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Vaccine-autism link: Falser than ever

“Your facts won’t change my opinion,” my coworker sniffed. It was years ago, now, but I remember the conversation vividly. We had been arguing politics, but it was clear that there was no way I could open her closed, inactive mind, no matter how wrong she was.

When it comes to technology, especially technology they do not understand, many citizens exhibit this willful ignorance. There exists in our society the pervasive myth that childhood vaccinations can somehow visit autism on your child. The very notion is upsetting and disturbing. It is, however, entirely and fundamentally without merit – misinformation that is breathtaking in its falsehood and outrageous in its audacity. “Big Pharma” has become a scapegoat for legions of distraught parents who, quite understandably, want some external, even malevolent force to blame for an affliction we still do not understand very well.

Shortly after we first discussed this issue in Technocracy, WND published a column by Cynthia Cournoyer, the explicit purpose of which was to rebut mine. Ms. Cournoyer is the author of a book called “What About Immunizations? Exposing the Vaccine Philosophy.” She made several assertions in her column, all of which are easily dismissed or refuted.

For example, Ms. Cournoyer asserts that there must be an epidemic of autism in the United States because of increased rates of diagnosis – except that children diagnosed with autism now are often much more mildly affected than children previously so diagnosed. As Dr. Michael Cohen said, “Experts, myself included, attribute [the higher numbers] to better diagnosis, now that the medical profession is more aware of autism’s many forms. And with better diagnosis comes reclassification of patients as autistic.”

Ms. Cournoyer goes on to cite as evidence for “vaccine-caused autism” the Hannah Poling case, which she erroneously claims constitutes “a landmark admission of vaccine-caused injury.”  The case constitutes no such admission, and it supports my argument, not hers. Ms. Cournoyer also cannot claim that the Poling case represents proof of Thimerosal-caused autism, for that was not the argument; rather, the argument offered (without supporting evidence) was that a very rare pre-existing condition contributed to some form of “overloading” of Hannah Poling’s immune system. This is clearly not the case in the majority of American children, considering only that the disorder in question is rare.

Ms. Cournoyer also cites the rather impressive monetary sum awarded to what she calls “vaccine victims” through the “National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.” The existence of this award does not constitute medical evidence of a link between vaccines and autism.  It only implies that, yes, vaccines have risks (as any pediatrician will tell you).

Ms. Cournoyer points out that what she calls the “controversy” over vaccines is “gaining strength and credibility.”  This is half true – but the movement is gaining strength and volume only because of people like Ms. Cournoyer herself, who use junk science and illogic to prey on the fears of anxious parents. Each and every attempt to establish a link between vaccines and autism has been subsequently refuted (such as when it was theorized that a build-up of mercury from vaccinations was causing autism, a notion quickly contradicted by a University of Rochester study showing that infants excrete mercury more rapidly than previously believed). Supporters of the vaccines-autism link claim, without substantiation, that “Big Pharma” is suppressing evidence that proves their conspiracy theories.

Ms. Cournoyer claims that none of the studies failing to find a link between Thimerosal in vaccines and the onset of autism included unvaccinated control groups, such as the Amish. UPI reporter Dan Olmsted claimed in 2005 that there was little or no autism among the Amish of Lancaster County, Pa. – but he was wrong. As I quickly learned, the Amish do vaccinate, and there are children among them who exhibit symptoms of autism.

Finally, Ms. Cournoyer seems to believe that “real studies have been carried out and duplicated” that link the MMR vaccine to autism.  To accept this, we must ignore the existence of a recent study that finds no link between the MMR and autism, the fact that “no scientific data link Thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines with any pediatric neurologic disorder, including autism, and the fact that the removal of Thimerosal from vaccines has not resulted in any measurable decrease in diagnosis of autism. (The rate instead continues to increase as we become better able to diagnose the disorder.)

As Ned Calonge wrote in the Denver Post:

There now have been 16 separate, independent studies undertaken in five countries, involving millions of children, that have found no link between vaccination, vaccines or vaccine preservatives (namely, the mercury-based Thimerosal) and autism. We have more data supporting this lack of association than for most other “known facts” in medicine. The sheer number of children included in these studies precludes the theory that there may be even some small but significant number of children for whom vaccination was at fault for, or contributed to, any measurable degree of autism.

The irony is that Ms. Cournoyer and her fellow conspiracy theorists have never been more wrong than they are today. Lancet, the medical journal responsible for first promulgating this unsupported link between vaccines and autism, last week retracted the long-discredited 1998 study at the myth’s root. The damage caused by Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s unethical behavior, however, has been done. This latest nail in the coffin of “vaccine-caused autism” will be ignored, as has every other study disproving this connection.

Increased outbreaks of preventable childhood diseases will continue to rise accordingly.  The purpose of vaccines is to encourage a “herd immunity” that creates a hostile climate for a given disease.  Releasing into a vaccinated population a sub-population of unvaccinated individuals helps those diseases take root once more.  Once established, they are more likely to mutate, endangering the entire community.

The irresponsible parents who harm their own children – and their neighbors’ kids – through this negligence will continue to do so regardless of the truth. We must conclude they care more about their opinions than they do about facts.