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A cause célèbre for those claiming vaccines cause autism

1 Mar

If you participate in online discussions about autism and vaccines (and I’d advise you to spend your time more productively), you will often hear about how the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (the “Vaccine Court”) has compensated numerous cases of autism, the government just doesn’t admit it. These are often referred to as “secret” compensations, even though the decisions are in the public record. And, quite frankly, the families were not compensated for autism claims.

One family whose story has become a cause célèbre thanks to David Kirby is now the topic of a new Court decision. In this new decision, the court responds to the parents request to have past court documents redacted. They would like to stop being approached by members of the media.

Before we get to the new decision, consider Mr. Kirby’s story:

The parents, who did not want to be interviewed, specifically asserted that [child] “suffered a Vaccine Table Injury, namely, an encephalopathy” as a result of his MMR vaccination on December 19, 2003.” (“Table injuries” are known, compensable adverse reactions to immunizations.)

Alternatively, they claim that “as a cumulative result of his receipt of each and every vaccination between March 25, 2003 and February 22, 2005, [child] has suffered . . . neuroimmunologically mediated dysfunctions in the form of asthma and ASD.”

(child’s name redacted by me)

The parents didn’t want to be interviewed. They also presented two claims, one encephalopathy and one autism. Mr. Kirby focused on the autism claim, even though it wasn’t compensated. Mr. Kirby states:

Whether HHS agreed with [child]’s parents that his vaccine-induced brain disease led to ASD is unknown. The concession document is under seal.

Actually, it was known. The proffer of an award was titled “Proffer on Award of Compensation; Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR); Table Injury; Encephalitis.”

The child was being compensated for a table injury: encephalitis. Within that document, it is clearly stated:

On June 9, 2011, respondent filed a supplemental report pursuant to Vaccine Rule 4(c) stating it was respondent’s view that Ryan suffered a Table injury under the Vaccine Act – namely, an encephalitis within five to fifteen days following receipt of the December 19, 2003 MMR vaccine, see 42 C.F.R. § 100.3(a)(III)(B), and that this case is appropriate for compensation under the terms of the Vaccine Program

Emphasis mine.

Even with this information showing the family were not compensating autism clearly in the public domain Mr. Kirby tells us it’s “unknown”. Then, true to Mr. Kirby’s style, he leads his readers to the evidence supporting the possibility that it was ASD while never coming right out and saying it.

Perhaps the feds were loath to concede yet another vaccine case involving autism. Four cases in the Autism Omnibus Proceedings were recently compensated. Three of those cases are marked with asterisks, indicating the government did not conclude that autism can be caused by vaccines. But the fourth autism case that was paid out in 2013 ([child]’s case? We don’t know) has no such caveat.

Mr. Kirby was referring to the HRSA statistics page that lists vaccine court petitions filed and compensated. At the time Mr. Kirby wrote his piece, the statistics report did include autism cases. They no longer do, so you have to check archived pages to see what he’s referring to.

At the time of Mr. Kirby’s article, there appear to have been two cases where someone in the Omnibus Autism Proceeding did receive compensation (I don’t have reason to believe Mr. Kirby was in error, but the archived page doesn’t show four cases). Both of those cases had asterisks.

*May include case(s) that were originally filed and processed as an OAP cases but in which the final adjudication does not include a finding of vaccine-related autism

Mr. Kirby concluded with:

Meanwhile, as HHS says it “has never concluded in any case that autism was caused by vaccination,” it is still underwriting autism treatments such as ABA for children in its vaccine-injury program.

Which basically reads as “the government is making a distinction without a difference”. I.e. the reader comes away with the impression that the government really are compensating autism.

We knew then that these parents didn’t want to talk to the media. They didn’t want to speak with Mr. Kirby, to become his latest cause célèbre. And now we know that they still do not want this attention and we read once again that the case was not compensated for autism. From a recent decision:

“Petitioners have made these requests because they have had the misfortune of being frequently contacted by members of the media who mistakenly believe they were compensated for their alternative autism allegation when Petitioners were actually compensated for a Table Injury encephalopathy.”

Given the family’s clear intent to get out of the public’s eye, I am hesitant to put this article out. But perhaps, just perhaps, some of those using this family as part of their constant fight to keep the autism/vaccine idea alive might reconsider.

By Matt Carey

No, the autism “rate” in California did not go down after removing thimerosal from vaccines

26 Feb

I recently attended a talk where the speaker showed autism prevalence by age group for a large HMO in California. The administrative prevalence (fraction of people in the HMO identified autistic) was still going up as of 2010, and the speaker indicated this trend continued to 2012. California is an interesting case study because not only was thimerosal removed from vaccines along with the rest of the U.S. starting in the late 1990’s, but the state enacted a law which required that pregnant women and children under three be given thimerosal free vaccines from 2006 onward. So, with the exception of an an exemption in 2009 and another one right now, even the influenza vaccine in thimerosal free. I bring this up because it is a common argument that somehow the exposure from the flu vaccine is keeping the rate climbing, even though at most this is a lower exposure than that from the 1990’s pediatric vaccine schedule.

This all said, the talk made me dive back into looking at autism prevalence. I decided to finally write about the fact that the autism prevalence in Denmark is higher post thimerosal than while thimerosal containing vaccines were in use. This is completely unsurprising, but a myth has been propogating that it came down and that fact was being hidden.

As it turns out I also checked back with what once was the most common source of autism data for the armchair epidemiologist: the California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS). (I admit one could argue that Special Education data are the most common source for the armchair epidemiologist). The CDDS provides services to disabled Californians and keeps and makes public statistics on their client base. For a long time, every quarter they would come out with a report. For a long time, every quarter these reports would be followed by announcements about how the data showed that vaccines cause autism. One of the people you could always count on was David Kirby (author of the book, Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy, and basically a PR man for some of the vaccine-causation groups). Mr. Kirby went so far as to claim that these data were the “gold standard of autism epidemiology”. Well, the data had their uses (such as identifying and quantifying some of the social influences behind the increase) but it is not an easy task to get results from them. The idea that they represent an accurate count of all those with ASD’s (or even accurately account for all individuals with autistic disorder) is a stretch.

But this didn’t stop David Kirby. Back in 2005, David Kirby was claiming that there was an indication that the administrative prevalence in California was starting to drop, and if the trend continued this was a sign that the removal of thimerosal was having an effect:

Stay tuned. If the numbers in California and elsewhere continue to drop – and that still is a big if — the implication of thimerosal in the autism epidemic will be practically undeniable.

Well, by 2007 it was clear that the California data were not really showing a drop. In addition, the lack of a drop was published in 2008 as Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: mercury in retrograde.\

The rise in the number of autism clients in the CDDS database was key to the idea of the mercury-induced epidemic. David Kirby (and others) relied on these data and Mr. Kirby even acknowledged that the data should start showing a drop (statement from 2005):

If the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis.

The reason is that 5 year olds in 2007 were born after the removal of thimerosal from vaccines. Their exposure to thimerosal was much less than kids in the 1990’s. If the “thimerosal caused an autism epidemic” idea were true, the rates would have to drop. They should drop back to pre-1990 (actually pre 1980) levels if thimerosal were the main, or even a main, cause of the rise.

My recollection is that Mr. Kirby did later backpedal and claim that we would have to wait until some much later date, but it was a weak argument (even by David Kirby standards).

Sorry to keep diving into past history, but one of the strangest moments in the mecury debate (and I can use the term this time, because there was a debate) came in San Diego in 2007. David Kirby debated Arthur Allen in the UCSD Price Center (about 100 yards from my old office, as it turns out). Presented with the fact that even though thimerosal exposure from vaccines had gone down, the California numbers kept going up, David Kirby presented (in something like 100 power point slides!) a four pronged response. First was a claim that California HMO’s had stockpiled thimerosal containing vaccines, so the exposure from vaccines didn’t really go down as much as reports were claiming. Then:

1) A gigantic plume of coal smoke from Chinese power plants has settled on California, depositing lots of mercury and therefore causing the autism numbers in the state to continue to grow.

2) Bad forest fires have put tons of mercury into the air, depositing lots of mercury etc…

3) Cremations (!). The burning of dead bodies with mercury amalgam in their mouths has added even more mercury to the air.

It was a hail Mary pass, to be blunt. Lot’s of handwaving and ignoring the facts.

In 2007, the CDDS changed the way they assessed and counted their clients and they stopped publishing the quarterly reports. As you can imagine, many claimed this was part of a conspiracy to hide the fact that the autism rates were declining in California. And with that the quarterly ritual of misinterpreting and deconstrucing the data came to an end.

All amusing history, sure, but one might ask, why bring all this up again? Well, because it turns out that the CDDS started putting out quarterly reports again in 2011. Yes, there’s a gap of a few years in the data. Yes, some things changed (for example, the CDDS now shows the PDD fraction of autism client base). Given these limitations–and the other limitations in the CDDS data (i.e. they are *not* the “gold standard” of autism epidemiology), what do these data show? The upward trends continue. More individuals served by the CDDS with autism, even though thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Here’s the total–all ages–count for CDDS clients in the autism category (click to enlarge):

CDDS total

Looking at the younger age groups, those whose exposure to thimerosal is much lower than for kids born in the 1990s, there is also an increase. Here is the age 3-5 age group (click to enlarge)

CDDS 3-5

and the 6-9 age group (click to enlarge):

CDDS 6-9

9 year olds in 2012 were born in 2003. Post the removal of thimerosal nationwide. 5 year olds were born in 2007, post thimerosal nationwide and post the California law prohibiting mercury in vaccines for pregnant women and small children. In both groups, the CDDS autism counts are higher than they were in 2002 (the earliest date in the currently available data). Which, in turn, was much higher than the counts from the 1990’s. Here is a figure from the Schechter-Grether paper refenced above:

S-G CDDS paper figure

Which is all a very long way of saying: years ago the evidence was against the thimerosal/epidemic idea; it is even more clear now. For years we heard Mr. Kirby and others talk about how those responsible should step up and admit what happened. Well, the fact is they did. Now it is time for those who promoted the mercury notion to step forward and show they have the guts to admit they were wrong. Because they were. Clearly wrong. It would take a lot of guts to step forward and admit the mistakes. Even though their influence has waned, it would help the autism communities. While I have focused on David Kirby in this discussion, the list is much longer of people who should step forward. I’m not going to hold my breath.

By Matt Carey

A multicenter blinded analysis indicates no association between chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis and either xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus or polytropic murine leukemia virus

19 Dec

There was much discussion of the possible imprtance of the xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) in conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME), prostate cancer and autism. To be clear, the possibility of an autism association was made in the press, not in the research literature. For XMRV in general, there was much discussion in the press, in journals and online as it became clear over time that there were possible problems with the analyses that led to the main papers on the topic. The present study includes work by a multi-site team including the principle author of the original study linking XMRV with CFS/ME.

If one can boil a large, multi-site study result into one line, it would be this:

Here, the original investigators who found XMRV and pMLV (polytropic murine leukemia virus) in blood of subjects with this disorder report that this association is not confirmed in a blinded analysis of samples from rigorously characterized subjects

I.e. there is no link between XMRV and CFS/ME.

Here is the abstract, and the full paper is online as well:

The disabling disorder known as chronic fatigue syndrome or myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) has been linked in two independent studies to infection with xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and polytropic murine leukemia virus (pMLV). Although the associations were not confirmed in subsequent studies by other investigators, patients continue to question the consensus of the scientific community in rejecting the validity of the association. Here we report blinded analysis of peripheral blood from a rigorously characterized, geographically diverse population of 147 patients with CFS/ME and 146 healthy subjects by the investigators describing the original association. This analysis reveals no evidence of either XMRV or pMLV infection. IMPORTANCE Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis has an estimated prevalence of 42/10,000 in the United States, with annual direct medical costs of $7 billion. Here, the original investigators who found XMRV and pMLV (polytropic murine leukemia virus) in blood of subjects with this disorder report that this association is not confirmed in a blinded analysis of samples from rigorously characterized subjects. The increasing frequency with which molecular methods are used for pathogen discovery poses new challenges to public health and support of science. It is imperative that strategies be developed to rapidly and coherently address discoveries so that they can be carried forward for translation to clinical medicine or abandoned to focus resource investment more productively. Our study provides a paradigm for pathogen dediscovery that may be helpful to others working in this field.

There was a lot of hope in the CFS/ME community that this was a breakthrough that could lead to a treatment. Unfortunately, the answers they seek are elsewhere.

As this is an autism-focused site, allow me to bring this back to autism. Unlike CFS/ME, there were no papers claiming an association between autism and XMRV. Instead there were public comments by the researcher involved and inflammatory journalism. In a search for XMRV autism the first article I get is: Is Autism Associated with A Viral Infection?, by David Kirby published at the Huffington Post. Mr. Kirby’s article was probably the first that pushed the (now failed) XMRV/autism hypothesis strongly into the public’s eye. Mr. Kirby was well known for some time previous for his work promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. In specific, he was a major proponent of the idea that thimerosal in vaccines caused autism, having published a book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic. For his Huffington Post article on XMRV, Mr. Kirby had some rather irresponsbile speculations from XMRV researcher Judy Mikovits and the founder of her reseach institute Annette Whittemore. From those quotes, Mr. Kirby proceeded to present the XMRV news story in his own way, as a series of speculative questions to create an impression built like a house of cards. The impression he left the reader with was that the XMRV story helped to explain a possible link between autism and vaccines. Following a quoted statement by Mikovits, Mr. Kirby wrote

So there you have it – a possible explanation of regressive autism in a significant number of cases associated with immune system deregulation triggered by vaccination.

Of course, much more work is needed to nail down the exact significance of such an association. For example, is the virus implicated in the cause of autism, or do children harbor the virus as a result of autism?

Notice that he doesn’t say, “much more work is needed to show that this is a real association“. No, rather than stress again that the hypothesis was poorly supported, he jumps to assuming the association and asking what significance it has. Classic David Kirby.

To be fair, the comments by Mikovits and the founder of the research center where she worked (Annette Whittemore) fed directly into his story. To say it again, those statements by Mikovits and Whittemore were irresponsible given the early stage this work was in. But even with those statements, Mr. Kirby had no justification to go into this speculative paragraph:

The discovery raises more questions than it answers. What, exactly, is it about immunization that might switch on XMRV viral expression? Could the effect of heavy metals upon cytokine balances be at play? Where did this retrovirus come from, and how did it apparently become so prevalent in children with autism? Did these children inherit the virus from a parent, or was there some other unexplained route of transmission? Why has the NIH said nothing about XMRV in association with autism, and did Dr. Insel know about these findings without sharing them with the IACC

Again, we see the series-of-questions approach that is Mr. Kirby’s style. He isn’t saying immunization switches on XMRV viral expression (whatever he meant by “XMRV viral expression”. It sounds technical though). He’s posing it as a question. Notice how he brought in his mercury hypothesis, but as “heavy metals”. “Could the effect of heavy metals upon cytokine balances be at play?”. This is a great example of a sciency-sounding sentence that has no substance. Whoever was his editor at the Huffington Post should have shot that back with “do you even know what your talking about here?” But if the editor at the Huffington Post was doing his/her job, this article (and many more by Mr. Kirby) wouldn’t have been published there anyway. It is worth noting that by the time this article was written, the evidence was overwhelmingly against the idea that mercury in vaccines raised autism risk, but this was Mr. Kirby’s way of loosely tying his failed hypothesis to his then current speculation.

To pull the last sentence out of Mr. Kirby’s paragraph: “And why had the NIH said nothing about XMRV?”. Perhaps because they were more responsible than Mr. Kirby.

As a point of fact, XMRV is not prevalent in autistics (Lack of infection with XMRV or other MLV-related viruses in blood, post-mortem brains and paternal gametes of autistic individuals and PCR and serology find no association between xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and autism.) In fact, as will be discussed below, it appears to not infect humans. Unfortunately, Mr. Kirby has not seen fit to post corrections. To the XMRV story or others.

The impression Mr. Kirby created with his story was strong. For example, he gathered 298 comments to his article, largely focused on vaccines. Here’s the last one, prominently at the top of the list:

David: As big as this autism story is, it is only one toe of the elephant. Here is another: There are no protections in place to prevent more XMRV from entering the nation’s blood supply. There is as of yet no XMRV screening test for donated blood. And — I just called my local Red Cross – there is as of yet nothing to prevent people diagnosed with CFS from donating blood. We are all at risk.

The elephant: How did our government let this potentially deadly retrovirus spread unchecked for twenty-five years? XMRV has, so far, now has been found to occur in people with autism, lymphoma, a severe form of prostate cancer, atypical MS, ME/CFS, and fibromyalgia. Twenty-three years ago the CDC was first informed of an outbreak of what we now know to be an XMRV-associated local epidemic. Eighteen years ago a study showed a retrovirus was associated with ME/CFS.

The band played on.

Yes, let’s spread fear about the blood supply, based on news reports, speculation and bad science.

Some of the authors of this present XMRV and CFS/ME study were also involved in a separate major multisite study on MMR and autism. I am referring to a study intended to replicate the key findings of some of Andrew Wakefield’s research. That study, by Mady Hornig, W. Ian Lipkin and others, Lack of association between measles virus vaccine and autism with enteropathy: a case-control study been re-interpreted by some as supporting Mr. Wakefield’s work. Some have gone so far as to claim that Mr. Lipkin’s team is signalling support for Mr. Wakefield’s work by citing it in other studies. It’s a stretch, a mind boggling stretch, and it’s wrong.

From the CFS/ME paper:

Sensitive molecular methods for microbial discovery and surveillance have enabled unique insights into biology and medicine. However, increased sensitivity for bona fide signal increases the risk that low-level contaminants may also be amplified. This can lead to spurious findings that pose challenges for public health and require an expensive and complex pathogen dediscovery process. Examples wherein authors of this paper have been engaged in this process include refutation of associations between enterovirus 71 and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (24) and MMR vaccine and autism (25).

Lipkin and Hornig consider their work to be a “refutation” of the association between MMR and autism. But don’t take that one sentence from the paper as the only proof. Here’s an interveiw with Prof. Lipkin at Nature.

Had we done this when Andrew Wakefield [the former medical researcher who proposed that autism was caused by vaccines] came out with the initial report about the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, and had something this definitive, there are many more children who would have been vaccinated against measles during the ten years it took us to finally complete the MMR–autism work. So I think it’s crucial that we don’t do things in a half-baked fashion, so we can test hypotheses and move on to new ones.

The interviewer even includes the MMR refutation as part of a question: “You have disproved the autism–MMR connection and other controversial disease links.”

In general, what can one say about XMRV? Aside from the drama involved in the story (which I did not discuss in detail in this article), and the questions about CFS/ME, autism, prostate cancer and more, what can we say? Prof. Lipkin says it very clearly in the interview:

We did not find any genetic sequences [of XMRV or related viruses] in the people with CFS or the controls. As far as we know, there is no human being that is infected with XMRV.

But there were papers (some now retracted) claiming some links between XMRV and human disease? What about those? Another quote pulled from the interview:

I think the explanation is that there was contamination. I don’t see any reason to invoke anything beyond that.

For this you have to give Judy Mikovits some credit. She worked with the team that was attempting to replicate her results. Contrast this with, say, Andrew Wakefield. A man whose hospital offered him the opportunity to replicate his own results, and he quit rather than accept that offer. A man who has repeatedly denied the science which has been clearly against his hypothesis. A man who denies the fact that he acted unethically in many ways in conducting his research. Judy Mikovits made some mistakes, both scientific and socially, but she seems to be part of the solution.

But that’s a bit of a sideshow. The main conclusion is that XMRV is not involved with autism. Or, apparently, any human disease.

With apologies for revisiting David Kirby and Andrew Wakefield.

By Matt Carey

Mother Jones: Rep. Dan Burton’s Legacy: Lots of Sick Kids

1 Feb

Dan Burton, representative to the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana announced today he would not seek re-election this year. Mother Jones has an article to mark the end of Dan Burton’s career in congress: Rep. Dan Burton’s Legacy: Lots of Sick Kids. The link says a lot “rep-dan-burton-goodbye-and-good-riddance”.

Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones starts out:

So Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) is finally retiring, after two decades in Congress. He’s got a notable record of craziness, having doggedly pursued President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal while knowing full well he’d had an affair himself and even fathered a child out of wedlock. He famously claimed to have shot up a “head-like object” (likely a melon or a pumpkin) to try to re-create the alleged “murder” of former Clinton deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, who committed suicide. But Burton doesn’t get enough credit for what may be his lasting legacy: helping turn Americans away from life-saving childhood vaccines.

Representative Burton has an autistic grandchild. Mr. Burton is of the belief that vaccines were causal in that autism. If you’ve read David Kirby’s book, “Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical” you know that Rep. Burton is a major figure in that narrative.

Rep Burton helped promote Andrew Wakefield’s ideas, including a hearing held in 2000. Mr. Wakefield’s testimony is not exactly what I would call accurate. As is now well known, Mr. Wakefield was financially supported by attorneys seeking to prove a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. When Rep. Burton asked him about financial support, here’s how Mr. Wakefield responded:

Mr. Burton. Who funded your study, Dr. Wakefield?
Dr. Wakefield. We did. We have a small charitable
contribution, but—-
Mr. Burton. A charitable organization did; I see.
Dr. Wakefield. We found it a little difficult to get

Mr. Burton cut Mr. Wakefield off at this point, addressing another speaker at the hearing. “A charitable contribution” is a rather odd way to describe money from attorneys. Mr. Burton held at least six hearings on vaccines. That is not a problem. However, the evidence was going from weak to strongly against him over the years.

Mr. Burton has thankfully been more quiet on the issue in his recent years in office. Still, I’m with Mother Jones on this. Good Bye and Good Riddance.

No Evidence of Murine Leukemia Virus-Related Viruses in Live Attenuated Human Vaccines

6 Jan

There has been much discussion of XMRV, Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus, here at Left Brain/Right Brain and elsewhere in the past few months. The reason for the discussion here is the (now shown to be false) idea that XMRV is implicated in autism causation. Two papers have addressed this question and found no evidence of a link. XMRV came to prominence as a possible candidate in causing chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Multiple papers have found no evidence of a link between XMRV and CFS (fan example is discussed here) and the original paper on the topic was withdrawn by editors of the journal Science after it became clear that those results were suspect.

The idea that autism and XMRV was promoted by David Kirby, whose efforts also strongly promoted the debunked autism-epidemic-caused-by-mercury idea. Mr. Kirby’s article at the Huffington Post was Is Autism Associated with A Viral Infection?. In this he quoted CFS/XMRV researcher Judy Mikovits:

And then Dr. Mikovits dropped a bombshell that is sure to spark controversy.

“On that note, if I might speculate a little bit,” she said, “This might even explain why vaccines would lead to autism in some children, because these viruses live and divide and grow in lymphocytes — the immune response cells, the B and the T cells. So when you give a vaccine, you send your B and T cells in your immune system into overdrive. That’s its job. Well, if you are harboring one virus, and you replicate it a whole bunch, you’ve now broken the balance between the immune response and the virus. So you have had the underlying virus, and then amplified it with that vaccine, and then set off the disease, such that your immune system could no longer control other infections, and created an immune deficiency.”

Mr. Kirby went on to write:

So there you have it – a possible explanation of regressive autism in a significant number of cases associated with immune system deregulation triggered by vaccination.

Of course, much more work is needed to nail down the exact significance of such an association. For example, is the virus implicated in the cause of autism, or do children harbor the virus as a result of autism?

Yes, Ms. Mikovits and David Kirby were proposing a possible link between autism, XMRV and (of course) vaccines.

That was October 2009. Fast forward to today, two years later and we see

A) Neither Ms. Mikovits nor anyone else has published the data supposedly linking XMRV and autism

B) Two studies have looked for evidence (and failed to find any) of a link between XMRV and autism,

Lack of infection with XMRV or other MLV-related viruses in blood, post-mortem brains and paternal gametes of autistic individuals.

PCR and serology find no association between xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and autism.

C) Evidence has arisen that much of the data linking XMRV to CFS is faulty.

Studies on XMRV are still ongoing. If experience from the vaccine-autism-epidemic idea tell us anything, the idea that XMRV causes CFS and/or autism will die slowly and even more data are needed.

To that end, a recent study explored whether XMRV is a contaminant in live virus vaccines. (note that in other vaccines, the XMRV is likely as dead as the other constituents of the vaccine). You can tell the result from the title: No Evidence of Murine Leukemia Virus-Related Viruses in Live Attenuated Human Vaccines.


The association of xenotropic murine leukemia virus (MLV)-related virus (XMRV) in prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome reported in previous studies remains controversial as these results have been questioned by recent data. Nonetheless, concerns have been raised regarding contamination of human vaccines as a possible source of introduction of XMRV and MLV into human populations. To address this possibility, we tested eight live attenuated human vaccines using generic PCR for XMRV and MLV sequences. Viral metagenomics using deep sequencing was also done to identify the possibility of other adventitious agents.


All eight live attenuated vaccines, including Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) (SA-14-14-2), varicella (Varivax), measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR-II), measles (Attenuvax), rubella (Meruvax-II), rotavirus (Rotateq and Rotarix), and yellow fever virus were negative for XMRV and highly related MLV sequences. However, residual hamster DNA, but not RNA, containing novel endogenous gammaretrovirus sequences was detected in the JEV vaccine using PCR. Metagenomics analysis did not detect any adventitious viral sequences of public health concern. Intracisternal A particle sequences closest to those present in Syrian hamsters and not mice were also detected in the JEV SA-14-14-2 vaccine. Combined, these results are consistent with the production of the JEV vaccine in Syrian hamster cells.


We found no evidence of XMRV and MLV in eight live attenuated human vaccines further supporting the safety of these vaccines. Our findings suggest that vaccines are an unlikely source of XMRV and MLV exposure in humans and are consistent with the mounting evidence on the absence of these viruses in humans.

Yes, there is no evidence of XMRV in vaccines. This is rather anticlimactic given the evidence already in place that XMRV is not linked to autism, and the fact that the XMRV/CFS link is already tenuous at best.

The blogger erv has done the most thorough job following the XMRV study out there, including discussing the paper above. Others have taken up where David Kirby left off and promoted the idea that XMRV and autism are linked, and that vaccines are a possible part of that link. I would hope that those people would see the value in letting their readers know about this paper (and others, and the retractions).

Ginger Taylor misrepresents David Bowman

5 May

the admission of David Bowman at HRSA (who runs VICP) that vaccines can cause encephalopathy that causes autism as reported by David Kirby.

Following the Poling vaccine concession, Kirby wrote to HRSA and asked if this now meant that the VICP was now paying for vaccine induced autism. This the “official statement” that HRSA sent him:


In response to your most recent inquiry, HRSA has the following

The government has never compensated, nor has it ever been ordered to
compensate, any case based on a determination that autism was actually
caused by vaccines. We have compensated cases in which children
exhibited an encephalopathy, or general brain disease. Encephalopathy
may be accompanied by a medical progression of an array of symptoms
including autistic behavior, autism, or seizures.

Some children who have been compensated for vaccine injuries may have
shown signs of autism before the decision to compensate, or may
ultimately end up with autism or autistic symptoms, but we do not track
cases on this basis.


David Bowman
Office of Communications
Health Resources and Services Administration

Is this not a very significant disclosure by HHS and in conflict with many of their public statements of autism causation? HHS has admitted that vaccines can cause brain damage that becomes “autistic behavior, autism, or seizures”.

Well, no, no its not. Lets look closley at the ‘offending’ paragraph:

We have compensated cases in which children exhibited an encephalopathy, or general brain disease. Encephalopathy may be accompanied by a medical progression of an array of symptoms including autistic behavior, autism, or seizures.

Quite clearly Bowman is saying that Encephalopathy may be accompanied by etc. A fact he goes on to clarify further in his next paragraph. How much clearer does it need to be?

Ginger Taylor and David Kirby really have got to stop misrepresenting people in this way. It does their beliefs no justice.

David Kirby shows he’s been out of the loop

19 Mar

David Kirby is back on the Huffington Post blogging about vaccines and autism in a piece titled CDC to Study Vaccines and Autism.

The CDC move comes one month after the federal government’s leading autism body, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) announced a shift in research priorities toward environmental triggers for autism, which the IACC said could include toxins, biological agents and “adverse events following immunization.”

In case we didn’t read that paragraph, he repeats himself later:

Meanwhile, the IACC has signaled a major shift in research priorities into the causes of autism, moving away from purely genetic studies in favor of investigating the interaction between genes and environmental factors, which it said could include toxins, biological agents and vaccines.

What shift? Funding levels for environmental causation and gene-environment interactions have outpaced funding for purely genetic research for the past few years.

Mr. Kirby, I’d like to say you’d know that if you read LeftBrainRightBrain instead of the blogs and websites which claim to be asking for more research into environmental research. But I have to ask, are you really out of the loop, or does it just make a better story to claim these fake “shifts”?

Here are a few posts you might want to read, Mr. Kirby:

US proposes $154M in new autism research projects

US plan for autism research: focus on environmental causation re-emphasized

Here’s one from over a year ago:

IACC calls for $175 million in autism and the environment research

Is his post a misconception because he’s been out of the loop on another book project? No. Here’s Mr. Kirby’s introductory paragraph:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wants to study autism as a possible clinical outcome of immunization, as part of its newly adopted 5-year research agenda for vaccine safety, the agency said on its website.

Take a look at the CDC research agenda that Mr. Kirby links to. It includes:

In 2004, the IOM concluded that the evidence “favors rejection of a causal relationship” between MMR vaccine and autism and thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism (IOM, 2004).
• VSD has completed a thimerosal and autism case-control study. The chief goal was to determine if exposure to thimerosal in infancy (through 7 months of age) or in-utero is related to development of autism. A secondary objective was to evaluate whether exposure to thimerosal in infancy is related to a subclass of autism predominately associated with regression. The manuscript Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal From Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism (Pediatrics) by Price CS et al. showed that prenatal and early-life exposure to ethylmercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immunoglobulin preparations was not related to increased risk for Autistic Spectrum Disorders (Price CS et al, Pediatrics 2010).
• CDC funded a study in Italy comparing children who previously received thimerosal-containing or non-thimerosal-containing DTaP vaccines (Tozzi AE, 2009).
• A VSD study was completed on early thimerosal exposure and neuropsychological outcomes at 7 to 10 years (Thompson WW et al, 2007). Another study using the public dataset was published (Smith MJ, WoodsCR. Pediatrics 2010).

So, the CDC has already been studying autism as a possible outcome of vaccines. In fact, they’ve already completed it and published it: “VSD has completed a thimerosal and autism case-control study.”

And let’s not forget all the other studies of the past 10 years on MMR, and those on thimerosal. We won’t. Apparently David Kirby has. It’s “new” that the CDC would consider vaccines and autism.

And, noting that the IACC federal autism panel “suggested several studies including vaccinated versus unvaccinated children to determine if there are differences in health outcomes,” the CDC said it will convene an “external expert committee to offer guidance on the feasibility of conducting such studies and additional studies related to the immunization schedule, including studies that may indicate if multiple vaccinations increase risk for immune system disorders.”

Germany has already done one of those studies. Kev discussed it here on LeftBrainRightBrain just recently as Vaccinated Children Not at Higher Risk of Infections or Allergic Diseases, Study Suggests. The results were that people are better off vaccinated. Fewer infectious disease. No increased risk of asthma or other problems (the study size, with about 18,000 people, was too small to study autism).

Sorry if I appear to have little patience for David Kirby. It’s true. I don’t have much patience for him. He’s framed his piece in a manner which misleads. And he has no excuse.

Reading Age of Autism – All I can handle, I’m no Vladimir Nabokov

13 Nov

I read Dan Olmsted’s latest post on Age of Autism and was reminded I had yet to publish a closing post on my experiences with the book. Here’s a quote from Dan:

It’s doubly disappointing to see traditionally progressive outlets – from Salon to Daily Kos to The Atlantic to National Public Radio and PBS – ignore the evidence presented in our book and so many other places, twist the facts they can’t deny, belittle those who believe otherwise including beleaguered autism parents, and glibly trumpet tired reassurances that the concern over vaccines has been “asked and answered,” that “study after study” has refuted any relation, and that continuing to point out disturbing patterns of evidence to the contrary endangers children and infants.

Quick translation for you: “Waaah, nobody liked our book or thought it was valid. What a bunch of pooh-pooh heads!”

The embarrassing truth for Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill is that their book has been still-born. Take a look at the Amazon rankings compiled by Broken Link and its hard to come to any other conclusion. But why has this happened?

First off, the book is badly written. Its not an easy read in the way that Evidence of Harm was. Of course the style is different but Age of Autism is not even a well written poor story.

Secondly, the content is – well – embarrassingly one sided. Whilst B & O claim to be not anti-vaccine, the whole book – particularly part II is rife with anti-vaccine sentiments designed not so much to lead the reader to a conclusion but to batter the reader over the head with the conclusion B & O reached before sitting down to write even.

Thirdly, the content is old hat. There is literally nothing new in the book. For those of us who have followed the the whole story, AoA has nothing _new_ to add to the overall scenario. Whereas Defeating Autism, Autism’s False Prophets and Evidence of Harm all had something _new_ to add to the story, AoA merely dully repeats truthiness from 3 or 4 years ago and couples it with a retelling of historical speculation that simply reiterates what everyone already knew – mercury isn’t so good for you.

So thats that for me reading purgatory. I’m reading something very much better now that I think Sullivan and I will be blogging at length in the new year.

No association between XMRV and autism?

15 Oct

Recently there has been growing interest in XMRV (Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus) and autism. I haven’t discussed it here on LeftBrainRightBrain as it has been very preliminary.

Well, it looks like I may not ever get into this story in depth as XMRV appears to not be associated with autism.

From ERV at ScienceBlogs, XMRV and Autism: Best conflict of interest EVAH! I learned of this new paper:

PCR and serology find no association between xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) and autism

Here is the abstract.

Xenotropic murine leukemia virus-related virus (XMRV) is a retrovirus implicated in prostate cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Press releases have suggested that it could contribute to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this study we used two PCR assays and one antibody assay to screen 25 blood samples from autistic children born to mothers with CFS and from 20 mixed controls including family members of the children assayed, people with fibromyalgia and people with chronic Lyme disease. Using a real-time PCR assay, we screened an additional 48 South Carolina autism disorder samples, 96 Italian ASD)samples, 61 South Carolina ASD samples and 184 healthy controls. Despite having the ability to detect low copy number XMRV DNA in a large background of cellular DNA, none of the PCR assays found any evidence of XMRV infection in blood cells from patients or controls. Further, no anti-XMRV antibodies were detected, ruling out possible low level or abortive infections in blood or in other reservoirs. These results imply that XMRV is not associated with autism.

“These results imply that XMRV is not associated with autism.”

ERV noted this paragraph of the paper:

In an interview given on the same day as the Lombardi publication, Dr Mikovits stated that they had found XMRV in a ‘significant number’ of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) samples and speculated that ‘this might even explain why vaccines lead to autism in some children’ [6]. Shortly thereafter, widely circulated articles appeared, containing non-peer reviewed data with reports that XMRV may be present in ?40% of people with autism [7]. Given the recent controversy over the connection between ASD and the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, a scientific evaluation of these statements is important [8,9].

Translation (via ERV):

Mikovits started talking to the media/patients/parents before she had any published science to back up her claims. She increased fear of vaccines. She still hasnt published anything. So I guess we are going to clean up this mess for her.

Also, ERV points out one of the most interesting competing interests statements in a paper:

BCS and RAG are employees of Cooperative Diagnostics. Cooperative Diagnostics is a commercial enterprise that owns the rights to the XMRV real-time PCR assay described in this manuscript, in addition to the Master Mix that was used. Publication of these results may well reduce the potential market that Cooperative Diagnostics could reach with its XMRV assay.

Yes, the authors are from a company which has rights to XMRV tests. If XMRV is not associated with autism, this company stands to make less money in the future.

Ironically, David Kirby is scheduled to present “breaking news” at an upcoming workshop in November:

Breakthrough News: David Kirby will discuss the recent research by Judy Mikovitz of the University of Nevada. Dr. Mikovitz helped discover that XMRV retrovirus was present in 95% of people with chronic fatigue, and she also found in 40% of a small sample of ASD kids. So far, virtually all of the kids whose moms have XMRV and chronic fatigue also have the XMRV virus.

Somehow I doubt the facts in this new study will divert Mr. Kirby from his “breaking news”. Facts have failed to stop him in the past.

It’s time to get past the idea that autism is genetics

19 Feb

Or, at least, this is what David Kirby has to say in a recent interview.

Yes, I’m tired of David Kirby too. But some statements are just plain silly.

“I don’t believe autism is genetics,” he said. “I wish we could just get past that argument and accept the fact that these kids have been hit with some environmental trigger of some sort, or sorts, combined with these genetic predispositions … and get on with it.”

Here’s an admittedly sarcastic response: I am so glad when outsiders to the autism community spend years promoting an agenda that attempts to take focus away from needed science.

And, yes, I noticed that to David Kirby it is still all about “these kids”. Adults just don’t register on his radar.

Mr. Kirby is not always consistent. In the past he has stated:

I have always said there may be a small percentage of people with autism spectrum disorder (perhaps those with Asperger Syndrome) whose symptoms are a result only of their genetic makeup, with no environmental factors involved at all.

So, “a small percentage” in his view, can now be forgotten as we “get on with it”.

I wish Mr. Kirby well with his new book. I hope for the sake of the people whose lives he will affect, he has learned from the damage he caused to the autism communities.