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Archive for January, 2010

By Shannon Des Roches Rosa, BlogHer

Have you ever wondered why, exactly, vaccines are erroneously associated with autism? I’ll tell you: In 1998, Dr. Andrew Wakefield held a press conference to announce that his research had revealed a possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism. He published his findings in the respected independent medical journal The Lancet, and spent the next few years promoting his vaccine-autism “concerns” through media outlets like the TV news magazine 60 Minutes. 

The result was panic, a vaccination rates nosedive, and the resurrection of vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.

In 2004, it was revealed that Wakefield had also been conducting a separate, simultaneous study funded by lawyers seeking compensation for clients who claimed their children suffered from vaccine damage. Ten of Wakefield’s twelve original paper co-authors, horrified by Wakefield’s conflict of interest as well as the public health crisis they’d help cause, issued an official retraction in The Lancet [PDF], stating, “We wish to make it clear that in [Wakefield's] paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.”

Read more at:  http://www.blogher.com/verdict-vaccination-boogeyman

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By Alison Singer
President, Autism Science Foundation

The week, the British General Medical Council (GMC) ruled that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who first proposed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” when he published his research and showed a ‘callous disregard’ for the suffering of children.

The GMC decision came after the longest and most expensive hearing in its 148-year history.  The hearing focused on a small study of a dozen children by Dr Wakefield and 12 doctors which linked the MMR with autism and bowel problems.  It was published in the Lancet, the highly respected medical journal, in 1998. At a press conference following the publication, Wakefield said there were “sufficient anxieties for a case to be made” to give the three vaccines separately.  Numerous other studies, including one involving three million children, failed to make the link.  But that didn’t prevent MMR vaccination rates from plummeting by 12% in Great Britain after Wakefield’s report. And in 2006 a 13-year-old boy died from measles. More death followed.

Eventually Wakefield’s collaborators withdrew their names from the Lancet paper and the paper itself was eventually retracted. Later it was revealed that Wakefield had received funds from lawyers representing the children enrolled in his study. And now the GMC has spoken in clear and convincing terms. And let’s not forget that the hearing itself was not even about the science; it was about Wakefield’s methods. The science has been in for some time now. No study has shown a link between autism and MMR. To read the studies visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org/autismandvaccines.html

But will this be the end of the controversy. I doubt it.

Once you put an idea in people’s head, even in the presence of clear and convincing science, it is very hard to unscare them.  Anti vaccine autism advocates continue to see Wakefield as a hero who remains willing to take on the establishment and fight for their children.  In the meantime, Wakefield’s actions have had a lasting negative effect on children’s health in that some people are still afraid of immunizations. In some cases, the younger siblings of children with autism are being denied life saving vaccines. This population of baby siblings, already at higher risk for developing autism, is now also being placed at risk for life threatening, vaccine preventable disease, despite mountains of scientific evidence indicating no link between vaccines and autism. This is the Wakefield legacy.

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UK Daily Mail Online

The doctor at the centre of the MMR controversy ‘failed in his duties as a responsible consultant’,  and went against the interests of children in his care, a disciplinary panel ruled today.

Dr Andrew Wakefield also acted dishonestly and was misleading and irresponsible in the way he described research which was later published in The Lancet medical journal, the General Medical Council (GMC) said.

In the late 1990s, Dr Wakefield and two other doctors said they believed they had uncovered a link between the jab and bowel disease and autism.

Today’s ruling will be a setback to campaigners who back Dr Wakefield’s claims but will fuel fears that the controversial doctor has been the victim of a sustained witch-hunt.

Dr Wakefield was absent from today’s hearing but parents who believe their children were damaged by the MMR jab heckled the GMC panel of experts as they delivered their findings.

The hearing – which was the longest and most complex case ever held by the GMC – has sat for 148 days over a two-and-a-half-year period.

Thirty-six witnesses gave evidence at the hearing, which has reportedly cost more than £1 million.

It centred around Dr Wakefield’s study, which sparked a massive drop in the number of children given the triple jab for measles, mumps and rubella.

During the mid 1990s, uptake of the MMR vaccination had stood at 92 per cent, but five years after The Lancet paper, the vaccination level had fallen below 70 per cent in some places. Measles cases in Britain rose from 56 in 1998 to 1,370 in 2008.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246775/Doctor-centre-MMR-controversy-failed-duties-responsible-consultant-rules-GMC.html#ixzz0dvDPwLQl

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Autism Science Foundation President and Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) member Alison Singer joined all her colleagues on the IACC this week in voting to approve the 2010 Strategic Plan for Autism Research.

The plan calls for upwards of $217 million to be devoted to autism research in 2010. It includes new objectives for identification of behavioral & biological markers, and calls for new studies to improve understanding of the biological pathways of genetic conditions related to autism; studies that target the underlying biological mechanisms that co-occur with autism; and studies that investigate what causes phenotypic variation across individuals who share an identified genetic variant. The new plan cites the need for more research on services and supports, as well as a greater focus on lifespan issues. The committee also added a new chapter to the plan calling for infrastructure investments that will support data sharing among researchers, encourage and enable individuals with ASD and their families to participate in research, and improve the speed with which research findings are disseminated.  The new chapter also calls for enhancing and expanding autism surveillance efforts.

The plan does not include any references or objectives that imply that vaccines cause autism, and it does not call for additional vaccine research.  “Draft materials submitted to the IACC suggesting vaccines and/or vaccine components were implicated in autism were rejected by the committee because the IACC determined that they were not based on good science,” said Singer.

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Autism Science Foundation Founder and President Alison Singer today was awarded the Community Impact Award for her role in launching the Autism Science Foundation, a not for profit organization that raises funds to support autism research. The award was presented by Matan, a not-for-profit organization that provides Jewish educational services to children with developmental disabilities, at its 10th Anniversary Gala.

In accepting the award, Singer said “There are so many things we need to do in the autism community. We desperately need more research, and that is what our organization, the Autism Science Foundation, focuses on; research. But the answers that come from the lab are years away, and meanwhile we have our beautiful children who are here now and need help to become the people they are meant to be, and that’s what Matan does so well.”

Later this month, Autism Science Foundation will announce the recipients of its fellowship awards for graduate and medical students interested in pursuing careers in basic and clinical scientific research relevant to autism spectrum disorders. “The launch of the Autism Science Foundation marked the beginning of a new chapter in autism research; one with a deep and unwavering commitment to an evidence-based agenda” said Dr. Paul Offit, Autism Science Foundation board member and Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “ASF is the best of all worlds: parents and scientists coming together to support research that stands the best chance of making a difference.”

The Autism Science Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public charity. Its mission is to support autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing and disseminating autism research. The organization also provides information about autism to the general public and serves to increase awareness of autism spectrum disorders and the needs of individuals and families affected by autism.

Matan supports Jewish communities, professionals, and institutions in educating children with special learning needs. Matan is committed to exposing all children to the “wonder” of Jewish life and fostering literate and engaged Jews through creative and multi-sensory approaches. By strengthening the capacity of Jewish institutions to support and sustain more educationally varied programs, Matan is expanding the Jewish community’s ability to fulfill the obligation to include all children – not just typical learners – in their Jewish educational birthright.

To learn more about the Autism Science Foundation or to make an online donation visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org

To learn more about Matan or to make an online donation visit www.matankids.org

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The Vaccinate Your Baby project, sponsored by Every Child By Two, has launched a new website featuring video answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs) about vaccines and autism. Several experts in the fields of immunization and autism participated and their answers have been edited into short video clips.

Participants include:

  • Paul Offit, MD, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases and Director, Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Board Member of the Autism Science Foundation
  • Alison Singer, Co-Founder & President, Autism Science Foundation and parent of a child with autism
  • Mark Sawyer, MD, Professor, Clinical Pediatrics and Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist, UCSD School of Medicine & Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego
  • Mary Beth Koslap-Petraco, DNP(c), CPNP, Coordinator, Child Health Suffolk County Department of Health Services, NY 

The questions cover a wide range of topics, including Why Vaccinate?, Why Follow the Recommended Immunization Schedule?, and What does the Science Tell Us About Autism and Vaccines?

To view the video clips, visit http://www.vaccinateyourbaby.org/faq/index.cfm

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The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will be holding a Full Committee Meeting on Tuesday, January 19, 2010 from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM ET at the William H. Natcher Conference Center, NIH Campus, in Bethesda, MD.

The purpose of the IACC meeting is to discuss and vote on recommendations for the annual update of the IACC Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorders Research.  The meeting will also include a presentation on epigenetics and autism by Dr. Andrew Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The meeting will be open to the public and pre-registration is recommended. Seating will be limited to the room capacity and seats will be on a first come, first served basis, with expedited check-in for those who are pre-registered.  The meeting will be remotely accessible by videocast and conference call.  Members of the public who participate using the conference call phone number will be able to listen to the meeting, but will not be heard. 

To access the conference call:

USA/Canada Phone Number: 888-577-8995
Access code: 1991506

Individuals who participate using this service and who need special assistance, such as captioning of the conference call or other reasonable accommodations, should submit a request to the contact person listed above at least seven days prior to the meeting.  If you experience any technical problems with the conference call, please-mail IACCTechSupport@acclaroresearch.com.

The latest information about the meeting can be found at: http://iacc.hhs.gov/events/2010/full-committee-mtg-announcement-January19.shtml

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