Archive for the ‘vaccines’ Category

Several people have written to us asking why Hannah Poling was compensated.

Hannah Poling received 5 shots to protect against 9 diseases on a single day. She developed fever following that series of vaccines. Because she had an existing encephalopathy (presumably on the basis of a mitochondrial enzyme defect) and because worsening of an existing encephalopathy following measles-containing vaccine is a compensible injury, Hannah Poling was compensated.

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Letter Urges Autism Speaks to Correct Website Statement Regarding Autism and Vaccines

(September 10, 2010—New York, NY) —The Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and funding autism research, today announced that it has signed on to an open letter written by the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) to Autism Speaks, calling for Autism Speaks to revise statements posted on its website regarding autism and vaccines to bring them more in line with current science.

On its website, Autism Speaks writes, “Several epidemiological studies have explored whether either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal, a preservative previously used in vaccines, are linked to autism, and these studies have not supported a link. But these studies were not designed to identify effects in a small population of potentially vulnerable children due to rare genetic and/or medical conditions.”

The letter from ASAT asks Autism Speaks to correct its website, specifically where Autism Speaks suggests there is a credible scientific rationale for a “vulnerable population” hypothesis, the implication being that there is a group of children for whom vaccines may cause autism. No data yet exist that support a “vulnerable population” hypothesis; it is entirely theoretical. Moreover, because no criteria are offered by which a parent can determine whether his/her child is in this supposed “vulnerable population”, some parents may assume his/her child is in the risk group, and may then choose to withhold potentially life-saving vaccinations.

“Of course we signed onto this letter,” said Alison Singer, President of the Autism Science Foundation. “The mission of our organization is to ensure that parents and other stakeholders have accurate, evidence-based, scientifically-relevant information about autism. The data are very clear regarding autism and vaccines. There are no studies indicating autism is caused by vaccines and no data to support a “vulnerable population” hypothesis.”

 The full text of ASAT’s open letter to Autism Speaks can be viewed here:  http://www.asatonline.org/media_watches/40

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.

ASF’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) is comprised of Dr. Emanuel DiCicco-Bloom (UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, past program chair of the International Society for Autism Research); Dr. Ami Klin (Yale Child Study Center); Dr. Sharon Humiston (University of Rochester); Dr. Harold Koplewicz (The Child Mind Institute); Dr. Eric London (New York Institute for Basic Research); Dr. Catherine Lord (University of Michigan); Dr. David Mandell (Univ. of Pennsylvania/CHOP; past program chair of the International Society for Autism Research); and Dr. Matthew State (Yale Medical School).

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Dr. Alan Guttmacher and Dr. Alice Kau

On July 22, Dr. Alan Guttmacher was named Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). This interview with Dr. Guttmacher and Dr. Alice Kau.  Extramural Program Staff Officer for the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) branch of NICHD was conducted by Autism Science Foundation intern Emily Hotez, a senior at George Washington University.


How does autism research play into the major goals of NICHD?

A.G. For many years we were simply the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The reason Eunice Kennedy’s name was added is that she was instrumental in working with her brother, then President Kennedy, to found an institute at the NIH that was particularly focused on the health and well being of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Historically, it is at the very core of the mission of our institute to support research, in terms of understanding various kinds of intellectual and developmental disabilities, and also in terms of improving the lives of the people who have those kinds of conditions. We know much more about autism than we did back when the institute was founded, now almost 50 years ago, and it is a significant part of intellectual and developmental disabilities. Autism research is very important to us, but we are certainly not the only institute at NIH for whom it is important. Particularly, the National Institute of Mental Health is also in the vanguard of NIH work on autism. We work closely with them, along with National Institute of Deafness and other Communication Disorders National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Nursing Research, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, all of which support autism research.

NICHD has an autism conference coming up focused on improving diagnosis across different populations.  In what ways will this conference benefit autism research at NICHD?

 A.G. I think it has been apparent for some time that there are particular challenges in diagnosis and interventions for folks with autism in special populations, for example, those who do not have access to good medical care. Also, people who come from minority populations have even more challenges, for various reasons, than do others who have autism. The idea of this conference is to look at some of these extra challenges, to look at the ways that research can move forward our understanding of them, to overcome some of those challenges, and to even remove some of them.

 A.K. As you know, autism is diagnosed behaviorally, so it could be influenced by culture and the perception of the parents, and even the language we use. NIH program staff wanted to hold the conference to get the sense of what we know so far and what we need to do to bring the disparities down.

 How has the focus of autism research in general evolved at NICHD since you have come to be acting director?

 A.G. Well, I have only been acting director for 7 months so I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot since then. In some ways the focus is that we really try to coordinate with the other institutes in how we do the NIH’s research involving autism. We have the NIH Autism Coordinating Committee, which helps to coordinate research among the various institutes and centers, and also program staff such as Alice work closely across the institutes to try to do that. I don’t think an emphasis has really changed since I’ve been here, but I think I have tried to encourage working with the other institutes to make sure that we are doing things that coordinate in a productive fashion. We are not worried about who gets particular credit for a particular finding, but that we really identify the scientific questions that we can be answering through research.

 A.K. We are in the middle of our funding for the Autism Centers of Excellence. Dr. Guttmacher came into the Institute when the initiative was really in high gear. We are into the second and third years of funding. There are autism research centers and autism research networks and we also work with the autism communities.

 A.G. We coordinate not only within NIH but we also try to coordinate with the wider world, both in terms of various advocacy organizations and also in terms of working very closely with extramural scientists that we support. We really see this as a multiple player partnership and we try to play our role in that.

 A.K. The advocacy groups are funding a substantial amount of autism research so it is very important that we coordinate with each other to avoid overlaps.

 A.G. We have had specific conversations with some groups looking at various kinds of research and initiatives. We are constantly having new conversations and we have had some new ones about a public-private partnership. There are some things that obviously government agencies with funding can do best, but there are also things nongovernmental groups can do best. In general, the best situation is when both get together so we are not worrying about who gets the credit but how we can move our understanding forward.

 Your predecessor, Dr. Duane Alexander, suggested that that a smaller part of the population could have a genetic variation that predisposed them, after vaccine exposure, to ASD. Can you elaborate on this idea?

 A.G. I don’t know that we have an official agency view of that, although my own view is that the research we have so far has shown no convincing tie between immunization and autism. If there are new reasons to pursue that, we should, but at this point we know there are environmental factors (we use the term “environmental” quite broadly) that have to do with autism. We also know that there are genetic and other biological factors that have to do with it. We haven’t identified all of them, so it is hard to prove if something is not involved, but there is no evidence at this point whatsoever that vaccination plays a role. We have seen the agent in vaccines that many people thought might have a role pulled out of vaccines, yet we haven’t seen any decline in the incidence of autism. If anything, we have seen an increase in the incidence of autism, so that, again, would be even more evidence to suggest that vaccination does not play a role.

 A.K. The NIH with NIAID’s leadership has an open program announcement to support research that will contribute to the overall understanding of vaccine safety in general, not just in relation to autism. NIH is open to good ideas, good proposals and research of vaccine safety in general. NIH as a whole is always welcoming good ideas and good opportunities.

 In a New York Times interview with you in April, you were quoted saying “many of the different types of autism are either genetic or triggered by environmental factors and a genetic predisposition”. This implies that environmental factors in isolation cannot cause autism. Can you elaborate on this?

 A.G. I don’t think we know for sure whether they can. I think that, when I say purely genetic, we know that there are certain inherited conditions, such as Fragile X syndrome, in which we see a high frequency of autism. Of course, not everyone with Fragile X has autism- but many people do. So even there, the environment might play a role in modifying the effect of the Fragile X gene, so that someone with Fragile X also develops autism.  Most things in health are a combination of genes and environment but whether everything is, is still an open question. Is it conceivable that there is some environmental trigger that can cause autism no matter what the biology of the individual? It is conceivable but my guess is it would be exceedingly rare if it exists, and in the vast majority of people with autism, it would be a combination of their individual genetic makeup and various kinds of environmental exposures and influences. Whether that turns out to be everybody or just the vast majority, I don’t think we have enough knowledge to really know yet.

 A.K. It is a complex genetic interplay. It is typically not a single gene; it is how the genes interact.

 A.G. Particularly when you look at the environment, it may be that exposure to “factor A” is important in terms of causing autism. My guess is there could be certain genetic variants, which are somewhat protective. Even if they are exposed to a fair bit of whatever it was, they seem to be immune to it, whereas there are other genetic variants that may make one more sensitive. So even if we removed that environmental cause and that portion of autism disappeared, it would still be the environmental- genetic interaction.

 In the previously mentioned New York Times interview, you said, “the jury was still out” as to whether autism is actually increasing or if we are becoming better at recognizing it. How would the answer to this question improve our knowledge on autism, if at all? What kind of research has NICHD recently done on this subject, if any?

 A.G. I think it is very clear that our ability to recognize autism across the autism spectrum is much better than it used to be, so there is no question that some of the increase in what we see in the rate of incidence and prevalence of autism is clearly because of better diagnosis, and I imagine we are going to continue to see better diagnosis. We still don’t have perfect diagnosis; so as that gets better and better we may continue to see some rise in incidence. Whether or not there is an increase for other reasons, I don’t think we know for sure. Designing studies to find out would be very difficult, because ideally you would need to go back in time and you cannot go back in time very effectively. It would be important because if we did for sure say there was increase in incidence, that would be some suggestion that there is some environmental influence that is increasing, because we know genes do not change very quickly across our species. If we are seeing an increase over several centuries, that could be because of variance in genes changing in frequency. However, if you see an increase over a few decades, that would suggest there is some environmental factor or very possibly factors that for some reason we are having more exposure to, and that they are responsible. It would be useful data because this would help us figure out exactly what are the environmental triggers for autism.

 On the NICHD website you are quoted saying “I truly believe that, for children born today, knowing their genomics will have a significant impact on their health into adulthood.  Possibly in ways we have yet to imagine.” Can you describe how the progress NICHD has made on mapping the human genome can contribute to what we know about autism and how this will have an impact on individuals with autism?

 A.G. Having the human genome sequence in hand, which we have basically had since 2003, is very helpful if we are going to understand if all autism is due to some interaction between various genetic factors and various environmental factors. Now that we know much more about our genomic makeup, we know much more about variation, both from the sequencing of the genome that was done back in 2003 and since then, improving our understanding of the role of copy number variants in the genome, which is something we have only known about in the past few years. In autism, there is a suggestion that copy number variants could be one of those genetic variations that is important to understanding autism. Our knowledge of the genome continues to unfold and get more sophisticated, and we are coming to understand epigenetic phenomenon. Those kinds of things will be very important in terms of finally beginning to understand what are the specific causes of autism. The great news is we are beginning to acquire those genomic tools. The bad news is we are still early in that age. We are still developing some of those tools but it is a very promising area in the near future

 Can genomics provide not only insight into the biological basis for autism, but also insight into how individuals with autism may respond to certain treatments or medications?

 A.G. Absolutely, very good question. Certainly in terms of medications, whether we are talking about medications for autism or any other condition, if you give somebody a medicine, it has 1 of 3 effects. The medication either has the desired, therapeutic effect, it has no effect, or it has a toxic side effect. Sometimes, it may have the desired effect and the toxic effect. And why is that variation? It is for lots of reasons but a lot of it has to do with how a body metabolizes the drug once we take it.  What determines how we metabolize drugs or enzymes we have in our body (enzymes are nothing more than proteins that are coded by genes) is that we have genetic variants. There is no reason to think drugs we use for autism would be very much different from all other drugs. It is also possible that for some of the nonmedical treatments that are used today or will be in the future for autism, genes could play a role. There are probably genetic variants that we very well don’t much understand today that affect how responsive one is. Someday, and that day is still far away, we may use one’s genetic makeup, or their genome, to help individualize the various kinds of therapies we use, particularly medical therapies but even non-medical therapies and interventions that may give us some guide. A lot of other things will help guide too but that is one of the pieces of information that will someday be helpful.

 My younger sister has PDD-NOS and this has allowed me to truly understand some of the difficulties that exist in families of individuals with autism. It has also helped me to understand the struggles that these individuals have in society as a whole. What are some specific ways in which identifying genetic markers in autism can help individuals with autism and their families? What kind of social impact can this bring about?

 A.G. Well this is a good question, a very complicated one in some ways. Obviously if we can understand genetic factors that are largely but not only inherited and how genetic factors play a role in autism, families can get a better understanding of what are the inherited factors in their families and could change one’s risk for developing autism. Eventually the hope would be that by understanding genetic mechanisms involved, we can both guide most folks with autism more accurately and earlier in their lives but also, really tailor therapies, whether they be medical or other, specifically for who they are as individuals. For many diseases or conditions, not just true of autism, but conditions like asthma, etc., we treat them like they are one disorder. Biologically, whether it’s asthma or autism, we are probably talking about a number of different conditions, which simply have the same symptoms. We historically tend to label conditions by symptoms, rather than by cause, but if you want to treat something and prevent it from getting worse, you really want to understand the biology. If you try to treat the symptom you won’t be as effective as if you treat the underlying biological causation. Our hope is that genetics and other kinds of scientific advances will give us a more sophisticated view of autism so we can begin to tease out autism. Right now we have identified autism primarily by where on the spectrum someone fits. That can be very useful obviously, but even more useful in some ways would be not just where on the spectrum and what are the effects, but what are the actual causes involved. Someone who has autism for one biological reason may respond very differently to a given therapy than someone who has autism from a completely different biological basis, but simply has the same behaviors.

 Can you elaborate on the progress that has been made at the NICHD’s “Brain and Tissue Bank for Developmental Disabilities” in regards to autism research?

 A.K. The bank was reconvened last year. We are in a new phase of the banking contract for NICHD. One thing that we are very interested in is developing a protocol for post- mortem diagnosis for autism. It is challenging to diagnose someone with autism when the person is alive, let alone to do so when the person is gone. It is very important we devise a systematic way of doing this so that all of the brains recruited from the various banks, nationally or internationally, will undergo the same diagnostic procedures so we can compare them accurately. We continue to engage the community and listen and work with various organizations outside of NIH and within NIH.  The challenge is great, and it can be overwhelming, but we want to take all of the little steps we can take and eventually reach the final goal of having as many brains available with good tissue quality, and good clinical phenotyping for researchers to use.

 A.G. There has been a lot of progress with this and we have been having conversations with a number of various interested parties about how we can leverage the resources that we have in the NICHD Brain and Tissue Bank and about how we can leverage that with other efforts to try to create a richer resource that will be of even more use to the research community. That is one of those things that we try to leverage what we are doing by working with others to have even more impact. We are pretty optimistic that we can figure out how exactly we can do that in the not too distant future.

 What are some of the other developments in autism research that NICHD has been working on since you were appointed as acting director? What is the current status on these projects and what do you hope will come of them in the future?

 A.K. We are working with NIMH and NIDCD on a project focusing on nonverbal, or non-speaking, individuals with autism. The NIH with NIDCD’s leadership recently held a workshop on nonverbal school-aged children with autism. I think we at NIH all agree that this is a population, a subgroup, which has not been given enough attention. We are looking into a number of research gaps and opportunities to see how we can better diagnose and treat. So that is one effort that NIH as a whole is working on.

  As a geneticist, what do the complexities of autism research mean to you?

 A.G. I am not sure if I answer that primarily as a geneticist or primarily as a pediatrician or primarily as a human being. Genetics is one tool, and an important one, but not the only one. It is just one of the newer ones we have to try to figure out what is the cause of this condition so that we can give people information they can use to improve the lives of people who have autism.  I think it is a very promising era. I understand fully the frustration of families who have members with autism. At the same time, this is an era with a real promise that we will see a fairly steep increase in our level of understanding and knowledge and that can really make a difference and have an impact on the lives of individuals with autism. I haven’t had family members with autism but I have certainly had both friends and patients with autism and I have some sense of what that means for peoples’ lives. I think the reason why most of us who work at NIH work here, is the fact that we get to go to work and do something that we think can improve people’s lives. We are pretty optimistic that a lot of the work we are going to be doing will do that. One of the contexts that I always keep in mind is that a doctor named Leo Kanner first described autism in 1943. Leo Kanner happened to be the guy who introduced my parents to each other. When I was a child I used to go over and visit him. My mother came to the United States from Argentina to work with Leo Kanner, so I knew him as a little kid. It is not the reason for doing this but it does give me a certain particular excitement or delight or something to think he would have been very happy to have me–who wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t introduced my parents to each other– play a role in advancing understanding of a condition he was the first to recognize. I think I’m moved more by this connection than by specific individuals with autism that I know fairly well.  Of course, I don’t mean to discount the experiences of individuals with autism and their families and I’m sure your life has probably been shaped by your sister’s existence. However, Dr. Kanner’s descriptive work and his role in forming my own family is something that continues to move me in terms of why we need to continue to get this work done.

 Can you describe some of NICHD’s short and long-term goals for autism research?

 A.G. I cannot really single out one, although we haven’t really talked about the cognitive process which is so variable in individuals with autism. The goal is getting a better understanding of what are the factors that are responsible for both cognitive and behavioral features of autism. This is obviously going to be very important to understand more fully if we are going to find ways to benefit the lives of people with autism. That is not going to come easily but there is no reason to think we can’t do it eventually with research and can’t understand it much better than we do today.

 A.K. The challenge is so great. Addressing the biology of autism’s causes will help us to really interpret the picture better.

 A.G. Some of the new imaging techniques will also allow us to look at brain function in people with autism and allow us to separate it out into various different types. Maybe there will be some correlations between one genetic factor and one kind of brain imaging finding. Maybe it won’t be linked, but it can help us really figure out the different strands that make up the tapestry of autism.

 Emily Hotez is an intern with the Autism Science Foundation. She is a senior at the George Washington University, working towards a major in psychology with a concentration in developmental psychology and a minor in Spanish. Her 17 year old sister Rachel has Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) and continues to inspire her interest in autism spectrum disorders. Emily is currently working towards applying to Ph.D. programs in clinical/community psychology.


This interview was conducted on July 20, 2010.

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By Alison Singer

Over the past two days, members of our team have been in Philadelphia, where a coalition of non profit organizations has come together for the 2nd annual “Social Media Summit” to learn about social media and improve our communications with the families who rely on our organizations for accurate, timely information. As part of this summit, all of the organizations created a new suite of online resources focusing on the importance of immunization.

The new initiative is called “Real Guys Immunize”. It was created in 24 hours, as an instructional vehicle for those of us at the conference, as a salute to dads who work so hard to protect their families, and also as a way to share important information about the fact that vaccines save lives.  As an autism advocacy organization, we supported the choice of this topic since in many instances parents still cite concerns about vaccines causing autism (Pediatrics, April 2010). As a result, children are being left unprotected from diseases that can be deadly, and we are seeing a resurgence of vaccine preventable disease, such as pertussis, that have not been in the United States in decades.  “Real Guys Immunize” will provide facts and debunk rumors.


Take some time to check out all the great information posted within the last 24 hours and then watch for improvements to the Autism Science Foundation’s own social media activities. We have learned a lot in the last two days and can’t wait to put all the great ideas and social media tools into action to improve the way we disseminate autism research news to our ASF families.  

PS: I fear this blog post does not meet even the minimum standards as outlined in the seminar “to blog or not to blog”. Here are a few items on the checklist:

Have you included something funny?  I’ve been to Philadelphia about a dozen times this year and on this trip I finally got to see the Liberty Bell. Yes, it was all it is cracked up to be.  (ok, attempt at funny)

Have you included a personal anecdote? While in Philadelphia I had dinner at what just may be the best tapas restaurant ever.

Have you shown humility in your post?  My sense of direction being what it is, I cannot for the life of me tell you where the tapas restaurant is. Somewhere in Philadelphia is the best I can do.

Have you included links to high quality, highly relevant sites that add value to your post?  Yes, but don’t ask if I have optimized them for search engines or inserted title tags.  #SMSPhilly

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We highly recommend PBS’s “The Vaccine War” which aired last night on PBS. In a rare display of tv news common sense, one side is simply declared to be wrong. The science is very clear; vaccines do not cause autism and it’s time to move on from this well debunked myth and find out what does.

The show features interviews with ASF Board Member Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Arthur Caplan, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Cynthia Cristofani, Dr. Anders Hviid & Dr. Eric Fombonne, as well as with actress Jenny McCarthy and JB Handley of Generation Rescue. 
“Scientifically, I think the matter is settled,” says Anders Hviid, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark. In one of the largest and most comprehensive epidemiological studies available, Hviid and colleagues analyzed data on more than a half million children and found no link between the MMR “triple shot” for measles, mumps and rubella and an increased rate of autism — a link that’s been strongly asserted for years by anti-vaccine activists. Similar epidemiological studies in Denmark also failed to reveal a link between the mercury preservative thimerosal and autism. In fact, around the world, peer-reviewed epidemiological studies have found no link between autism and either the MMR shot or thimerosal.
You can watch the full episode online or check local listings, as we’re told by PBS that the show will air multiple times this week.  

View scientific studies regarding autism and vaccines here

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The award winning “Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure” by Dr. Paul Offit, was released today in paperback. 
Opponents of vaccines have taken the autism story hostage,” Dr. Offit says. “They don’t speak for all parents of autistic kids, they use fringe scientists and celebrities, they’ve set up cottage industries of false hope, and they’re hurting kids. Parents pay out of their pockets for dangerous treatments, they take out second mortgages to buy hyperbaric oxygen chambers. It’s just unconscionable.”
The paperback edition includes a great new preface by Dr. Offit in which he describes parent reaction to the book. “After publication-an event that I thought would only galvanize those who disliked me-I received hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from parents of children with autism thanking me. Some had been on the fence and were now convinced by the science presented in the book. But many never believed that vaccines had caused their children’s autism and were angry at those who did. “Jenny McCarthy presumes to represent me,” one mom wrote, “but she doesn’t.” They were the Silent Majority of autism parents-a group that the media had consistently ignored.” 
If you haven’t read this book yet you need to! And if you have, order a lightweight paperback copy or give one as a gift, because Dr Offit, who serves on ASF’s board of directors, has generously agreed to donate all royalties from this book to the Autism Science Foundation.  Order yours today! 

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ABC World News Tonight  (includes interview with ASF Board Member Dr. Paul Offit)

USA Today

New York Times

National Public Radio


LA Times

CBS Evening News (includes interview with ASF President Alison Singer)

View scientific studies regarding autism and vaccines here

Read a summary of the King case here (from Kathleen Seidel at Neurodiversity.com)

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By Alison Singer

This afternoon, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (i.e. Vaccine Court) issued its decision on whether thimerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism.  The decision, handed down by three Special Masters, was a resounding “NO!”.

From King: “This case is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ causation theories…based upon all the evidence that I have reviewed, I find that it is extremely unlikely that Jordan’s autism was in any way causally connected to his thimerosal-containing vaccines. In short, this is a case in which the evidence is so one-sided that any nuances in the interpretation of the causation case law would make no difference to the outcome of the case.

From Dwyer: “In an effort to render irrelevant the numerous epidemiological studies of ASD and TCVs (thimerosal containing vaccines) that show no connection between the two, they contend that their children have a form of ASD involving regression that differs from all other forms biologically and behaviorally. World-class experts in the field testified that the distinctions they drew between forms of ASD were artificial, and that they had never heard of the “clearly regressive” form of autism about which petitioners’ epidemiologist testified. Finally, the causal mechanism petitioners proposed would produce, not ASD, but neuronal death,and eventually patient death as well. The witnesses setting forth this improbable sequence of cause and effect were outclassed in every respect by the impressive assembly of true experts in their respective fields who testified on behalf of respondent.

From Dwyer: “Petitioners propose effects from mercury in [vaccines] that do not resemble mercury’s known effects in the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in [vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not.”  

The special master also dismissed claims that some groups of children are unusually susceptible to the effects of mercury. “The only evidence that these children are unusually sensitive is the fact of their [autism] itself.”

This whole process began back in 2002 when the Special Masters from the Vaccine Court createdan omnibus proceeding for handling the claims that alleged that vaccines were associated with autism. Today’s ruling focuses on whether thimoerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism. Last August, the court ruled that thimerosal in combination with MMR vaccine could not cause autism.

There are two key points to keep in mind today. First, the special masters are not scientists and they did not answer a scientific question today. The science has been in for some time now in and it’s quite clear. Vaccines do not cause autism.  We have multiple studies (www.autismsciencefoundation.org/autismandvaccines.html) that have been done looking at whether or not thimerosal, at the level contained in vaccines, causes autism and again, looking at hundreds of thousands of children on several different continents by several different investigators and different populations of children. Children who received thimerosal in vaccines as compared to those who received lesser quantities of thimerosal in vaccines or no thimerosal in vaccines all had the same risk of autism. And frankly, the amount of mercury one is exposed to in the environment or even breast milk as compared to what’s in vaccines would argue against vaccines being causative.

Secondly, when you look at the history of vaccine court, this court hasn’t always come down on the side of the science. The standard of evidence bar is purposely set very low in vaccine court. The court was designed to compensate victims of vaccine injury, which of course is very real. The standard of evidence is biologic plausibility, rather than scientific evidence. In other words, you don’t have to prove that thimerosal actually causes autism, only that it might. One of the goals of the legislation creating the vaccine court in 1986 was to be generous with compensation because there are people who have very real, very serious adverse reactions to vaccines and they should be compensated.  And if you look at other rulings, this court tends to err on the side of overcompensating to avoid a big spillover into civil courts. Another goal of the vaccine court is too avoid massive civil litigation that could put us back where we were in the early 1980s where companies were exiting the vaccine manufacturing business over fear of litigation.

I can understand wanting to find a reason for why your child was diagnosed with autism. As a mother, it’s hard to accept the idea that your child is going to struggle and have all these challenges.  It’s natural to want to blame someone or something. Believe me, I’ve been there. We love our children so much and we just want to do everything possible to help them. I can understand parents who are upset and angry and just want to know how this could have possibly happened, and I feel for the families who filed in vaccine court because they are clearly in a lot of pain. But they need to look at the data. You can’t be so focused on anger that you lose sight of what the science is saying because that’s not in the best interest of the kids.  At the Autism Science Foundation we always encourage parents to look at the science and make decisions based on the science.  And this is what the special masters did. They looked at the data.

And I want to stress one more point; this is really not an issue over which parents and scientists disagree. Parents have access to the studies on the internet and we know how to read. The studies are very clear. The vast majority of families have come to the same conclusions as the special masters. It’s not a scientists vs. layperson or scientist vs parents issue.  Everyone is coming to the same conclusion, except a small, vocal minority of parents who just don’t want to believe what the data clearly show.  And frankly it scares me to see children with autism being put at risk by therapies that have grown out of the incorrect vaccine hypothesis, like heavy metal chelation, that have no evidence of efficacy and can do real harm, especially when they divert time and energy away from therapies like Applied Behavior Analysis which have been proven to help our kids.

Hopefully after today’s ruling, we can put this issue behind us and move forward and direct our scarce autism research dollars to studies that will provide new information about what causes autism and how best to treat it.

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