Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Risk of Autism Is Not Increased by "Too Many Vaccines Too Soon"

About a month ago, a new study was published which showed the risk of autism is not increased by a child receiving "too many vaccines too soon". The researchers examined children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and those without ASD and they examined each child's cumulative exposure to antigens.

In the end, no relationship was found between the number of antigens or the number of vaccines with any increased risk of ASD. This isn't exactly new information and is more of a confirmation of what we already knew, but it is one more nail in the coffin of the antivaxxer belief that vaccines cause autism. For years these antivaxxers have been cheering the rallying cry of "too many, too soon", yet as the summary of the study explains, the true exposure of antigens (which are the substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce antibodies to fight disease) has actually decreased in the past several decades:
"Although the current routine childhood vaccine schedule contains more vaccines than the schedule in the late 1990s, the maximum number of antigens that a child could be exposed to by 2 years of age in 2013 is 315, compared with several thousand in the late 1990s. Because different types of vaccines contain varying amounts of antigens, this research acknowledged that merely counting the number of vaccines received does not adequately account for how different vaccines and vaccine combinations stimulate the immune system."

This is an important point, because when antivaxxers complain about "too many vaccines" and the increased number of vaccines on the CDC recommended vaccine schedule, they are essentially focused on the packaging rather than the content.  This is like a woman going to the pizzeria and complaining that they sliced her pizza into eight pieces rather than six because she is on a diet.  In the end - it doesn't matter how many pieces we have, what matters is the CONTENT of each slice.  Same is true with vaccines - the sheer number of vaccines is meaningless, and what really matters is the CONTENT.  This is a very basic point that is often misunderstood by antivaxxers... but more often than not rather than misunderstanding it, they blatantly ignore it since it doesn't help their cause.

The fact is, the antigens are what we should be focused on here, because the antigens are what make up the body of the vaccine, and as the study explains the number of antigens have decreased as vaccines have improved.  Yet we have seen countless instances in which antivaxxers remind us that the rate of ASD is increasing as they attempt to link this to the growing number of vaccines on the CDC recommended vaccine schedule - even though they totally ignore the content of the vaccines, and even though they have no studies and no peer-reviewed science to support the link between vaccines and ASD.

This is partly why I've been holding off posting this study for a while, because I wanted to give antivaxxers an opportunity to review the data and perhaps even acknowledge that the science continues to lead us down a different path.  This particular study involved over 1,000 children which is slightly more than the 12 children that the now-entirely-discredited and no-medical-license-holding "Dr." Wakefield used in his study that attempted to link the MMR vaccine with ASD.  So if one was actually allowing the science to lead them to a conclusion, and if they were sincere in their desire to refrain from personal bias, and if they were actually interested in truth and fact... is there any possible way they could simply toss this study aside as they continue their unsupportable belief that vaccines cause autism?

Of course there is... because if we have learned anything about antivaxxers, it is that they couldn't possibly care less about real science or published studies.  For example if you were to visit the anti-vaccine website, you would find zero references to this study.  One might think a website devoted to sharing information about vaccines might actually wish to mention it, but because the science doesn't fit with their core message... they simply ignore it and pretend it doesn't exist.

So much for getting the whole story.

Then you have the ironically named "".  Again... not a single mention of the study.  What exactly are these groups trying to hide?  Shouldn't a website or organization focused upon vaccines actually bother to mention a major study that discusses vaccines?

Next you have Age of Autism which actually took the time to comment on the study the day it was released... which pretty much tells us they didn't even take the time to read the actual study (although I'm quite certain they wouldn't understand it if they did).  Either way Dan Olmsted wrote a short article complaining about it claiming the study "isn't really worth much comment".  Really Dan?  A study which examines over 1,000 children, studies the total number of antigens given to each of those children, and includes both children with and without ASD all in an effort to understand if there really is something to this "vaccines and autism" theory isn't worth much comment?

Sadly, Dan actually seems to believe that.  He didn't really say much about the study itself only quoting what others have said about it, and he doesn't even seem to brush the surface of any facts or data in the actual study.  It seems that Dan most likely didn't even read it - and instead he simply cut and pasted a few paragraphs from other known anti-vaxxers as he tried to minimize the importance of the study without actually taking the time to discuss the key points, any of the data, or the conclusions.  Classic.

Granted Age of Autism wasn't done, therefore the well-known spam-bot Anne Dachel decided to pipe in and actually discuss the study.  Of course when I say "actually discuss the study" what I mean is that she will complain about the timing of the study... because as we all know scientific information should be released on a schedule that appeals to antivaxxers.

Sadly, Anne doesn't actually spend even a single sentence discussing the study.  She doesn't discuss methodology, she doesn't mention the number of test subjects, she doesn't discuss background of the authors, and she doesn't discuss the actual findings of the study.  What does does is complain about the timing of the release, and immediately jumps to conclusions about whether the study will change the debate or if in the scope of things it even matters.  She then goes on to list the news websites that posted articles about the study and she bragged about how she posted her comments to each of them.

Anne then uses the rest of her post to include various links and unrelated statements about vaccines that she and her followers can cut and paste into the comments sections of the various articles even though none of them have anything to do with this actual study.  Once again it seems antivaxxers really don't seem to want to discuss this study... they would rather bury it and change the subject.  Shocker.

Dr. David Gorski over at Science-Based Medicine actually wrote about some of these same reactions from the anti-vaccine community in addition to several others.  He also covers the study in much more detail and explains how this particular study could very well be the final nail in the coffin for the "too many, too soon" nonsense that antivaxxers have been chanting for the past few years.  As with pretty much anything that comes from Dr. Gorski or SBM, that article is most certainly worth a read (although if you happen to be an antivaxxer you may need someone to help explain concepts like retrospective studies or confidence intervals).

This all reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."  
                                                            ~Neil deGrasse Tyson