If a discussion of autism goes on long enough in the online parent community, the question of vaccines will almost certainly come up. (I’ll note that in real life it rarely, almost never, comes up). If the vaccine topic takes over the discussion, one is very likely to hear the call for a “vaxed/unvaxed” study: a comparison of health outcomes for kids who were vaccinated compared to kids who were not vaccinated.
There are at least three such studies in the works. Two are being funded by groups antagonistic to vaccines. The self-named “National Vaccine Information Center” is funding a project at George Mason University. Said study is, I believe, run by someone from NVIC. Generation Rescue is funding a project at Jackson State University, “Researching into the causes of autism”. In previous years, Generation Rescue was funding Jackson State for a project “vaccination status and health outcomes among homeschool children in the United States”, which is likely the same project just with a different name. Perhaps that’s the same study that the founder of “Focus Autism” is complaining about here. Either way, there are two, maybe more, vaccinated/unvaccinated studies that have been underway for a few years, funded by groups generally antagonistic towards vaccines.
As an aside–in online discussions, the people calling for a vaxed/unvaxed study are connected to Generation Rescue and NVIC. And yet they act like no one is doing such a study.
Back to the topic at hand: there is another vaccinated/unvaccinated study in the works. A large study. In discussions at an IACC meeting this year, Tom Insel responded to a statement about a vaccinated vs. unvaccinated study:
Dr. Insel: So I might add, we have just done that study looking at, in this case, tens of thousands of children in a large health care system — younger siblings, many of whom did not vaccinated. So we could, whether you like it or not, compare what the risks are, both the risk for autism and the risks for medical consequences for not being vaccinated versus being vaccinated in children who have presumably some genetic risk because they’re young sibs.
And those data are submitted for peer review. We should — maybe by July we’d be able to have that presented here. So I’ll be happy to, since we’ve funded that through, be happy to ask the authors to come and talk to us about the results.
That statement was in April. We just had the July IACC meeting but the results were not presented. The study is in the works, though. At the time Dr. Insel made that statement it struck me that this study was likely a part of a project by the Lewin Group. The Lewin Group presented at the IACC in early 2013. That project has not yet been published, but the results presented last year were very interesting, so I’ll take some time to go through those results here. Keep in mind that it’s possible the upcoming vaccinated/unvaccinated study is not by the Lewin Group.
The Lewin Group study population was large and included a large cohort of siblings of ASD kids:
When I read or hear “comorbid conditions” discussed by advocacy groups or parents, they are almost always those conditions which those groups feel are part of their “vaccines cause autism” picture. Gastrointestinal complaints–falsely linked by Andrew Wakefield to the MMR vaccine and autism. Mitochondrial/metabolic disorders, brought to prominence by a famous vaccine court case.
Yes, in this study metabolic dysfunction and gastronintestinal/nutritional conditions are about 4.5 times more common in ASD kids. About 20% of kids are in the gastronintestinal/nutritional conditions group (I wonder how that breaks down into GI and nutritional as separate groups). About 5% have metabolic conditions.
But what if I were to tell you that these are not the most common comorbid conditions in ASD children (and ASD adults are yet another story)? Not by a long shot.
About 70% of ASD kids have neurological disorders. About 70% have mental health conditions.
70%. 24 times higher than the general population for each condition.
You just don’t hear that from groups promoting vaccine causation. Groups like SafeMinds. Which brings us back to the vaccinated/unvaccinated study SafeMinds is concerned about. SafeMinds is preparing its readers for the vaccinated/unvaccinated study. Although they’ve been calling for this study for a long time, a fact they remind us of this fact in their article: The NIH is slated to release the results of a study on autism in vaccinated, partially vaccinated, and non-vaccinated children. Here’s what you need to know BEFORE it comes out.
SafeMinds begins their article comes with what I consider a rather ironic graphic:
Why is this ironic? SafeMinds relies upon poorly done research to support their arguments about vaccines, mercury and autism. For example, their non-peer reviewed Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning is one of the papers that first made me question the purported vaccine/autism link. It was never very good and really should be discarded. As another example, if you go the SafeMinds web page
Correlation Between Increases in Autism Prevalence and Introduction of New Vaccines you will find this graph:
If you think that graph looks old, you’d be correct. It’s at least 10, if not 15 years old. It takes California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS) administrative data, pretends it’s actually autism prevalence, and graphs it against the mercury exposure from infant vaccines during the 1990’s and leads the reader to the idea that mercury exposure and autism are correlated and also related. But they aren’t correlated. That’s what happens when you use a 15 year old graph. California removed thimerosal from infant vaccines, even the flu shots, and also for vaccines for pregnant women. And what happened to the autism rate? It kept going up. Schechter and Grether published this in 2008 in Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: mercury in retrograde. In 2013, I showed that the increase was still going on. But SafeMinds is acting like the last decade didn’t happen. They tell us:
Autism prevalence increased rapidly in the late 1980s. The epidemic increased simultaneously in states across the United States, indicating that U.S. children were exposed to toxins in a consistent manner across the entire country. Due to the high adherence amongst the states to the CDC-recommended vaccination schedule, vaccines typically introduce a new exposure to children simultaneously throughout the country.
For people who actually looked at the CDDS data, we know the idea that autism was rising in the same way in various locations wasn’t true. The whole basis for a universal exposure causing the rise in identified autism was false. It’s one of those facts that made me question the vaccine hypothesis long ago. CDDS data even in 2000 showed autism rates varied wildly across the state of California and the increase was not the same from region to region within the state. Special Ed data (which has major limitations but is likely the data SafeMinds was using to make the above statement) showed large variation from state to state in the number of people getting services under the autism label. There is not and never was data to support the assertion SafeMinds makes above that the rates of autism increased simultaneously across the US.
All this is my long-winded way of saying, I find it more than ironic that SafeMinds wants to warn me about flawed research leading to bad conclusions.
So, let’s ask ourselves: why would SafeMinds be concerned enough about this new vaccinated/unvaccinated study? Well, siblings of autistic kids are (a) more likely to be unvaccinated and (b) more likely to be autistic, like 20 times more likely to be autistic (here and here)
The Lewin group reported that younger siblings were less likely to be vaccinated:
In addtion, an unpublished study from 2011 compared vaccination status among ASD kids, their siblings and non-relatives. The authors found:
Instead, because siblings of children with autism were less likely to be vaccinated according to the recommended schedule, both correlations and multiple regressions revealed a significant relationship between higher rates of vaccination and non-ASD behavioral outcomes.
Or, to put it simply, if you look at younger siblings, they get fewer vaccines than the general public and have a higher rate of autism. If correlation is causation, this would mean that vaccines prevent autism. Which, in at least one case, is true. Correlation is not causation, though. The new study will likely find that delaying or forgoing vaccines does not reduce autism risk. And that, in my view, would concern SafeMinds. Enough that they want people prepared in advance for what to them will be “bad” news.
By Matt Carey