I humbly concede that I do not have it all figured out by any means, but I do appreciate an article that will look at research articles from both sides while holding to the premise that this is not a black and white issue.


There was big news last week in the heated debate about whether childhood vaccines cause autism. The 1998 study in The Lancet, which largely launched the vaccine-autism imbroglio, has been officially retracted. Its lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, has also been discredited by Britain’s independent regulator of doctors for his “unethical” and “dishonest” actions in conducting the pulled study.

But Wakefield’s deeply flawed paper is not the only study that has fueled the anti-vaccination movement. Led by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, the movement continues to vehemently oppose mainstream science’s overwhelming consensus that vaccines do not cause developmental disorders.

Some of these papers championed by the anti-vaccination camp have serious problems of their own. Others muddy the waters or hint at conspiratorial efforts by governmental health organizations and vaccine-profiteering pharmaceutical companies to hide the truth about autism’s genesis.

Here’s a look at several of the key studies that the anti-vaccination movement has either embraced or lambasted in furthering its perspective. These studies have already fueled the controversy and will likely remain at the epicenter of future clashes over vaccine safety

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WASHINGTON (AP) — New research further debunks any link between measles vaccine and autism, work that comes as the nation is experiencing a surge in measles cases fueled by children left unvaccinated.

Years of research with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, better known as MMR, have concluded that it doesn’t cause autism. Still, some parents’ fears persist, in part because of one 1998 British study that linked the vaccine with a subgroup of autistic children who also have serious gastrointestinal problems. That study reported that measles virus was lingering in the children’s bowels.

Only now have researchers rigorously retested that finding, taking samples of youngsters’ intestines to hunt for signs of virus with the most modern genetic technology. There is no evidence that MMR plays any role, the international team — which included researchers who first raised the issue — reported Wednesday.

“Although in fact there was evidence that this vaccine was safe in the bulk of the population, it had not been previously assessed with respect to kids with autism and GI complaints,” said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, who led the work published in PLoS One, the online journal of the Public Library of Science.

“We are confident there is no link between MMR and autism,” Lipkin said.

Added co-author Dr. Larry Pickering of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “I feel very certain that it is a safe vaccine.”

Measles, a highly infectious virus best known for its red skin rash, once routinely sickened thousands of children a year and killed hundreds, until childhood vaccinations made it a rarity in this country. But so far this year, the U.S. has counted 131 measles cases, the most in a decade. Most patients were unvaccinated. Some were infants too young for their first MMR shot, but nearly half involved children whose parents rejected vaccination, the CDC reported last month.

No one knows just how many autism patients also suffer gastrointestinal disorders, pain that they may not be able to communicate. But Lipkin said that by some estimates, up to a quarter may be affected.

The MMR fear was that the vaccine’s weakened measles virus somehow lodged in and inflamed intestines, allowing waste products to escape and reach the central nervous system, Lipkin said. So his team had two questions: Does measles virus really persist in children with both disorders and not other youngsters? And did vaccination precede the GI complaints which in turn preceded autism?

Researchers studied 25 children with both autism and GI disorders, and another 13 children with the same GI disorders but no neurologic problems. The youngsters — the average age was 5 — all were undergoing colonoscopies for their GI conditions anyway, allowing tissue samples to be tested for genetic traces of measles virus. All had been vaccinated at younger ages.

The tests uncovered traces of measles genetic material in the bowels of one boy with autism — and one boy without autism. That doesn’t prove virus never temporarily lodged in more children, but it contradicts the earlier study that raised concern.

Nor was there a relationship with vaccine timing: Just five of the 25 autistic children had MMR precede GI complaints that in turn preceded autism symptoms.

Researchers consulted some prominent vaccine critics in designing the study. California advocate Rick Rollens praised the work but said it didn’t eliminate other vaccine concerns that deserve similar study. Meanwhile, he said it should draw much-needed attention to the suffering of patients like his son, who has both autism and GI disorders.

“No longer can mainstream medicine ignore the parents’ claims of significant GI distress,” he said.

Recently I posted a response to a comment on the vaccine issue (recent scientific studies show no statistical link between immunizations and autism).  I hypothesised that there were many other factors that needed to be considered for the possible causes of the rising autism rates.  One I failed to mention was television.  Cable TV, VCRs, and specialized children’s programming became very popular about 1980, just the time autism rates began to increase.  A new study by Cornell University reports what appears to be a link between children younger than 3 years old watching TV and autism.

While the American Academy of Pediatrics has long recommended that no child under 2 years old watch TV, this is the first study to link TV watching with a serious complication.  Growing Families International has also warned parents that TV can over-stimulate infants and toddlers who have trouble just focusing on their own hand, a single toy, or a sibling moving around the room, much less the crazy jumble of colors and rapidly changing images of most TV shows.

The findings seem to point to the 2 dimensional objects on TV causing the brain to have abnormal activity in the visual-processing centers (consistent with findings in most autistic children).  While it may be an easy babysitter, Teletubbies and Baby Einstein might not be helping your child that much after all.

This might be a touchy subject for many out there, but none the less one that we as a society seem to have lost touch on.  Many in our community haven’t heard of, much less known somebody with diseases like measles, polio, diphtheria, and whooping cough.  These contagious diseases ran rampant in the 1940s and 1950s before vaccines became standard.  Today, many people are opting out of immunizations for their children, thinking they’ll be fine or everyone else will get the vaccine so they don’t have to.

Look at measles for example, it used to infect 3 to 4 million people per year, with 400-500 deaths per year.  In 2000, it was declared eradicated from the United States except for imported cases.  Just recently, an unvaccinated 7 year old from San Diego became infected with measles after traveling to Switzerland.  He came back home and promptly transmitted the disease to 2 sibling, 5 schoolmates, and 4 children at the doctors office.  All who had not been vaccinated for either personal or religious reasons.  Whooping cough is also back, a school in San Fransisco had to shut down recently due to 16 students who came down with the disease.

Fear of autism seems to be the driving force for many people refusing to vaccinate, even though almost all scientific studies point to no relation between autism and vaccines.  In fact, mercury containing vaccines have been the biggest target by the anti-vaccine crowd, even though the mercury has been largely phased out since 2001.  Often autism gets blamed on a vaccine because symptoms of autism appear at about the same time a child is scheduled to get immunized.  Vaccines make an easy target, but the data doesn’t match up.

Should a society force its population to get immunized or should it be a personal choice?  Take into account vaccines at their best are “only” 70-90%  effective, the other 10-30% effectiveness comes from living in a community that is largely immune to the disease.   But should the government mandate vaccines?  I don’t know, I’m all for less government control, but one of the two jobs government should do is protect the folks (you and me).  They’re to protect us from other countries, criminals, contaminated food, and even disease.

Today we have taken modern medicine’s accomplishment of mostly eradicating these diseases for granted.  History shows we operate in cycles; there’s a large outbreak of a certain disease, many die or are deathly ill, we take steps to stop this horrible disease, it’s pretty much gone from our lives and vocabulary, so we loosen up a little, let down our guard, stop doing those things that brought us to the point of health and wellness, then start seeing people get sick all over again.  Progress is easy to take for granted.

We’re at the point now, where most people younger than 40 years old have no idea what it’s like to live with these diseases or to have friend permanently disabled by something like polio.  It takes constant work to keep the water clean, ensure an adequate food supply, and stop the spread of disease.  Good health doesn’t just happen, although I sure do hate exercising sometimes.