Does MMR vaccine travel in time?

27 Jan

The news that the diagnosis of autism may be brought forward is primarily of importance because it may help identify children who will require specialised support. However, it is also interesting because it breaks the co-incidental temporal association that has been part of the reason the MMR vaccine-autism hypothesis gained traction. Since the behavioural cues for autism can’t be picked up well until after one year of age, parental concern about their child being different and autism diagnoses rose after administration of the MMR vaccine. This had unfortunate consequences for the perception of MMR vaccine’s safety.

Elsabbagh et al examined “brainwaves” (event-related potentials – ERPS) of babies with a familial risk of autism when presented with pictures of faces either gazing at the baby or away from the baby. Those children who went on to develop autism diagnoses had differing ERPs.

Although the evidence of fraud, failure to find epidemiological evidence to back-up Wakefield’s claims, and failure to find measles RNA that would have supported Wakefield’s work were enough to bury any scientific case for the MMR Vaccine-autism hypothesis, the fact that autism may now be diagnosed before the MMR vaccine lays a nice wreath on top.

Not all parents whose children developed autism blamed MMR vaccine, some parents were already aware of a “difference” about their child before MMR vaccine, but it is understandable how some parents would have made the connection with the vaccine. After all, it is a key part of how clinicians make connections between a drug and adverse event, and is a strong element of assessing causality (see Bradford-Hill criteria).

The causation in the MMR vaccine debacle was neatly illustrated in an article from Prescriber [Registration required] written by Paula McDonald (a former Consultant in Communicable Disease Control).

Some of these syllogisms may be plausible to some patients

Aristotle’s concept of syllogisms, says if certain prepositions are met, something distinct will arise from necessity. However, he also noted false syllogisms (In the UK we have an entire publication devoted to generating them, called the Daily Mail). McDonald’s figure illustrates the usual example of the horse being classified as a cat, along with the example of teddy bears and MMR vaccine causing autism.

You could replace the teddy bears with Peppa the Pig, or some other Greenfieldian scare. However, it sounds more convincing with vaccines, afterall you are introducing foreign material into a healthy child (and vaccines do cause adverse events sometimes).

Convincing people a false syllogism is wrong is a lot harder, than pointing out that A could not have caused B, because B arose months before A happened. Temporal associations are how we make sense of the everyday world. We don’t blame tripping up on a kerb on the beer we were going to have in the pub later that night.

Barring a Skynet conspiracy to send Terminators with MMR vaccine back in time to cause autism, this looks like a useful point to make to parents concerned about the risk of autism with MMR vaccine. Quite what the anti-vaccination groups will do, like the UK JABS cult, is interesting. Perhaps they will move to attack other vaccines given earlier, such as meningitis C or diptheria? Alternatively, they may look to the misapplication of physics, perhaps taking comfort in the news that neutrinos may have travelled faster than light, as their comrades-in-arms the homeopaths did.

Cross posted at Black Triangle.

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16 Responses to “Does MMR vaccine travel in time?”

  1. Mike Stanton January 27, 2012 at 20:56 #

    Because not all children who showed the differing ERPs went on to develop autism, I predict that the anti-vaxers will try to embrace this as a way of determining which children are merely susceptible to autism. They will claim that these children are the ones who should get an alternative vaccine schedule or no vaccines at all to protect them from developing autism.

    • Sullivan January 27, 2012 at 21:54 #

      “They will claim that these children are the ones who should get an alternative vaccine schedule or no vaccines at all to protect them from developing autism.”

      I wonder if they would make that suggestion if these children would be automatically enrolled in a “vaccinated/unvaccinated” study. Clearly, this would likely skew the results towards a conclusion that vaccines prevent autism.

  2. MikeMa January 27, 2012 at 22:36 #

    Good news here. One more nail in Wakefield’s MMR–>autism fraud coffin. Not that we won’t see this zombie climb out again but I like having extra nails.

  3. Jack January 28, 2012 at 05:49 #

    Another great article! Perhaps premature to make assertive conclusions (not that I think you have) but this research has to be another one in the eye for MMR—>Autism proponents.

  4. George Asimakis January 28, 2012 at 22:18 #

    I believe the question here is do MMR vaccines cause nutrient deficiences in children leading to autism. As a concerened parent that prefers to take prevention and safety seriously. Fortifying the childs nutrient deficiency before giving the MMR will prevent any autism….How do you do that ?….. Simple a natural form of tumeric blended in foods or drinks such as warm milk in the morning not at night. Will help prevent any possibilty of autism.
    Luck favors the prepared, but there is no luck needed when there is good common sence. Autism can be caused by air pollution and many other factors that cloud the brain.

  5. MikeMa January 28, 2012 at 22:38 #

    @George Asimakis,
    You cite no studies linking autism to pollution, linking MMR to nutrient deficiency nor on the benefits of turmeric. You are making this stuff up or listening to fools and con artists.

    My wife did a nutrition course which studied benefits of various spices and while turmeric is one being studied, no definitive value is yet confirmed.

  6. Anne January 29, 2012 at 08:36 #

    If turmeric prevents autism, then children from cultures that use lots of turmeric in their food should have an autism rate close to zero. What’s the prevalence of autism in, say, India? What are some other countries that use a lot of turmeric in dietary staples?

  7. MikeMa January 29, 2012 at 21:56 #

    Turmeric is undergoing a clinical trial for inflamation. Nothing to do wth autism. Link

  8. Bronwyn Hancock January 30, 2012 at 23:58 #

    It is disappointing to see the poor reasoning or observation demonstrated by this article (and by those who endorse it). The recent finding to which it refers would ONLY discredit a false claim that the MMR vaccine is the ONLY cause of autism, but no-one has made such a claim. Everyone knows that autism was around long before the MMR vaccine.

    Indeed we have on the Vaccination Information Service web site an article about autism written 11 years ago (and were providing the information it contains LONG before that, before there was any public focus on the MMR). It emphasises that MMR is NOT the only cause of autism: “autism as a diagnosis was defined for the first time by Kanner (1943 and 1944). This was the time when the measles, mumps and rubella (and the MMR) vaccines did not exist. However, it WAS the time of intensified diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus vaccination.”

    This recent investigation of children over 6 months, who would have received these vaccines, does nothing to contradict the decades-long observed causal link of these (and other) vaccines to autism. BTW autism does not occur in the Amish (except in a handful of children who have been vaccinated). Also BTW, researcher Dr Edward Yazbak observed milder, easier-to-treat autism occurring in children whose mothers had the MMR (to protect against rubella) before conceiving them.

    • Sullivan January 31, 2012 at 01:19 #

      Wow, haven’t heard “Yazbak” in a while. Didn’t really find him that credible when I did. “BTW autism does not occur in the Amish (except in a handful of children who have been vaccinated).” You appear to be reading articles from about 6 years ago. The “Amish don’t vaccinate and don’t have autism” idea was first put forth (that I recall) by SafeMinds about 10 years ago. It was then picked up by Dan Olmsted, who did a very poor series of articles based on this.

      Guess what–the Amish do vaccinate. The idea that “autism doesn’t occur in the Amish” is false.

      Bronwyn Hancock, the article above is not the “nail in the coffin” of MMR causing autism. Frankly at this point there isn’t much room in that coffin lid for more nails. It does give us yet another datapoint that the MMR story doesn’t make much sense.

      Did people say that MMR is the one and only cause of autism? No. Did people claim that the MMR was causing enough autism to account for some or all of the increase seen in recent decades? Yes. Were they wrong? Yes.

  9. Science Mom January 31, 2012 at 03:11 #

    It emphasises that MMR is NOT the only cause of autism: “autism as a diagnosis was defined for the first time by Kanner (1943 and 1944). This was the time when the measles, mumps and rubella (and the MMR) vaccines did not exist. However, it WAS the time of intensified diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus vaccination.”

    MMR is not a cause of autism. Where was the autism spike in every country when MMR was introduced? Autism was not even first described by Kanner in 1943 but by Eugen Bueller in 1911. Furthermore, disorders and diseases don’t magically spring into existence from the moment they are named. Autism has existed for perhaps, millennia.

    BTW autism does not occur in the Amish (except in a handful of children who have been vaccinated).

    You need to be really embarrassed invoking this Olmsted blunder; the dumbass walked right passed the Clinic for Special Children in Strasburg where they treat, guess what? Autistic Amish children.

    Also BTW, researcher Dr Edward Yazbak observed milder, easier-to-treat autism occurring in children whose mothers had the MMR (to protect against rubella) before conceiving them.

    Yazbak isn’t a researcher and nor has he observed any such thing.

  10. Chris January 31, 2012 at 03:30 #

    Science Mom:

    Where was the autism spike in every country when MMR was introduced?

    Indeed, I have been asking for that information on the USA for a while. The MMR vaccine was introduced there over forty years ago.

  11. Roger Kulp February 1, 2012 at 03:52 #

    I fail to see how studying brainwaves of babies has any connection one way or another to MMR,or vaccines in general,other than to further disprove the link.How is the rationale behind this all that much different from the Vaccine Court people,who looked at videos of the children,pre vaccine,and were able to tell that the children were autistic?

  12. Vijay S Mane February 5, 2012 at 19:19 #

    my 7 year old son is adhd autistic but he has recovered more than 70% from his autistic traits-still he is non-verbal.
    my query to the brain-wave specialist-can they explain-why do the brains of adhd autistic children function at very high speed.

  13. piers August 9, 2013 at 23:30 #

    The Amish/vaccination/autism link is a myth. In a recent investigation, 85% of Amish children were found to have been vaccinated at least once, generally more often. I’ll try to find the reference (I read it today).

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  1. Autism Blog – Does MMR vaccine travel in time? « Left Brain/Right … | My Autism Site | All About Autism - January 28, 2012

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