“Vaccines don’t cause autism” — A Premature Conclusion?

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This article is a response to Daniel Brezenoff’s article “We Know What’s Causing a Rise in Autism Diagnoses — and it’s not Vaccines.”

In science, no claim today is more contentious and more likely than to cause a disturbance than the claim that “vaccines can cause autism.” Scientists vigorously debate string theory, the harms of pesticides in the environment, and climate change, but placing the words vaccines and autism in the same sentence triggers a kind of revulsion that stops any form of scientific inquiry.

There is no doubt that autism is a tremendous public health problem. Media often portrays people with autism as a kind of Rain Man, delayed in social development but with prodigious gifts. But that often isn’t the case (such as in this recent tragic news story). Many moderate and severe cases may never be able to live as independent members of society. And the stress on their families are very real.

Both the media and doctors will repeat, “The science is settled. Vaccines don’t cause autism.” After listening to such rhetoric for years and years, an unsettling conclusion dawned on me: the phrase “the science is settled” is only invoked in contentious scientific cases when the ascribed wrong conclusions are damaging to the current scientific establishment.

But you might object, “Hundreds of studies have shown that vaccines don’t cause autism.” To that claim, we should do what any good scientist should do — let’s look at the actual evidence. If the science is good, then we can be on our merry way perhaps off drinking tea and discussing the latest state of COVID-19.

Well I looked. I dug into the studies. I did not like what I saw. And I’m sure you wouldn’t either. There are just — and let me put this as politely as possible — so many inconsistencies!

Good science demands resolving these inconsistencies, but public health seems to be deliberately ignoring them. If science wants to claim the “vaccines and autism debate is settled”, then it must do using actual good science. As we will see, the science in the vaccine-autism controversy misses the mark.

Problem #1: ‘Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism’ BUT only 1 ingredient and 1 vaccine studied

They claim “vaccines don’t cause autism” BUT they have only studied one ingredient (thimerosal) and only one vaccine (MMR). The gravitas of the previous statement should be shocking, shocking, shocking to you. 

Quick do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. How many vaccines are there? Children receive 68 doses. And there’s a plethora of vaccines out there, DTaP, HiB, Varicella, Prevnar, Rotavirus, Hep B, HPV, etc.

And how many ingredients are there? A LOT according to the CDC. One need only look at a vaccine insert to see for yourself that vaccines ingredients are not so simple.

An article by Children’s Health Defense summarizes this bad science nicely: “So of the first twenty vaccines given to American babies, how many have been studied for their relationship to autism? None. That’s right, because only one vaccine, the MMR, has ever been studied for its relationship to autism. The MMR is a vaccine first administered to American children at thirteen months of age.” Houston we have a problem….

Problem #2: Autism Rates are Still Rising

It’s clear from looking at any trend graph that autism rates have increased and continue to do so. Moreover, they do so in a way that is not adequately explained by standard answers given, such as better diagnosis, changes in definition, and statistically-weak-but-contributory factors such as father’s age.

The argument that “increased autism cases are the result of better diagnoses” would have been stronger in the 1980s and 1990s when autism was not well-known, but this argument fails for the 2000s. Recall that Andrew Wakefield’s controversial paper came out in 1998 and, post a detailed examination of vaccines and autism data, health authorities made the precautionary decision to remove mercury (in the form of thimerosal) from the childhood vaccine schedules.

The paper “California Autism Prevalence Trends from 1931 to 2014 and Comparison to National ASD Data from IDEA and ADDM” examines California autism rates and reports recent increases within the past decade.

The conclusion of the paper sums it up nicely: “CDDS autism prevalence has risen dramatically over the last 35 years, increasing from ~ 0.05% in birth year 1970 to nearly 1.2% in birth year 2012. The available data extending back to 1931 show a prevalence of only 0.001% in that birth cohort.”

And to naysayers like Brezenoff, no it’s not just changing definitions since the California dataset has already taken this factor into account. The paper explains: “CDDS continues to exclude most milder cases of autism, despite two different changes to its diagnostic criteria in the last decade.” Autism rates are increasing and it’s time to stop the denial of it.

Problem #3: Aluminum adjuvant from vaccines could lead to autism

As explained in a recent statement by the Physicians for Informed Consent, aluminum compounds are used in certain vaccines as adjuvants, ingredients that enhance the immune response to an antigen. More recent research done during the past decade indicates aluminum, especially from vaccines, may pose a problem.

A 2017 paper “Aluminium in brain tissue in autism” examined brains of recently deceased individuals with autism and found abnormally high levels of aluminum. Previously, it was thought that aluminum did not cross the blood brain barrier. But this study reported some of the highest values for aluminium in human brain tissue yet recorded.

A possibility for how the aluminum got into the brain is that white blood cells are transporting it across the blood brain barrier. Study author Dr. Chris Exley wrote in a blog post: “The new evidence strongly suggests that aluminium is entering the brain in ASD via pro-inflammatory cells which have become loaded up with aluminium in the blood and/or lymph, much as has been demonstrated for monocytes at injection sites for vaccines including aluminium adjuvants.”

Dr. Chris Exley poignantly hit upon a main concern that public health authorities have not addressed with a one-size-fits-all vaccine program: “there is something within the genetic make-up of specific individuals which predisposes them to accumulate and retain aluminium in their brain, as is similarly suggested for individuals with familial Alzheimer’s disease.”

CDC’s public health statement on aluminum acknowledges the neurotoxic effects of aluminum: “Various neurotoxic effects of aluminum have been induced in animals, ranging from neurobehavioral and neurodevelopmental alterations following repeated oral exposures in mice and rats to neurodegenerative pathological changes in the brain caused by acute parenteral administration in non-rodent species… there is conclusive evidence that aluminum compounds are neurotoxic in orally-exposed animals.”

Additionally, the CDC reported cases in which significant memory impairments were found among workers exposed to inhaled aluminum: “Higher incidences of subjective neurological symptoms (e.g., incoordination, difficulty buttoning, problems concentrating, headaches, depression, fatigue) were reported in aluminum potroom or foundry workers at aluminum smelters.”

But the key question is what about the safety effects of aluminum on humans especially young children? The CDC statement fails to make an adequate comment. But it does state: “The neurotoxicity of aluminum following oral exposure has been well established in humans with renal insufficiency and animals; however, it has not been adequately investigated in healthy humans.” Sorry CDC this isn’t good enough in my book.

The website Vaccine Papers released a paper that presents a biological hypothesis how aluminum in vaccines can lead to autism. Though not from a peer-reviewed journal, the paper draws upon the latest research, and has been reviewed and endorsed by experts such as Dr Chris Exley, Dr. Chris Shaw, and Dr Romain Gherardi.

The hypothesis essentially states that over-vaccination and aluminum can lead to a state of immune system activation and chronic inflammation that interferes with normal brain development leading to symptoms that fall in the constellation of symptoms known as autism.

The paper states: “In early life, the brain and immune system develop together. Immune activation from an infection or vaccine can cause elevated cytokines in the brain, thereby disrupting brain development. Specifically, immune activation can cause life-long brain injury and mental illnesses including autism, seizures/epilepsy, and schizophrenia… It is established beyond reasonable doubt that autism is caused by immune/microglial activation and IL-6/IL-17 specifically.”

The paper continues on the dangers of over-vaccination: “Vaccines are designed to cause immune activation. But can vaccines cause immune activation in the brain? Can vaccines induce IL-6 in the brain? The answer to these questions is YES. The aluminum (Al) adjuvant in vaccines can travel to the brain and stay there, causing long-term brain inflammation.”

Public health has been dismissive of claims that aluminum in vaccines is problematic by citing that oral aluminum exposure far exceeds that of vaccines. But this misses the critical fact that, according to CDC’s analysis, ingested uptake rate is a tiny fraction, only 0.07–0.39%.

Public health officials seem to be unaware of a 2017 paper, “Non-linear dose-response of aluminium hydroxide adjuvant particles: Selective low dose neurotoxicity,” which indicates smaller doses of aluminum can be more toxic as it bypasses the body’s defensive systems.

With such deleterious effects from aluminum, including new research suggesting an association with breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, it is time that public health begins a thorough examination of aluminum in vaccines. To ignore these problems is unethical.

Problem #4: A CDC whistleblower said that a vaccine-autism association was already found, and the data was suppressed.

A key study against the vaccine-autism connection, still cited by the CDC, is the following study, “Age at first measles-mumps-rubella vaccination in children with autism and school-matched control subjects: a population-based study in metropolitan Atlanta.” However, the study is fraudulent.

One of the authors Dr. William Thompson came forward as a whistleblower and stated that key data showing the connection between autism and MMR vaccine was deliberately omitted from a key CDC MMR vaccine-autism study. His full statement can be read here.

In his legal statement he wrote to law firm Morgan VerKamp, he stated: “My name is William Thompson. I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where I have worked since 1998. I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.”

The statement is devastating in that it means that the government did indeed find an association between vaccines and autism in a vulnerable subgroup, and that this finding was covered up. This omission constitutes clear admission of scientific fraud at the CDC.

Does William Thompson’s testimony show there is a causal association between vaccines and autism? It doesn’t show causality BUT it does show that an association was found AND the vaccine-autism connection is plausible, requiring further studies.

Nobody doubts that William Thompson is a real individual and that he came forward as a government whistleblower. After all, William Thompson’s name is on the 2004 study, and his whistleblower testimony was taken by Congressman William Posey, who would later call for an investigation of the issue on the House floor.

The above facts are damning for the proposition that “The vaccine-autism science is settled.” It means that it never was, and the repetition of the phrase was a lie from public health authorities to protect the national vaccine program.

If public health authorities were willing to cover up MMR vaccine and autism associations, what other data would they be willing to cover up or manipulate to serve their agendas?

Towards A Renewed Vision of Public Health

Science is a dynamic field where new findings are constantly being made, propositions are being challenged, and outdated models are set outside. So what happens if new science is deliberately ignored?

The answer is simple: we end up with bad science — the kind of science that should not be used to inform medicine nor public health, the kind of science that harms innocent people, the kind of science that lives in a scientific hell of illogic whose days are numbered until it is outed, thereby jeopardizing the credibility of all the scientists who bothered to support it in the first place.

History will look back at the handling of the vaccines-autism controversy by public health and will see the rampant scientific bias, groupthink, and public relations campaigns to debunk a association rather than fully explore valid scientific hypotheses and protect the public via the Precautionary Principle.

A more interesting question is “how did public health permit such bad science to occur for such an extended period?” The answer is vaccine fundamentalism, the idea that mankind is in a perpetual war with infectious disease and vaccines are the only weapon to win this war. Due to this warlike metaphor, public health is willing to defend vaccines at whatever the cost and minimize the harms to save humanity from a greater existential threat.

Public health you can do far better. And you can begin by a thorough examination of the vaccine-autism question from an open-perspective. It’s not too late to redress previous wrongs.

Scientist Marie Curie’s words apply here: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

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