Articles

MMR and Autism Rises from the Dead

One of the tactics of snake-oil salesmen is to fearmonger about mainstream medical practices so as to scare potential customers into their clutches. A common target of such fearmongering is vaccines. Vaccine are an easy target – they are generally required by the government to some degree, and involve sticking small children with needles and injecting them with a cocktail that parents often don’t understand in detail.

While vaccines are of clear benefit, no one argues that they are risk free. There are rare serious complications. For this reason the US established the NVIC – National Vaccine Injury Compensation program. This is funded by a small tax on each vaccine, and is designed to compensate families of children who have a possible reaction to vaccines, bypassing the slow and costly regular court system. The NVIC works well.

The goal of the NVIC is not to determine scientifically if there is a link between a particular vaccine and a particular side effect. That is determined by the scientific community. Rather, the NVIC’s charge is to determine if “compensation is appropriate” in specific cases. They also give the benefit of the doubt to the families.

In many cases families do not have to prove that a vaccine caused a specific injury, only that their child had a certain medical outcome within a specific time frame of being vaccinated. Further, certain outcomes are considered “table injuries,” meaning that all the family has to do is establish that the child has the condition and the onset was within a certain window after getting a vaccine, and then compensation is automatic.

What this means is that there is a steady stream of families being compensated by the NVIC as a matter of course, even if there isn’t a single actual vaccine injury. Children get vaccinated, and children get sick, and sometimes these two things happen in sequence by chance alone. There is likely also rare reactions to vaccines, and there is no way to separate these two groups, so the NVIC just compensates everyone.

The NVIC, however, provides a constant source of raw material for vaccine fearmongers. Social media and the internet also mean that these cases can be passed around over and over again, rising from the dead even after they have been repeatedly explained by more sober sources. Most people don’t let pesky facts get in the way of a good story.

The usual suspects, such as Natural News, are again pushing the story of Ryan Mojabi (anti-vaccine reporter David Kirby exploited this case earlier in the year). Ryan developed encephalitis within 5-15 days after the MMR, and has permanent neurological injury as a result. This is a table injury, and so was deemed “appropriate for compensation.” Natural News, however, is reporting that:

…but the federal government’s kangaroo “vaccine court” has once again conceded, albeit quietly, that the combination measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine does, indeed, cause autism.

No they didn’t. They did not even rule that the MMR causes Ryan’s injury, only that compensation is appropriate under their rules. Further, Ryan did not have autism. He had encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) which caused brain injury. This can cause symptoms which superficially might resemble autism (to a non-expert), but it’s not autism.

Natural News is further reporting this as a vindication of Andrew Wakefield, when it is nothing of the sort. Wakefield’s faked science remains utterly discredited.

Also absent from the fearmongering articles are the real facts surrounding encephalitis, measles, and vaccines.

Childhood encephalitis is most often caused by viral infections. The real question with regard to vaccines is this – is there any statistical association between vaccines and the risk of encephalitis? The answer to that question is probably no. A review of cases from 1998-2008 in California, for example, found no association at all between encephalitis and any childhood vaccine.

Further, there is a decreased risk of encephalitis among those vaccinated with MMR – because measles can cause encephalitis. Evidence shows that the incidence of one type of encephalitis, SSPE (subacute sclerosing panencephalitis) dropped sharply after the introduction of the MMR vaccine, and subsequent cases were mostly in the unvaccinated.

Conclusion

There is no clear evidence that vaccines increase the risk of encephalitis. In fact, they clearly decrease the risk of encephalitis caused by the infections they prevent. There is a net and very large advantage to being vaccinated in terms of encephalitis risk, even if we assume that cases of encephalitis occurring after vaccination were caused by the vaccination. We know statistically this cannot be true in all cases, and it is possible that it is true in no cases.

There is also sufficient evidence to show that vaccines do not cause autism. Further, encephalitis, while possibly causing brain injury, does not cause autism.

Despite all of these facts, some antivaccinationists continue to exploit individual cases of the NVIC compensating encephalitis as a table injury as an alleged admission that vaccines cause autism. Every link in this chain of argument is false.

Posted in: Vaccines

Leave a Comment (23) ↓

23 thoughts on “MMR and Autism Rises from the Dead

  1. David Gorski says:

    Yeah, when David Kirby latched on to this case back in January, he did it in a most egregious way (which is how Kirby operates):

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/01/15/david-kirbys-back-and-this-time-his-anti-vaccine-fear-mongering-induces-ennui/

    The first resurrection of this case by the antivaccine movement that I could find was back in December. I expect it to keep popping up periodically, like Whac-A-Mole.

  2. I have seen this propagate on Facebook. It is annoying beyond belief that people post such misinformation

  3. I left a comment at the NY Times that rebutted an argument about vaccines and autism, I got a few “recommend” votes (replies rarely get high vote counts unless you post very soon after the original comment). But, a regular and popular commenter counter-replied that if I was right, why was the vaccine court awarding settlements to “injured” families on a regular basis? I would post this link, but comments are now closed, of course.

    Misunderstanding like this seem to prevail and it is difficult to make nuanced arguments in “reply” comment space. It is even more frustrating not to be able to continue the discussion.

  4. windriven says:

    “[C]ertain outcomes are considered “table injuries,” meaning that all the family has to do is establish that the child has the condition and the onset was within a certain window after getting a vaccine, and then compensation is automatic.”

    It is nothing but a macabre sort of lottery. A child develops one of a range of medical conditions and if it appears within a certain window NVIC pays. The upside is that ‘lucky’ parents (there are no lucky children among the ‘winners’) get some help with the financial burdens of medical care.

    The downsides are the moral hazard that attends money not causally linked to an antecedent tort and a never ending stream of anecdotes that the anti-vax crowd can use to further their campaign of disinformation.

    Dr. Novella avers that NVIC works well and it is difficult to disagree – but for legal and financial reasons, not scientific or ethical ones. Absent NVIC there would be a stream of litigation based on simple correlation between vaccination and emergence of symptoms and with it damage awards that would be disruptive and that could potentially endanger the broader vaccination effort. Imagine if Merck for example decided that litigation expenses, damage awards and bad publicity were too high a price to pay to stay in the vaccine business. NVIC is arguably the least bad solution to the problem.

  5. AnObservingParty says:

    Thank you . The vultures (Stone and Dachel) swooped down on a general information article yesterday in the Washington Post about the importance/safety of vaccination and how rumors drive fear. And by swoop, I mean they filled the comments section with all manner of drivel regarding “studies” by scientists who don’t lie with pharmaceutical companies and links to news reports claiming these very cases looked at by the NVIC are the government finally admitting to the link. I made a point to post this very succinct explanation. They won’t read it, but perhaps some other party otherwise taken in by their comments (they posted A LOT, one right after the other, it was appalling) might read this.

  6. St. Hubbins says:

    Just as a note – It appears that the NVIC is generally used to refer to a Barbara Loe Fisher propaganda site which has the url “www.nivc.org”. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services uses VICP to refer to National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program on its website.

  7. Cervantes says:

    Post hoc, ergo propter hoc has always been the main basis of what is best characterized as the anti-vax superstition.

  8. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    And by swoop, I mean they filled the comments section with all manner of drivel regarding “studies” by scientists who don’t lie with pharmaceutical companies…

    …and instead supporting their own incomes by selling biomedical treatments direct to parents… :)

  9. another harriet h not Dr. hall says:

    And by swoop, I mean they filled the comments section with all manner of drivel regarding “studies” by scientists who don’t lie with pharmaceutical companies…

    or with studies in the 1960s or 70s about vaccines that have not been in use for decades. I ask them to post relevant studies in this century and I get blocked.

  10. Thanks to Anne Dachel and John Stone for their tireless research on vaccines and autism. This article is loaded with misinformation about the link and particularly false information about the Vaccine Court. Pay no attention to that person (the author of this) behind drug companies. It reminds me of the very early polio vaccine given–when gov’t officials knew they were tainted with cancer causing monkey viruses and yet ok’d their distribution all over the country and millions got the bad vaccines. It’s no different today. Educate yourselves.
    Maurine Meleck, SC

    1. davdoodles says:

      “This article is loaded with misinformation about the link and particularly false information about the Vaccine Court.”

      Gee, your argument would look sort of stupid if you couldn’t point to even one single tiny piece of “misinformation” in this article, eh?
      .

    2. lilady says:

      Gee Maurine, why is it that the Dachel bot, Stone and you, have already spammed the comments sections of those articles with your inanities, hours before the bot’s “Media Updates” appear on AoA?

      Have you any, um, proof that “the very early polio vaccine (were) given–when gov’t officials knew they were tainted with cancer causing monkey viruses and yet ok’d their distribution all over the country and millions got the bad vaccines.”

      What are your sources for the latest studies that were published in first tier, peer reviewed medical journals that implicate SV-40 as causing cancer in humans?

      Educate yourselves.

  11. David Gorski says:

    The vultures (Stone and Dachel) swooped down on a general information article yesterday in the Washington Post about the importance/safety of vaccination and how rumors drive fear. And by swoop, I mean they filled the comments section with all manner of drivel regarding “studies” by scientists who don’t lie with pharmaceutical companies and links to news reports claiming these very cases looked at by the NVIC are the government finally admitting to the link.

    There’s a reason why I refer to what Anne Dachel does as calling the flying monkeys in to swoop down and dive bomb pro-vaccine articles (or, as you note, even just general information articles about vaccines) with their poo.

    Indeed, almost every day, Dachel posts several links to stories about vaccines to the antivaccine crank blog of which she is the “media editor” (Age of Autism), with the explicit intent of encouraging her readers to flood the comment sections of these articles with antivaccine nonsense.

    For example:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/09/dachel-media-update-autism-friendly-lion-king-measles-in-tx.html

    Some commenters, here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog, spend considerable time following the flying monkeys and trying to refute the antivaccine misinformation they flood various comments sections with. It’s a truly sisyphean task, for which they have my thanks and admiration. I can’t do that and produce blog posts. So I concentrate on producing blog posts. But I appreciate what the Dachel Flying Monkey Cleanup Squad does.

    1. lilady says:

      I prefer to call the Dachel Flying Monkey Cleanup Squad “lilady’s daily Media Update of Dachel’s Media Update”, Dr. Gorski.

  12. davdoodles says:

    I can understand how some low-information reader might un-intentionally misconstrue the role and decisions of the NVIC. It would be a relatively easy and not-unreasonable thing to assume that the NVIC adjudged that Ryan Mojabi was “injured” by a vaccine.

    But Dachel, Stone, and all of the professional antivaxxers must know that’s not the case, AND YET they continue, ad absurdum, to mislead their readers about the NVIC’s responsibilities and mandate.

    Isn’t that called lying?
    .

  13. Jeff Rubinoff says:

    Was about to mention that the Natural News blather had recently made it into the Czech-language Internet, as seen most sadly on a friend’s FB. But looking up at Pingback, I see that Pavel Vlashanek has already covered this on Tucna’s Blog. Thanks, Pavle!

  14. Seth Bittker says:

    I agree autism is not caused by MMR. I think it is largely due to enviornment mental factors though. Specifically the data suggests that the primary cause of autism is too much vitamin D supplementation and fortification among those who are genetically susceptible.
    Facts:
    1) In this society we give our babies massive amounts of vitamin D through formula, through vitamin D drops, and through fortified cow’s milk. Human milk has virtually no vitamin D.
    2) Vitamin D is a rodenticide and less is needed to kill a male rat than a female rat.
    3) Williams syndrome (50% comorbid with ASD) is due to a genetic defect that causes big fluctuations in 25(OH) Vitamin D.
    4) Autism features Th2 skew to immune system characteristic of vitamin D excess.
    5) Ultra low rates of autism in Cuba and among the Amish: neither fortifies of supplements with vitamin D.
    6) High levels of oxidative stress in autism characteristic of excess vitamin D consumption.
    7) Autism is often associated with milk consumption (fortified with lots of vitamin D).
    8) Those with autism do better on oxalate free and ketogenic diets. These point to need to lower calcium load.
    9) The rates have gone up in the US whenever vitamin D intake among very young has gone up. In the early 1980s much of US switched to lower fat milks with more vitamin D per calorie, in the early 1990s vitamin D fortification of milk increased with no change in the lablel, in 2003 the American Academy of Pediatrics decreed 200 IU vitamin D needed for all babies, in 2008 AAP doubled dosage to 400 IU. Autism rates increased after each of these events.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      ” the data suggests that the primary cause of autism is too much vitamin D supplementation ”

      No, the data suggest that the cause is multifactorial, mainly genetic but influenced by environmental factors. One of the suspected factors is vitamin D deficiency. You offer only speculation; there is no actual evidence that too much vitamin D could cause autism.

Comments are closed.