Vaccination quickies

By Phil Plait | January 14, 2009 11:48 am

A few items have come up in the past couple of days about vaccines and the people who understand reality versus the ones who don’t.

1) Paul Offit, who wrote the book Autism’s False Prophets, has a nice writeup in the New York Times this week. He has received all sorts of death threats because he wants to save children’s lives. Nice. Also mentioned are Amanda Peet, who supports Offit, as well as the villains in this story like Jenny McCarthy.

2) I was surprised to hear that there is an antivax movement against animal vaccinations as well. Science-Based Medicine has an interesting article on the real benefits and risks with animal vaccinations, and is worth a read if you’re a pet owner.

3) Are you a parent with an opinion on vaccinations? Then send an email to Jenn Savedge (jenn at thegreenparent dot com), who writes for The Green Parent. She says she has talked to many experts, but wants opinions from parents who have weighed this issue themselves. If you support vaccinations — and you should — then send her a note. If you think vaccines cause autism, then read the links on this blog post.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Debunking, Science

Comments (63)

  1. Todd W.

    Nice article in the Times. I particularly liked how they included comments from an autism expert who is not tied to either Dr. Offit or the pharmaceutical industry.

    Oh, and the side mention of the Moon Landing Hoax believers assures that this article is appropriate for Bad Astronomy. :)

  2. Charles Boyer

    The problem is that you cannot convince anti-vaxxers because they simply will turn to pseudo or discredited science to back up their apocryphal claims.

    In fact, Phil, I guarantee that you will see a few come over and post in this thread before it runs its course.

  3. I have a friend who has two autistic sons. She mentioned in passing that they both have to have gluten and dairy-free diets, but did not specify if it was due to an actual diagnosed allergy. After reading many of Phil’s posts here, and stuff in other parts of the t00bs, I’m now curious if she has gone over to the dark side. We’ve never discussed her sons’ autism, but I’m starting to think maybe I should as some questions.

    Another part of me, though, is telling me that they’re not my kids and it’s really none of my business.

    I’m conflicted.

  4. Todd W.


    People with autism do have a tendency to suffer from gastrointestinal problems. While a GFCF (Gluten-Free, Casein-Free) diet may help alleviate behavior problems due to this GI distress, it most certainly is not a cure. It would be good, though, to see if your friend’s sons have actually been diagnosed by a GI specialist.

  5. Matt

    WRT #3: not to question your honesty/credibility or whatever Dr P, but do you have some kind of linkage or more info on this? I couldn’t find anything on it after a quick look around the green parent website. Being a “pro-vax” Bouldery tree-hugger, I’d like to add my $0.019 worth, but don’t want to spam Ms Savedge, either. Is it ok to say “Phil sez to tell you wot I think”…?

  6. Phil, thanks for so doggedly pursuing these anti-vaxxer nuts. All these steps forward from Pasteur and suddenly we start going backward again. I honestly believe sometimes that people are getting more stupid…not less…

  7. Michelle

    Pet vax? I’m not surprised. Pets are always #2 to children.

    But I gotta say, there are problems with vaccinations on dogs sometimes. My neighbor’s dog had a massive reaction to a vaccine, and she had to get an operation to remove a huge chunk of skin resulting from that.

    But then again, allergies happens to everything. I have yet to figure out what is making my dog have that huge fur loss on his back. Vets are useless sometimes. Nothing works.

  8. Russ

    Anyone (that would include almost every vet) who has witnessed a puppy suffer from Parvo would be absolutely outraged. A very painful death, and 91% mortality rate. The most a vet can do is end the suffering.

    How can anyone be so cruel to an animal?

  9. Brandon

    Sorry this is off-topic.

    Dr. Plait,

    I am a Co-Op out at KSC this semester. At our meeting today they gave us some mission patches and one happens to be for STS-125 which is the last Hubble servicing mission. When I think of space telescopes I think of you of course and I grabbed an extra STS-125 patch. If you want it just let me know where to send it.

  10. Sili

    Speaking of animal vaccinations: my family is in agriculture and the rumour is that the blue-tongue vaccinations that are now mandatory are causing more abortions and/or death after calving. The conspiracy theory is that there’s not central register for it because that would then require the state to pay compensation if any is indeed shown to be wrong. (And more annoyingly the supposed interest organisation for farmers only have one cattle representative, who’s said to be in bed with the abatoirs and the ministry.)

    Does anyone know anything realitybased about bluetongue?

    I had my foundling cat neutered and vaccinated in November with a booster shot in December. He’s less than a year and I’ve noticed no difference in his behaviour. He’s certainly not autistic.

    There! My anecdote counters your anecdote.

  11. Russ

    A herbal remedy for a parvo? What horrible individual would profit from such a thing?

  12. Thanks for this post. Since I have started working with children and adults with disabilities, I have been barraged with the idea that vaccinations have caused people’s autism. I find it ridiculous at best. The times children are vaccinated happen to be at critical developmental stages, and this is, of course, when autism is most easily diagnosed.
    As far as any rise in diagnosis of autism, this, to me, is obviously due to the fact that our diagnosis techniques are much better than they were even 10 years ago, and the autism spectrum is much broader than ever previously thought.
    Vaccinations save lives!

  13. wb

    When it comes to being “green,” vaccines would seem to be the greenest sort of medicine. You are giving a bit of an organism or a related organism to trigger a natural immune reaction in the person or animal. You are mimicking what happens in nature when you get a mild case of the disease.

    Just like homeopathy, only real.

  14. AnthonyK

    drksy, you might like to think carefully before tackling your friend about vaccination and autism. I recently had an unpleasant experience when, at a friend’s house and talking to strangers, I mentioned that homepathy was useless and non-science. We argued, as you do, but I then strayed into dangerous territory when I sneered that homeopathists do some harm – in diagreeing with vaccination. I got, as one does, angry with the idiots. Then they told me their young son had got cerebral palsy following an adverse reaction…well, end of argument. They left, and my friend’s wife threw me out.
    I was quite right, of course, but not necessarily glad to be so. You can’t argue with a parent , whose child “has” been damaged by vaccines, however wrong they may be.

  15. An important point from Dr. Gregory A. Poland: “a few years ago this ceased to be a civil scientific discourse and became about crucifying individuals.”

    This applies to both sides of the vaccine argument. At least pro-vaxxers are generally less hysterical than anti-vaxxers.

  16. Maria

    Absolutely fantastic article……………. I might have to share it with a few people….

    Sili: I am a Veterinarian with almost 18 years of experience. I work only on small animals but adverse reactions to vaccinations are reported to the manufacturer who has to keep records of any and all possible reactions. I have vaccinated tens of thousands of animals and have rarely seen reactions, only twice life threatening (both animals survied BTW). Can they happen? Of course, any drug can provoke reactions. The point is I much rather treat a dog for hive after a vaccine than have to treat it for Parvo or worse yet Leptospirosis(which is zoonotic)

    As an aside there is a small but growing movement against vaccinations in animals too. The “reasoning” is that they cause all sorts of autoimmune problems, and they can be every bit as militant as antivaxxers on the human side. My husband, also a DVM, spent nearly an hour a few months back arguing with a client over vaccs. She was dead set against them……… other than the Rabies vacc that is required by our County. Where did she get her info? “Dr. Google” (if we could only revoke his license ;-))

  17. Russ

    The animal woo movement is huge. Checkout the site:

    Seems normal. But then check out something like:

    ” You may also consult a homeopathic or naturopathic veterinarian for alternative Parvo treatments. There are some natural and homeopathic treatments for Parvo on the retail market. Amber Technology offers Parvaid, an all natural herbal formula that the manufacturer claims has helped some animals overcome Parvo. ”

    And this is the #1 google result for parvo.

  18. Liz P

    So much bluster, so little substance. For those of you who believe vaccines are 100% safe, read the actual inserts for each vaccine; also read the excipient list for each vaccine on the CDC website (and be sure to note that “mercury free” is not actually free of mercury and that children can and do receive 30 needles containing 14 diseases by the time they are 2). More recommended reading, for those of you who survive the first assignment should include the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting database – pay special attention to “hot lots.” Finally, visit the CDC website, again, and read about these “dread” diseases you are so certain will kill our children; pay special attention to statements like the following, “Most people infected with the polio virus have no symptoms.” FYI, it is likely that DDT caused the paralysis, not the polio virus.

    Now, here’s another tidbit to chew on…Does Tylenol work? How do you know? Maybe that headache was going to go away anyhow, so the Tylenol was only coincidental. Or how about Claritin? Maybe your allergies are all in your imagination…Some families (only about 13,400 that I communicate with) see significant change with elimination of gluten and casein (and, gasp, soy, preservatives, and artificial colors/flavors) from their children’s diets.

    I know it is sacrilige in your book to actually home-make organic meals and treats (yes, my kids eat cake, cookies, muffins, candy, popsicles, “ice cream,” chips, pancakes, waffles, toast, and more in addition to three squares – they are not deprived). Most families who follow this road have had at least one incident of “infraction.” If the proof is in the pudding, then there is no doubt for them how big an improvement diet can make; the majority of us who suffered one infraction will pretty much stand on our heads to avoid another! So, if you are lucky enough not to carry the Autism albatros, try walking a mile in your “friend’s” shoes before you open your mouth to criticize the decisions s/he undoubtedly spent hundreds of hours researching and soul-searching about.

    Further, despite my having done thousands of hours of research into this subject, I have yet to find a single study that concludes vaccines are 100% safe, and the manufacturers readily admit the vaccines are, at best, 80% effective (and this is only for an indeterminate amount of time, they hope 1 – 8 years). Even worse, some are administered to newborns and infants “off-label,” and others administered concommitantly when contra-indicated to be administered in this manner. Most sad is the fact that, thanks to the “success” of the vaccine program (more likely, good handwashing and proper sanitation and sewage) many nursing mothers have never had the diseases (though some develop passive immunity through exposure), so they cannot impart solid immunity to their infants through breastfeeding, putting those infants at risk.

    Of course, very few of the rabid pro-vaccine ranters will bother to perform any research that is not bought and paid for. Thus this debate continues its useless cycle and 1 in every 6 children coming into the world will have a developmental disability that could, likely have been prevented. But hey, what’s 1 in 6 when disease could possibly have caused similar results for, at worst, 1 in a thousand (who contract the disease, since not all exposed would)…And to that point, how do we know that the few un- or under-vaccinated children who die or are disabled from a disease would have both developed immunity as a result of vaccination and not succumbed to an adverse event because of the vaccine introduction of the very same disease (and the many toxic chemicals that get injected alongside)?!

    Posted by: Liz P

  19. The Paul Offit story is disgusting, I’ve been following that for a few days and all I can think of in connection with it is the Ayatollah chucking out the death threats against Rushdie. It’s no different, just ignorant, backwards idiots refusing to engage with reality on any level.

    For the record I’m not a parent myself but a friend of mine’s first child developed autism at an early age and they are baffled by anyone who thinks it may have been caused by vaccines or anything in the vaccines. Apparently they’ve been contacted by a lot of cranks on the issue and are now less than polite when telling them where to go, which makes me happy :)

  20. I don’t think that it’s my business to confront my friend directly. I’m formulating a post to put on my blog, which I know she reads, and link to some of Phil’s posts. If she’s anti-vaxx and as shrill about as the rest of them, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

  21. Yeah, those people are taking their children’s lives into their hands when they oppose vaccines. Check out the comments on that link. I hope he’s not planning on “faith-healing” or anything.

  22. Eric the Read

    FYI, I tried to send a supportive note to Jenn at The Green Parent, but the email bounced. (Complaining “relaying denied”… which I could see, but this was from GMail, so, um…)

    Anyway, I have a 4-month-old girl, and I just can’t imagine making a decision not to vaccinate her. I might as well cut her finger and bind it up with a rusty nail.

  23. Maria


    Oh, I think Parvaid is just colloidal silver aka. snake oil. You see, Parvo is a virus that once a dog gets it, there is nothing that can really kill the virus (there is some evidence Tamiflu seems to slow down the virus, but even that is iffy). You just need to provide supportive care to the dog until its intestinal lining regenerates. Most dogs die of sepsis as the virus destroys the cells in the crypt between the villi and secondary infections take over. So any yahoo can tell you their remedy makes dogs recover from Parvo, since some dogs do recover from it, if treatment starts soon enough after the bloody, projectile diarrhea starts. Sad thing is that the vaccine is pretty darn close to 100% effective. Three shots given at 8,12 anbd 16 weeks, at 1 year and every three years thereafter will keep the dog healthy…..

  24. Maria

    Liz P:

    NO vaccine,or drug for that matter , is 100% safe. ANYONE can have a reaction. Even the so called all natural remedies can cause reactions… That is why the data base exists.

    I am allergic to Naproxen, does that mean it should be taken off the market, or that I would tell people not to use it? NO, it means that my particular physiology does not tolerate the drug.

  25. Todd W.

    @Liz P

    First off, who here is saying that vaccines are 100% safe and effective? The overall risks are quite small, and are far outweighed by the benefits conveyed.

    Regarding off-label use and contraindicated use, that is not the fault of the vaccines or the manufacturers, but rather the physicians and nurses who are not following the labeled instructions and indications.

    You state that 1 in 6 children come into the world with a developmental disorder that could be prevented. Are you implying that vaccines are the cause? What is your source for this statistic? What research do you have to support the implication that vaccines are the cause?

    As to the “Most people infected with the polio virus have no symptoms” comment, yes, that’s true. However, particularly with highly communicable diseases, like measles, there will be people who suffer serious complications. Of those who suffer complications, most will live, but likely with permanent injury. A few will die. Vaccines lower that number significantly. Furthermore, those who suffer adverse reactions from the vaccines are, according to the CDC, far fewer than the number of people who will suffer adversely from the disease. The benefit outweighs the risk, both to the individual and to the public at large.

    On the question of how we know whether or not someone who suffered from the disease would have attained immunity and not had an adverse reaction if they had been vaccinated, we don’t know with certainty, as every individual is different. However, we can be pretty close to sure that they will be okay, particularly if we know their and their family’s medical history.

    And the comment about injecting the very same disease is a bit off. Yes, it is the same trigger for the disease, but it is either attenuated (made less potent) or killed. In both cases, this allows the immune system to develop antibodies, without triggering the actual disease.

    As far as diet and autism go, as I mentioned before, many people with autism, IIRC, tend to have GI problems or food allergies. For them, particularly those who are on the lower-functioning end of the spectrum, changes in diet may alleviate the physical discomforts that trigger behavioral outbursts. The result is an apparent improvement in overall behavior. Note, that this is not a cure for autism, but rather treating one aspect of it and making their behavior more manageable.

    While I have not worked directly with autistic patients, my ex is a board certified behavior analyst, and I learned a great deal about the disorder spectrum from her, as well as about applied behavior analsysis, which thus far is the only treatment with valid research to back it up. And even ABA just treats the outward symptoms, since the specific cause (and therefore a proper root-cause treatment) is unknown, though there appears to be a strong genetic component. Actually, a news article I read recently suggests that high levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid in utero may indicate that the child will develop autism.

  26. AnthonyK

    One thing that strikes me about this whole autism/vaccination debate is that is seems to greatly diminish the respect due to individuals with autism. Parents who “blame” sometihing for their child’s autism, and are constantly seeking to “cure” them seem to me not to be coming to terms with who their child really is, seeking exorcisms for the evil spirit within, as it were. Severe autism is very difficult and demanding for parents to deal with, but I think that anger and the attempt to use unproven and untested interventions to change them actually do their children a grave dis-service and prevent them loving them for the person within. Seems a little like a death they have never come to terms with, and which continues to poison their lives.
    Oh, and LizP, so much nonsense, so little time – but I imagine there is no one here who would think it is a bad idea to prepare good, nutritious food for your kids, and to experiment with their diet to see if anything helps. What I (we?) particularly resent though is the accusation of bad faith, that people are vaccinated despite known risk of serious complications. This is simply untrue, as is the rest of your post.

  27. Lisa

    It’s getting to the point where I feel I have to ask parents if their children are vaccinated. I’m take an immune suppressant and I just can’t afford to get the flu much less something more serious. It could be fatal to me. It may be your right not to vaccinate, but the rest of us have the right not to get sick because of you. If you choose not to vaccinate your child and that child infects someone else who dies, is that depraved indifference to human life? I think it’s definitely inconsiderate.

    Vaccines are not 100%. I don’t think any decent scientist would try to say that. But there is a 100% chance that without vaccines many more people would suffer and die.

  28. Todd W.


    Thanks for posting here. Those who are against vaccines generally tend to focus on their own kids and don’t consider the impact on others. It’s good to hear your perspective.

  29. HCN

    Liz P intoned “Thus this debate continues its useless cycle and 1 in every 6 children coming into the world will have a developmental disability that could, likely have been prevented. But hey, what’s 1 in 6 when disease could possibly have caused similar results for, at worst, 1 in a thousand (who contract the disease, since not all exposed would)”

    So in your perfect world are all children above average?

    Welcome to basic misunderstanding of standard statistics. The “1 out of 6” figure is the about 16% that is left on either end of a normal curve (bell curve) past one standard deviation. One standard deviation from the mean includes about 68% of the total population, with 16% on the high end and the rest on the low end.

    No matter what you do to prevent anything, when all the data is collected there will ALWAYS be 1 out of 6 below one standard from the mean.

    The trick is the location of the mean. Without vaccines more children will become disabled and crippled like they were more than a generation ago. That was the era of “institutions” and state schools for the blind, deaf and “feeble minded”.

  30. HCN

    Oops, I forgot (and since it is a link it will not be posted immediately), here is an explanation of the rules for standard deviation of normally distributed data:

    Also, for reading of what the world was like before vaccines I would suggest:
    “Deaf Like Me”, by the Spradley brothers (rubella epidemic in the 1960s)
    “The Silent Boy” by Lois Lowry (read to the end and see where the “silent boy” ends up)
    “Train Go Sorry” by Leah Cohen Hager (or is it Hager Cohen?), changes in deaf ed
    “Vaccinated” by Paul Offit (and some other books on development of vaccines like “Polio, An American Story” which explain the vaccine testing done in institutions where disabled children were warehoused)

  31. anonymous

    The open-minded among you might benefit by doing some reading here – challenge yourselves to examine the possibility that you might not be as well informed as you think.

    Christine EscobarFounder and editor of Green Parent
    Posted January 14, 2009
    Doctors, Vaccine Dissent and The God Complex

  32. I have found that almost anything about vaccines written on HuffPo is grossly wrong. RFK Jr, Kirby, and the like couldn’t find the truth on this issue if they were at the epicenter of a measles outbreak.

    And if you are so dedicated to this, why post anonymously?

  33. anonymous

    Measles, you say? Then you’ll be interested in reading this –
    January 13, 2009
    Olmsted on Autism: Autism Explosion Followed Big Change in MMR Shot
    By Dan Olmsted

  34. Chris

    Um, anonymous, I looked at both, and well, they are both pretty underwhelming (it was not a big change in the mumps component, and vaccines are checked and tweaked over the years, not really a big deal, especially compared the HUGE change in the diagnostic criteria for autism). Isn’t Olmsted the same guy who went to Amish country and completely missed a clinic dedicated to researching the unique genetic diseases of that population?

    Anyway, the Age of Autism blog is just a mouthpiece of some die-hard antiscience blowhards who do not allow dissent. Go over there and just try to post a comment that does not conform to their world view, see if it ever gets to see the light of day.

  35. anonymous

    This is underwhelming?

    “…A significant number of parents of children with regressive autism cite the MMR as the proximate cause — they say their child was developing normally until the shot, then in many cases had a serious physical reaction within a short period of time and began losing developmental milestone and showing typical signs of the disorder. Some also developed severe gastrointestinal problems, an ailment first described in cases of regressive autism following the MMR shot by Dr. Andrew Wakefield in Britain in 1998; he named it autistic enterocolitis and found measles RNA in the children’s GI tract, suggesting persistent infection…”

    What about this?
    “I am a pediatric neurologist and a brain development researcher. My main focus is autism. After much thought, I have come to the formulation that autism may be most inclusively understood and helped through an inclusive whole-body systems approach, where genes and environment are understood to interplay…”

    Dr. Herbert provides the link to this article at her website.
    Autism: It’s Not Just In the Head
    The devastating derangements of autism also show up in the gut and in the immune system. That unexpected discovery is sparking new treatments that target the body in addition to the brain…
    by Jill Neimark
    published March 22, 2007

  36. anonymous

    “…HUGE change in the diagnostic criteria for autism.”

    That’s been proven wrong. And I know that precisely because I began reading the Age of Autism website recently, where I’m getting the real science, unfiltered.

    (Study published in January 2009 issue of the journal Epidemiology)

    Please reply.

  37. Todd W.


    Umm…you’re citing things that use Andrew Wakefield’s work as evidence? I take it, then, that you didn’t hear that his studies were poorly controlled, the samples contaminated, and his funding coming from a lawyer representing parents who claim their kids got autism after the MMR? The study population was woefully small, as well. Not to mention that Wakefield took out patents on a couple different alternatives to the MMR. All he and the lawyer needed to make it big was for his study to come back with MMR as a positive cause of autism. For more on this, take a look at investigative journalist Brian Deer’s web site. Currently, Wakefield is residing in the U.S., having had his medical license stripped in the U.K.

    As for the diagnostic criteria for autism, it did expand with the release of DSM IV. The symptom listing became more generalized, allowing for more people to receive a diagnosis of autism. Around the same time, newer tools (questionaires, observational checklists, etc.) and training for identifying and diagnosing autism were developed. These allowed for earlier and sometimes more accurate diagnoses. Also around this time, autism was being presented in the media more frequently, possibly leading to greater awareness and reporting of the illness, as well as some potentially greater misdiagnoses among the less-informed medical providers.

    There are a lot of factors behind the apparent increase in autism cases. Vaccines in general have been examined. Thimerosal has been examined. The MMR vaccine has been examined. And every well-controlled study has found no causal connection to autism.

    I would advise looking at web sites and information that is based on better quality science, such as the FDA and CDC web sites, as well as the NIH. Also, I again recommend a good look at Brian Deer’s web site for information on the Wakefield matter.

  38. anonymous

    “Vaccines in general have been examined.”
    “Thimerosal has been examined.”
    “The MMR vaccine has been examined.”
    “And every well-controlled study has found no causal connection to autism.”

    If you sincerely believe these falsehoods, then I strongly urge you to carefully review the following devastating rebuttal (to be read for the factual content, that is, the careful analyses of the studies used to mislead an unwary public. Many of the parents of children with autism do not fall into that category after having developed the expertise to vet the science and scientists behind these false claims. Forgive any anger you may read, I imagine you’d be angry, too, if you were given the run-around like these parents)
    Feeding a Hungry Lie

    As for the increase in dianostic criteria for autism explaining the explosion in cases, the peer reviewed journal published study discussed here discounts that claim. Have you read the associated journal article yet?

  39. anonymous


    UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute Study Shows California’s Autism Increase Not Due To Better Counting, Diagnosis


    Jan. 7, 2009

    (SACRAMENTO, Calif.) – A study by researchers at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute has found that the seven- to eight-fold increase in the number children born in California with autism since 1990 cannot be explained by either changes in how the condition is diagnosed or counted – and the trend shows no sign of abating.

    Published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Epidemiology, results from the study also suggest that research should shift from genetics to the host of chemicals and infectious microbes in the environment that are likely at the root of changes in the neurodevelopment of California’s children.

    “It’s time to start looking for the environmental culprits responsible for the remarkable increase in the rate of autism in California,” said UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a professor of environmental and occupational health and epidemiology and an internationally respected autism researcher.

    Hertz-Picciotto said that many researchers, state officials and advocacy organizations have viewed the rise in autism’s incidence in California with skepticism.

    The incidence of autism by age six in California has increased from fewer than nine in 10,000 for children born in 1990 to more than 44 in 10,000 for children born in 2000. Some have argued that this change could have been due to migration into California of families with autistic children, inclusion of children with milder forms of autism in the counting and earlier ages of diagnosis as consequences of improved surveillance or greater awareness.

    Hertz-Picciotto and her co-author, Lora Delwiche of the UC Davis Department of Public Health Sciences, initiated the study to address these beliefs, analyzing data collected by the state of California Department of Developmental Services (DDS) from 1990 to 2006, as well as the United States Census Bureau and state of California Department of Public Health Office of Vital Records, which compiles and maintains birth statistics.

    Hertz-Picciotto and Delwiche correlated the number of cases of autism reported between 1990 and 2006 with birth records and excluded children not born in California. They used Census Bureau data to calculate the rate of incidence in the population over time and examined the age at diagnosis of all children ages two to 10 years old.

    The methodology eliminated migration as a potential cause of the increase in the number of autism cases. It also revealed that no more than 56 percent of the estimated 600-to-700 percent increase, that is, less than one-tenth of the increased number of reported autism cases, could be attributed to the inclusion of milder cases of autism. Only 24 percent of the increase could be attributed to earlier age at diagnosis.

    “These are fairly small percentages compared to the size of the increase that we’ve seen in the state,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

    Hertz-Picciotto said that the study is a clarion call to researchers and policy makers who have focused attention and money on understanding the genetic components of autism. She said that the rise in cases of autism in California cannot be attributed to the state’s increasingly diverse population because the disorder affects ethnic groups at fairly similar rates.

    “Right now, about 10 to 20 times more research dollars are spent on studies of the genetic causes of autism than on environmental ones. We need to even out the funding,” Hertz-Picciotto said.

    The study results are also a harbinger of things to come for public-health officials, who should prepare to offer services to the increasing number of children diagnosed with autism in the last decade who are now entering their late teen years, Hertz-Picciotto said.

    “These children are now moving toward adulthood, and a sizeable percentage of them have not developed the life skills that would allow them to live independently,” she said.

    The question for the state of California, Hertz-Picciotto said, will become: ‘What happens to them when their parents cannot take care of them?’

    “These questions are not going to go away and they are only going to loom larger in the future. Until we know the causes and can eliminate them, we as a society need to provide those treatments and interventions that do seem to help these children adapt. We as scientists need to improve available therapies and create new ones,” Hertz-Picciotto said…

  40. anonymous
    December 26, 2008
    Age of Autism Awards 2008 Person of the Year: Dr. Bernadine Healy
    By Dan Olmsted
    It was the shot — or, rather, the words about the shots — heard ’round the world. In a U.S. News column in April and then a brave interview on CBS in May, one person yanked the vaccine-autism debate back into the mainstream of medicine where it has always belonged.
    For that, and more, it is a pleasure to name Bernadine Healy Age of Autism’s Person of the Year.
    This was not a hard decision. Just listen:
    “I think public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the [vaccine-autism] hypothesis as ‘irrational,’ without sufficient studies of causation… without studying the population that got sick,” Dr. Healy told CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson. “I have not seen major studies that focus on 300 kids who got autistic symptoms within a period of a few weeks of the vaccines…”
    … “Pediatricians were concerned enough about mercury, which is known to cause neurological damage in developing infant and fetal brains, that they mobilized to have thimerosal removed from childhood vaccines by 2002. Their concern was not autism but the lunacy of injecting mercury into little kids through mandated vaccines that together exceeded mercury safety guidelines designed for adults…” END EXCERPT

    Dr. Bernadine Healy – Age of Autism Awards 2008 Person of the Year

  41. anonymous

    Please read the accurate information about Dr. Wakefield here,
    December 22, 2008
    Smoke and Mirrors: Dr Richard Horton and the Wakefield Affair

    and tribute, here,
    December 31, 2008
    Age of Autism Awards 2008 Galileo Award: Dr. Andrew Wakefield

  42. HCN

    Dear anonymous, there is a big difference between this blog and the Age of Autism blog:

    Your comments are approved, AoA does not allow dissent. If one tries to correct the errors posted there the comments are never approved. There is no free speech allowed there.

  43. DEM

    I have a 5-year-old son with autism. He (and his little sister) are current on all their vaccines, despite the numerous well-intentioned friends and relatives who have warned me against it. Many of these warnings were based on the information some of the anti-vaccine posters have listed on this thread.

    Autism is a complicated disorder in every way. Until research brings a really clear understanding of the cause(s), we will not hear the end of this discussion. It does not help that the conventional wisdom of the medical community has gotten autism wrong before.

    I am encouraged by people like Dr. Offit who are helping to get the mainstream scientific perspective back into the public eye. And I’m encouraged by the well-informed individuals who are discussing this question on this thread. I hope this will help everyone get a clearer view.

    For those readers who are parents of children with autism, the Interactive Autism Network is currently surveying parents about their beliefs about vaccines and autism. If you are interested in participating, you can visit to sign up to participate in research. For other readers, the community area of the IAN site is a good place to read up on current research on autism.

  44. Todd W.

    I am always amazed at how people criticize researchers that find no connection between vaccines/MMR/thimerosal and autism for gaining profit due to supposed payouts from pharmaceutical companies, but when it is pointed out that one of the core bases for their side (Wakefield) had significant conflicts of interest and profit motivations, that’s all waved aside. The double-think is incredible.

    Regarding the UC-Davis study by Hertz-Picciotto and Delwiche (“The rise in autism and the role of age at diagnosis”, published in Epidemiology. Volume 20(1)January 2009pp 84-90), I am unfortunately unable to access the full text, but the abstract states that “[a]utism cases were identified from 1990 through 2006 in databases of the California Department of Developmental Services, which coordinates services for individuals with specific developmental disorders.” This suggests to me that there may be a flaw in their methodology, leading to incorrect conclusions. The California DDS data base likely only records those cases where people have filed for assistance. If this is the case, then the increase in cases in the DDS database may very well be from more people filing claims, rather than a true increase in the number of cases. Therefore, concluding that greater awareness, better diagnostic criteria, etc., are not likely causes is, at best, an erroneous assumption.

    Does anyone have acccess to the full text of this study? I would be interested if the researchers compared the DDS database against any other medical records to eliminate that source of bias. I’m interested in reading the full methodology used.

    Anonymous, if you have access to the full text, I suggest reading the actual study and examine it for methodological flaws, rather than basing your opinion on a news article.

  45. anonymous

    Dr. Wakefield, aside, please what about the views of Dr. Bernadine Healy and Dr. Martha Herbert?
    Bernadine Healy: We Need Answers (CBS Video)
    This CBS interview with Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health — raises fundamental questions about the safety of vaccines in a vulnerable subset of children, and whether those vaccines might trigger autism. “The question has not been answered,” she tells Sharyl Attkisson.

    Again, Dr. Martha Herbert
    Dr. Martha Herbert is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a Pediatric Neurologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, a member of the MGH Center for Morphometric Analysis, and an affiliate of the Harvard-MIT-MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. She is director of the TRANSCEND Research Program (Treatment Research and Neuroscience Evaluation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders)…
    “I am a pediatric neurologist and a brain development researcher. My main focus is autism. After much thought, I have come to the formulation that autism may be most inclusively understood and helped through an inclusive whole-body systems approach, where genes and environment are understood to interplay…”

    Dr. Herbert provides the link to this article at her website.
    Autism: It’s Not Just In the Head
    The devastating derangements of autism also show up in the gut and in the immune system. That unexpected discovery is sparking new treatments that target the body in addition to the brain…
    by Jill Neimark
    published March 22, 2007

  46. Todd W.


    The Herbert article you linked to is interesting reading, but it is not supportive of the “vaccines cause autism” meme. It only mentions vaccines in passing, and even then, it just says that vaccine reactions are being examined.

    As to the Barbara Healy interview, I can’t evaluate it until I know a few things. She states that the IOM said not to pursue susceptible populations. I would like to see the evidence that supports that claim. She mentions that the reason for this is because public health officials did not want to scare the public. Again, evidence please. She said that there should be studies focusing on children who were diagnosed with autism within a short time period after receiving vaccinations. Okay. So, what would be the methodology? How would study participants be selected? What control groups would be used? What blinding measures would be taken? What steps would be taken to rule out confounding variables, such as exposure to other environmental chemicals or diseases? And if such a study were undertaken and still came back without showing any link, is that enough? Is the question answered then, or would she call for more research into a vaccine-autism link?

    How much research is enough to answer the question? Also, in the Alison Singer thread, I think it was, someone mentioned that Healy stated that even a trace amount of thimerosal is still exposure to mercury. True, but keep in mind that that is less than 1 microgram of ethylmercury (not pure mercury and not methylmercury). How much mercury is the average child exposed to in their daily life? Is it less than what is in vaccines? Also consider that ethylmercury is eliminated from the body with about a week or so, so the trace amounts don’t have much time at all to build up and cause any damage, if they cause damage at all.

  47. anonymous

    My ‘awaiting moderation’ posts aren’t showing up anymore. Computer bug?

  48. HCN

    Anony said “My ‘awaiting moderation’ posts aren’t showing up anymore. Computer bug?”

    Perhaps Dr. P is letting you know what it is like when some of us comment on Age of Autism. They moderate with an iron clown glove, and most of our comments are never approved because dissent is not allowed there.

  49. HCN

    Or, since this posting has scrolled to about the third page Dr. P is not really bothering with it anymore.

  50. anonymous

    Thanks, HCN, I thought my computer was busted. I hope this comment reaches Dr.Profitt.

    Could the environmental culprit be untested GMO containing foods interaccting with otherwise safe vaccines?

    From the little I know about he DAN! diet, it appears to eliminate GMO containing foods (?source of haywire immune reaction) – many parents say it works.

    Please read,
    (recommended by Dr. Arpad Pustzi)

    Your love for children should override any hesitation to investigate the possibile role of GM soy formula or GM baby foods in autism.

    Thank you.

  51. anonymous


    (late edit)

  52. Todd W.


    Just a quick comment on one of your earlier posts, quoting Barbara Healy, who said: “Their concern was not autism but the lunacy of injecting mercury into little kids through mandated vaccines that together exceeded mercury safety guidelines designed for adults…”

    Another flaw here, which she should know better. The safety guideliness “designed for adults” are for methylmercury, not ethylmercury (the compound in thimerosal). The EPA does not have guidelines for ethylmercury exposure, for starters, and secondly, the body handles the two compounds differently. Methylmercury stays in the body for about 3-4 times as long as ethylmercury.

  53. anonymous

    Yowza, my apologies, that’s quite the inadvertent faux paus, my translation of Dr. P to Dr. Profitt (actually, Dr. Paul Offit) – obviously, the error wasn’t deliberate. Blame it on the early hour.

    From the discussion here,

    if someone like Dr. Healy isn’t as aware of the nuances of vaccine ingredients as Todd W., that’s all the more reason for transparency to explain the nitty gritty details.

  54. Todd W.


    Regarding DAN! diet recommendations, I’m assuming you mean the gluten-free/casein-free diet. That diet does not cure autism, as many, including Jenny McCarthy, claim. AFAIU from speaking with some people in the ABA field, there is no quality research that shows that such a diet cures or treats autism itself. What it can do, however, is alleviate physical discomfort in those children with autism who also suffer from celiac disease or other food allergies.

    The most noticeable “improvement” is likely going to be in the moderate- to low-functioning end of the autism spectrum, since they will be less able to verbally explain what the problem is and instead tantrum or engage in stimming or self-injurious behavior. Remove the cause of the behavior and the behavior goes away – voila! The parents see their child improve before their eyes. Only problem is that they don’t understand the function of the behavior in the first place and so are unable to connect the dots correctly.

  55. Jen

    Odd…I’ve posted on two of these “Discover” sites about the possible link between tylenol/vaccines and autism, and both of those posts seem to have disappeared…POOF!

    Methinks “Discover” isn’t interested in “discovering” anything that might point to our ridiculous and reckless medical practices in this country as being responsible for thousands of children’s lives being ruined.


  56. Todd W.


    I know that at least on Bad Astronomy Blog there is a spam filter that puts posts into moderation if they contain hyperlinks, are really, really long, or have bad language in them. If you posted here, try checking to see if the post is still there with an “Awaiting Moderation” tag next to it. If so, be patient. If the post is truly just gone, try posting again, without hyperlinks.

  57. Jen

    Okay, I’ll try this one more time, because it’s just too important.

    I do not believe that vaccines “cause” autism. I do believe that autism is linked to vaccination, though.


    Acetaminophen is often given in conjunction with vaccines. Acetaminophen is known to deplete glutathione, which is exactly what you don’t want to be doing when you are launching a powerful immune response via vaccination.

    Note when the spike in autism started…it was in the late 1980’s, right after aspirin was linked to Reye’s Syndrome, and everyone switched over to Tylenol. Coincidence?

    Preliminary studies are already beginning to link prenatal and early childhood acetaminophen use with asthma, which makes perfect sense since glutathione is critical to lung function. This also explains why so many autistic kids have food allergies and GI issues.

    Interestingly, children with Down Syndrome, because of their genetic makeup, don’t make enough glutathione, and autism rates in this group range from 5-10% now.

    There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence that giving Tylenol before vaccinations is safe or effective. Yet, this practice continues, and no one seems to be connecting the dots. This ridiculous and reckless practice needs to stop.

  58. Annie

    Vaccines that enter directly into the bloodstream do not have the same immune response. This is a biological fact. No one knows how this truly effects the body. We can stop bantering on this. Other vaccines admnistered via the nose may possibly be safer and more effective -no one knows.

    All so-called “evidence” presented from anyone simply tends to mirror their beliefs.

    A pretty simple question…. why have the pro-vacciners villanized those who choose not to vaccinate? If vaccines were safe and effective then they should feel confident that they are protected. Why fret about us? It is toally unreasonble that I should be have to be vaccinated because someone chooses to undergo chemo or other immune distroying chemical treatments -that are being discarded through their waste into the same earth that I have to live on as well. Now these poisonous chemicals are in MY world too. Chemicals do not die. They go on and continue to pollute our environmet -for how long? Who is irresponsible? Shame on those of you with this rediculous argument!!!!!!! But yet this assessment is never openly discussed by the “experts”. Oh, sure thy are experts but at what I won’t try to guess.

    Vaccine safety should be self-evident and shouldn’t require bullying and belittling to those who opt out on the side of natural health. Don’t assume we are all ignorant of the “research”. Besides, no one is here to save the world.

    When vaccine (and chemial medicine) advocates are willingto have a chemical dump in their backyard, then maybe they can take a stance on the subject. Vaccines are not innocent litte concoctions. Follow the trail from beginning to end and look at all the nasty little “trials” in third world countries & other lovely hidden details. But oh yes, the greater good. If a few should suffer for the greater good…. This passes for sanity. Ok.

  59. Annie, I don’t vilify everyone who chooses not to vaccinate, but I will absolutely call them on their nonsense, especially when babies are dying because of that nonsense. When you choose not to vaccinate, you are willingly choosing to risk the life of countless babies you’ve never even met.

    And you wonder why I fight people like you who buy into the antivax propaganda?

  60. Annie

    Phil, Nonsense? Did you even read my post? It is a huge issue. When you spray a weed killer on your grass or prescribe toxic medication to your patients (I am assumeing you are a doctor….could be wrong and then I apologize) you are harming me and my children and countless others via the afterlife trail of these chemicals. Is this debate worth carrying on? Do you even think about what you are saying?

    Are you saying that babies are dying because they are not vaccinated or because my unvaccinated children put them at risk? I am willig to risk the life of countless babies? Really? Now I am responsible for other babies? Whose babies??? when vaccine compliance is pretty high in the US. What are you talking about? When someone chooses to feed their kids chemical formula as babies and then allows them to eat a totally artifical, sugar laden diet and then gets strep and breaths or sneezes on my organic, healthy child, can I blame them if my kids get sick? Come on…… (hypothetically speaking because my kids have been around kids with strep and a host of other things and have never gotten sick from exposure, other than maybe a mild cold on rare occasion)

    And if the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle of any hot debate, are you too not possibly blinded by medical propoganda? I know of several children who have had “diseases” they should have theoretically been protected from by vaccination…. and why? Vaccine failure or is it that viruses mutate quickly? Oh right, it is possibly because of my unnvacinated children. Hmmmmmmm.

    Have you ever studied virology? Or immunology? We know that bacteria are really smart and mutate quickly in the presence of antibiotics. Every organism wants to survive. Built in by nature. Not to mention that many cancers have a strong viral component. But oh yes, we will soon have lot’s of cancer vaccines too… and then more and more. How insane is it to think we can be vaccinated for every possible diesease out there? Good luck those of you who believe you are smarter than nature. At what point do you say enough and start looking at the bigger picture? This debate could go on forever. You have your views and I have mine. You can spend your whole life trying to convince us we are stupid and ignorant but I guarantee it will be in vain. You may feel absolutely passionate in your quest and even may feel like you work for the good of humanity. Do what you must. At some point, one realizes that people have always had different viewpoints about matters of life and death and always will. You can choose to continue to “fight” (your words not mine) if this is truly what you desire.

    And no, I do not wonder why you fight us.

  61. Annie

    I apologize for glitches, my keyboard doesn’t work well… and sorry Phil, just realized you were not a doctor. Hey, the earth isn’t flat!

  62. Annie

    Phil, Sorry I am a litte slow to realize this is your site….

    We my disagree on the vaccine issue however my daughter and I love astronomy. We can all appreciate the idea that our galaxy is hurling through space at thousands and thousands of miles per hour while still retaining life here on earth as usual. No doubt there is lots of mystery in our world and that things are sometimes not what they seem to be. I guess we can all gain a little bit from the knowlege that we are flying through space at warped (sp?) speed on its own journey with no input from us….

    Some things our minds cannot grasp but it doesn’t change what is. So, no sense arguing over vaccines. Let’s agree that the world is full of differing views. We need only to honor our own.


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