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The Quandary of the Non-Study January 19, 2011

Posted by acroanmph in Public Health.
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2 comments

Thankfully it has been well established the world over that vaccines eradicate horrific disease.  But yesterday one of my favorite public health foundations posted something from one of my favorite public health organizations that I’m having difficulty accepting.

The Gates Foundation posted PATH’s blog regarding Andrew Wakefield’s fraud of a study, published in the Jan. 5, 2011 edition of the British Medical Journal, disproving any correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism. Here’s the full post in case you missed it:

Ending the Silence on The Fraudulent Vaccine-Autism Link

Posted by Christopher J. Elias, president and CEO of PATH

When news from the British Medical Journal emerged last week discrediting the notorious Wakefield study as “an elaborate fraud,” I expected a chorus of celebration from the vaccine community, but what I observed was relative silence.

I suspect that if the news had instead given more credence to the spurious argument that childhood vaccinations cause autism, Wakefield’s supporters would have had a field day. Why then did members of our community choose not to shout this from the rooftops, and put to bed a debate that has gone on, frankly, for much too long?

In my role as the president and CEO of PATH, I have witnessed first-hand the power of vaccines in combating some of the world’s most nefarious diseases. Indeed, just last month, I stood in the streets of Ouagadougou—the capital of Burkina Faso in West Africa—as thousands of parents brought their children to be vaccinated against meningococcal A meningitis, the strain of the disease most destructive to people living in Africa’s 25-country meningitis belt. On that day, there were no debates about whether this safe and effective vaccine would cause more harm than good. On the contrary, there was only a palpable sense of hope that, at last, a century-old, debilitating and deadly disease would finally be eliminated.

What we so often take for granted in the developed world is our right to choose and, in this instance, choosing whether to vaccinate our children. Conversely, in the developing world, one’s choices are much more curtailed. Even when a vaccine does exist, reaching the people who need it most is challenging, given the many obstacles in poor countries to accessing care. So, when news spreads in developing countries that there might be a solution to prevent pertussis, a disease which kills almost 300,000 people every year, the only question is will my child be able to get it.

For more than 30 years, PATH has been a part of some impressive breakthroughs in vaccine development and delivery. What we’ve learned throughout this time is that vaccines are the most successful and cost-effective public health tools we can employ to save lives, particularly among the world’s children. Vaccines are responsible for preventing more than 2 million deaths each year. Complacency or hesitancy about vaccination, however, can cause diseases previously thought to be eliminated to reemerge. In the aftermath of the Wakefield study we saw the reemergence of measles, which became endemic in England and Wales in 1998.

Perhaps the silence within our community occurred because the repudiation of the Wakefield claims seemed so obvious to us. We knew that when it comes to the link between vaccines and autism, the science has never wavered—there simply is no proven connection. But we need to appreciate how easily fraudulent or suspect science can influence public perceptions and political support. When “junk science” has the power to drown out the evidence, we have to use our voices to keep the focus on the real science. After 13 years, it seems that vaccines are finally vindicated. This important moment certainly calls for celebration, but also for reflection. One man’s fraudulent assertions in a respected medical journal led to a flurry of needless infections and deaths, not to mention a black eye on one of the world’s most successful public health interventions. While we hope that such a tragedy never happens again, we need to be ready for it if it does. Silence is no longer an option. -Originally published on UN Dispatch.

The MMR/autism issue originally surrounded the physiological effect of a mercury preservative in the vaccine. The Wakefield study originally focused on 12 children over a decade, apparently none of whom showed signs of autism, but this was altered, enhanced or completely fabricated by Wakefield. Freelance journalist, Brian Deer, uncovered Wakefield’s fraud. And because of a fraudulent study we are ready to claim that the MMR vaccine has no correlation to autism? Hold your horses.

A decade ago I wrestled in angst (yes, angst!) about whether to allow my pediatrician, a naturopath, to inoculate my daughter against MMR. As a public health worker, I was completely in favor of vaccines. They are readily available and could prevent my daughter’s death in many cases, or disability, so why question it? Promoting childhood vaccines was part of my job. They were strongly recommended by the CDC.

It was the combination of the three lumped together plus the addition of mercury that gave me pause. It was because I had read numerous accounts (many more than the small sample size of 12) of normally developing children suddenly coming down with a high fever and then lapsing into autism directly after receiving the shot. It was because my aunt took my cousin in for her “regularly scheduled vaccines” and within nine days my cousin’s temperature spiked to 104, had grand mal convulsions, and at the age of 2, was rushed to the hospital where a spinal tap was ordered. A spinal tap! Doctors ordered her parents to administer phenobarbital (a barbiturate used to control seizures) if her temperature ever again rose to 104. This ordeal scared my aunt and uncle into making radical life changes as a result. The changes included, among other things, no more vaccines.

It was not possible to have three separate vaccines. It was not possible to obtain vaccines preserved by another element. It was not advised to skip the series. It went against my better judgement. But who was I to bring back measles, mumps and rubella to a country that had achieved low incidence? I would not be break the link in the chain. I took my chances, and caved. My daughter survived the round unscathed. But to this day, many don’t. Here’s one comment from the Gates Foundation page:

ingabelle

yeah, look up how many lawsuits are out there for brain damage after vaccination, etc. my brother got his MMR @ 1.5 yrs, had a super high fever within a few hours, & then stopped talking & regressed- into autism.

Elias questions our silence. Perhaps because one small falsified study spurned our interest in the possible link and now that it is withdrawn, we do not want to forget about it and move on. I, for one, am not convinced.

Earlier this year the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article titled “Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Autism.” It explains that mitochondrial DNA abnormalities exist in children with autism. A higher level of hydrogen peroxide is produced and that production may have hyper-reacted to vaccine ingredients.

I’m pretty sure no one is trying to discredit vaccine R&D or belittle the significant strides in human health due as a direct result. And we’re not talking about “some of the world’s most nefarious diseases.” We’re talking about one disease and one vaccine. Perhaps the silence lingers due to the incredible increase in autism prevalence (still on the rise, now 1 in 91) with no definite explanation. A falsified study does not rule out a possible link. Ruling out the possibility is good science, not “junk science,” isn’t it? Only when we know for certain can Elias and the rest of us have our field day.

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