Vaccines & Autism: Mistrust and the Public Health Dilemma

What are free societies to do when citizens no longer trust their scientists? Thousands of parents are not vaccinating their children due to the fear that vaccines cause autism. The genesis of the lack of trust is beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say that this issue has serious, potentially deadly, implications.

Governments, pharmaceutical companies and the medical community can wring their hands, create
additional prestigious panels to do yet more meta-analyses and revisit the various studies done on autism and vaccines: that is not going to put the vaccine-autism issue to bed. No amount of cajoling or ridiculing parents of babies and toddlers is going to achieve this goal, either. Once the trust of a large swath of society has been lost, it is time to change course.

The relationship between vaccines and autism desperately needs to be resolved; however, until parents of children with autism are convinced that there is no relationship between vaccines and autism, the vaccination rate will decrease and preventable childhood diseases will increase.
What a completely avoidable tragedy.

So..., now what? Well, it’s very simple. Instead of arguing about past studies that parents don’t trust, let’s address each and every parental concern, respectfully,
head on in a new study. Here are the issues as I understand them.

Three Theories Suggested by Anti-Vaccine - Autism Advocates

There are three theories discussed in the community of parents regarding a causal link between vaccines and autism:
1) DPT – the claim is that the mercury in the DPT vaccine causes autism.
2) MMR - the claim is that the Measles part of the MMR vaccine causes autism.
3) Vaccine Assault - the claim is that too many vaccines are given at the same time. They purportedly overwhelm the body and cause autism.
The DPT problem has been resolved because the mercury (the thimerosal) that was used as a preservative in the vaccine has been removed; therefore, the alleged variable theorized to be the culprit in the DPT vaccine no longer poses a potential threat. The MMR autism vaccine theory suggests that the measles component of the vaccine assaults the immune system. This theory has the broadest support amongst parents
(due to the Wakefield study, first published in the prestigious “Lancet” journal and then retracted). This is the main theory that needs to be tested. The outcome of the proposed MMR study would help determine whether a Vaccine Assault Theory test is necessary. More parents support the MMR Vaccine Damage Theory than the Vaccine Assault Theory; therefore, if the MMR was truly disproven as a potential culprit, more parents would vaccinate their children.

New Study Design

The new study must be designed as a true experiment and not a retrospective analysis. I won’t bore readers with the design (but click here if you are interested in a suggested study design).

Science & Politics

It is crucial for the scientific community to understand that this group of children has been poorly treated throughout the entire history of this condition by academics in a number of fields (i.e. medicine, psychiatry, special education). Consequently, only the most demonstrably impartial study will ever be trusted by the community of parents; therefore, in order for parents to have complete confidence in the results, researchers with any relationship to 1) government health policy and/or epidemiology (whether in a university or government setting), or 2) pharmaceutical companies, should be completely excluded from the research.

Due to the serious public health ramifications of vaccine non-use, academic researchers are often funded by government departments, rather than “arms length” funding sources.
This study must be different. In addition, no researchers from countries with nationalized i.e. government run, health care systems should have a role in this research (that includes British, Danish & Canadian researchers) due to the obvious conflict of interest. In short, the scientists who are chosen to conduct this research must be 100% disinterested in its results; otherwise, the vaccine-autism controversy will continue unabated, and a generation of children with be at higher risk for a variety of preventable childhood diseases.

There will always be a small number of people who are anti-vaccine, despite the science; however, in this case there are thousands of concerned parents who are not ideologically anti-vaccine. These parents need to be presented with
uncompromised data collected far away from researchers who are financially or ideologically compromised. Only then will the tremendous public health benefits of vaccines be secured for future generations. It is up to the scientific community to make this right.

They need to get started post haste!