Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Vaccines and Autism: A Rational Discussion

As a non-parent, I can't say that I know the helpless feeling of watching a child suffer with some horrible disease like measels or polio or rotavirus. Nor do I know the anguish of having a child with autism. My heart goes out to those families.

And I'm sure it must be powerfully convincing evidence that something must be wrong with vaccinations when these parents take their children to the doctor to be vaccinated, and soon after that, they are diagnosed with autism.

It is entirely rational to look for a link between the two. And it's understandable that parents want something to point to and say "This caused the horrible thing that happened to my child."

However, every study has consistently shown that there is no causal relationship between vaccinations and autism. None. But both sides are yelling and calling the other side stupid and often refusing to sit down and just talk.

Scientists have listened to parents' concerns. In fact, they spent millions of dollars doing study after study after study looking for some causal relationship, just in case there was something there to be found. It's just that scientist-types find it so very difficult to talk to people instead of over their heads, so their calm message of "there's no way vaccines cause autism" fall on deaf ears when emotional parents know what they saw.

Enter Dr. Ginger Campbell. She has a podcast called Books and Ideas. This month's episode features an interview with Dr. Paul A. Offit, author of "Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure." Dr. Campbell interviews him about the issues surrounding this "controversy." You'll learn that eating tuna will put more mercury in your system than a vaccine, even before they removed the thimerosal. You'll learn why mercury-bearing thimerosal was removed from vaccines in the early 2000's, and why it was there in the first place. But mostly, you'll learn how very dangerous it is for children today to remain unvaccinated.

If you have any curiosity about the issue or just wonder what all the brouhaha is about, I urge you to listen to this episode with an open mind.

Please. It's just one hour out of your busy schedule. You'll probably learn something. I know I did.

Just click on the title of this post and it'll take you to the podcast, and you can listen to it right there at the website.


Lady Why said...

Listening now. I must preface that I do not have a lot of respect for Dr. Offit because he is a vaccine manufacturer/inventor. He stands to profit financially from mothers blindly accepting his vaccines. He also lobbied against parents being able to bring lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers when they have a vaccine injury.

Doesn't win points with me on that. I'll chime in again once I finish listening.

Lady Why said...

Hello again. OK, I've listened to the podcast and I have a comment or two. Surprised?

Before I get specific I must admit I have had experience with Dr. Offit before. This podcast did not change my impression of him. My skeptical self considers his conflict of interest a bit disconcerting. I also bristled up at his constant mention of "Now things will be better because of Obama". Eeek! That screams "I hope Obama will start forcing parents to vaccinate my way because I'm a big important all knowing scientist and everyone else is a ninny." I don't know what Obama has to do with this and any involvement of the federal government is ALWAYS a bad idea. Maybe that's just me.

I could write a book but I'll try not to. First, he didn't mention one single study. I was so disappointed by that. I was really hoping to hear about specific studies and their findings. Or at least the studies themselves so I could go look them up myself. Didn't happen. Just babbling the same rhetoric.

There's no study saying there is a connection? What planet is he living on? There are FOUR MAJOR STUDIES that SUGGEST a connection. No proof, to be sure, but certainly enough information to give pause.

He kept bringing up the mercury. I'm not worried about the mercury. It's gone from vaccines and I'm happy about that. What I'm worried about is the measles vaccine camping out in the intestinal tract of children that are PREDISPOSED to autism. That's the big threat that I see. Not every child will get autism. But, some will. We can't have a 'one size fits all' vaccination schedule. Why can't we get a simple test to see which children are prone to the intestinal problem which does have a scientific correlation to autism later on. There is a test in Europe and they use it. Why are we all called backward, emotional dolts when we suggest this to our doctors? And, why, for the love of Pete, can't we get another study that builds on the Wakefield study which was more about the intestinal issue than the mercury? GAH!

Conflicts of interest? Did he just say conflicts of interest? Ironic.

I'm all about sticking to the studies. Show me the studies!! He didn't reference ONE study!

Obama inspires and teaches? Obama is all about science? He's losing me minute by minute. I'm going to vaccinate my child on his 'say so' and an inspiring Obama speech? Don't think so. By that way, I need to ask this of you as an atheist. Why is it that atheists as a general rule believe that Christians are 'anti-science'? This guy just said George Bush was 'anti-science' and I'm assuming he's basing that on his Christianity? I don't know any Christians that are anti-science. I'm very pro-science. Chemistry was my minor! But, I want real science and not quack-job-doctors-trying-to-line-the-pockets-of-pharmaceutical-companies science.

He mentioned the anti-vaccination people (and there are a lot of kooks in that group) are funded by lawyers looking to make a buck. Who are they? The reputable ones that just want real answers like me aren't funded by lawyers. At least not that I'm aware of and if they are, I'd like to know that. Of course, no specifics.

The good guys? Tom Daschle is a good guy? Wonder what he thinks of old Tom today. Not winning credibility points with me on that one.

Pediatricians hang in there? How about the patients that are ridiculed and threatened with being dismissed as a patient? I have to beg my pediatrician to keep us every time I go in that office!! They are dismissing patients left and right!! Also he mentioned The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears which is the BEST book on the subject. He didn't comment on it much but I could tell by his tone he doesn't 'approve'. I can't imagine why any doctor would disagree. At the end of the day you have a fully vaccinated child! It's a win/win for everyone.

There is evidence that shows giving a heavy load of shots to a baby is a bad thing. There is evidence showing that immunity is stronger when given shots one at a time, yet doctors treat you like a bad mother for even ASKING QUESTIONS! And, as for anecdotal evidence... Noah has never run a smidge of fever on the alternative schedule. My other babies had some pretty bad side effects from the 'traditional' schedule.

As for Jenny McCarthy, all she's asking for is the same testing I'd like to see. This would weed out the children that will be negatively impacted by vaccinations and those that can handle it.

For the record, I don't think vaccines cause autism. I think children are predisposed to autism genetically and vaccines can push them over the edge onto the autism spectrum. I think too many vaccines can throw a child with a weak immune system into seizures and other side effects. I also think that not vaccinating children against some diseases is riskier than vaccinating them. Those are the vaccines we get. I don't think it's necessary to vaccinate my baby against Hep B, for example, since that's a STD and I don't really see my 18 month old engaging in 'high risk behaviors'. That doesn't stop me from getting nasty looks from the nurses every time I decline it.

As you can tell, this is a hot button issue for me mainly because of people like Dr. Offit who won't really answer our questions. We have questions. The lives of our babies are at stake and we take that pretty seriously.

Did he say that having a Christian president was "disturbing"? Wow.

Lady Why said...

After listening to the podcast I did some research to see if I could find Dr. Offit saying anything about The Vaccine Book by Dr. Sears. In the podcast he mentioned it in a rather unflattering way and I definitely sensed he didn't agree with it but he didn't elaborate.

I found that he wrote a negative opinion on the book in Pediatrics. As I looked around, I found a rebuttal by Dr. Sears that I thought you might be interested in reading.

The link to Dr. Sears response contains the link to the article in Pediatrics so you can read them both.

Here is the link:


You have to go down a couple of posts to the December 29, 2008 post entitled "A Response to Dr. Offit’s Misleading and Inaccurate Review of The Vaccine Book in Pediatrics, January 2009"

Here is the opening to Dr. Sears response:

"On December 29, 2008, Dr. Paul Offit published a special article entitled “The Problem With Dr. Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule” in Pediatrics (www.pediatrics.org/cgi/doi/10.1542/peds.2008-2189). Affiliated with the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, as well as the co-inventor and co-patent holder of the RotaTeq vaccine, Dr. Offit has long been recognized as a prominent and respected leader in vaccine education and research. He has been one of the primary spokesmen for the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent campaign to improve the public trust in our nation’s vaccination policy. I appreciate Dr. Offit taking the time to review The Vaccine Book and offer his constructive criticisms on it. Dr. Offit and I agree on many things, including the opinion that vaccines are extremely important and have been one of the most valuable public health endeavors in the past several decades.

I would like to take this opportunity to clear the record regarding The Vaccine Book and my own professional opinions on vaccines. I believe that Dr. Offit has greatly misrepresented the overall message of the book as being ‘anti-vaccine.’ In fact, the book encourages parents to vaccinate their children. In order to give parents a complete educational experience, while presenting all the ‘pros’ of vaccines I felt it was important to list the ‘cons’ as well by discussing the potential side effects from the vaccine product inserts (while emphasizing how rare any severe reactions are). I also discuss the reasons why some parents choose not to vaccinate so that the readers can understand what these parents’ issues are. I believe that vaccine books that only show one side of the issue aren’t an effective educational tool. That’s why I present both sides.

However, I believe that Dr. Offit has misconstrued the book’s overall message by selectively extracting various phrases and sentences that discuss anti-vaccine ideas and worries that parents have and portraying those ideas as my own. He quotes various areas of the book that sound anti-vaccine without offering the pro-vaccine conclusions that I offer on the subject. I would expect colleagues within the AAP to have more respect for each other and double and triple check to make sure something printed in Pediatrics wasn’t so riddled with selective, misleading, and inaccurate quotes. I will point out such areas in my discussion below. I will say that there are a couple of small items in the book that Dr. Offit points out are in error, and I appreciate that clarification he has been able to offer. I will discuss these areas, and the changes that I will make in the next edition of the book.

I will admit that the book does offer one major controversial idea; my alternative vaccine schedule. However, it is important to note the context in which I offer that advice. At the end of the book, I encourage parents to vaccinate their children according to the CDC schedule if they feel confident in our nation’s vaccine system. For those parents who, after reading all the reasons why vaccines are important in my book, still believe vaccines aren’t safe and plan to not vaccinate, I at least ask them to consider getting the most important infant vaccines so their babies have protection from the life-threatening illnesses (HIB, PC, DTaP, and Rota). Where my alternative schedule comes into play is for those parents who are still unsure about vaccines, but they do want to fully vaccinate. I offer them an optional schedule that gets their child fully vaccinated, but at a slower pace. It doesn’t delay any of the most important shots, but it slightly delays some shots that are for lower-risk diseases. This option is really for parents who would otherwise leave a doctor’s office unvaccinated – parents who are too torn to make a decision, and therefore often don’t make any decision to vaccinate at all.

It is my belief that many families go unvaccinated simply because they aren’t offered a more gradual option. If they were, many would vaccinate. I believe this approach would actually increase vaccination rates, not decrease them as Dr. Offit suggests. I think that is our main area of disagreement.

The rest of this article will take a look at each of Dr. Offit’s statements and offer my own view. This isn’t going to be any sort of “great debate over vaccines” because we agree on most things. I will point out the parts of his article that I agree with, and parts that I accept his correction on something that I wrote in error.

Open debate and discussion is healthy in the field of medicine. I welcome it, and I’m sure Dr. Offit does as well. However, I must take issue when a person very clearly misrepresents information in my book, selectively quotes certain sections out of context, and attributes statements and ideas to the book and to myself that I never even wrote. Some of these errors are so erroneous, it’s almost as if Dr. Offit was reading some other anti-vaccine book instead of mine. The purpose of my response is not to determine who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s simply a clarification of some false claims made against me."

Again, I think The Vaccine Book hung the moon as a vaccine resource! It's not pro or anti vaccine but it is a rare balanced resource for people like me who just want their questions answered. If you haven't read it, do. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised and I think it will help you understand people like me. It also is full of the actual studies and where you can find them online if you want to read them for yourself. Referencing the actual studies is super rare on either side of the vaccine 'war'.