by Barbara Loe Fisher
As the latest study attempting to disprove a link between vaccination and autism demonstrates: if you really don't want to know the answer, just ask part of the question. When medical researchers take a reductionist approach to investigating vaccine risks, the public can always count on spin doctors to position the conclusions of a narrowly focused study in a way that appears to totally exonerate vaccines from association with all risks, especially autism.
The most recent paper purporting to clear MMR vaccine from any relationship with the development of regressive autism in previously healthy children was published by researchers at the CDC and Columbia University in the online journal of Public Library of Science . The authors report on a federally funded initiative to address the hypothesis published in 1998 by Andrew Wakefield, M.D. and others that some children who receive MMR vaccine develop inflammatory bowel disease and regressive autism due to persistent measles virus (MV) infection.
The examination by three laboratories of intestinal tissues from 25 autistic children, five of whom developed gastrointestinal (GI) and autistic symptoms after MMR vaccination, confirmed the presence of measles virus RNA in one child with autism and one control case. Even though the study only included five children who were previously healthy before regressing into autism after MMR vaccination, it is being touted as concrete proof that MMR vaccine is not in any way involved in the development of regressive autism in previously healthy children.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
While Wakefield may have imperfectly described the biological mechanism for development of MMR vaccine induced autism in 1998 (proposing a persistent measles virus infection in the GI tract that affected the brain), he certainly DID correctly report an association between receipt of MMR vaccine in previously healthy children and subsequent simultaneous development of serious bowel disease and autism. It was an important clinical observation and call for further research published in a respected medical journal (The Lancet) but one that Wakefield and his colleagues would pay for dearly. The hypothesis has been furiously denounced for a decade by mandatory vaccination proponents in government, industry, and medical organizations in Europe and the U.S. as they scramble to defend aggressive one-size-fits-all MMR vaccine policies being used in measles eradication campaigns worldwide.
Thoughtful House, a pediatric care facility and research institute in Austin, Texas founded by Dr. Wakefield, issued a response to the study which said in part: "We are pleased to see that this new study provides further confirmation that children with autism suffer from gastrointestinal problems that deserve to be addressed as a priority. Dr. Andrew Wakefield, Executive Director of Thoughtful House Center for Children, whose work has focused on intestinal disease, and on the possible role of MMR vaccine in regressive autism in children with GI symptoms, welcomed these new findings. Dr. Wakefield was a co-author of the 2002 paper that, unlike yesterday's study, examined children in the majority of whom there was a clear temporal link between MMR exposure and regression. Dr. Wakefield comments, "The search for the 'footprints' of measles virus in the intestine is merited, based upon the previous findings and the intestinal disease that is commonly found in these children. This new study rules out only one possibility - that the measles virus must remain for the long term in the intestine. We need to consider that the MMR vaccine can cause autism as a hit-and-run injury, but not necessarily leave the measles virus behind."
The biological mechanism for MMR vaccine induced regressive autism - as well as autism that develops in previously healthy children following injection with other vaccines like DPT/DTaP, hepatitis B, varicella zoster, pneumococcal - could well involve an interaction between individual genetic vulnerabilities (autoimmunity, allergy) and the known ability of drugs and vaccines to induce immune mediated inflammation in the body, especially brain inflammation. The most serious and feared complication of the very first vaccines - smallpox and rabies - is inflammation of the brain (encephalitis/encephalopathy), which can be mild or severe with a constellation of acute symptoms that are subtle (deep sleep with difficulty arousing) to dramatic (convulsions, high pitched screaming).
Mild to severe brain inflammation can lead to permanent brain dysfunction in at least one-third or more of all who experience it. The residual effects of brain inflammation can vary from learning disabilities and ADHD/ADD to medication resistant seizure disorders, autistic behaviors and mental retardation.
In 1998, officials of the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) published a review of vaccine injury and death claims submitted to the VICP involving measles vaccine either alone or in combination (such as MMR). They analyzed the medical records of 48 children ages 10 to 49 months who either had died or suffered mental regression and retardation, chronic seizures, motor and sensory deficits and movement disorders following receipt of measles containing vaccines. The authors concluded that "The onset of neurologic signs or symptoms occurred with a nonrandom, statistically significant distribution of cases on days 8 and 9" and "This clustering suggests that a causal relationship between measles vaccine and encephalopathy may exist as a rare complication of measles immunization."
Immune mediated chronic inflammation of the brain, gastrointestinal tract and other parts of the body in previously healthy children following receipt of MMR and other vaccines may not be as rare as CDC officials would have the public believe.
Researchers have found evidence of chronic inflammation in the brains of patients with autism, particularly in the cerebellum. Brains of those suffering with autism have been observed to be in "a chronic state of specific cytokine activity." The suggested biological mechanisms for the observed brain inflammation included chronic disease or an external environmental source. In addition, there is a good possibility that genetic predisposition to immune system dysfunction (autoimmunity, allergy) may be a key to development of regressive autism following vaccination in some children.
The recent study out of the CDC and Columbia University is not good enough evidence to disprove the autism-MMR link first reported by Wakefield and others in 1998. The scope of the most recent investigation was far too narrow and enlightened pediatricians and informed parents know it. As autism advocate Rick Rollens and national autism groups have pointed out, more methodologically sound research must be done before the public jury questioning MMR vaccine safety will stand down. A good start would be a prospective case controlled study comparing immune and brain function of highly vaccinated children to that of unvaccinated children for a period of at least ten years, which has been requested by parents of vaccine injured children for several decades.
For a comprehensive summary of the decade- long persecution that Andrew Wakefield has endured at the hands of individuals with major financial conflicts of interest with government and industry, visit the Cryshame website at http://www.cryshame. net/ maintained in Great Britain. A new essay by British journalist Martin Walker entitled "An Interest in Conflict" examines the tactics used by those determined to punish Wakefield for daring to publish an hypothesis discussing the association between vaccines and autism.
The Cryshame website also features a video tutorial by British pediatrician Richard Halvorson on measles, mumps, rubella, and MMR vaccine. Questions Dr. Halvorsen poses and answers include:
· How dangerous is measles?
· Is measles a killer?
· Can measles be good for you?
· Does vaccination give life-long protection?
· Is MMR necessary?
COMING UP IN THE NEWS: On Monday, Sept. 8, the Dr. Mehmet Oz show on the Oprah & Friends Network is scheduled to broadcast a radio debate on hepatitis B vaccine ( http://www. oprah.com/oafhost/moz); On Tuesday, Sept. 9 the new daytime CBS show "The Doctors" will feature a segment on Gardasil vaccine; On Sept. 18, "The Doctors" will broadcast a segment on mandatory vaccination. For more information or to post a comment after the segments have aired, go to http://www.tvweek.com/ne ws/2008/09/video_cbs_tv_distributions_the.php