On Monday, December 13th, I debated Dr. Boyd Haley on the question “Do Vaccines Cause Autism?” I took the scientific position, which is no. It was sponsored by the International Medical Council on Vaccination, which produces all sorts of anti-vaccine misinformation. Prior to December 13th, they publicized the debate heavily, and their website indicated that a recording of the debate would be posted after the debate was finished.
Interestingly enough, the recording was never posted on their website. Now something even more interesting has happened. Currently, there is absolutely no mention of the debate on their website at all. If you Google the word “debate” and restrict the domain to the International Medical Council on Vaccination’s website, you find several addresses where it was once mentioned:
However, if you go to those addresses now, you get either an error message or a list of other articles. If you search for “debate” using the search box on the International Medical Council on Vaccination’s website, you find nothing related to the debate.
Does this surprise me? Not really. Does it disappoint you? If so, don’t worry. You can watch the debate here. (Thanks to Matt Fig for converting it to Youtube format.) Once you watch it, perhaps you will understand why such a heavily-promoted event has been wiped off the website of the group that hosted it!
NOTE: In addition to uploading the debate to Youtube, Matt Fig found the International Medical Council on Vaccination’s original post publicizing the debate:
On Monday, December 13th, I debated Dr. Boyd Haley, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Kentucky, on the question “Do Vaccines Cause Autism?” I took the scientific position, which is that they do not. In my previous post on the subject, I noted that if you want to see the shoddy science promoted by those who believe that vaccines cause autism, you should watch the debate.
Well, despite the technical problems associated with the debate, I think it really did show how shoddy the science is on the anti-vaccination side. However, you don’t have to take my word for it. You can watch the debate yourself:
The International Medical Council on Vaccination disseminates a lot of misinformation regarding vaccines. It claims to offer resources that will aid in “critical thinking for a critical dilemma.” Unfortunately, it does quite the opposite. It uses scaremongering and shoddy science in an effort to get people to stop giving critical medical care to their children.
They will be hosting a live debate on Monday, December 13th at 8 PM Central Time. The title of the debate is “Do Vaccines Cause Autism?” I have been asked to defend the scientific answer, which of course, is no. The debate is free, but you should sign up for it in advance. You can do that here.
If you have been deceived by those who want you to believe that vaccines cause autism, you might want to attend the debate so you can learn the actual science behind vaccination. If you know the science behind vaccines and therefore realize that they don’t cause autism, the debate might still be an interesting thing to attend so that you can see the shoddy science used by the anti-vaccination movement.
It is sad that parents are misinformed by those who are against vaccination. It is sadder still that children are not as healthy as a result. The saddest thing of all, however, is how innocent children suffer because of anti-vaccination misinformation. This year, we are witnessing the fruits of this misinformation: the suffering and death of innocent children.
According to the California Department of Public Health, there have been 4,461 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) reported throughout the state so far this year. The majority of those are confirmed cases, but 19% are considered probable cases, while 18% are merely suspected cases. This is the largest number of reported cases since 1955. At least 217 of these cases resulted in hospitalization, and 9 resulted in death!
What is causing this sudden surge of whooping cough? Well, there are actually two effects. First, like most contagious diseases, whooping cough goes through cycles of years when it is not very prevalent and years when it is very prevalent. This year is in the “very prevalent” part of the cycle. Second, over the past few years, there has been a significant reduction in the vaccination rate, due to misinformation promulgated by those who are against vaccinations.
This quote seems to be making the rounds on facebook right now:
Saying that your vaccinated child is at risk of disease because of my un-vaccinated child is like saying I have to take birth control pills so YOU won’t get pregnant.
Of course, this is nonsense on two levels. First, it is a bad analogy, because pregnancy isn’t contagious. You can’t “catch” pregnancy from a person who is pregnant, but you most certainly can catch vaccine-preventable diseases from those who have them.
Second, unvaccinated children most certainly can spread disease to vaccinated children. For example, in 2005 an unvaccinated teen went to Romania on a missions trip and brought measles back to her church. 34 people in the church were infected, 2 of which were vaccinated. One of the 34 required six days of ventilator support in order to survive.
If you have been fooled by those who use misinformation to try to keep you from vaccinating, please learn the scientific data behind the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
In a previous post, I discussed the rise in autism that seems to be occurring in the United States. In that discussion, I made it clear that genetically-based diseases can increase over time. One commenter (Eric) suggested that autism is not rising all that rapidly in the United States. This prompted a spirited exchange, which I enjoyed, and I hope Eric enjoyed as well.
The comments on that article are now closed, but Eric recently commented on another post to add a link related to that previous discussion. It is an excellent link, so I want to share it in a post that clearly relates to autism.
In essence, the author (an academic clinical neurologist at Yale) is skeptical that there is any significant increase in autism itself. Instead, he thinks that broadened diagnostic criteria for autism as well as increased surveillance have caused the number of diagnosed cases of autism to increase, but the actual number of autism cases has not increased much over the years. We are just doing a better job of diagnosing it, watching for it, etc.
You should read the article and see what you think. I personally think the Bearman studies he mentions (it was a series of studies, not just a single study – see this New Scientist article) are the most convincing, and they argue that there is a real increase in the rate of autism. Even the author of the original link seems to be willing to admit that increasing parental age (which I highlighted in my previous post) is causing at least some real increase in the prevalence of autism.
Autism is a poorly-understood condition characterized by problems with social interaction and communication. It is clearly a complex neurological issue, and its symptoms range from quite mild to very severe. As a result, neurologists tend to use the term “autism spectrum disorders” (ASDs), as they suspect autism is made up of a group of disorders with similar features.
I have a good friend with Asperger Syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder. While he seems mostly like any other person, he has some obsessive, repetitive rituals, and he sometimes experiences great difficulty in communicating with people, especially those who are unfamiliar with his personality. On the other side of the spectrum, a couple I know fairly well has a son with severe autism. It is difficult for them to communicate with him. It is as if he lives in his own little world. Additionally, he often experiences “meltdowns” in which he slams himself against the ground or the wall and screams at the top of his lungs. His behavior is not the result of “bad parenting.” It is the result of a serious neurological disorder.
What is frustrating for both health-care providers and parents is that so far, medical science has little to offer in terms of explaining what causes autism. In addition, while there are behavioral therapies that have helped many people with ASDs, it is difficult to prescribe a specific therapy for a specific individual. This, of course, leaves doctors and parents rather frustrated.
While there is a lot we don’t know about ASDs, there are things we do know. We know that they are on the rise. Even though there are many different ways to define ASDs, which leads to many different specific numbers, a good overview can be found here. Based on their numbers for the U.S. and outlying areas, for example, ASDs among people age 6-22 have increased 18-fold since 1992!
What are the causes of ASDs? The answer is that we don’t know. However, medical scientists are at least closing in on them.
A recent issue of Science has a very interesting article on blood platelets.1 As nearly any textbook that discusses human anatomy and physiology will tell you, there are three main types of blood cells: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. As indicated by the scanning electron microscope image above, platelets are the smallest of the three.
In addition, almost any textbook that discusses human anatomy and physiology will tell you that each blood cell is principally involved in one area of your body’s maintenance. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen to the tissues, although to a certain extent, they also pick up carbon dioxide waste from the tissues. White blood cells are responsible for cleaning the tissues of debris and fighting off invaders. Blood platelets are involved in clotting the blood so that we don’t bleed to death from a small cut.
Interestingly enough, this article indicates that blood platelets do a lot more than what most textbooks tell you!
The smartest person with whom I have ever worked sent me a very interesting article from Science Daily. She and I wrote several articles related to the science behind vaccination years ago, and this article is relevant to that issue. It reports on a study published in BMC Immunology, an open-access journal. The results of the study are worth noting.
The researchers studied peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and how susceptible they were to infection by HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. PBMC is the name given to any blood cell that has a round nucleus. Since red blood cells don’t have a nucleus, what this means is that the researchers were looking at certain white blood cells, which are a part of the body’s immune system. Obviously, the susceptibility of white blood cells to HIV is an important issue in the study of AIDS.
Here is the key: they looked at the PBMCs from 10 volunteers who had never been vaccinated against smallpox as well as the PBMCs from 10 volunteers who had been vaccinated against smallpox with a Vaccinia-based vaccine 3 to 6 months prior to the study. Vaccinia is a virus in the poxvirus family that is typically used to produce the immune response to protect against smallpox. Guess what they found.
A very interesting study was published in the April 9, 2010 issue of Science.1 In this study, Matam Vijay-Kumar and colleagues experimented with mice, trying to find out how their immune systems interacted with their body weight. Scientists have known for a while that obesity and the immune system are related, but most scientists have thought that obesity causes immune system disorders.2 That might, indeed, be true. However, this study shows that, most likely, immune system disorders can also cause obesity!
Mice (and most vertebrates, including people) have two levels of immunity: innate immunity and adaptive immunity. Innate immunity refers to the mechanisms in the body that protect against general threats. Adaptive immunity refers to the mechanisms in the body that protect against specific threats. So the mechanisms in the body that fight against all bacterial infections are a part of the body’s innate immunity, but when the immune system is attacking a specific species of bacterium, the adaptive immune system is at work.
Matam Vijay-Kumar and colleagues investigated a very specific part of the innate immune system and its effects on obesity in mice. The results were quite surprising.