Vaccines. Autism. Are We Done With This Yet?
Editor’s Note: This guest post was written by Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., who is a pediatrician at 411 Pediatrics, in Austin, Texas, the author of Baby 411, and a mom of two.
It has been 16 long years since the shot heard round the world. I’m not talking about the Revolutionary War, but the Modern Vaccine War. It all started with a press conference held in London on February 26, 1998.
Researchers convened the press to discuss the findings of a newly published case report in The Lancet on a handful of children with gut problems and autism. It turned into a worldwide panic attack about the combination Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine possibly causing autism. Despite the fact that their report proved nothing of the sort (and has never been validated by later studies), the researchers chose to vilify the combination vaccine and advise that the three vaccines should not be given together.
As we know now, the Lancet case report had no scientific merit. What makes good science? When various independent researchers set up well-conducted studies and they all find the same results.
(Forget about the fact that the researchers on that Lancet report were paid six-figure sums to publish the study, the lead researcher lost his license to practice medicine in the U.K., and the report was permanently retracted from the journal. Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction!)
My point is simple and I bring it up today because there is yet another “controversy” swirling around social media about vaccines and autism.
Here’s the rub: A biochemical engineer dad with a child who has autism reviewed data from a 2004 study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). After looking at the raw data, he determined that African American males have a greater risk of autism if they receive the combination MMR vaccine before age 3. (The CDC did not include some of this data in the published study because they did not have the complete data on race for all study participants and including it in the report might have led to erroneous conclusions.) He was alerted to this “hidden data” by a CDC researcher, Dr. William Thompson.
(Forget about the fact that this well-meaning gentleman is not an epidemiologist or a statistician and believes that his own child developed autism from vaccines. Although Dr. Thompson actually publicly agrees on the need for transparency in all research, he does not feel parents should “avoid vaccinating children of any race.”)
As you can imagine, this has brought the anti-vaccinationists, denialists, and conspiracy theorists out of the woodwork. While it certainly makes for provocative YouTube videos comparing the vaccination program to the Holocaust, let’s go back to my simple point.
What makes good science? Independent researchers study the same hypothesis and draw the same conclusions. The study in question came out in 2004, and was certainly not the only or definitive study done on the safety of the MMR vaccine. Believe me, the MMR vaccine has been studied repeatedly by researchers all over the world since the Modern Vaccine War began in 1998. Good science shows there is no association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Period.
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