Tag: autistic

Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences

Believe it or not, some folks don’t think that coincidences are real.

Not believing in coincidences is a well known trope of the anti-vaccine movement.
Not believing in coincidences is a well known trope of the anti-vaccine movement.

Is it a coincidence that these folks are the ones who are the most likely to believe that vaccines cause a lot of injuries and vaccine induced diseases?

Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences

Thinking about vaccine side effects and coincidences is not new.

“When I undertook the study with the current vaccine strain on my own two triple-negative children and their three playmates, also triple- negatives, I thought: “I am going to do this very carefully now,” and, like Dr. Gear, I set up certain time schedules. I said: “I am going to start to give the vaccine now.” Every time I said “I am going to start to give it” and did not give it, two to three or four days later they came down with either pharyngitis, vomiting and abdominal pain, or a little fever.

I waited for approximately six weeks for those children to stop having some sort of febrile episode. I finally gave up. It so happened that after they got the vaccine they did not have any such episode.”

Albert Sabin on Recent Studies And Field Tests With A Live Attenuated Poliovirus Vaccine

When Albert Sabin was first researching his oral polio vaccine, he understood the problem. How could he really know if any signs or symptoms that occurred after he gave someone his vaccine were really caused by the vaccine, or just a coincidence?

“However, a report later to be given by Dr. Smorodintsev will deal with approximately 7,500 children who had received the vaccine and were carefully followed, as compared with another group, in similar number, who had not, for various types of illnesses which were occurring during the period.”

Albert Sabin on Recent Studies And Field Tests With A Live Attenuated Poliovirus Vaccine

The solution? They studied kids who had not gotten his vaccine.

But you don’t need an unvaccinated group to uncover coincidences.

You can just look at the background rate of a symptom or condition, and compare the periods before and after you start using a vaccine.

For instance, consider this study from Australia about using the HPV vaccine in boys, in which they made some predictions of what would happen after introducing the HPV vaccine.

Assuming an 80% vaccination rate with three doses per person — which equates to about 480 000 boys vaccinated and a total of 1 440 000 doses administered nationally per year in the first 2 years of the program — about 2.4 episodes of Guillain-Barré syndrome would be expected to occur within 6 weeks of vaccination. In addition, about 3.9 seizures and 6.5 acute allergy presentations would be expected to occur within 1 day of vaccination, including 0.3 episodes of anaphylaxis.

Clothier et al. on Human papillomavirus vaccine in boys: background rates of potential adverse events.

Wait. Are they saying that the HPV vaccine is going to cause Guillain-Barré syndrome, seizures, allergic reactions, and anaplylaxis?

Of course not. When the study was done, the kids hadn’t gotten any vaccines yet!

That was the background rate of those conditions.

They happened before the vaccine was given, and you can expect them to continue to happen after these kids start getting vaccinated – at that same rate.

What if they start happening more often after kids get vaccinated?

Then it makes it less likely to be a coincidence and more likely that the vaccine is actually causing an increase in the background rate. And vaccine safety studies look for that, which is how we know that vaccines don’t cause SIDS, transverse myelitis, multiple sclerosis, and many other conditions.

Most of you will have heard the maxim “correlation does not imply causation.” Just because two variables have a statistical relationship with each other does not mean that one is responsible for the other. For instance, ice cream sales and forest fires are correlated because both occur more often in the summer heat. But there is no causation; you don’t light a patch of the Montana brush on fire when you buy a pint of Haagan-Dazs.

Nate Silver on The Signal and the Noise

Of course, when we are talking about coincidences, we are also talking about correlation and causation.

When correlation doesn’t equal causation, then it’s probably a coincidence. Or it’s at least caused by some other factor.

And coincidences happen all of the time.

Is It a Vaccine Injury or a Coincidence?

That something could be a coincidence is not typically want parents want to hear though, especially if their child has gotten sick.

What does it mean that something happens coincidentally?

“Most sudden cardiac deaths that remain unexplained after necropsy are probably caused by primary cardiac arrhythmias.”

Sudden death in children and adolescents

Often it just means that it is unexplained. And that it is chance alone that it occurred as the same time as something else.

“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

Again, when folks blame vaccines, it is often because they have nothing else to blame.

“In some fraction of the American population, however, the belief in a link remains. One reason is a coincidence of timing: children are routinely vaccinated just as parents begin to observe signs of autism. Most vaccines are administered during the first years of life, which is also a period of rapid developmental changes. Many developmental conditions, including autism, don’t become apparent until a child misses a milestone or loses an early skill, a change that in some cases can’t help but be coincident with a recent vaccination.”

Emily Willingham on The Autism-Vaccine Myth

Think that it is too big of a coincidence that some infants develop spasms shortly after their four month vaccines?

Dr. William James West first described these types of infantile spasms in the 1840s!

And the “Fifth Day Fits,” seizures that began when a newborn was five days old, was described in the 1970s, well before we began giving newborns the hepatitis B vaccine.

But SIDS was only discovered after we began vaccinating kids, right?

“But, with millions upon millions of doses given each year to infants in the first 6 months of life across industrialized countries and with sudden infant death syndrome being the most common cause of infant death among infants 1 month or older, the coincidence of SIDS following DTP vaccination just by chance will be relatively frequent. When the two events occur, with SIDS following vaccination, well-meaning and intelligent people will blame the vaccine. They seek order out of randomly occurring events.”

Jacobson et al. on A taxonomy of reasoning flaws in the anti-vaccine movement

Of course not.

Cases of SIDS have been described throughout recorded history and have been well studied to prove that they are not associated with vaccines.

“Some events after immunisation are clearly caused by the vaccine (for example, a sore arm at the injection site). However, others may happen by coincidence around the time of vaccination. It can therefore be difficult to separate those which are clearly caused by a vaccine and those that were going to happen anyway… Scientific method is then used to determine if these events are a coincidence or a result of the vaccine.

Vaccine side effects and adverse reactions

It is easy to blame a vaccine when something happens and a child was recently vaccinated. That is especially true now that anti-vaccine folks turn every story of a child’s death or disability into a vaccine injury story.

“Autism was known well before MMR vaccine became available.”

Chen et al. on Vaccine adverse events: causal or coincidental?

Blaming vaccines when it is clear that vaccines aren’t the cause doesn’t help anyone though. It scares other parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids. And it doesn’t help parents who need support caring for a sick child or help coping with the loss of a child.

What to Know About Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences

While all possible adverse events after getting a vaccine should be reported to VAERS and your pediatrician, remember that just because something happened after getting vaccinated, it doesn’t mean that it was caused by the vaccine.

More on Vaccine Injuries vs Coincidences

Andrew Wakefield Is Not A Fraud?

Most folks have a good idea of who Andrew Wakefield is and what he did.

Who's to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?
Who’s to blame for low immunization rates and continuing outbreaks?

Still, some folks seem to be pathologically optimistic that he didn’t actually do anything wrong.

Andrew Wakefield Is Not A Fraud?

You remember Andrew Wakefield, right?

“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.”

J. B. Handley

He is the guy who published the 1998 paper in Lancet in the UK that started folks thinking that the MMR vaccine is somehow associated with autism.

In 1998, a major medical journal based in the UK, The Lancet, published a report headed by Andrew Wakefield, who was at that time a gastroenterological surgeon and medical researcher. The report implied a causal link between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and the development of autism combined with IBD in children, which Wakefield described as a new syndrome he named “autistic entercolitis”.

Andrew Wakefield’s Harmful Myth of Vaccine-induced “Autistic Enterocolitis”

But he didn’t actually say that the MMR vaccine caused autism in that paper, did he?

No, he saved that for the press conference for the paper.

If not for the press conference, which in itself was unusual, and all of the media attention over the next few years, his small study, which was “essentially a collection of 12 clinical anecdotes,” would have gone nowhere.

But there was no “Wakefield Factor” on immunization rates in the UK, was there? Didn’t measles cases continue to go down in the 10 years after his Lancet paper was published?

MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn't fully recover until 2012.
MMR vaccination rates had dropped below 80% by 2003, when the first measles outbreaks in the UK began. They didn’t fully recover until 2012.

Despite the heroic efforts of some folks to manipulate the data, it is clear that MMR vaccination rates dropped and measles cases jumped in the years after Wakefield’s MMR scare.

But even if his paper scared people away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, he was never really found guilty of fraud, was he?

While the findings of the General Medical Council panel that took away Wakefield's medical license never used the word 'fraud,' they described things that are fraudulent.
While the findings of the General Medical Council panel that took away Wakefield’s medical license never used the word ‘fraud,’ they described things that are fraudulent. The words dishonest and misleading come up a lot too.

How do you define fraud?

“The Office of Research Integrity in the United States defines fraud as fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism.13 Deer unearthed clear evidence of falsification. He found that not one of the 12 cases reported in the 1998 Lancet paper was free of misrepresentation or undisclosed alteration, and that in no single case could the medical records be fully reconciled with the descriptions, diagnoses, or histories published in the journal.

Who perpetrated this fraud? There is no doubt that it was Wakefield. Is it possible that he was wrong, but not dishonest: that he was so incompetent that he was unable to fairly describe the project, or to report even one of the 12 children’s cases accurately? No.”

Fiona Godlee on Wakefield’s article linking MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent

Brian Deer wasn’t the only one calling Wakefield a fraud.

But those charges from the General Medical Council were later all overturned, weren’t they?

While charges against John Walker-Smith, a co-author of Wakefield’s study, were dropped on appeal, that doesn’t exonerate Wakefield in anyway. Remember, John Walker-Smith was actually against blaming the MMR vaccine and unlike Wakefield, he and another co-author actually published their own press release stating continued support of the use of the MMR vaccine.

But the other coauthors have stood by the results of the paper, haven’t they?

“We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of such a link was raised and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.”

Retraction of an Interpretation

They stood by the idea that it is important that research be done so that gastrointestinal problems in autistic children can be recognized and treated. Almost all of them retracted Wakefield’s interpretation of the paper though.

Yeah, but other studies have proven Wakefield to be right though, haven’t they?

No, they haven’t. In fact, other labs could not even replicate Wakefield’s original study.

Why wasn't Wakefield ever charged in a criminal court?
Why wasn’t Wakefield ever charged in a criminal court?

But Wakefield’s Lancet paper wasn’t retracted because it’s findings were wrong…

Yes it was!

“Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”

Retraction—Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children

Still think Andrew Wakefield isn’t a fraud?

Every time there is a measles outbreak, anti-vaccine folks pop up to defend Andrew Wakefield. The problem is that they get virtually everything about him wrong!

Their false narratives and myths attempt to rewrite history and make you forget that he doesn’t just scare parents away from vaccinating and protecting their kids, he hurts autistic kids and their families.

More on Andrew Wakefield Myths