4.27.2009

Another swing and another miss

Well, you've got to hand it to the anti-vaccine crowd. They're speedy.

Last week, I wrote a post about an anti-vaccine bit of claptrap by Jim Carrey that the Huffington Post had seen fit to publish. In particular, I focused on the link in this bit:
I've also heard it said that no evidence of a link between vaccines and autism has ever been found. That statement is only true for the CDC, the AAP and the vaccine makers who've been ignoring mountains of scientific information and testimony. There's no evidence of the Lincoln Memorial if you look the other way and refuse to turn around. But if you care to look, it's really quite impressive. For a sample of vaccine injury evidence go to www.generationrescue.org/lincolnmemorial.html.
When I first wrote the post, the link redirected you to the main page of the anti-vaccine group "Generation Rescue." It took a while to find, but eventually I located their "Autism Science" page, about which I wrote my first post.

Since then, they have changed the destination of that link. The new page is titled "More Vaccines -- More Autism." It contains some charts and some figures, but is just as devoid of genuine science as the rest of their site. I apologize for the length of this post, but I feel strongly enough about this to go through their entire page.

First, there is a graph showing the number of vaccines given in the developed countries of the world. The United States, with the most, is listed at the bottom. They move from this to an ad of theirs that informs us that there used to be far fewer vaccines given in 1989, and lower autism rates at that time. They segue from there to statements about how vaccines are added to the recommended schedule, and by whom, and toss in some innuendo about indemnity. This is not evidence, scientific or otherwise. It demonstrates no link between the one phenomenon and the other, and suggests impropriety where there is none.

The next section "Vaccines Can Cause Chronic Illness" is particularly infuriating, in that they are misappropriating and misrepresenting what might possibly be science. Three studies are referenced, and the chronic illnesses in question are asthma, eczema, hay fever, food allergy and diabetes. None of these illness are autism. Two of the studies have citations for reference; the study about eczema, hay fever and food allergy has no citation for verification. None of these studies purports to prove any causation between vaccines and the illnesses in question. In keeping with real science, at most they suggest a possible association and recommend further study.

The next bit is about the dearth of toxicologists on the VRBPAC or ACIP (the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, respectively, which they don't bother to spell out for you). This is meaningless noise. The eminently qualified people on the committees are doubtless well aware of the toxicological qualms the vaccination crowd have raised, and have access to toxicologists should their services be necessary. I strongly doubt if having a toxicologist present would have allayed the concerns of Generation Rescue.

The next bit is just rich. In what they are clearly hoping will be mistaken for science, Generation Rescue commissioned a survey (I am guessing in 2007) by SurveyUSA asking households in California and Oregon about their children's vaccination status and whether they had been diagnosed with "ADD, ADHD, Asperger's, PDD-NOS, Autism, Asthma, or Juvenile Diabetes." The questions are here and their results are here. Their results were:
SurveyUSA gathered data on 9,175 boys and 8,499 girls

· After thousands of reports of children regressing into autism after receiving their childhood vaccines, Generation Rescue conducted this independent survey of 17,674 children of which 991 were unvaccinated.

· Vaccinated individuals were reported to be :

a. 155% more likely to have neurological disorders

b.224% more likely to have ADHD

c. 61% more likely to have autism

Their analyses are not provided. The survey was never published in a peer-reviewed journal or presented in a scientific forum. Based upon a one-time survey that was not submitted for outside review, commissioned by an organization with a blatant bias and whose raise d'etre is creating the appearance of a link between vaccines and autism, they felt free to make this claim:
Generation Rescue is not representing that our study definitively proves that the U.S. vaccine schedule has caused an epidemic in neurological disorders amongst our children. That said, for less than $200,000, we were able to complete a study that the CDC, with an $8 billion a year budget, has been unable or unwilling to do. We think the results of our survey lend credibility to the urgent need to do a larger scale study to compare vaccinated and unvaccinated children for neurodevelopmental and chronic illness outcomes.
It is good that they are not representing their study as having definitively proved anything, because it has failed to meet any of the basic requirements for being considered valid in the first place. Its methodology and analyses were not reviewed by disinterested parties, so Generation Rescue is in no position to question the CDC, whose studies are peer-reviewed.

Rather than getting bogged down in debunking their non-science, I will move on to their last section -- "They call our community Anti-Vaccine – It is not true. We are NOT anti-vaccine." Apparently, they are "anti-schedule" and "anti-toxin."

On that first point, they say:
"We want to go back to the 1983 schedule + HIB, since autism was 1 in 10,000 then, or use the Sweden, Denmark , or Japan Vaccine schedule which also only use 11 vaccines and those countries have a much lower under 5 year old mortality rate."
Why they support these schedules is not stated, and again they provide no science linking the vaccination schedule and the autism rate in 1983. Further, the point about 5-year-old mortality has no bearing on autism, and probably has more to do with the public health policies in Sweden, Denmark and Japan than their vaccination schedule. In science, this is known as a "confounding variable," which real science does its best to account for.

On toxins, they give us this:

Aluminum

1. Through extensive scientific study, has been shown to be neurotoxin (kills brain cells), is linked to Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

2. There are 19 Studies About Aluminum Toxicity on our website at: http://www.generationrescue.org/autism/08-aluminum-toxicity.htm

Friends, Alzheimer's is not autism. They are neurophysiologically, psychologically and pathophysiologically distinct. No credible neurologist would confuse or conflate them. Further, none of their 19 studies proves a link between Alzheimer's and aluminum, but (in the manner of good science) some suggest that there may be a link, and recommend further study.

They also mention formaldehyde and mercury (by which they mean thimerosal). Since I have already spent plenty of time on this post already, and don't need to reinvent the wheel, I will refer you to Orac's post about formaldehyde, and will refer you to studies on one of Generation Rescue's own pages regarding thimerosal:
2: Andrews N et al. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a retrospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):584-91.

3: Heron J, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. Thimerosal exposure in infants and developmental disorders: a prospective cohort study in the United kingdom does not support a causal association. Pediatrics. 2004 Sep;114(3):577-83.

[emphasis mine both times]

Both of those studies, by the way, were peer-reviewed.

For those of you that have slogged through this far, you're nearly at the end. All that remains to be discussed is this:
Vaccines are not safety tested for cancer or DNA altering effects (mutanegenic effects), even though they have cancer-causing (carcinogenic) ingredients and mutated viruses in them.

1.) Most Manufacturer Vaccine Information Sheets (VIS) Say, [vaccine name] vaccine has not been evaluated for carcinogenic [cancer causing] or mutanegenic [DNA altering] potential or impairment of fertility

Did anyone else notice the difference in wording between what Generation Rescue says and what the information sheets say? There is a big difference between saying that a vaccine has carcinogenic or mutagenic potential, and saying that they have not been evaluated for it. Generation Rescue is using linguistic sleight of hand to create the illusion of a risk that has not been established. They are, in other words, lying.

I promise that I don't intend to spend all of my time on the "vaccines and autism" question. But this is an issue of tremendous importance to me, my practice, and the health of our society. The specious autism link has led to a lot of needless concern, and lower vaccination rates. This link is flogged by Generation Rescue, an unscrupulous and dishonest organization, and their credulous celebrity flunkies. They have no science on their side, and they must be exposed as the charlatans they are.

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