vaccinations can lead to autism” up there with “evolution never happened” and “the moon landing was fake”.

This paragraph includes references to Jenny McCarthy (anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy) and Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet article.

Doubting science also has consequences. The people who believe vaccines cause autism—often well educated and affluent, by the way—are undermining “herd immunity” to such diseases as whooping cough and measles. The anti-vaccine movement has been going strong since the prestigious British medical journal the Lancet published a study in 1998 linking a common vaccine to autism. The journal later retracted the study, which was thoroughly discredited. But the notion of a vaccine-autism connection has been endorsed by celebrities and reinforced through the usual Internet filters. (Anti-vaccine activist and actress Jenny McCarthy famously said on the Oprah Winfrey Show, “The University of Google is where I got my degree from.”)

By Matt Carey

Yes, the video “who killed Alex Spourdalakis” video whitewashes a murder

17 Feb

Consider this review of Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis on The review is bad. Really bad. But it shows that at least some of the people watching this video are coming away with the idea that the primary fault for the murder does not lie with those who committed the act. In fact, even the murder itself is downplayed.

Don’t believe me? Check out this paragraph:

Alex Spourdalakis had two extremely devoted caregivers who would literally do anything to relieve the problems that he dealt with. He was a normal, happy baby until 18 months. Dorothy, Alex’s mother, and Yolanda Agata Skrodzka, Alex’s godmother, doted on him every moment when he started to show problems, often never leaving his bedside when he wound up in various hospitals. The story that movie tells is a heartbreaking tragedy of an arrogant and misguided healthcare system, not able to accept the changing state of autism in America. Dorothy and Yolanda trusted the doctors as Alex went through numerous changes, assuming the doctors knew best. Over time, it became clear that the doctors mostly didn’t know what they were doing. Eventually, at age 14, Alex died.

Eventually he died? That’s how you describe a death that involved poisoning, having one’s wrist slit and multiple stab wounds to the chest? “Eventually died”? Alex’s life is put in the context of his mother and godmother. He has a supporting role in his own life’s story.

Consider another paragraph:

It becomes obvious looking at the film that there is no coherent method of dealing with this growing problem, and it is the families who are being punished to unimaginable degrees. Hospitals don’t want to deal with this problem, which has led to an epidemic of stress-induced homicides. In Alex’s case, after he was at his very worst he was discharged by Lutheran Hospital in Parkridge, Illinois after a long line of hospitals had passed him along. It was shortly after that, that Dorothy and Yolanda were arrested for the death of Alex. The film shows very clearly that the two women were saints who obviously eventually succumbed to despair. This story is also shown to be a common problem.

So much wrong in that paragraph. So much. But let’s consider the worst: “The film shows very clearly that the two women were saints who obviously eventually succumbed to despair.”

Seriously? They stabbed him. Murdered him. But they are “saints”?!?

One could go sentence by sentence and point out the many flaws in this review, but I think the point is clear: Alex’s death is important in so far as it condemns the medical establishment. His life is important in so far as it shows that his caregivers, and murderers, are “saints”.

Alex deserved better in life. He deserves better now than to have his story told in this way.

By Matt Carey

CNN: The money behind the vaccine skeptics

6 Feb

CNN Money has a short video up that makes a point that a few of us have been making for the past few years: much of the vaccine antagonistic message is funded by a few wealthy people. A good discussion can be found at A Snapshot of the Deep Pockets of the Anti-Vaccine Movement on Haprocrates Speaks. The CNN piece is called “The money behind the vaccine skeptics“. I can’t get the video to embed here, but one can find it here.

Here’s a screenshot from CNN showing the organizations, people and money that CNN discusses (click to enlarge)

cnn money

CNN points out that the self-styled National Vaccine Information Center and others (such as Chris Shaw’s group at the University of British Columbia) get a lot of money from the Dwoskin family. The Dwoskin Family Foundation told CNN that they are not antivaccine but are, instead, advocates for safer vaccines. It’s a story we hear a lot.

Claire Dwoskin is or was a board member of the NVIC and made this statement about vaccines. John Stossel had aired a piece about how his daughter had fought off a whooping cough infection and in her response to one of his producers she stated:

What his daughter went through is NOTHING compared to what the families of autistic children go through every day of their lives. No disease can match this record of human devastation. Vaccines are a holocaust of poison on our children’s brains and immune systems. Shame on you all.

I’m not sure how that sentiment fits in with being “advocates for safer vaccines”. One has to accept that vaccines are safe before advocating for safer vaccines.

Also mentioned is Barry Segal who funds Focus Autism (now Focus for Health) and A Shot of Truth. And Generation Rescue’s JB Handley and Jenny McCarthy. Both Focus Autism and Generation Rescue are noted for funding Andrew Wakefield’s “Strategic Autism Initiative”. All these groups are discussed in previous articles here at Left Brain/Right Brain.

The piece is short and perhaps that’s why they don’t mention Generation Rescue’s hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on full page ads claiming vaccines cause autism, or their poorly performed phone survey on vaccines. Lots of money spent on promoting fear and distrust of vaccines.

I’ve never seen evidence of these groups actually funding work into safer vaccines. I’ve never seen, say, funding for research into a new vaccine or even something simple like improved storage and transportation for vaccines into the developing world to reduce the use of thimerosal, a preservative these groups claim (without good evidence) cause autism and other disabilities.

Matt Carey


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