By Helen Petousis Harris 05/03/2019 23


Twenty-one years ago the most significant piece of medical piffle was published in a prestigious journal under fraudulent pretences.

The now long since retracted article proposed that the MMR vaccine caused autism based of the purported claims of 8 parents. Yes eight (8). Same number of legs on an octopus. Same number of babies delivered by Octomom in one sitting. This wanton deception held the world to ransom, ably assisted by an all too eager unquestioning mass media.

There is a mountain of evidence

High-quality research from multiple quarters quickly confirmed there was absolutely no association between the vaccine and autism, the nails went in the coffin one after another in fairly quick succession with a 2014 meta-analysis (that pools together several studies into an even bigger study) concluding no association. Five of those studies included involved 1,256,407 children.

In addition to the epidemiological studies that refute an association between MMR vaccine and ASD there is a growing understanding about the genetics of autism as well as the development of the autistic brain. Current evidence using brain imaging is showing us how autism begins before birth.

With overwhelming evidence to the contrary, in classic anti-vaccine style, proponents of the fake MMR/autism link shifted the goal posts and began to claim that the vaccine cause autism in a select predisposed group of children. Sigh… And that that none of the studies have addressed that. So…

It is well established that autism has a complex genetic component, with many genes implicated in playing a role. Autism is more likely in siblings. (See “Autism is mostly genetic again, and The mutant PRICKLE and the split brain by Grant Jacobs, and The why vaccines don’t cause autism papers by Peter Hotez). Anyway, a sibling of an autistic child could be considered at higher risk of autism. Whether or not this predisposes a subgroup of kids to autism after MMR vaccine was first investigated in the US and the findings published in 2015. In that study 95,727 children who had older siblings were assessed for vaccine status and a diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder. The study concluded three things. One, that receipt of the MMR vaccine was not associated with an increased risk of ASD; two, this was regardless of whether or not a sibling had autism. In other words there was no association, even among kids at higher risk; the third conclusion is that parents with an autistic kid were less likely to vaccinate subsequent children – leaving them more susceptible to disease.

To look into this in even more detail researchers in Denmark have used the incredible data available in that country to see if the MMR vaccine increased the risk of autism in different risk groups of children. The follow-up period of these kids is quite extensive. The oldest children were born in 1999 and the youngest 2010. Follow-up went until 2013. There were a total of 657,461 children included in the analysis and this equated to a total person-years of follow-up of 5,025,754. OF these children, 6,517 children received an autism diagnosis. There was no difference between MMR-vaccinated and MMR-unvaccinated kids. There no association with ‘regressive autism’. Also, having a sibling with autism made no difference.

MMR has nothing to do with Autism. Period.

I think this reasonably puts to bed the notion that MMR might trigger autism in susceptible subgroups of children. The coffin is both nailed and super-glued shut then hermetically sealed.


23 Responses to “How many nails does it take to secure the MMR/Autism coffin?”

  • The coffin may be sealed, but the zombies will continue to walk amongst us, eyes blank and staring, repeating the last piece of drivel they ingested before thier brains died.

    “Waaaaakefield…”

  • I started on a ‘quick’ coverage of the latest on genetics in autism, hoping to complement your and Alison’s efforts but it proved to much. I worked until about 3am (my time) and had to give up. Perhaps I will get something up later. If I’d known better I’d have done a breakdown of the paper instead!

    There is a huge amount of work on autism genetics recently; there’d be over a dozen excellent papers I could look at over the last 2-3 months, for example.

    Funnily I thought of the ‘nails in coffins’ thing too. It’s about time we started using screws, maybe? Ones that locked permanently…

    • As Ashton said, its the zombies. Nails, glue, screws… none of those work on zombies, I have seen the movies, must be true.

  • It’s not about the medical science anymore is it? Its about the psychology of the Antivaxxers. I can’t believe I’m the only person who’s declared this. Look at this case (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-47449517 – US teen who defied parents over vaccine warns of misinformation). It would be a harsh – but justifiable – accusation to say that the boy’s mother risked his health so that she would conform with the antivaxxers she communicated with. There are precedents, well known and observed ones, about behaviour like this (the End of the World Cult for example) but my thinking is that we are badly underestimating the extent to which people are drawn into and captured by things like this. Even though their contact with these things is only online. I, personally, am having to deal with people I email writing the most ridiculous things because of their exposure to antivaxxer propaganda and the like ( eg. Mass shootings in the USA are false flag exercises organised by the Democrats. Heard that one?). The person who wrote that to me is educated to degree level and used to work in IT. Yes, sometimes (perhaps mostly), it is sheer lack of cognitive ability that causes people to be antivax but that cannot be the whole story. Fake news/bots/troll farms are more powerful and more pernicious than we suppose.

    I’m only an interested layman but if there are social scientists/psychologists looking at this problem who read this I’d love to hear your input.

    • Miles, I completely agree with you. Antivaxxers are often highly educated and employed in all manner of professions. It is not about smarts or education, it is about cognitive biases such as conspirational thinking couple with the cult-like propaganda of the anti vaccine lobby. Really interesting research into this, lots of recent studies including this one that assesses the psychological roots of anti vaccination. Also the Dunning Kruger effect and Antivaxxers attitudes, rather fascinating. The solution??? I wish I knew.

  • I think the term you’re looking for is motivated reasoning where it’s almost impossible to change someone’s mind with facts. It’s usually driven by worldviews and beliefs entrenched in an individual long before vaccination was even on the table.

  • Thanks Helen for the link. But I think there’s a deeper and more powerful problem that I’m driving at. The paper you sent me (thanks again) takes one through the beliefs that could cause someone to go antivax. But how are those beliefs created and reinforced in someone? (I’m tempted to say ” A target”). It is the methodology of that I’m worried about. For instance: Can people actually become truly addicted to Facebook Likes? If you added that to H.Sapiens need to conform and fit in with the group then we’re up against something powerful. Cults successfully indoctrinate people because the cult can control the complete environment of the target – who they see; what they eat; what they read, etc. But perhaps that level of control is unnecessary. Just control the news – fake and otherwise that people read – generate some likes or approving and reinforcing Tweets and the same result is achieved. Perhaps it’s less sinister (but still dangerous and infuriating) than that – perhaps, merely, cults have to expand in order to beat down thoughts and voices that would burst their bubble – and this is what drives the ceaseless manufacture of lies and counterfeit news.

    Cheers

    Miles

  • Hi Miles
    “For instance: Can people actually become truly addicted to Facebook Likes?” – maybe not addicted. But I agree with you that people have a powerful urge to fit in & to have others approve of them. That can certainly happen in echo chambers where contrary opinions are banned. (I don’t know how they feel when they attract ‘laugh’ emoticons eg in the open forums on Stuff posts – a likely response is simply to block the other person so they no longer see their reactions.)

  • Thanks Alison, Thanks Ashton. That Facebook is going to get its finger out regarding fake news is welcome. Though they’re at least 3 years late and now should start on the rest of the fake news that riddles their platform is something I’ll leave there. Did that Guardian piece hint at the possibility that fake news on this subject isn’t merely generated by the deluded but honest? Are there some operators out there who manufacture it just as clickbait for revenue? Horrid and plausible.
    Cheers
    Miles

  • People like David Avocado Wolfe either do it deliberately, for the clicks, or are absolutely barking. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that anyone using a story to sell a product is more likely to be doing it deliberately, & less likely to be honest-but-deluded.

  • OK Motivated Reasoning it is. But how do we get someone to that point? How are those people made to screen out all other views? Ask an antivaxxer and they’ll say that they have the facts and we are just dupes of big pharma or ‘they’ or ‘them’. There has to be a systematic nudge and reinforce, nudge and reinforce going on. Well, we’re all fairly sure that there is isn’t there? Only the species of it that we’re all used to is only trying to make us buy, say, a new Ford Fiesta. Exasperating (sometimes) but hardly dangerous. Here, those techniques are pushing something dangerous, and they are efficiently doing it so that the antivaxxer movement is growing (though one hopes Facebook seeing the light will dump some gravel in that particular gearbox). Experiment Suggestion: Set up a fake social media account and see what it pulls in and wherever possible identify the source of the fake news. Wonder if that’s been done?

    Thank you everyone – been a pleasure writing this

  • Is the genetic determination of autism proven though Grant? I’ve met many parents who vigorously dispute this and at my lecture this week the professor used autism as an example of possible microbiome induced disease.

    • What is clear is that autism has a complex array of causes including many genetic and environmental factors. This is not scientifically disputed. Some of them we know, others are yet to be elucidated.

  • Hi Paul,

    I have a few posts on the genetics of autism – you might want to check those. I don’t want to repeat myself at length here. That autism has a strong genetic component that has been known for ~50 years. There have been discussions about the extent of it, but it’s accepted to be 75%-90%+. The differences reflect how you calculate “genetic”. It is there and it’s not going to go away. It that sense it’s “proven” (but that’s the wrong word; confirmed might be better).

    Even the paper that Helen covered in the article above (I and Alison covered it too) re-affirms a strong genetic component – the highest ‘hazard’ score they report, by quite a margin, is for a having a sibling with autism.

    People need to stop playing these things as environment or genetics. As some people put it it’ll mostly be environment via genetics: not one or the other, but one via the other. That, too, is a little trite – the reality is just complex – but at least it’s a better way to look at it.

    Two things that won’t environment factors: ‘refrigerator Mums’ or vaccines. They”re both well excluded.

    Autism is a complex condition and it’s likely it’ll break down into several conditions as people learn more. Over 800 genes have been identified that might be involved. Several possible environmental factors have been considered too. Some environmental factors track back to genetics, like the age of the parents – a well-established factor that influences the likelihood of autism. There is a recent paper pointing at infections during pregnancy. I haven’t yet found time to look at it. (You can’t take this as a ‘cause’ on it’s own just yet; aside from needing confirmation, it’s also possible genetics makes the foetus susceptible to infection or susceptible to affects of infection, for example; you have to untangle all of that first.) There is also an excellent paper suggesting RNA editing explains the link between autism and fragile X, another genetic condition. One good thing there is that it offers an explanation of cause, something no environmental factor to date does, they’re more associations, and associations leave open just what the association precisely is.

    So I’m not sure if you’ve been playing attention in class or not! (Writing “proven” like you have suggests not.) BTW, your opening bid also reads as being argumentative or defensive in the way that those who oppose vaccines do rather than discussing. (rather like trolling) Parents “dispute” all sorts of things they don’t really know; that’s neither here nor there, and in any event that’s anecdotal. It’s also part of how silly claims like the one for vaccines and autism persist: mostly it’s just they’re frightened by people raising false “concerns” and don’t know the answer – which leaves some of us who know better having to debunk them.

  • Hi Helen

    How important are controls in studies that reach conclusions that ‘A’ is not related to ‘B?’

    Did the vaxxed/not-vaxxed studies also compare measles/mumps/rubella rates?

  • Grant says, “Even the paper that Helen covered in the article above (I and Alison covered it too) re-affirms a strong genetic component – the highest ‘hazard’ score they report, by quite a margin, is for a having a sibling with autism.”

    I’ve seen studies looking at gonorrhea in children where the the highest ‘hazard’ score reported, by quite a margin, is for a having a sibling with gonorrhea.

    It’s reassuring that those of us dumb arse mothers who don’t know the answer can be reassured by those of us who know better that it’s genetic, not familial, and especially not because of some deviant male relative that scaremongering facebook friends had been suggesting.

    Robyn

    Based on your argument

  • Hi Robyn,

    Not meaning to be argumentative but your reply isn’t based on my argument. In fact it reads as so away from what I’ve written that I’m not sure what point you are trying to make or if you’re just confused, but let me try as best as can 🙁

    Gonorrhea is an infection, one that can transmit mother to child if the infant is infected at birth from the birth canal. In adults the infection tends to be from sexual partners. There is more than one route of infection, and it depends on age.

    By contrast, evidence indicates autism starts in utero, before the child is born (as I point in some of my articles).

    Autism has a long history of studies confirming a strong genetic component. There’s no way to ‘get rid of’ the genetic component of autism. It’s very well established. There may be environmental components to autism in addition to that, but the genetic component is very strong and well established.

    If there was a key point I was making it’s,

    People need to stop playing these things as environment or genetics. As some people put it it’ll mostly be environment via genetics: not one or the other, but one via the other. That, too, is a little trite – the reality is just complex – but at least it’s a better way to look at it.

    When a condition has as strong a genetic component as autism has whatever causes are involved have to work with it. In science you get to explain all of the evidence. For autism there is a bit of a mountain of evidence for a large genetic component. If you come up with a possible environmental factor (say, an infection) you still have to explain how it explains the evidence for genetic component. You don’t get to say “oh, never mind that”!

    Just as one pretend example, let’s say we want to consider the idea (a speculation) that an infection causes autism and arises from the infection in the birth canal. How does this explain that the father’s age is a strong factor influencing the likelihood of autism in the child? You have to take in and explain all the evidence. (On that note, you need to consider all I wrote, not just the one bit you’ve lifted out.)

    Also, it’s not really an argument, or my argument, but a short summary of part of the evidence out there – not my claims, but what research has found. (There’s a lot more, that’s why I pointed at my earlier articles in the opening sentence).

    Just to clarify—you wrote “it’s genetic, not familial”: (most*) genetic conditions are familial. They’re a subset of familial: families have shared genes, and all that. Familial can also include non-genetic conditions. For example (some) contagious illnesses tend to be familial because sibling are more readily infected because siblings are around each other more of the time, closer to each other, and so on. I think most parents know the upshot of that one rather well! 😀 (Painfully, even…!)

    The evidence for causes of autism is complex and there aren’t many (or any yet) examples that tidily go right from a cause to how it would play out. (The RNA editing link with fragile X may prove an exception, which is one of the reasons I hope to find time to read it.) That might make it seem a mess for those new to it (me too!), but the aspect that there is a strong genetic component is very well established.

    I can’t work out what point (if any) your last last long paragraph is trying to make, sorry. It seems disconnected to this discussion. I certainly didn’t base any of ‘my argument’ on a “deviant male relative” or whatnot! And I’m not talking down to anyone either; it’s just a summary of some of what’s there (re “dumb arse mothers who don’t know the answer”.)

    (* de novo in the mutations aren’t as they arise spuriously.)

  • Grant, for someone not meaning to be argumentative you make a good fist of it. You sure do make a habit of talking down to folk. Some of us less fortunate parents do have Masters and other post graduate degrees. You don’t need to treat us like imbeciles.

    You’d said, Even the paper that Helen covered in the article above (I and Alison covered it too) re-affirms a strong genetic component – the highest ‘hazard’ score they report, by quite a margin, is for a having a sibling with autism.

    So what? As I pointed out, saying that having a sibling with autism re-affirms a strong genetic component is a scientific nonsense. It’s akin to saying, having a sibling with gonorrhea re-affirms a strong genetic component. It’s a total nonsense. And by the way, your trying to explain gono is further evidence of your pious approach to posts.

  • Robyn –

    Railing at straw men isn’t helpful IMHO: I’m just doing what I can.

    I think it’s not difficult to realise the sibling hazard scores are taken in context with all the other evidence. I wrote more than the one bit you’ve pointed at, and also pointed you to my articles elsewhere, saying I’m not going to cover the full ground here. There’s just too much to cover in a comment. Among other things specific alleles/mutations associated with autism have been identified; variations of SHANK3 are probably the best studied, but there are others. What’s true for infections that can transmit vertically doesn’t “take away” the point about autism being dominantly genetic: you’ll want to read all the evidence before you can make judgements, rather than try nitpick single bits of them. Good luck with it.

    Cheers – Grant

  • This has been a truly, interesting thread.
    Hrlen, may I ask you to repost the link to ‘Current evidence using brain imaging is showing us how autism begins before birth.’ – as in your original post please ?

    It doesn’t currently work. Thanks

  • David,

    https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1307491

    There is other evidence that autism very likely starts prenatally. A review from 2016 can be found at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27014681

    There’s also some suggestion that prenatal fever or infection may be associated with some cases of autism. Relevant to vaccines is that prenatal rubella infection may be a cause of autism — if true, that’s something vaccines can prevent.

    I’ve written a bit on autism over on the Code for life blog. Alison has also written a few pieces related to autism on bioBlog.