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Comment on study: Early exposure to the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines and risk of autism spectrum disorder

23 Nov

Missed this one from earlier this year. A study that looked at both MMR uptake and thimerosal exposure from infant vaccines. Guess what? “No convincing evidence was found in this study that MMR vaccination and increasing thimerosal dose were associated with an increased risk of ASD onset”


The abstract is below.

Why do I suspect that this is not included on “vaccine information” websites like the so-called “National Vaccine Information Center”, or “Dr. Bob’s” new site? Oh, because it doesn’t scare parents about vaccines, that’s why. And they can’t even blame the CDC or drug manufacturers for putting out a biased study (well, they can, they will, because they always do).

This study was done by Japanese academics. I’m sure some connection to Big Pharma will be produced to discount the fact that this study tells us what every other actual study on MMR and thimerosal and autism has said.

Early exposure to the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines and risk of autism spectrum disorder.
Uno Y1, Uchiyama T2, Kurosawa M3, Aleksic B4, Ozaki N5.
Author information
This case-control study investigated the relationship between the risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) onset, and early exposure to the combined Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine and thimerosal consumption measured from vaccinations in the highly genetically homogenous Japanese population.

Vaccination histories at 1, 3, 6, 12, 18, 24, and 36 months from birth were investigated in ASD cases (189 samples), and controls (224 samples) matching age and sex in each case. Crude odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were calculated to determine relationship between MMR vaccination and ASD. The differences in mean values of the thimerosal dosage between cases and controls were analyzed using an unpaired t-test. MMR vaccination and thimerosal dosage were also investigated using a conditional multiple-regression model.

There were no significant differences in MMR vaccination and thimerosal dosage between cases and controls at any age. Furthermore, the ORs (95% CIs) of MMR vaccination and thimerosal dosage associated with ASD in the conditional multiple regression model were, respectively, 0.875 (0.345-2.222) and 1.205 (0.862-1.683) at age 18 months, 0.724 (0.421-1.243) and 1.343 (0.997-1.808) at 24 months, and 1.040 (0.648-1.668) and 0.844 (0.632-1.128) at 36 months. Thus, there were no significant differences.

No convincing evidence was found in this study that MMR vaccination and increasing thimerosal dose were associated with an increased risk of ASD onset.

Copyright © 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Autism Spectrum Disorder; Case–control study; Environmental factors; Measles–Mumps–Rubella vaccine; Risk factor; Thimerosal

By Matt Carey

Mr. Kennedy, if you know the science, why did you claim that the MMR vaccine contains mercury?

16 Nov

Robert Kennedy (son of Robert F. Kennedy) has been focused on reducing mercury exposure for some time. His advocacy against mercury led him to focus on vaccines (infant vaccines used to contain a mercury compound as a preservative). And, the main argument against mercury in vaccines is the (now totally failed) idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism.

It’s important to keep that autism is not his priority. It’s his tool to allege dangers of vaccines. He’s not out to help us out, but instead to use us to help him.

Add to this that he’s a lawyer, not a scientist and he’s from a very political family. Three are lawyers and politicians actually understand science. Mr Kennedy claims he is in that number (he’s “rabidly pro-science”), but in reality he either doesn’t understand the science or the facts are just be a political tool for him.

That Mr. Kennedy feels the need to instill in us the message that he understands science may stem from the fact that his first attempt at discussing autism and vaccines met with disaster. He published an article “deadly immunity” (because, you know, very pro-vaccine people use terms like “deadly immunity” to discuss vaccines, right?). This article was published both in Rolling Stone and In Salon’s Correcting our record, We’ve removed an explosive 2005 report by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. about autism and vaccines. Here’s why we read:

In 2005, Salon published online an exclusive story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that offered an explosive premise: that the mercury-based thimerosal compound present in vaccines until 2001 was dangerous, and that he was “convinced that the link between thimerosal and the epidemic of childhood neurological disorders is real.”

The piece was co-published with Rolling Stone magazine — they fact-checked it and published it in print; we posted it online. In the days after running “Deadly Immunity,” we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy’s exposé. At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book “The Panic Virus,” further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.

“I regret we didn’t move on this more quickly, as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link,” says former Salon editor in chief Joan Walsh, now editor at large. “But continued revelations of the flaws and even fraud tainting the science behind the connection make taking down the story the right thing to do.” The story’s original URL now links to our autism topics page, which we believe now offers a strong record of clear thinking and skeptical coverage we’re proud of — including the critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link.

“…critical pursuit of others who continue to propagate the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link”. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of Mr. Kennedy’s approach nor the “science” he still promotes.

One take a moment here to discuss Mr. Kennedy’s strong record of advocating for real changes that would benefit autistics. Or we could if there were such a record. Again, we aren’t his focus. We are his tool.

So, given this long introduction, what about the claim that that the MMR vaccine contains mercury? It is in this video Mr. Kennedy produced recently. And while it may seem like a small thing, it is a clear example of misunderstanding or ignoring simple facts in order to support his argument that mercury in vaccines cause autism. Mr. Kennedy is jumping on the controversy that Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield tried to make last year about the MMR vaccine.

Now for those who have a basic understanding of the science, one will immediately wonder, “why is Kennedy latching on to this MMR story when there is no mercury in the MMR vaccine?” Not only does the MMR vaccine not contain mercury, it can’t contain mercury. The MMR vaccine is a live virus vaccine. Mercury is a preservative; it’s specific purpose is to kill bacteria (mostly) and viruses.

Let’s leave out the other huge warning flags here–such as the current MMR controversy Wakefield and Hooker tried to create is based on a huge amount of misrepresentations. Let’s ignore that and ask, surely Mr. Kennedy wouldn’t claim that the MMR vaccine contains mercury, right? Because that would mean either he doesn’t care about the facts or doesn’t understand the facts. It would suggest that sticking to very simple facts is taking back seat to political advocacy.

Why care, one might ask? Politicians have been ignoring facts for millennia. I care beause of the harm Mr. Kennedy brings to my community. I care because he is be scaring parents, especially African American parents, needlessly and convincing them to avoid a vaccine which prevents three very serious diseases. But more, he’s instilling in a new community the guilt and shame that comes with belief in the vaccines-cause-autism idea.

Given that long intro, here’s the video where Mr. Kennedy sends out his message to the African American community:

You can jump right to the point I’m discussing (6:45 into the video).

“…it proved that these vaccines, these mercury containing vaccines particularly, were causing autism”

When he’s talking about the William Thompson story, he’s talking about this study, Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan atlanta. He’s talking about the MMR vaccine.

Again, the MMR doesn’t contain mercury. Never has. In fact, it can’t. And there’s no good reason why after all these years why Mr. Kennedy would not know this. In his book “Thimerosal, let the science speak”, Mr. Kennedy on two occasions (Kennedy MMR-not thimerosal 1 and Kennedy MMR-not thimerosal 1) notes that the MMR vaccine does not contain mercury.

Again, this may seem like a small thing–he got this fact wrong. So what?

There was a time when I thought that the leaders of the movements that promote the idea that vaccines cause autism were just misguided. Probably good, decent people who somehow got themselves to believe wrong ideas. It’s not that hard to believe in something false, and just because you are wrong doesn’t mean you are lying.

Well, in my opinion, that doesn’t describe Mr. Kennedy. And as I’ve noted, the consequences for my community are huge. And I don’t appreciate Mr. Kennedy what appears to be Mr. Kennedy using us as his tool.

By Matt Carey

Press Release: New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

30 Sep

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center for Child Health and Development (formerly Thoughtful House). The press release discusses a recent study which investigated the safety of vaccine schedules (present and past) using monkeys as test subjects.

The study is a follow on study to a previous series of pilot studies involving some of the same authors. The pilot studies were considered by many to be an indication of evidence that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. This larger study shows no evidence of adverse effects from vaccines.

Here is the press release:

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – September 28, 2015 – New research finds no evidence that thimerosal- containing vaccines cause negative behaviors or result in neuropathology in infant primates, according to a study that will be published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, conducted by Dr. Dwight German of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, and colleagues, infant rhesus macaques received several pediatric vaccines containing thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in a schedule similar to that given to infants in the 1990s. Other animals received just the measles-mumps- rubella (MMR) vaccine, which does not contain thimerosal, or an expanded vaccine schedule similar to that recommended for US infants today. Control animals received a saline injection.

Regardless of vaccination status, all animals developed normal social behaviors. Cellular analysis of three brain regions, the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus (all known to be altered in autism), was similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated animals.

“This comprehensive analysis of social behavior and neuropathology in 12-18 month old rhesus macaques indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded 2008 vaccine schedule, which is similar to that recommended for US infants today” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, one of the principle investigators working on the study. Hewitson was part of a team of researchers from The Johnson Center; the University of Texas Southwestern; the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory; the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA; and Texas A&M Health Science Center & Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. The data from this study indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques did not result in neuropathological abnormalities,or aberrant behaviors, like those often observed in autism.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology. Bharathi S. Gadad, Wenhao Li, Umar Yazdani, Stephen Grady, Trevor Johnson, Jacob Hammond, Howard Gunn, Britni Curtis, Chris English, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, Gene P. Sackett, C. Nathan Marti, Keith Young, Laura Hewitson and Dwight C. German. PNAS

This article can be downloaded for free here.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, and the Johnson and Vernick families. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR00166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

About The Johnson Center
The mission of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development is to advance the understanding of childhood development through clinical care, research, and education.

Previous Press Releases
For Immediate Release

By Matt Carey

Cochrane review: no clinical trial evidence was found to suggest that pharmaceutical chelation is an effective intervention for ASD

10 Sep

Chelation was never used by the majority of parents on their autistic kids. And that is a good thing. Chelation use is way down in the autism communities, but it hasn’t gone away. Many of those who use chelation are also vaccine antagonistic, and many of those rely upon the Chochrane reviews to support their vaccine-antagonistic arguments (generally by cherry picking and misrepresenting the Chochrane reviews). So, I was intrigued when I saw this abstract come up recently: Chelation for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

A Chochrane team looked at the evidence for chelation and found that there is none.

A while back there was a plan for a chelation trial at the National Institutes of Health. It was cancelled when animal studies found a drop in cognitive scores when chelation was used without heavy metal intoxication. Which is to say, if you chelate someone needlessly, you could be shaving off IQ points. And since there is no evidence that autism is a form of heavy metal intoxication, chelation may actually have been harming already disabled kids.

I bring this up because the Chochrane review mentions a possible clinical trial in their last abstract sentence: “Before further trials are conducted, evidence that supports a causal link between heavy metals and autism and methods that ensure the safety of participants are needed.”

Yeah, I know that teams of people with MBA’s and other non-related degrees will tell you that there is evidence. As will doctors who sell chelation. Or recommend it (Hello, Dr. Bob Sears, I’m talking to you and your community of non-autism docs). They are wrong. And potentially harming autistic children.

Here is the abstract

It has been suggested that the severity of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms is positively correlated with the level of circulating or stored toxic metals, and that excretion of these heavy metals, brought about by the use of pharmaceutical chelating agents, results in improved symptoms.
To assess the potential benefits and adverse effects of pharmaceutical chelating agents (referred to as chelation therapy throughout this review) for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms.
We searched the following databases on 6 November 2014: CENTRAL, Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process, Embase,PsycINFO, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) and 15 other databases, including three trials registers. In addition we checked references lists and contacted experts.
All randomised controlled trials of pharmaceutical chelating agents compared with placebo in individuals with ASD.
Two review authors independently selected studies, assessed them for risk of bias and extracted relevant data. We did not conduct a meta-analysis, as only one study was included.
We excluded nine studies because they were non-randomised trials or were withdrawn before enrolment.We included one study, which was conducted in two phases. During the first phase of the study, 77 children with ASD were randomly assigned to receive seven days of glutathione lotion or placebo lotion, followed by three days of oral dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA). Forty-nine children who were found to be high excreters of heavy metals during phase one continued on to phase two to receive three days of oral DMSA or placebo followed by 11 days off, with the cycle repeated up to six times. The second phase thus assessed the effectiveness of multiple doses of oral DMSA compared with placebo in children who were high excreters of heavy metals and who received a three-day course of oral DMSA. Overall, no evidence suggests that multiple rounds of oral DMSA had an effect on ASD symptoms.
This review included data from only one study, which had methodological limitations. As such, no clinical trial evidence was found to suggest that pharmaceutical chelation is an effective intervention for ASD. Given prior reports of serious adverse events, such as hypocalcaemia, renal impairment and reported death, the risks of using chelation for ASD currently outweigh proven benefits. Before further trials are conducted, evidence that supports a causal link between heavy metals and autism and methods that ensure the safety of participants are needed.

By Matt Carey

SafeMinds: why won’t you tell your membership about the vaccine safety study you funded? Perhaps because it says vaccines are safe?

28 Aug

Earlier this year a paper was published on vaccine safety: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. This was a followup study to earlier pilot studies that got a lot of attention in the “vaccines-cause-autism” groups (Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: influence of gestational age and birth weight and Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants: a pilot study.)

It is worth noting that the pilot studies didn’t link vaccines to autism. They did make claims that some early reflexes were delayed in the monkeys given thimerosal containing vaccines. If you see someone talking about “root” or “snout” or “suck” reflexes in a vaccine discussion, they are referring to the studies above. These were pilot studies–small preliminary studies to see if it is worth launching a larger study. As such the results should have been taken with caution. But caution is not what groups like SafeMinds (or any of the groups that promote the failed vaccine-autism link) are known for. Inflating any scrap of evidence that can support their political point of view, that’s what they are known for.

SafeMinds made a big deal out of the early studies. Mark Blaxill (then of SafeMinds) called the study a “blockbuster” in a four thousand word analysis. That’s a lot of space to devote considering the full study was eight thousand words. And, as noted already, preliminary. But politics is politics.

Now, an intellectually honest person, or group, would watch for the followup study and report on it no matter the result. Because, let’s face it, if you are going to spend 4000 words overstating the importance of a study, scaring people and instilling them with guilt and pain over their child’s disability, you have a responsibility to do a follow up.

If you are intellectually honest.

So, as noted above, the follow up study was published. It was published in April. Four months ago. And I don’t see anything from Mr. Blaxill on the Age of Autism blog (where he posted his “blockbuster” article) or at the SafeMinds website on the followup study. SafeMinds has their own blog, and if you search it for, say “snout”, you get this article (Ground-Breaking Monkey Study: Mercury-Containing Hepatitis B Vaccine Causes Brain Damage) on the pilot study, calling it “groundbreaking” and claiming that it demonstrates that the thimerosal containing HepB vaccine causes brain damage.

Very strong words. Words which, if overblown, are very damaging. Imagine going through life as a parent thinking that you agreed to a vaccine and that caused brain damage to your child. Now imagine that the evidence you used to draw that conclusion was (a) not strong to begin with and (b) now refuted.

Wouldn’t you want to know the truth? Wouldn’t you expect the people and the organizations that convinced you of this falshood to seek you out and correct their mistake?

And this is why people don’t hold Mr. Blaxill or SafeMinds in high regard. They are quick to scare but don’t have the courage to admit they were wrong. Courage isn’t standing up and saying unpopular truths. Courage is standing up and admitting that your “unpopular truth” was, in fact, not the truth at all.

Now, why pick on SafeMinds in specific here? A lot of people and groups jumped on the pilot study and spread a lot of fear. Check out the footnotes of the study.

This work was supported by the Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family

SafeMinds helped fund the new study. The one they are ignoring. They were likely aware of the results before they were published. But no word.

I expect more from decent advocacy organizations. But I am not surprised with SafeMinds, nor Mark Blaxill.

Yes, the National Autism Association did too and they need to step up as well (a point I hope to make in a later article).

How about the Johnson Family? Well, the Johnson Center stepped up and put out a press release New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Infant Primates. (all SafeMinds, the Age of Autism and the National Autism Association needs to do as a start is publish the press release).

Here’s the last sentence of the press release, quoting the lead researcher: “Despite these limitations, the data in this primate study overwhelmingly provides support for the safety of pediatric vaccines”

It would take a lot of courage for SafeMinds and Mark Blaxill to publicize such a statement. More than they have.

By Matt Carey

Jim Carrey, you are part of the problem for us in the Autism Community

15 Jul

Years back Jim Carrey was and autism were mentioned together regularly in the news.  This was at the height of the vaccine misinformation campaign of his then partner, Jenny McCarthy.  Mr. Carrey went so far as to be a speaker at the “Green Our Vaccines” rally in Washington.  That was 2008. Since then the Green Our Vaccines as a movement has died, Jenny McCarthy has tried to distance herself from her very vocal stance on vaccines, and given that Mr. Carrey and Ms. McCarthy split, it seemed like we had seen the last of Mr. Carrey.

Until recently.

You see Mr. Carrey took offense to new legislation in California.  A bill that will roll back vaccine exemptions to where personal belief exemptions will no longer be accepted in the schools here.  In other words, for the most part one will now need an actual medical reason to avoid vaccination in order to register for public school.

Mr. Carrey took to twitter with his complaints about the new law.  All well and good, free speech and all.  But Mr. Carrey went too far. He decided to take pictures of kids in distress and the implication that this is what happens when you vaccinate your kids. One tweet read ““A trillion dollars buys a lot of expert opinions. Will it buy you? TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST!”” and included a picture of an autistic kid (the other pictures he used appear to have been stock images). The story is discussed by Emily Willingham as Jim Carrey Unwittingly Brings Attention To Something Actually Linked To Autism

And Time Magazine in Jim Carrey Apologizes for Using Photo of Autistic Boy in Anti-Vaccination Tweet.

Because, to give him credit, Mr. Carrey did apologize to that family. (Ironically, it turns out that the kid was unvaccinated when he was first diagnosed autistic).

I harken back to Mr. Carrey’s time with the autism community (remember when Generation Rescue was tagged as “Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey’s Autism Organization”?). At one speech, probably the Green Our Vaccines Rally, Mr. Carrey made the pseduo-profound statement, “We are not the problem. The problem is the problem.”

So while I do appreciate Mr. Carrey stepping up and apologizing to one family, I do want to point out: Mr. Carrey, you were one of the problems for the autism community. And you apparently still are.

Ms. McCarthy introduced you to a closed group of people, a small sampling of the autism community. You likely came away thinking that they *are* the autism community, because that’s how they think of themselves.

They aren’t.

Most of us autism parents don’t subscribe to the vaccine causation idea. I can provide the links to multiple studies if you like, but it’s just the way things are.

And autism parents are not the autism community. One thing that Generation Rescue and like organizations have done is act like autistics are some sort of second class citizens in the community. Who do you think the community primarily is, autistics or parents?

Here’s the thing: the vaccine-causation idea is probably the most damaging notion to have hit the autism community. Did you hear about the “refrigerator mother” theory during your time at Generation Rescue? It’s second to the vaccine causation theory. Telling generations of disabled kids that they are less than they are, that they should be someone else, is damaging. Mr. Carrey, did you attend any of those parent conventions, like AutismOne? Perhaps you look at alternative medicine favorably. Well, the vaccine causation idea is used to sell “therapies” that aren’t close to being “alternative”. They are just wrong. And, frankly, abusive. Chemical castration of disabled children? This was promoted multiple times at conventions where your former partner was a keynote speaker. Fake diagnoses of mercury poisoning, followed by chelation? Same. And even a major promoter of chelation has a new study showing it doesn’t work. Did anyone tell you why the NIH autism/chelation trial was stopped? Because if you chelate test animals who do not have mercury intoxication, they go down cognitively. If the same happens in humans, tens of thousands of autistic children lost some IQ due to chelation. Think that one over, since GR started out as primarily an org promoting chelation. Daily bleach drinks and bleach enemas? That one is probably new since you dropped out. But, yep, that gets sold as a cure for “vaccine injury”. Shall I go on? Because I can. The autism=vaccine injury idea sells junk medicine which is subjected upon disabled children.

And you added your voice to the vaccine-causation idea.

You’ve apologized to one family. That took guts. Now step up and start making amends to the rest of us. Parents and, especially, autistics.

By Matt Carey

Comment on: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior.

21 Feb

There is a common myth one hears from one group of autism parents: there is no research on autism and vaccines being performed. Usually this is combined with the insinuation that the government is scared of vaccine/autism research. The claims are often made by people who should (and likely do) know better.

One of the few places one can find a discussion of the ongoing vaccine/autism work is here at Left Brain/Right Brain. In a post last year I address the question of Why won’t the government fund vaccine/autism research?, which was really a post about how there is work being funded. In case the title was unclear, I also wrote More of that vaccine/autism research that doesn’t exist. Other articles include What projects are being funded in autism research? Part 1: vaccines and GI issues.

In one of those articles I wrote:

There’s a study by Gene Sackett’s group, A PRIMATE MODEL OF GUT, IMMUNE, AND CNS RESPONSE TO CHILDHOOD VACCINES. This appears to be a follow on project to the Laura Hewitson studies that were discussed a great deal online a few years ago.

And, guess what? A study by Gene Sackett, together with Laura Hewitson and others, has just been published: Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior. It may not be the study referenced above as that study was government funded, but this new study addresses some of the concerns raised by previous studies published by Laura Hewitson’s team. If you wonder what I mean by “addressed”, here’s the last phrase of the abstract: the study “…provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.”

No evidence of harm.

Gene Sackett was a collaborator on one of those previous studies by Laura Hewitson: Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: influence of gestational age and birth weight. This study was discussed a great deal by those promoting the vaccine/autism link (say here, here, here and elsewhere. It was called a “blockbuster” study by Mark Blaxill (then of SafeMinds, now of the Canary Party, both groups who promote the failed idea that the rise in autism diagnoses was caused by thimerosal in vaccines) on the Age of Autism blog. Dan Olmsted (of the same blog) called the results “explosive”. They both downplayed the preliminary nature of the study and the small sample size and way overplayed the importance of the results.

And as this new study clarifies, both were wrong. Both spread guilt and fear: one can still find parents talking online about how their child was delayed in one of the reflexes discussed in the study and, thus, was harmed by thimerosal in vaccines. Just an example of the harm the people pushing the idea that vaccines and autism are linked have caused.

As noted above, this new study clears up the concerns raised by the earlier studies. If history is any guide, Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill will not demonstrate the courage needed to admit their mistakes nor try to correct the damage they have caused. I would love to be wrong and have to write an apology to them.

Here is the abstract to Examination of the Safety of Pediatric Vaccine Schedules in a Non-Human Primate Model: Assessments of Neurodevelopment, Learning, and Social Behavior.

In the 1990s, the mercury-based preservative, thimerosal, was used in most pediatric vaccines. While there are currently only two thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) recommended for pediatric use, parental perceptions that vaccines pose safety concerns are affecting vaccination rates, particularly in light of the much expanded and more complex schedule in place today.
The objective of this study was to examine the safety of pediatric vaccine schedules in a non-human primate model.
We administered vaccines to 6 groups of infant male rhesus macaques (n=12-16/group) using a standardized thimerosal dose where appropriate. Study groups included the recommended 1990s pediatric vaccine schedule, an accelerated 1990s primate schedule with or without the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, the MMR vaccine only, and the expanded 2008 schedule. We administered saline injections to age-matched control animals (n=16). Infant development was assessed from birth-12 months of age by examining the acquisition of neonatal reflexes, the development of object concept permanence (OCP), computerized tests of discrimination learning, and infant social behavior. Data were analyzed using ANOVAs, multi-level modeling, and survival analyses, where appropriate.
There were no group differences in the acquisition of OCP. During discrimination learning animals receiving TCVs had improved performance on reversal testing, although some of these same animals performed poorer in subsequent learning set testing. Analysis of social and non-social behaviors identified few instances of negative behaviors across the entire infancy period. While some group differences in specific behaviors were reported at 2 months of age, by 12 months all infants, irrespective of vaccination status, had developed the typical repertoire of macaque behaviors.
This comprehensive five-year, case-control study, which closely examined the effects of pediatric vaccines on early primate development, provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.

Let’s repeat that conclusion for emphasis: This comprehensive five-year, case-control study, which closely examined the effects of pediatric vaccines on early primate development, provided no consistent evidence of neurodevelopmental deficits or aberrant behavior in vaccinated animals.

The full paper is available online. In it you can read this:

This data is in contrast to our previous pilot study in which a delay in the acquisition of the root, suck, and snout survival reflexes were reported for primate infants following exposure to the birth dose of the thimerosal containing Hep B vaccine (Hewitson et al. 2010a). This discrepancy is most likely due to the larger number of animals in the present study providing more accurate estimates. Furthermore, in the present study reflexes were examined from birth to 21 days of age, during which some animals received multiple TCVs (not just a single Hep B vaccine as was used in the previous 23 study), and yet no detrimental effects on the acquisition of survival reflexes were reported for these animals.

Hewitson 2010a is Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing hepatitis B vaccine: Influence of gestational age and birth weight. This is the “blockbuster” study according to Mark Blaxill. Ironically, Mr. Blaxill’s article links to the first publication of the “blockbuster”, the version that was retracted.

The first thing that people who promote the vaccine/autism link would do with a study like this, one that doesn’t find a link between vaccines and harm, is claim that it isn’t “independent” and the authors and/or funding agencies are too biased. So, let’s look at the authors

Britni Curtis,1 Noelle Liberato,1 Megan Rulien,1 Kelly Morrisroe,1 Caroline Kenney,1 Vernon Yutuc,1 Clayton Ferrier,1 C. Nathan Marti,2 Dorothy Mandell,3 Thomas M. Burbacher,1,4 Gene P. Sackett,1,5 and Laura Hewitson1,6,7

1Infant Primate Research Laboratory (IPRL), Washington National Primate Research Center, and Center on Human Development and Disability (CHDD), Seattle, Washington, USA; 2Abacist Analytics, LLC, Austin, Texas, USA; 3Independent Consultant, Austin, Texas, USA; 4Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA; 5Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA; 6The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, Austin, Texas, USA; 7Department of Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, Texas, USA

Laura Hewitson was the lead researcher in the previous macaque studies, the ones often quoted as providing evidence of a link between thimerosal and autism. Her organization (The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development) was formerly referred to as Thoughtful House and was directed in that time by Andrew Wakefield. Thomas Burbacher and Gene Sackett have also been involved with previous animal studies on thimerosal, including this one often cited again as evidence of a link between vaccines and autism.

The funding?

This work was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, the Vernick family, and the Johnson family. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR0166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

Both SafeMinds and the National Autism Association are strong proponents of the idea that vaccines cause autism.

Under competing financial interests we read:

Competing financial interests: Drs. Marti and Mandell provided consulting services as independent contractors in regards to the data analyses. Neither person has provided services to pharmaceutical companies that manufacture vaccines or their representatives, nor have they been an expert witness in thimerosal, or similar suits. The other authors declare they have no actual or potential competing financial interests.

I will leave you with the final paragraph of the new study

In summary, we did not find evidence of an adverse impact of vaccination status on early neurodevelopmental measures, including the acquisition of neonatal reflexes and the development of object permanence. This was true for animals receiving TCVs, as well as animals in the 2008 group, which received the expanded pediatric vaccine schedule that remains very similar to the currently recommended schedule. Although some animals receiving TCVs performed better in the reversal phase of discrimination learning compared to controls, this association was not consistent across all study groups with thimerosal exposure. Furthermore, learning set performance appeared to be poorest for animals in the TCV group but this observation was not mirrored in the 1990s Primate group. Finally, all infants, irrespective of vaccine status, developed the typical social behaviors for this age of animal, with very few instances of negative behaviors reported. While the data as a whole does not support a consistent adverse effect of TCVs on primate development, factors that may modulate the toxicokinetics and toxicodynamics of thimerosal, such as genetics, gender, birth weight, gestational age, maternal health, and chemical co-exposures, should be thoroughly investigated.

By Matt Carey