Another weak study “proves” vaccines cause autism

17 Sep

I am constantly amazed at the low level of proof people use to demonstrate that vaccines cause autism.

Case in point, David Kirby and his recent post on the Age of Autism blog (and, a I write this, The Huffington Post).

He takes an abstract from a poster session and declares victory in the war to prove vaccines cause autism.

Here’s the abstract:

CM Gallagher, MS Goodman, Graduate Program in Public
Health, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Stony Brook, NY
PURPOSE: Universal newborn immunization with hepatitis
B vaccine was recommended in 1991; however, safety
findings are mixed. The Vaccine Safety Datalink Workgroup
reported no association between hepatitis B vaccination
at birth and febrile episodes or neurological adverse
events. Other studies found positive associations between
hepatitis B vaccination and ear infection, pharyngitis, and
chronic arthritis; as well as receipt of early intervention/
special education services (EIS); in probability samples of
U.S. children. Children with autistic spectrum disorder
(ASD) comprise a growing caseload for EIS. We evaluated
the association between hepatitis B vaccination of male
neonates and parental report of ASD.
METHODS: This cross-sectional study used U.S. probability
samples obtained from National Health Interview Survey
1997–2002 datasets. Logistic regression modeling was used to
estimate the effect of neonatal hepatitis B vaccination on
ASDrisk amongboys age 3–17 years with shot records, adjusted
for race, maternal education, and two-parent household.
RESULTS:Boyswho received the hepatitis B vaccine during
the first month of life had 2.94 greater odds for ASD (nZ31
of 7,486; OR Z 2.94; p Z 0.03; 95% CI Z 1.10, 7.90)
compared to later- or unvaccinated boys.Non-Hispanicwhite
boys were 61%less likely to haveASD(ORZ0.39; pZ0.04;
95% CIZ0.16, 0.94) relative to non-white boys.
CONCLUSION: Findings suggest that U.S. male neonates
vaccinated with hepatitis B vaccine had a 3-fold greater risk
of ASD; risk was greatest for non-white boys.

What did they do? They looked at data from the National Health Interview Studies, and looked at autism and hepatitis B vaccination. They used surveys from 1997 to 2002, with children aged from 3 to 17.

Mr. Kirby was kind enough to post an image of the poster to the EOHarm group.

The autism group had 33 kids total. Of these, 9 of 31 (29%) were given the HepB vaccine. Compare this to 1,258 of 7,455 (17%) of the non-autism group who were given the HepB.

9 out of 31.

Are the red flags up yet? They should be.

Take for example kids aged 17 in the 1997 survey. When were they born? That’s right, 1980.

When was the Hepatitis B vaccine introduced? 1991. According to Mr. Kirby himself, the HepB vaccine didn’t get fully implemented until about 1996.

A lot of the kids were born before the “epidemic” of autism. No one disputes that the number of people identified with autism has gone up significantly in the last 30 years.

So, pretty much anything that changed in that time would “correlate” with autism.

This is how we get studies that “show” that Cable TV causes autism. And, now, the Hepatitis B vaccine causes autism.


26 Responses to “Another weak study “proves” vaccines cause autism”

  1. Prometheus September 17, 2009 at 22:53 #

    I just did a couple of quick statistics on the data in this poster.

    The first thing that pops up is that the prevalence of autism in this group is 1 in 238 (in the groups with HBV data, the prevalence was 1 in 241). Seems a bit low.

    Secondly, there is no statistically significant difference between the two groups (HBV/no HBV) in their autism prevalence (p = 0.07).

    The poster gives no details about how the data was “controlled for confounders”, so it is unclear how they might have “massaged” the data into significance. No matter – with no statistically significant difference between the groups, the odds ratio is meaningless.


  2. Joseph September 17, 2009 at 23:20 #

    There’s also a potential geographic confound that is similar. The NHIS is a US-level survey, so the children are likely from many different states. Wealthier states tend to have better immunization coverage (I’ve checked the data.) It’s a wonder the non-adjusted correlation isn’t more significant.

    Then again, at the individual level, it’s possible that parents who refuse immunization tend to be wealthy (spending lots of time on the internet.) That might explain the need to control for “race, maternal education, and two-parent household” – all socio-economic variables – in order to push the numbers into a significant association. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense to me that controlling for those confounds would make the association more significant. I might have guessed the opposite.

    • Sullivan September 17, 2009 at 23:35 #


      the authors found after their regression that the odds ratio for autism for non-Hispanic whites was 0.385.

      This is polar opposite to the administrative data (which usually shows very high “odds” for whites) and against what actual prevalence studies show (no variation by race/ethnicity).

      Something is very odd with that study.

      Prometheus, thanks for that information. No difference between the groups.

  3. passionlessDrone September 18, 2009 at 01:07 #

    Hello friends –

    I believe that the authors in question had a similar study about a year ago with crazy high ORs for Hep B; the abstract couldn’t seem to decide if it was a thimerosal paper or not if I recall correctly. Someone I tend to trust told me that study had big problems; this study would seem to be no different.

    – pD

  4. Emily September 18, 2009 at 01:23 #

    What Prometheus said.

  5. Joseph September 18, 2009 at 01:57 #

    the authors found after their regression that the odds ratio for autism for non-Hispanic whites was 0.385.

    Right, that makes no sense. I can’t come up with an explanation, except to say that perhaps the figure is in error, in which case the control for confounding might be in error as well.

  6. Gene September 18, 2009 at 03:34 #

    Interesting that the poster title isn’t “Single parenting of male neonates and autism”, since the p-value for the “two-parents” variable is the most significant (although none of the p-values is anything to write home about).

  7. David N. Brown September 18, 2009 at 05:48 #

    I believe (and I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned here before) that the major factors for non-vaccination are poverty, geographic isolation and proximity to organized local anti-vaccine groups. Something else that’s been discussed is some evidence that autistics have a lower vaccination rate.

  8. dr treg September 18, 2009 at 09:49 #

    re non-immunisation
    You forgot the major reason – the irresponsible media and politicians`s e.g. Tony Blair, effect on certain individuals.

  9. David N. Brown September 19, 2009 at 18:37 #

    Dr. Treg,
    While “irresponsible media and politicians” certainly deserve criticism, I don’t think they are a major factor in themselves. These are national-scale influences, and their influence should be evenly distributed through the population. But non-immunisation is clearly concentrated in relatively small regions and subpopulations (possibly the most dangerous aspect of the penomenon), which to me points to localized factors as more important. Another demographic fact that is well-established is that organized “anti-vaccination” is distinctly a middle and upper-class phenomenon, so non-immunisation among the poor can be considered a separate issue.

  10. Ed November 22, 2009 at 19:22 #

    I am equally surprised at the conclusions that are drawn by the other side of the debate from the data presented. For example, can you conclude that mercury does no harm from a study that shows it disappears from the blood stream within 3 days of injection? Can you conclude that mercury has nothing to do with autism when the rate of autism rises when mercury is withdrawn? (The correct answer is that either mercury helps the autism rate or that something else crept into the data collection.)

    I saw the CDC claim that the rate of autism was 4 in 10000 up until February 2007. In my son’s school of 250 children there were 3 autistic children at the same time and another up the road who would have been in the school except that her parents sent her to a private institution. Given that tidbit of information, should I blindly accept the CDC’s claim? Given the interest of the medical community being so pro-vax (and for good reason I might add) should I trust their opinions to be unbiased?

    I believe that this study was weak but I also have to say that this community would not recognize the weaknesses of their own studies even when it is pointed out to them.

  11. Joseph November 23, 2009 at 00:24 #

    Can you conclude that mercury has nothing to do with autism when the rate of autism rises when mercury is withdrawn? (The correct answer is that either mercury helps the autism rate or that something else crept into the data collection.)

    @Ed: Why would that be the “correct” answer? That’s nonsense. Option # 3, that autism and mercury are not associated, is clearly the most plausible one.

    Additionally, what you can say after such an observation is that one of the key predictions of the mercury hypothesis failed. Even David Kirby knew as much. He said the hypothesis would suffer a “severe blow.”

    I saw the CDC claim that the rate of autism was 4 in 10000 up until February 2007

    Where? This has to be either made up or mischaracterized.

    this community would not recognize the weaknesses of their own studies even when it is pointed out to them.

    If that’s the case, you should be able to easily demonstrate it.

    • Samuel Justus September 8, 2016 at 22:07 #


      I don’t know if you have read this, or if there is a response to it on this blog, but as far as parallels:

      It points out 1-1 parallels between mercury toxicity and autism. I would count this similar to Dr. Abram Hoffer’s parallels between Schizophrenia and Pellagra, where both produced psychotic states indistinguishable from each other except for their response to small doses of nicotinic acid aka Niacin aka B3. I realize you probably have no respect for Dr. Hoffer, but it is what I thought of.

      I also have some questions about this article. For one, it just says 3-17 1997-2002 in the article. Does that mean 17 year olds were being interviewed in the 1997 range or just that those are the age ranges and years. Is there anyway to know where along the age spectrum and time spectrums intersect. It doesn’t look to me as if they would even choose 17 year olds to interview since they would not have the hep b vaccine in their records, and here I refer to the studies used to put this one together, but I cannot tell.

      I am anti-vaxx, but in this case would be glad to hear from pro vaxxers. Well in all cases I would, though name calling is not particularly appreciated since it makes it harder for me to think rationally about this.

      I was referred here by a youtuber named +Stupid Flanders, because posted the abstract of this study. I don’t see how peer reviewed evidence is a low standard, but hey, if its wrong its wrong.


      Sam J.

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) September 13, 2016 at 00:22 #

        “I don’t know if you have read this, or if there is a response to it on this blog, but as far as parallels:”

        Of course we read that. It’s a paper of speculation by a group of people with no qualifications.

        Autism is NOTHING like mercury poisoning. NOTHING.

        You are anti-vaxx because you don’t even understand what you read. You find an old, junk-science study on the internet and you say, “gee, this seems legit. It supports my preconceived ideas. I won’t question it.”

        I don’t know who Dr. Hoffer is, so, in that point I do not have respect for him.

        You should look for discussions by Patricia Rodier. Unlike the authors of the paper (it isn’t a study) you link to, Dr. Rodier actually had expertise in the area. She researched both autism and mercury poisoning. Perhaps the only person to do so.

        Autism is not mercury poisoning. The people who wrote that paper (one of whom I have seen lie in public repeatedly) had no business making people think it is. They did a LOT of damage to the autism communities.

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  14. Katie February 17, 2015 at 21:19 #

    Why is that studies done using the science everyone cries for are considered weak by people who disagree with the study? lol

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) February 17, 2015 at 21:55 #

      Well, in the case above, it’s because the study was weak.

      The number of study subjects was small and they basically compare the autism rates for kids born in the 1980s to kids born in the 1990s. They then say, “the difference is the HepB vaccine”. They need to do a cohort by cohort comparison to eliminate that confound.

      Another way to say this is–we know that the rate of identified autism is going up. If you compare one older group with a younger group, you will see a difference in prevalence. Picking any one of a thousand (or more) factors that changed and saying, “this is causing autism” is just, well, weak.

      Let’s take a look at autism prevalence in California. Autism rates have climbed over the past decade, as thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Since the autism rate is higher now without thimerosal, can we say, “thimerosal prevents autism”? It would be just as valid as the Hepatitis B vaccine argument made in the study discussed above.

      This is all in the above discussion, did you read it before doing your lol?

      • Samuel Justus September 8, 2016 at 22:19 #

        Hi Sullivan,

        I feel like this article left out a lot of what he, Kirby, actually stated, that would confirm this study, for instance:

        Does that mean that Hepatitis B vaccine causes autism? Of course not (though any relative risk above 2.0 is general considered to prove causation in a US court of law).

        But there are other studies, both published and greatly anticipated, which might support a hypothesized causal association between HepB vaccine and ASD, at least in boys.
        Any day now, data culled from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring network (ADDM), is expected to be published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, and the numbers are expected to put the rate of autism at around 1 in 100, or higher.
        ADDM researchers examine the education and (when possible) medical records of all eight-year-old children in selected US cities and states. They look only at eight-year-old cohorts to allow time for all diagnoses to be made, reported and counted.

        So far, ADDM has published data from just two birth cohorts: children born in 1992 (eight-year-olds in 2000) and those born in 1994 (eight-year-olds in 2002). The 1992 cohort revealed an estimated ASD rate of one in 166, or 60-per-10,000. (This has since been revised to 67-per-10,000, or one in 150).

        But CDC data for the same six ADDM locations showed an increase in ASD from 6.7 for 1992 births to 7.4 for 1994 births.

        And now the total average number expected to exceed 100-per-10,000 for the 1996 birth cohort, born just two years later. The overarching question, of course, will be, “why?”

        There are many possible explanations, though a 50% increase in just two years is astonishing, no matter what its cause.

        One possible answer is the Hepatitis B vaccine, (which also contained 25 micrograms of mercury containing thimerosal up until 2002). Introduced in 1991, it was the first vaccine ever given on a population basis to newborn babies (within the first three hours after delivery) in human history.

        But according to the CDC’s National Immunization Survey, only 8% of infant children received the Hep B vaccine in 1992, when that birth cohort showed an ASD rate of 1-in-150.

        By 1994, the number of children receiving Hep B vaccine at birth had reached just 27% –and the same cohort showed a 10% ASD increase in locations where both years were measured.

        But by 1996, Hep B coverage rate had risen to 82%. And that is the cohort whose ASD rate rose to around 100-per-10,000 or more.

        Correlation, obviously, does not equal causation. But the uptake rate of that particular immunization is at least one environmental factor that did demonstrably change during the period in question.

        In addition, some recent studies and vaccine court decisions have supported the contention that Hepatitis B vaccine can damage myelin — the nervous system’s main insulating component — at least in certain genetically susceptible adults and infants.

        I feel though, that this is getting out of my range of understanding.

        Sam J.

      • Sullivan (Matt Carey) September 13, 2016 at 00:35 #

        “Does that mean that Hepatitis B vaccine causes autism? Of course not (though any relative risk above 2.0 is general considered to prove causation in a US court of law”

        Show me where 2.0 is considered proof?

        2.0 with what confidence interval? What level of statistical significance? You see, that phrase “2.0 is proof of causation” is nonsense. Unless you don’t understand the phrase “confidence interval” in which case, why are you talking about stuff you don’t understand?

        Mercury was removed from all vaccines given to infants and pregnant women in California about a decade ago. The autism “rates” (the number of children served under the autism label by CDDS) has continued to climb.

        Mercury was removed from vaccines in Denmark over 2 decades ago. The autism rate is higher, by far, than it was then.

        These are the same data that people used to “prove” there was an autism epidemic caused by mercury. And now it says exactly the opposite. I can point you to Brian Hooker who will lie about the Denmark data and what it says, but Brian Hooker passed being honest years ago and never looked back.

      • Chris January 12, 2017 at 19:47 #

        I did study and found that people who carry a lighter (like a bic) in their pocket or purse have a relative risk for lung cancer of EIGHTY. Super tight confidence intervals too. Boom! Proved in a court of law! If 2.0 is proof, I crushed it. I think that it is probably because of off-gassing from the lighters.

      • Chris January 13, 2017 at 04:16 #

        Dear other Chris, did you have a point? Or do you just have a habit of commenting on seven year old articles?

    • Science Mom February 18, 2015 at 01:00 #

      Why is that studies done using the science everyone cries for are considered weak by people who disagree with the study? lol

      Because it isn’t “the science everyone cries for”. It’s methodology is intentionally deceiving or as we say, GIGO (garbage in garbage out).

  15. Sullivan (Matt Carey) October 4, 2016 at 19:31 #

    Obvious spam for fake hepatitis B cure deleted.


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