Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Posts tagged ‘vaccines’

Journal: Autism study 'elaborate fraud'

I wrote a couple of months ago about the controversy over vaccines and whether they cause autism. That controversy was started in large part by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose study has since been retracted from the medical journal where it was first published and who has lost his medical license in the last year.

Today, CNN reports:

A now-retracted British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was an “elaborate fraud” that has done long-lasting damage to public health, a leading medical publication reported Wednesday.

An investigation published by the British medical journal BMJ concludes the study’s author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study — and that there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

This isn’t a surprise but it is good to get to the bottom of what happened. If the accusations are true that Wakefield falsified results in order to make money, he is a loathsome human being. Because of him, children have fallen ill because their parents were afraid to vaccinate them, and families coping with autism were given false hope that vaccines might be to blame. When will money stop being such a powerful incentive to do harm to others?

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Hit me with your best shot

Parents who don’t vaccinate their children are taking a serious risk with their lives.

In recent years an increasing number of parents have been opting out of required vaccinations for schools. What they may not realize is there is a much greater chance their children will get sick from a preventable disease than they will get sick from a vaccination.

To quote Amy Wallace in Wired magazine:

“If your newborn gets pertussis, for example, there is a 1 percent chance that the baby will die of pulmonary hypertension or other complications. The risk of dying from the pertussis vaccine, by contrast, is practically nonexistent — in fact, no study has linked DTaP (the three-in-one immunization that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) to death in children. Nobody in the pro-vaccine camp asserts that vaccines are risk-free, but the risks are minute in comparison to the alternative.”

As vaccine expert and pediatrician Dr. Paul Offit says: “The choice not to get a vaccine is not a choice to take no risk. It’s just a choice to take a different risk, and we need to be better about saying, ‘Here’s what that different risk looks like.’ Dying of Hib meningitis is a horrible, ugly way to die.”

Wallace profiles Offit in her October 2009 article “An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All.” It is lengthy but well worth reading in full. I admit that I was a little skeptical last year when the H1N1 flu was going around. The vaccine was made so hastily that I wondered about its safety. Then I read Wallace’s article and accompanying sidebars and my fears were alleviated.

A lot of the panic over vaccines dates to 1998, when Dr. Andrew Wakefield of the United Kingdom published a study in Lancet magazine that suggested a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. However, no one was ever able to duplicate his results. The study was retracted from the magazine and Wakefield lost his medical license in Britain in 2010.

As Wallace writes:

Twelve epidemiological studies have found no data that links the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine to autism; six studies have found no trace of an association between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethylmercury that has largely been removed from vaccines since 2001) and autism, and three other studies have found no indication that thimerosal causes even subtle neurological problems. The so-called epidemic, researchers assert, is the result of improved diagnosis, which has identified as autistic many kids who once might have been labeled mentally retarded or just plain slow. In fact, the growing body of science indicates that the autistic spectrum — which may well turn out to encompass several discrete conditions — may largely be genetic in origin. In April, the journal Nature published two studies that analyzed the genes of almost 10,000 people and identified a common genetic variant present in approximately 65 percent of autistic children.

And appearing in the news in October 2010: Autism-vaccine link disproved again.

I don’t blame parents of autistic children for wanting answers, for wanting to be able to point to something and say “This is what caused my child’s autism.”

The fact is, no one can do that. Research into autism is ongoing, but so far no definitive cause has been found.

Meanwhile, because of increased suspicion and doubt about the safety and timing of vaccinations, parents are not vaccinating their children or being vaccinated themselves. And recent headlines are full of the consequences.

Matthew Lacek nearly died of Hib, a bacterial infection, in 2006—a disease that is preventable with a vaccine.

Five-week-old Carter Dube died of pertussis—whooping cough—in January.

Ten infants have died in California of a whooping cough outbreak.

Even though it may seem as if the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a lot of vaccines, those vaccines save lives—thousands upon thousands of lives each day. And according to CNN, the United States requires about the same number of vaccines as other countries—fewer than Brazil and Australia.

So don’t delay. Make sure you and your family are fully up to date on your vaccinations, and that includes the flu shot, which is readily available at health departments, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and clinics.