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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Verdict is in: MMR vax did not cause autism and Dr. Wakefield may have lied.

Or so say the special masters for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Three separate cases were in the courts recently- and all three were found to have insufficient evidence to support the claim. In one case:
In his strongly worded decision, the special master, George L. Hastings Jr. ruled that the government’s expert witnesses were “far better qualified, far more experienced and far more persuasive” than the Cedillos. Although the Cedillos only had to show that the preponderance of the evidence was on their side, the judge ruled that it was “not a close case” because the evidence was “overwhelmingly contrary” to their argument.

While expressing “deep sympathy and admiration” for the Cedillo family, he ruled that they were “misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment.”

from aNew York Times article
Now, does this mean conclusively that there is NO link between autism and vaccines? Not really, it just means that the evidence we have is does not bring us to that conclusion. Autism is such an enigma that I can't believe that there are not myriad reasons for why it develops in some children and not others but with the evidence I have read I am inclined to believe that vaccines are a minor part of the puzzle- if a part of the puzzle at all.
One big reason why I don't think vaccines are much of an autism threat is because of what I consider to be an even more significant development in the vaccine/autism link theory which is that British researcher Andrew Wakefield, M.D.- the 'father' of the vaccine/autism 'link'- has been formally accused of falsifying his 1998 research to support a link between vaccines and autism. In 2004 it was discovered
Dr. Wakefield's research was partially, and secretly, funded by plaintiffs' lawyers in suits against vaccine makers, and that he had cut procedural corners in the research...The 1998 study was the first to be published in a reputable journal that suggested the MMR vaccine could lead to autism.

Um, conflict of interest much?

The discrepancies:
In the 1998 paper, Dr. Wakefield and colleagues presented evidence that the children had developed intestinal inflammation following vaccination. They suggested that the inflammation released gut proteins into the circulation that eventually migrated to the brain, causing permanent damage reflected in autism symptoms.

But according to the Times, the children's original hospital records differed in important ways from the descriptions in the Lancet paper.

Whereas the paper indicated that, in most cases, symptoms developed within days of vaccination, the records indicated that this was true only for one child, according to the Times.

The children's records also indicated that five of the children had psychosocial problems before vaccination, said the Times, but the paper described them as "developmentally normal."

In addition, the Lancet paper described abnormal intestinal pathology results in the children, but the hospital pathology reports showed no findings of inflammation, the Times report said.

The consequences:
Following its publication, rates of childhood vaccination in Britain and elsewhere fell dramatically.

The Times story noted that 1,348 cases of measles were reported in England and Wales in 2008, compared with 56 in 1998.

In the U.S., a large spike in measles cases was seen in 2008

The original research paper had 13 authors, 10 of them retracted their conclusions of an MMR vax/autism link after the 2004 conflict of interest disclosure but Dr Wakefield and 2 of his cohorts did not and therefore face charges:
Dr. Wakefield and two of his Lancet co-authors are currently facing misconduct charges before Great Britain's medical licensing board, the General Medical Council, related to the 1998 study and subsequent research.

They are accused of failing to obtain required approvals for the tests they performed on the children and other ethical violations, but the data-manipulation charges reported in the Times are not at question in the hearings.

Rightfully so, I say.

You can read the full article on Dr. Wakefield here

No matter where you fall in this debate or how you feel about vaccines I would hope that even the hint of impropriety on the part of researchers should make you question the answers they give you. Even if those answers are what you want to hear.

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