Strategic Plan: vaccines

8 Sep

I’ve already started a series on the IACC (InterAgency Coordinating Committe) draft Strategic Plan.  We have until the end of September to submit input to the IACC (but why wait?)

One hot topic is how to handle the issue of vaccines or immunizations. OK, this is a hot topic in the greater autism community in general, but many have made how the IACC handles the issue of vaccines into a big issue.

Given that, it is worth looking into how the Draft Strategic Plan address vaccines. Two sections mention vaccines. The first, under “What caused this to happen” the Draft Plan states:

Research on environmental risk factors is less well developed. An Institute of Medicine workshop held in 2007 summarized what is known and what is needed in this field (Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2007). Numerous epidemiological studies have found no relationship between ASD and vaccines containing the mercury based preservative, thimerosal (Immunization Safety Review Committee, 2004). Some samples have been collected throughout pregnancy and early postnatal life may be essential for detecting the interplay of environmental exposures and genetic factors that lead to ASD. As a complement to these large-scale studies, research on critical high-risk sub-populations (e.g., subsequent pregnancies in families with ASD, those with elevated exposure to specific environmental factors, older parents) could provide leverage in identifying genetic and environmental risk factors. Some parents, however, remain concerned that ASD is linked or caused by vaccination. In addition, a number of other environmental agents are being explored through research that are known or suspected to influence early development of the brain and nervous system. Recent studies suggest factors such as paternal age, exposure to infections, hormones, and other biological agents may confer environmental risk. These findings require further investigation and testing, some of which is ongoing through the CADDRE Program, the Norwegian cohort study, the CHARGE study, and the Children’s Centers for Environmental Health and Disease Prevention supported by NIEHS and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Also, one Research Opportunity under “What caused this to happen” states:

Monitor the scientific literature regarding possible associations of vaccines and other environmental factors (e.g., ultrasound, pesticides, pollutants) with ASD to identify emerging opportunities for research and indicated studies.

Reading that, one could argue that this is not a lot of discussion of vaccines. The idea that vaccines are put on a “Monitor the literature” seems appropriate. But, as we’ve seen, some groups are looking at this document and (a) claiming this is not enough and (b) working to get more statements inserted and (c) in my opinion, trying to make the Strategic Plan a political statement than a research plan.

Consider the idea of monitoring the literature for possible associations with autism. Isn’t that basically a given? Seriously, the Strategic Plan isn’t an IEP document. If something comes up–in any area–on autism causation, the NIH will respond. Why do we have to call out vaccines in particular?

You might ask, “then why care what the Plan includes under ‘monitor’?”

Take a look at how the Combating Autism Act is discussed now. Many would like to ignore the fact that major lobbying efforts were made to include statements about vaccines–and yet the Congress chose to leave mention out. The Act specifically does not include the word “Vaccine” or “immunization”. But, when it comes to vaccines, we are talking about the same people who are trying to rewrite the Hornig et al. study as a validation of Wakefield’s research. When it comes to the Combating Autism Act, these people point to the concept that “vaccines were discussed as part of the process” and point to drafts that they themselves wrote as if this has some official status.

Or, to put it more simply: People want to have vaccines be more prominent in the Plan. However, given that (a) they are already covered under the umbrella of the “environment” and (b) the past history of politicizing any government mention of vaccines and autism, should they be mentioned at all in the Plan?

Think about it. If you feel strongly about the idea of vaccines being included in the Strategic Plan, one way or the other, send them email .

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