Tag: autism studies

Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Everyone knows that Andy Wakefield‘s fraudulent MMR study was retracted.

Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on his retracted paper.
Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on his retracted paper.

That’s the study that got folks scared into thinking that vaccines are associated with autism.

Surprisingly, it’s not the only one…

Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Actually, it shouldn’t be surprising at all.

Most studies that are touted by the anti-vaccine movement are poorly done and often flawed.

And they include these other papers and studies that have been retracted:

Is it a coincidence that all of the researchers who have had papers retracted seem to get funding from the CMSRI?

What else has been retracted?

The “Deadly Immunity” article by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

And the survey, “Vaccination and Health Outcomes: A Survey of 6- to 12-year-old Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Children based on Mothers’ Reports,” was originally retracted by Frontiers in Public Health before finding a home at another journal under a different name. That journal quickly retracted it too, but they then published the “fatally flawed” paper for some reason.

What to Know About Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Many of the heroes of the anti-vaccine movement have published fatally-flawed studies that have been later retracted.

More on Retracted Anti-Vaccine Studies

Expert Statements on Vaccines and Autism

All of the organizations that help autistic people agree that there is no association between vaccines and autism.
All of the organizations that help autistic people agree that there is no association between vaccines and autism.

Some parents are still confused about who they should listen to for advice about vaccines and autism.

Is there any controversy or a real debate going on about whether vaccines are associated with autism?

What do the experts say?

They say that vaccines are not associated with autism.

More and more, experts are also stating that continuing to focus attention on vaccines is hurting autistic families.

And no, it’s not just one or two of them and it is not just your pediatrician…

Autism Science Foundation

“Multiple studies have been completed which investigated the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination in relation to autism. Researchers have also studied thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative, to see if it had any relation to autism. The results of studies are very clear; the data show no relationship between vaccines and autism.”

American Academy of Pediatrics

The American Academy of Pediatrics, an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists, has long advocated for the health and safety of our children.

“Claims that vaccines are linked to autism, or are unsafe when administered according to the recommended schedule, have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease. Vaccines keep communities healthy, and protect some of the most vulnerable in our society, including the elderly, and children who are too young to be vaccinated or have compromised immune systems.”

The AAP has consistently emphasized the safety and importance of vaccines to help reassure parents who are scared by anti-vaccine misinformation.

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

“Vaccinations do not cause autism – but the use of autism as a means of scaring parents from safeguarding their children from life-threatening illness demonstrates the depths of prejudice and fear that still surrounds our disability. Autism is not caused by vaccines – and Autistic Americans deserve better than a political rhetoric that suggests that we would be better off dead than disabled.”

Autism Society of America

“There is no known single cause for autism spectrum disorder, but it is generally accepted that it is caused by abnormalities in brain structure or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brain in children with autism compared to in neurotypical children. Researchers do not know the exact cause of autism but are investigating a number of theories, including the links among heredity, genetics and medical problems.”

Autism Women’s Network

“Vaccines do not cause autism. Neither does thimerosal.”

National Autistic Society

“In the light of concern around the continuing activities of anti-vaccine campaigners, including promotion of the film ‘Vaxxed’, we feel it’s important to restate that research has comprehensively shown that there is no link between autism and vaccines…

We believe that no further attention or research funding should be unnecessarily directed towards examining a link that has already been so comprehensively discredited. Instead, we should be focusing our efforts on improving the lives of the 700,000 autistic people in the UK and their families.”

Autistica

“The biggest myth of all is that vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccine, cause autism. The safety of vaccinations has been repeatedly tested across large groups of people. High quality research studies involving hundreds of thousands of people have consistently shown that vaccinations do not cause autism.”

Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism

“So I want to ask you to be careful about how you make your pro-vaccine arguments when autism is involved — because when we use our many many mountains of evidence in statements such as “there is NO evidence linking vaccines to autism” without adding the statement “and fear of autism hurts autistic people,” then we’re actually contributing to negative stereotypes about autism and autistic people, rather than furthering autistic people’s acceptance and inclusion in our society.”

American Medical Association

The American Medical Association, which was founded in 1847, has just over 240,000 members.

“Each year vaccines prevent an estimated 2.5 million deaths among children under age 5, according to the World Health Organization. The AMA adopted policy this week continuing its efforts to promote public understanding and confidence in the safety of vaccines in order to prevent resurgence in vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths. The new policy specifically supports the rigorous scientific process undertaken by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and its development of recommended immunization schedules for the nation. The policy also recognizes the substantial body of scientific evidence that has disproven a link between vaccines and autism.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

“There is no link between vaccines and autism.”

March of Dimes

“The implication that vaccinations cause autism is irresponsible and counter productive,’ said Michael Katz, M.D., senior vice president for Research and Global Programs for the March of Dimes…

Although several carefully performed scientific studies have searched for a link between autism and the use of thimerosal in vaccines, no such link has been found.”

Autism Speaks

“Each family has a unique experience with an autism diagnosis, and for some it corresponds with the timing of their child’s vaccinations. At the same time, scientists have conducted extensive research over the last two decades to determine whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The results of this research is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.”

National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners

“Despite an abundance of evidence that there is no correlation between the vaccine and autism, the story noted in the movie has unfortunately made a lasting impact. It is the responsibility of pediatric-focused advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and colleagues to speak out against false information and educate patient families about vaccine safety and efficacy to prevent unnecessary and potentially fatal outbreaks.”

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

“Years ago, some people questioned whether the onset of characteristic symptoms of autism coincided with the timing of immunizations. Since then, multiple studies conducted in several different countries have demonstrated that there is no causal association between vaccines and autism. Neither vaccines nor their preservatives increase the rate of autism compared to unvaccinated children. Vaccines do not change the timing of autism symptoms, nor is there any effect on autism severity. Even in families at greater risk for autism, for example, where there is already a child with autism, there is no increase in the likelihood that the second child will have autism if he or she is vaccinated. Recent studies have also demonstrated that brain changes associated with autism risk most likely occur before birth and well before any immunizations are ever administered.”

World Health Organization

“Available epidemiological data show that there is no evidence of a link between measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism spectrum disorders. Previous studies suggesting a causal link were found to be seriously flawed.

There is also no evidence to suggest that any other childhood vaccine may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorders. In addition, evidence reviews commissioned by WHO concluded that there was no association between the use of vaccine preservatives such as thiomersal and autism spectrum disorders.”

Institute of Medicine

“Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism… Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine and thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only .”

Child Neurology Foundation

“There are many myths linked to vaccines that this article hopes to have helped dispel. As discussed, any potential risk associated with vaccines administered to healthy children is small and outweighed by the risk of the naturally occurring disease. Maintenance of herd immunity and avoidance of vaccine exemptions are critical. Both of these practices disproportionately affect, at times with deadly consequences, our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Canadian Paediatric Society

“Thus, the evidence is in, and the assessment of purported causality is clear. The MMR vaccine and immunization with thimerosal-containing vaccines are not causally associated with, nor are they a cause of, autism or ASD. There is mounting evidence that ASD has a strong genetic component – a very plausible cause for the disorder.”

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control

“Autism is such a strong and emotive issue and something we all care about. However, the link made by one doctor to autism has been firmly discredited, and I can show you study after study that demonstrates that there is no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Unfortunately, once a seed of doubt has been planted it tends to grow, and is fueled by sensational media and internet coverage that isn’t concerned with the facts. The real issue here is the very real risks from not being protected. I wish the voices of those who have been victims of not getting vaccinated could be heard more loudly and clearly.”

Robert Koch Institute

“There has been an ongoing debate in recent years whether autism, diabetes and even multiple sclerosis could be triggered by vaccinations. To date, there is no evidence for this and there are numerous studies that suggest that there is no link between vaccinations and these diseases.”

Hopefully it is clear that these position statements about vaccines and autism come from experts around the world, including many that directly take care of and support autistic families.

What to Know About Expert Statements on Vaccines and Autism

There is no debate and it is not a controversy – experts agree – vaccines are not associated with autism.

More on Expert Statements on Vaccines and Autism

 

Vaccines and Autism Redux

Is it true that only one ingredient (thimerosal) and one vaccine (MMR) has ever been looked at for its relationship to autism?

No, as you can probably guess, it is not.

“This meta-analysis of five case-control and five cohort studies has found no evidence for the link between vaccination and the subsequent risk of developing autism or autistic spectrum disorder. Subgroup analyses looking specifically at MMR vaccinations, cumulative mercury dosage, and thimerosal exposure individually were similarly negative, as were subgroup analyses looking specifically at development of autistic disorder versus other autistic spectrum disorder.”

Taylor et al on Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies

Since much of the original focus about vaccines and autism was on the MMR vaccine and thimerosal, that’s where a lot of the research to reassure parents went first.

Other research has been done though too, so it really is safe to say that vaccines are not associated with autism, even though some may continue to see a correlation.

“To try to isolate the effects of thimerosal from other vaccine constituents, we performed a subanalysis comparing risks associated with diphtheria-tetanus-whole cell pertussis vaccine or diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis vaccine and Haemophilus influenzae type b vaccine given separately or combined.”

Verstraeten et al on Safety of Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines: A Two-Phased Study of Computerized Health Maintenance Organization Databases

The great majority of parents know that:

  • it is not the MMR vaccine
  • it is not thimerosal or thimerosal containing vaccines
  • it is not the overall number of vaccines that are given to a child
  • it is not the timing of when the vaccines are given to children

And it hasn’t been just one or two studies that have shown that there is no association between vaccines and autism. There are dozens. There is also a comprehensive review by the Institute of Medicine and a very large meta-analysis that have come to the same conclusion.

Vaccines are not associated with autism.

Vaccines and Autism Redux

Could it be aluminum though?

Why aluminum? Because anti-vaccine experts cite some poorly done studies that try to say it is.

Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment "Vaccines: A Bad Combination?"
Bob Sears appeared on Fox & Friends in 2010 for the segment “Vaccines: A Bad Combination?”

Aluminum has become the new formaldehyde, which used to be the new thimerosal. It is apparently where the goalposts have shifted when some folks talk about vaccines and autism now that every knows it is not the MMR vaccine, thimerosal, vaccine overload, or the timing of vaccines.

But if studies have shown that it is neither the number of vaccines nor the timing of vaccines, then how could it be aluminum, an adjuvant in many vaccines?

It isn’t.

Aluminum is not the smoking gun or the missing puzzle piece that anti-vaccine folks will continue to look for.

What other myths about vaccines and autism have been coming up lately?

Have you heard the one about the court ruling confirming a vaccine autism link? It didn’t.

Did you know that the FDA officially announced that vaccines are causing autism? They didn’t, but do you know why some folks are now saying they did? Because of the old package insert for the Tripedia vaccine, which lists autism as a possible adverse event (without evidence of causation). The vaccine was discontinued years ago, but it continues to pop up as ‘new’ evidence for some as an association between vaccines and autism.

Or maybe you have heard these other new theories from the anti-vaccine movement as they desperately try to prove an association between vaccines and autism:

  • vaccines block folate uptake
  • MTHFR gene mutations
  • maternal immune activation
  • cytokine storms
  • glutathione depletion
  • glyphosate
  • DNA fragments
  • microbiota alterations
  • GI barrier defects
  • blood brain barrier permeability problems

You don’t even have to pick just one theory anymore (the fact that the MMR vaccine doesn’t contain thimerosal or aluminum kind of puts these theories into opposition with each other, doesn’t it?). You can choose for any or all of them to be true if you want. Using synergistic toxicity, you pick a few of your favorite theories and make them 100 times more likely to damage your child! Not really, but that’s how some anti-vaccine folks think.

“Autism is not an immune-mediated disease. Unlike autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, there is no evidence of immune activation or inflammatory lesions in the CNS of people with autism. In fact, current data suggest that genetic variation in neuronal circuitry that affects synaptic development might in part account for autistic behavior. Thus, speculation that an exaggerated or inappropriate immune response to vaccination precipitates autism is at variance with current scientific data that address the pathogenesis of autism.”

Gerber et al on Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses

Of course, none of them are true.

Vaccines are still not associated with autism.

What to Know About Vaccines and Autism

Vaccines are still not associated with autism, even though anti-vaccine folks continue to come up with new ideas for how it might be, from glyphosate and DNA fragments in vaccines to MTHFR mutations and maternal immune activation.

More on Vaccines and Autism

10 Reasons You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Yes, we know.

It’s because you have done your research.

“Many would argue that we have become a culture characterized by intolerance of any risk (particularly of co-mission as opposed to omission), such that when harm does occur someone is to blame.”

Poland et al on Understanding those who do not understand: a brief review of the anti-vaccine movement

But that’s not really why you aren’t vaccinating your kids.

10 Reasons You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

Research has explained the real reasons, most of which happen subconsciously, and they include the following  well known cognitive phenomena:

  1. ambiguity aversion – the idea is that people tend to prefer known risks rather than unknown risks and while you would think that would tend to widely favor getting vaccinated (known, very small risks of a vaccine) vs remaining unprotected (relatively unknown risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease and coping with possible complications), that’s not how vaccine-hesitant people think. If you are skipping or delaying any vaccines, you are likely to overestimate the risks of vaccines, include ‘risks’ that are not even associated with vaccines, and make getting vaccinated seem like a much bigger and ambiguous risk than it really is. Also, some vaccine-hesitant parents see much more ambiguity in the whole getting vaccinated decision than there really is, mostly because of the false balance in media reporting. There is no ambiguity – experts agree that vaccines are safe and necessary.
  2. anticipatory regret – you might decide to skip or delay a vaccine because you “wouldn’t be able to forgive yourself” if your child had a severe reaction, explaining the anti-vaccine slogan that “You can always get Vaccinated, but you can never get Unvaccinated.” While it is a catchy slogan, it misses the fact that some parents do regret their decision to not vaccinate their kids because they did wait too long and their child did get a vaccine-preventable disease. You can’t always get vaccinated and severe reactions are very rare.
  3. availability heuristic – we think things are likely to happen if we can easily remember them and we are most likely to remember things like vaccine scare stories because we see them all of the time. That doesn’t make them true or mean that they really are common though. Have you seen many of those videos?
  4. bandwagoning – many of us like to jump on the bandwagon – doing what everyone else is doing. So how does bandwagoning fit into vaccine hesitancy, considering that most people vaccinate and protect their kids? Just consider that many of unvaccinated kids we see today are grouped together in “pockets of susceptibles” because their vaccine-hesitant parents are also clustered together in an echo chamber, making it seem like skipping or delaying vaccines is a more popular option than it really is. Also, so much of the vaccine sentiment online is negative, it is easy for it to seem like it is the same in the real world. For example, it has been found that 75% of the vaccine sentiment on Pinterest, 66% of the vaccine sentiment on YouTube, and 30-35% of the vaccine sentiment on Facebook and Twitter is negative! Do your friends and family members vaccinate their kids?
  5. cognitive dissonance – this is the anxiety you get from believing in two things that contradict each other, like if you are afraid to vaccinate your child, but you are just as afraid that if he isn’t vaccinated, then he will get measles. One belief eventually wins out and makes it easier for you to believe anything else that reinforces it, even things that aren’t logical and which are easily disproven. Even if you don’t realize it, and you probably won’t, this is when you begin to use cherry picking, confirmation bias, survivorship bias, etc., and become a Dunning Kruger master.
  6. control – most of us like to be in control, or at least feel like we are in control. Saying no to a vaccine, especially a vaccine that you feel is involuntary (your child needs it to attend daycare or school), may help you feel a little more in control of what may seem like a never ending bombardment of risks facing your child.
  7. explanatory attribution – people like, or even need, to find a meaning for things, such as why kids are autistic, and when you don’t have one, it becomes very easy to make one up or latch onto someone else’s idea of a vaccine injury or vaccine induced disease.
  8. free-riding – while some people are hiding in the herd out of necessity, including those who are too young to be vaccinated and those with medical exemptions, others are free-riders and are benefiting from the fact that most of the rest of us do get vaccinated and do vaccinate our kids.
  9. omission bias – when given the option, some people prefer doing nothing instead of doing something, even if it leads to something much worse happening in the future. Choosing to do nothing, like skipping or delaying your child’s shots, is still a decision though, and if your child or someone else’s child gets sick, your action (by omission) is still the cause and you would still be morally responsible.
  10. optimism bias – some parents are overly optimistic about their ability to protect their intentionally unvaccinated kids from getting a vaccine-preventable disease or even that they can treat them if they do get sick with essential oils, homeopathic remedies, a trip to the chiropractor, or other alternative type treatments. They can’t.

Of course, none of these things would be able to take hold so well without one other thing – fear.

Fear helps these cognitive biases, heuristics, and logical fallacies take hold and change your perception of risk into something that is much different from reality. That’s why some people think that the risks of vaccines are greater than the risks of catching a vaccine-preventable disease or even greater than the risks of having a vaccine-preventable disease.

They aren’t. Vaccines are safe.

immunization-program-stages
As more people are vaccinated and diseases disappear, they forget how bad those diseases are, skip or delay getting their vaccines, and trigger outbreaks. Photo by WHO

Again, some people fear vaccines more than they fear the complications of vaccine-preventable diseases. Surprisingly, this effect is well known and has been predicted. If you don’t know or have never seen anyone with a vaccine-preventable disease, like polio, measles, diphtheria, or tetanus, then it’s easy to believe that they really were mild diseases.

They weren’t. And they still aren’t. Vaccines are necessary.

Rotavirus vaccines are associated with a very small risk of intussusception, but that is not a good reason to miss the benefits of this vaccine.
My daughter getting all of her two month vaccines to make sure she was safe and  fully protected. Photo by Vincent Iannelli, MD

But why are some parents so afraid of vaccines that they have panic attacks if they even think about vaccinating their baby? It certainly doesn’t help if you believe one or more of the 100 myths about vaccines that you might see on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. Or that you are likely constantly being hit with vaccine scare videos that make it sound like every child has a vaccine injury.

All of that propaganda can make you more susceptible to the cognitive biases that we all have to deal with from time to time, even leading you to believe in the many anti-vaccine conspiracy theories that are always floating around.

But fear shouldn’t be what drives your decision making.

We shouldn’t have to wait for outbreaks for folks to start vaccinating their kids again.

Get educated and understand that vaccines are safe, with few risks and many benefits. Learn to think critically, be more skeptical about the things you see and read about vaccines, and overcome your biases.

What to Know About Why You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

You aren’t vaccinating your kids because something or someone has scared you and a series of cognitive bias are making it hard for you to see the truth that vaccines are safe, necessary, and that they work.

More On Why You Aren’t Vaccinating Your Kids

But If It Wasn’t the Vaccines…

Do you know why some folks still think vaccines are associated with autism?

It is simply because we can’t tell them what does cause autism.

“In the absence of a specific etiology for ASDs, and a tendency among parents of children with a disability to feel a strong sense of guilt, it is not surprising that parents attempt to form their own explanations for the disorder in order to cope with the diagnosis.”

Mercer et al on Parental perspectives on the causes of an autism spectrum disorder in their children

So if we don’t have another answer – then it must be vaccines.

That helps explain a lot of vaccine injury stories too.

For example, doctors often can’t tell you why your child has allergies, asthma, Celiac disease, diabetes, eczema, multiple sclerosis, POTS, SIDS, or thyroid problems, etc., which makes some people look to the mistaken theory that they were triggered by vaccines.

Of course, the answer isn’t that these are vaccine-induced diseases.

It simply demonstrates the limits of medical technology. Even if we don’t know what does cause many of these diseases, in almost all cases, it has been shown that they are not associated with vaccines.

Limits of 21st Century Medical Technology

Even in the 21st Century, science and medicine don’t have all of the answers.

And sometimes the answers are there, but are misinterpreted.

For example, the National Association of Medical Examiners makes the following distinctions on a medical certificate between manner of death:

  • Natural — “due solely or nearly totally to disease and/or the aging process.”
  • Accident — “there is little or no evidence that the injury or poisoning occurred with intent to harm or cause death. In essence, the fatal outcome was unintentional.”
  • Suicide — “results from an injury or poisoning as a result of an intentional, self-inflicted act committed to do self-harm or cause the death of one’s self.”
  • Homicide — “occurs when death results from…an injury or poisoning or from… a volitional act committed by another person to cause fear, harm, or death. Intent to cause death is a common element but is not required for classification as homicide.”
  • Could not be determined — “used when the information pointing to one manner of death is no more compelling than one or more other competing manners of death when all available information is considered.”
  • Pending investigation — “used when determination of manner depends on further information”

Why is this important to know?

Because many people confuse a natural cause of death as meaning that there was nothing wrong. That’s actually the opposite of what it means! A natural cause of death in a child means that they died because of a disease or condition.

Which disease or condition?

What was the underlying or immediate cause of death in these cases?

Limits and Uncertainty in Medicine

That’s where the limits of modern medicine and modern medical technology come in…

Maybe technology will change the future of healthcare – hopefully for the better, but there are still many things it can’t do.

Sure, we have indexed or mapped the entire human genome, but we still can’t often tell you why your child has a cough or runny nose, has developmental delays, or didn’t make it out of the PICU.

“…finding an underlying diagnosis for many conditions can be a very long and frustrating experience. A diagnosis can take as many as five years, and occasionally may never happen, especially with rare conditions. In addition, some experts say that between 30 to 40 percent of children with special needs do not have an exact diagnosis.”

NIH on Learning About An Undiagnosed Condition in a Child

Everyone wants answers when a child is sick or has unexplained signs and symptoms, especially when a child dies.

Unfortunately, while it may not get talked about often enough, there are many limits to modern medicine. There is often some uncertainty too.

“…when parents perceive greater uncertainty, they perceive less control over their child’s condition.”

Madeo et al on Factors Associated with Perceived Uncertainty among Parents of Children with Undiagnosed Medical Conditions

Just because futuristic medical tools like Tricorders are on the way doesn't mean that we will have all of the answers.
Just because futuristic medical tools like Tricorders are on the way doesn’t mean that we will have all of the answers.

Doctors don’t know everything.

The best doctors are the ones that actually know that they don’t know everything.

But just because they don’t know everything, that doesn’t mean that they don’t know anything.

For example, not knowing what does cause autism doesn’t mean that we don’t know many of the things that aren’t linked to autism.

And it certainly doesn’t mean that you should use this an excuse to blame vaccines or to skip or delay any vaccines. Continuing to try and associate vaccines with autism doesn’t just frighten parents and leave kids unprotected, it hurts autistic families.

What to Know About Uncertainty in Medicine

While there is much uncertainty in modern medicine and doctors don’t have all of the answers, there is no evidence that vaccines are associated with autism.

More on Uncertainty in Medicine

Who Is Poul Thorsen?

Part of the propaganda machine of the anti-vaccine movement is pushing the idea that there is some big conspiracy being hidden by doctors all over the world, the CDC, and Big Pharma – and maybe some Reptilians…

The case of Poul Thorsen is everything they are looking for.

What could be better than a fugitive CDC researcher who published studies that dispute a link between vaccines and autism?

How about a story about a story of a fugitive CDC researcher that everyone is trying to cover up and keep secret?

Or a story about a fugitive CDC researcher who used “crooked research” and tricks “to deceive the public about the evidence linking mercury laced vaccines to autism.”

Who Is Poul Thorsen?

As you might expect, as they did with the so-called CDC Whistle blower, anti-vaccine folks have gotten a little too excited about Poul Thorsen.

Poul Thorsen is one of the Office of Inspector General's most wanted fugitives.
Poul Thorsen is one of the Office of Inspector General’s most wanted fugitives.

Yes, it is terrible that he is accused of stealing grant money that had been awarded “to fund studies of the relationship between autism and the exposure to vaccines, the relationship between cerebral palsy and infection during pregnancy, and the relationship between developmental outcomes and fetal alcohol exposure.”

“Unfortunately, a considerable shortfall in funding at Aarhus University associated with the CDC grant was discovered. In investigating the shortfalls associated with the grant, DASTI and Aarhus University became aware of two alleged CDC funding documents as well as a letter regarding funding commitments allegedly written by Randolph B. Williams of CDC’s Procurement Grants Office which was used to secure advances from Aarhus University. Upon investigation by CDC, a suspicion arose that the documents are forgeries.”

Aarhus Universitet Statement regarding Dr. Poul Thorsen’s involvement in Aarhus University projects 

Over at least six years, Thorsen is said to have diverted over $1 million dollars in CDC grant money to his personal bank account and was indicted on 22 counts of Wire Fraud and Money Laundering. He is currently living and working in Denmark, but not at Aarhus University, from where he resigned in 2009.

Myths About Poul Thorsen

Is anyone trying to keep what he did a secret?

If they are, they are doing a poor job of it, as everything he did is listed on his OIG Fugitive Profile. In addition to Thorsen, who is no longer among their most wanted fugitives, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is seeking more than 170 other fugitives “on charges related to health care fraud and abuse.”

More importantly though, did his alleged Wire Fraud and Money Laundering activities affect the research with which he is associated?

As his main vaccine and autism studies were published before 2004, it is hard to understand why they would be:

  • Madsen KM, Hviid A, Vestergaard M, Schendel D, Wohlfahrt J, Thorsen P, Olsen J, Melbye M. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. N Engl J Med. 2002 Nov 7;347(19):1477-82.
  • Madsen KM, Lauritsen MB, Pedersen CB, Thorsen P, Plesner AM, Andersen PH, Mortensen PB. Thimerosal and the occurrence of autism: negative ecological evidence from Danish population-based data. Pediatrics. 2003 Sep;112(3 Pt 1):604-6

For one thing, Thorsen is not one of the lead authors in either study – the researchers who made the most significant contributions to the study. His collaborators have even said that Thorsen did not have the ability to influence the scientific results of those studies.

Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on his retracted paper.
Andrew Wakefield was the lead author on his retracted paper. His name came first.

Have subsequent studies found an increased incidence of autism in Denmark, as some Thorsen critics suggest? No. That isn’t even true. Amazingly, even the studies they cite as their evidence, like one by Grønborg, don’t show that!

And there are many other studies that have replicated and confirm Madsen’s (Thorsen’s) finding – vaccines don’t cause autism.

Show Me The Money

But where did the money go?

While “bank records show that he bought a home in Atlanta, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, an Audi automobile, and a Honda SUV with funds that he received from the CDC grants,” it seems like he spent an awful lot of money building up NANEA, his research unit in Denmark – the North Atlantic Neuro-Epidemiology Alliance. For example, these folks didn’t fly coach – they traveled nicely, used limos, stayed at nice hotels, and had fancy parties, as Thorsen thought this was the way to build the world’s best research institution.

So did he really steal all of the money or simply mismanage it?

Either would have been quite easy, as it doesn’t seem like the folks in Denmark required him to file necessary financial status reports. While Thorsen should have been filing status reports after the end of each budget period, no one actually knew what he had been doing with the money for at least the first seven years of the grant period!

Is he on the run from Interpol, as his critics claim?

He doesn’t seem to be, as he is living and working in Denmark.

While he was charged at least three times with tax evasion, those charges were dismissed each time and ultimately rejected by the Vestre Landsret, the highest court in Denmark.

Will he be extradited to the United States? I have absolutely no idea how extradition treaties work, so I won’t comment on that, but it does not seem very likely that a country would extradite one of it’s own citizens to another country for charges like this…

I do know that there is no evidence that the crimes for which Poul Thorsen is accused tainted his research or change the fact that vaccines do not cause autism.

What to Know About Poul Thorsen

Poul Thorsen was a CDC researcher from Denmark who is accused of stealing grant money that was supposed to be used to study fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy, and possible links between vaccines and autism.

More About Poul Thorsen

Vaccines and Encephalitis

It is thought that vaccines can, very rarely, cause encephalitis.

“Encephalitis: Irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the brain, most often due to infections.”

IOM Report on Adverse Effects of Vaccines

Encephalitis is actually a table injury in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program if it occurs:

  • within 72 hours of getting a pertussis containing vaccines
  • within 5 to 15 days of getting an MMR vaccine

And since it is a table injury, then unless another cause is found, “it is presumed that the vaccine was the cause of the injury.”

Most causes of encephalitis are natural infections, including some that are vaccine-preventable. In fact, about 1 in 1,000 people who get measles can develop measles encephalitis.

So the fact that vaccines can, very rarely, cause encephalitis, shouldn’t lead anyone to think that delaying or skipping a vaccine is a good idea.

Autism and Encephalitis

Of course, it isn’t that simple.

The problem?

The misnamed Immunity Education site tries to scare parents into thinking that crying, even excessively, after a vaccine means a child has encephalitis.
The misnamed Immunity Education site tries to scare parents into thinking that crying, even excessively, after a vaccine means that a child has encephalitis.

Anti-vaccine folks claim that an awful lot of things are encephalitis, from crying excessively after getting a vaccine to autism.

Although the Vaccine Information Statement for the DTaP vaccine (it was more common after the older DTP vaccine) does state that children may uncommonly have “non-stop crying, for 3 hours or more” it is not because they have brain inflammation, and the reaction “although unnerving, is otherwise benign.” It is not even a contraindication to getting another dose of DTaP or a later dose of Tdap.

What causes this non-stop crying? It is thought to be a painful local reaction. Fortunately, it does not happen as often with the newer DTaP vaccines.

And autism is not encephalitis.

“That measles infections can cause neurologic side effects on rare occasions is known, but the complication rate for vaccinations is low. After infectious measles encephalitis, risk of an autistic regression has occurred in 1/1000 to 1/10,000 cases. If the trend toward delaying vaccination continues because parents remain misinformed about the MMR, the number of children with neurologic complications of measles or rubella will increase. ”

Chez et al on Immunizations, Immunology, and Autism

Can encephalitis lead a child to have symptoms of autism?

Sometimes.

In addition to natural measles infections, there have been reports of children developing autism after HSV encephalitis, varicella encephalitis, congenital rubella syndrome, and congenital syphilis.

But the great majority of kids with autism do not first have encephalitis. They do not have ongoing brain inflammation.

Saying that encephalitis can cause autism is not the same thing as saying that autism is encephalitis.

Do Vaccines Cause Encephalitis?

And even though encephalitis has long been a table injury for a few vaccines, the 2012 IOM report, “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality,” found inadequate evidence to be able to conclude that encephalitis was caused by vaccines.

“Follow-up investigations in that cohort and others, however, found no evidence of a real increased incidence of encephalitis following DTwP. In addition, the most recent IOM report concludes that the evidence is inadequate to accept or reject a causal relationship between diphtheria toxoid-, tetanus toxoid-, or acellular pertussis-containing vaccine and encephalitis or encephalopathy.”

Vaccinophobia and Vaccine Controversies of the 21st Century

That’s not surprising, because follow-up of children studied in the 1980s, from which the original claims about DTP and encephalitis were made, found no evidence of an increased risk of encephalitis.

What about the MMR vaccine?

Again, the IOM report found inadequate evidence, but the problem has always been that “acute encephalitis post-MMR is so rare that it has been impossible to distinguish from the background encephalitis rate of 1 in one million in immune competent hosts.”

Anti-NMDAR Encephalitis

Doesn’t the discovery of anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate (anti-NMDA) receptor encephalitis prove that vaccines cause autism?

“Anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis is a disease occurring when antibodies produced by the body’s own immune system attack NMDA receptors in the brain.”

The Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis Foundation

Often associated with tumors, isolated case reports do correlate anti-NMDAR encephalitis with vaccines. There are so few cases of anti-NMDAR encephalitis though, it is hard to know what they mean, as are the reports of autism developing after anti-NMDAR encephalitis.

What to Know About Vaccines and Encephalitis

Vaccines still don’t cause autism and the latest safety studies report that vaccines probably don’t cause encephalitis, although a few are still listed as a table injury.

More About Vaccines and Encephalitis

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