We’ve all heard it a million times: hundreds of science studies have shown vaccines do not cause autism. So vaccines could not possibly be causing autism, in this or any alternate universe.
We also know hundreds of thousands of parents worldwide say their children had bad reactions to vaccines, after which they disappeared into their own world, getting a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) some time later.
This article is a tutorial on looking at the validity of claims made by both the Australian and United States governments that vaccines do not cause autism. If this interests you, buckle up and let’s get going!
To see what the Australian government says about vaccines and autism, do a web search for “vaccines and autism Australia”, without the quote marks, and look for something on the Australian Department of Health website or any other government website.
You will find the following entry: Vaccination and autism fact sheet
Download the fact sheet PDF and have a read, and look at the footnotes on the back page. You’ll see the fact sheet was written by 6 people with PhDs who are funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, and that the sheet has been developed “to help doctors and nurses to answer parents’ questions about vaccinations”. So it is aimed primarily at doctors, nurses and parents.
The fact sheet also has references and a ‘further reading’ section – we are going to read all of these, something the majority of doctors, nurses and parents never do.
The first sentence, in bold is:
A number of high quality studies have compared the health of large numbers of vaccinated and unvaccinated children over many years.
Many of you would have alarm bells ringing right here, because you know there have been zero studies comparing the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated children, that looked at chronic conditions including autism and have been published in a science journal and endorsed by governments, let alone a number of high-quality ones. We have an article about that here on our website: Vaccinated vs Unvaccinated
But let’s move on to the next sentence:
The largest study included 537,303 children born in Denmark and found that unvaccinated children were just as likely to develop autism as vaccinated children.
We know there’s no government-endorsed study that includes unvaccinated children and looks at autism, so let’s look at reference number 1 and see what on earth they are talking about. It is the following paper:
Madsen, KM. et al. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. New England Journal of Medicine 2002;347:1477-1482.
The first thing that stands out is that this study is about the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine (MMR), not all vaccines.
Secondly, you’ll find this study is of all the children born in Denmark over a period in the 1990s, and there is no unvaccinated group of children in the study. The authors use the language “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated”, but “unvaccinated” means unvaccinated with the MMR, not that the children have had no vaccines.
These “unvaccinated” children are vaccinated at the rate normal for the Danish population at the time, which apparently was high. They just hadn’t had the MMR.
It is incredibly misleading for this fact sheet to proclaim “unvaccinated children were just as likely to develop autism as vaccinated children” when most doctors, nurses and parents who read this fact sheet would believe “unvaccinated” means the children had no vaccines.
Now onto the third sentence:
When the results of this study were combined with the results of nine other studies to include medical information from nearly 1.5 million children living all around the world, researchers were able to confirm that vaccination could not be causing autism.
Here is reference 2:
Taylor, LE. et al. Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-based meta-analysis of case- control and cohort studies. Vaccine 2014;32:3623-3629.
This paper is out of Sydney University, 2014, and it is widely quoted around the world as the ultimate proof vaccines don’t cause autism, something Australia should be deeply ashamed of.
It is a meta-analysis of 10 studies, the one we already looked at and 9 other studies. The paper summarises these studies in 2 tables; you can see for yourself under “intervention” that of the 10 studies, 6 investigated whether the MMR caused autism, and 4 looked at the mercury(Hg)-containing preservative thimerosal (often called thiomersal in Australia). None of the 10 studies include an unvaccinated group for comparison, in the sense of children having had no vaccines.
Whether or not these 10 studies are good science, how can investigating one vaccine and one ingredient of some vaccines demonstrate that all vaccines do not cause autism?
In Australia we vaccinate children for about 16 diseases in a total of around 50 doses; the MMR covers 3 of the diseases and 6 of the doses, what about all the others?
What about combinations of vaccines, given all at once or over time? What about the aluminium that’s in many vaccines, and the solid science linking it to autism, through causing inflammation in the brain at a crucial stage of brain development? Not to mention contaminant retroviral agents and loose human foetal DNA fragments that could be causing autism? What about comparing the full schedule with no vaccines, something the AVN and many other groups have been demanding for years?
The answer is that this meta-analysis cannot show “vaccines are not associated with autism” as the authors claim; at most it could show one vaccine and one ingredient don’t cause autism.
But this is what this deeply deceptive “fact sheet” presents to doctors, nurses and parents, along with the outrageously dishonest implication that vaccinated children have been compared to unvaccinated children – a belief that is widespread in the Australian community. Apparently it has been put into the fact sheet because it is what doctors, nurses and parents want to hear.
The sad reality is our health authorities don’t have any science that shows vaccines don’t cause autism, so they have to make things up.
Here is a very good rebuttal of the Taylor paper, from JB Handley:
Meta-Analysis madness in vaccine-autism science
The second paragraph is unremarkable so we’ll go straight to the third.
This is where the 6 PhDs dish out the usual lies and distortions about Dr Andrew Wakefield and the paper he and 12 other doctors published in 1998 in the Lancet journal, find the paper here:
Wakefield AJ. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 1998;351:637-641.
However, the authors retracted their claim that there was any association between vaccination and autism in 2004.
This implies the paper’s authors claimed there was an association between the MMR and autism, which they did not do. See the following statement from the paper:
We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described.
Also see the Retraction of an interpretation statement, which is what the 6 PhDs are referring to, where 10 of the 13 doctors “retracted” the suggestion that it was a possibility the MMR caused autism, in March 2004 (to retract a suggestion that something is a possibility is a nonsensical concept in anyone’s language). This was at the urging of the Lancet journal’s editor, and out of fear for their careers. You’ll notice the 10 authors strongly support the paper in the second paragraph.
We will now look at the paragraph’s last 2 sentences:
The paper was withdrawn from the journal in 2010 after the General Medical Council found that results reported in the paper had “proven to be false”.
It’s an outright lie that the General Medical Council (GMC) found that results reported in the paper had proven to be false. The GMC did not even charge Dr Wakefield with falsifying results or tampering with observations or anything like that, so how could they have found him guilty of it? You can search through the GMC’s charge sheet, and see if you can find anything like that, and we challenge the 6 PhDs to do the same. We’ll look at reference 4 in a moment.
Next we have:
An apology was printed in the journal.
Find reference 5 below, and you’ll see it is a retraction notice rather than an “apology”:
Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children
Please read the retraction statement:
Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al  are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation.  In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.
The “proven to be false” wording refers to ethics issues and the children’s referrals to the hospital, and some other “elements” the Lancet’s editor did not seem to think were important enough to mention. He did not mention falsification of results or observations, let alone apologise for publishing them.
The editor of the Lancet Richard Horton had been looking for an excuse for 12 years to retract this paper. He finally got one when Wakefield was found guilty of a range of charges. Wouldn’t Horton have thought of saying he retracted the paper because the GMC found the results had been falsified if that was the case? It wasn’t, so he didn’t.
As it happens, both of the GMC’s findings named in the retraction statement, about consecutive referrals and having approval from the local ethics committee, were decisively refuted by the UK’s High Court when Wakefield’s co-accused Professor John Walker-Smith appealed against losing his medical license in 2012 and won. This by the way means the Lancet should have reinstated the paper back in 2012.
The fact sheet’s third paragraph shows the 6 PhDs are again ready to spread untruths in order to tell doctors, nurses and parents what they want to hear, in this case that Wakefield’s observations had no merit.
Of course they had merit, despite being a humble case series of observations of only 12 children. Another example of a case series is a letter Dr William McBride wrote to the Lancet medical journal in 1961 saying babies at his hospital were being born without limbs, and their mothers had taken thalidomide during pregnancy. Would it have been right to dismiss this letter because it was only about a small group and the connection between thalidomide and absent limbs wasn’t proven? Of course not. The purpose of a case report or series is to warn doctors and scientists there may be a problem, so others can research the issue, see How to Read a Paper, 3.7 Case reports
The accusations that Wakefield falsified results were made by a part-time, freelance, tabloid journalist with a propensity for writing for Murdoch, and published in the BMJ, a medical journal reliant on drug companies for income, see reference 4:
Deer, B. How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. BMJ 2011;342:c5347.
We’ll make 3 points about this paragraph.
1. The statement “The mercury salt in thiomersal is not the kind of mercury compound that accumulates in the human body” has no validity, please see the following article by Robert F Kennedy Jr.
Mercury is Not Safe in Any Form: Debunking the Myths About Thimerosal “Safety”
In order to exonerate thimerosal, its defenders sometimes parrot the debunked industry canard that “the ethyl mercury in thimerosal is less persistent in the body and therefore less toxic than methyl mercury in fish.” However, they cannot cite a single published scientific study to support this position. That’s because the science says the opposite. Ethyl mercury is 50 times more toxic than methyl mercury (Guzzi et al, 2012) and twice as persistent in the brain (Burbacher et al, 2005).
It’s interesting our 6 PhDs don’t give a reference for their statement; they apparently couldn’t find a source for it either.
2. The statement “None of the vaccines normally given to children in Australia are packaged in multi-dose containers so none of them contain thiomersal or any other form of mercury” may be true but it can be questioned.
In 2011, two articles appeared in The Australian newspaper, describing an investigation into the safety practices of CSL, the privatised Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, who makes Australia’s flu vaccines.
CSL’s US licence at risk over flu vaccine failings
US Food and Drug Administration lashes pharmaceutical giant CSL over lab practices
Both articles refer to mercury, and one to thimerosal, in multi-dose flu vaccines, although it is not clear whether these were destined for the Australian market or the US market. It does appear that mercury was in our government’s stockpile of the swine flu vaccine Panvax. This was many years after Australia had supposedly stopped using mercury-containing vaccines.
Apart from this, scientists at Swinburne University in Melbourne reported they found thimerosal in trace amounts in the Infanrix hexa vaccine in 2010. This is a vaccine for 6 diseases, and 3 doses are given to babies, at ages 2, 4 and 6 months. No level of mercury is safe to inject into the body. See their paper:
Mercury in vaccines from the Australian childhood immunization program schedule.
3. Back to the subject at hand, autism. We’ll look at the last two sentences:
The idea of using separate measles, mumps and rubella vaccines was first suggested by Wakefield. A study of all of the children born in Yokohama, Japan, found that children who received separate vaccines are no less likely to develop autism than those who receive the combined MMR vaccine.
Reference number 6 is:
Honda, H. et al. No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2005;46:572-579.
The authors of this paper, who looked at an area in Northern Yokohama (less than one tenth of Yokohama’s population, not the whole of Yokohama) found ASD levels increased strongly after the MMR was discontinued in Japan in 1993, so concluded it was unlikely the MMR caused ASD.
However, at the same time as the MMR was dropped, the recommended schedule in Japan introduced the 3 vaccines separately, in close succession, only 4 weeks apart, which is the same as having them together from an immunological point of view. This gained widespread acceptance, causing coverage to increase significantly. See a rebuttal to the Honda paper on this page: Vaccines and Autism – What Do Epidemiological Studies Really Tell Us?
So while the paper’s authors ignore the effect of the separate vaccines taken close together in time, though they do mention the separate vaccines, our 6 PhDs swoop on the 3 separate vaccines in a further attempt to discredit Dr Wakefield, saying his suggestion it could be safer to give children the 3 vaccines separately rather than together in the MMR has been shown to have no merit.
Never mind he suggested the 3 vaccines be given a year apart, not 4 weeks apart, and it was only an idea anyway.
Head to Part 2 of this article to keep reading. Next we will be looking at the ‘further reading’ section of the fact sheet and then we’ll examine what the United States government are saying about vaccines and autism.