Vaccines and Autism

Several years ago I was approached by government lawyers who wanted me to testify at the Omnibus Autism Proceedings of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. They wanted to use my research in order to prove the neurodevelopmental basis of autism and thereby discredit claims that vaccines caused the same. The lawyers told me that this was an uphill struggle as the defense only had to propose the feasibility of a mechanism in order to receive an adjudication in their favor. In essence, in this particular tribunal there was no need to prove causation. Three hypotheses were going to be tested, namely whether thimerosal (a mercury containing preservative found in vaccines), the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, or a combination of both could offer a plausible biological explanation for autism. Given the large number of claims (approximately 4,900 cases) that were being handled by the Special Masters of the US Court of Federal Claims, 3 cases were selected among them by defense lawyers in order to test each of the three hypothesis.

The Proceedings took less time than expected and after throwing out the first 2 hypotheses there did not appear to be a need to bring the third one to trial. Given the low burden of proof required to win a verdict (i.e., proposing a biologically plausible mechanism) I thought that the defense butchered the trial. In effect some of the witnesses they called to testify were highly unqualified and many of their claims seemed outlandish to anybody with common sense. Given the data presented on both sides, I readily agree with the decision presented by the Special Masters of the Omnibus Proceedings. There is no credible proof that neither thimerosal nor the MMR vaccine cause autism.

Sometime after the Special Masters ruling a nine-year-old girl by the name of Hannah Polling set foot on the same judicial stage to see whether her autism-like symptoms were the result of vaccination. Hannah, the daughter of Jon and Terry Poling, received five vaccines at 19 months of age. Although having developed normally till that age, soon after vaccination she became febrile and lethargic. Hannah lost many of her milestones and developed symptoms characteristic of acquired autism. Jon Poling, a Hopkins trained Neurologist, took the case to court with large support from the medical community including the highly respected Dr. Andrew Zimmerman. In Hannah’s particular case the Court readily acknowledged that an underlying mitochondrial disorder (see http://bit.ly/1BYLxEY ) had predisposed Hannah to brain damage upon vaccination.

During my training in Neurology I was aware of many possible side effects of vaccinations. For some unexplained reason many vaccines can give rise, among susceptible individuals, to increased rates of neurological disorders such as the Guillain-Barre syndrome, multiple sclerosis, Bell’s palsy, polyneuritis, encephalitis and encephalopathies. My grandson is one of those individuals who are very susceptible, for unknown causes, to vaccinations. He suffers from syndromic autism due to a mutation in the gene for NLGY1. Although the case of my grandson has biased my better judgement, I have been a strong proponent that Pediatricians should not play catch up to vaccinations schedules and submit patients to 5 or 6 vaccinations in one visit.

My grandson and others like him are within a very small minority of patients that may suffer violent reactions to vaccinations. The risk to this susceptible population, at least at present, is unavoidable when considering mass vaccinations. Do the benefits of vaccinations outweigh the risks? Mass vaccination to the general population has eradicated smallpox. We could have said the same thing about poliomyelitis but the mistrust of the Nigerian government in believing that vaccinations produced sterility has prevented this effort. As of 2004, about 78% of the 440 cases of poliomyelitis reported worldwide came from Nigeria. Countries like the United States where a strong anti-vaccine movement is present have appalling statistics for diseases preventable by vaccination. Our prevalence rate for pertussis, as an example, is 10 to 100 times higher than in countries like Hungary where the rate of vaccination is very high.

The antivaccine movement is propelled by ignorance and an apparent need for theatrical antics. After listening to his lectures, I could not have a worse opinion of Andrew Wakefield (see http://bit.ly/1bUsqpq ) and his MMR research. His conspiracy theories and paranoid ideations appeal to emotions but are not backed by good science. Both the federal government and layman support organizations are funding research into vaccinations. I agree that this research, when meritorious, should continue. However, until present, research results have offered no credible support to the antivaccine movement.

Note: I have always thought that the three index cases at the Omnibus Proceedings were mishandled. They did offer many commonalities apparently prompted by multiple concurrent vaccinations, e.g., high fever, changes in the state of consciousness, seizures, and notable cognitive deterioration. These reactions were quite severe and out of the ordinary. It does appear to me that these cases, just like my grandson and Hannah Poling, could have had a susceptibility to side effects caused by vaccinations and nothing to do with thimerosal or a live virus from the MMR vaccine. Although I am not a proponent of Precision Medicine (see http://bit.ly/1EGp0B6 ), maybe the identification of individuals susceptible to vaccinations would be one of the saving graces of this new initiative by the Federal government.

6 responses to “Vaccines and Autism

  1. Is there a possibility that fetal ultrasound brain abnormalities and a heightened inflammatory reaction to infant vaccines combine to cause neuro-degeneration in susceptible individuals?

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    • There is very little research in regards to prenatal ultrasound. It is much more than taking pretty pictures of your baby. The high energy sound waves can produce cavitation and thermal effects on tissue. In regards to the brain they can provide for gap junctions in-between neurons and create pores in cell membranes. Some ultrasound equipment can alter the blood brain barrier and excite tissue much like transcranial magnetic stimulation. With so many side effects the fact that little research is being done is quite perplexing. At this stage of our ignorance, anything is possible.

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  2. The Poling case was a good example of the use of semantics by the DOJ. Having “autism” or getting brain damage is without distinction from the standpoint of being injured. The DOJ successfully dismissed may cases with merit, either by virtue of discouraging petitioners and /or the unconstitutional ( IMO) use of blocking equitable tolling. The SCOTUS refused to hear a case brought under this claim. It is all about money.

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  3. I have three questions for you after reading this post.

    Are you advocating the antivaccine argument of “too many too soon” for all children?

    Do you believe,as I do,that there are more disorders that should be added to newborn screening,as the science becomes available?Disorders that might preclude a child from being vaccinated?

    Do you believe children with genetic mitochondrial disease should not be vaccinated?

    I know this is quite an area of controversy in the mitochondrial disease community.Personally I believe that a lot of us with mitochondrial disease should not be vaccinated,and need to rely on herd immunity,but this ought to be determined on a case by case basis,between doctors and patients or families.

    Autism is only one of many permanent disabilities febrile illness can cause in those with mitochondrial disease,as I know all too well.Vision loss,polyneuropathy,and cardiomyopathy are some of the major problems I developed after febrile illness by the time I was in my teens.You also seem to be aware that for those of us with mitochondrial disease and autism,regression triggered by fever is not a one time thing,but can happen over and over again,unless the underlying metabolic disorders are treated.Disorders,plural.Some,like myself,have serious inborn errors of metabolism as well as mito.

    I believe there has been entirely too many resources squandered on researching any link between vaccines and autism.Resources that ,long ago,should have been directed elsewhere.

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    • Hi Roger,

      I learned from the school of hard knocks with my grandson. His condition prevents him from degrading proteins which then accumulate in cells. Although the brain is affected, cells of his immune system are also marked to die. Vaccines cause a violent reaction in him. I do not believe he should have been vaccinated, at least with a live attenuated virus. I am not sure about inactivated vaccines. I hold the same opinion for mitochondrial disorders. Unfortunately as you said this is not a one time thing but is likely to occur over and over with repeated vaccinations. It is probably similar to playing Russian roulette. I guess this does not put me in good graces with either the vaccine nor antivaccine movements. Thank you for your comment.

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    • I should have added to your last comment, that I also agree that vaccines are not the cause of autism and that too much money/research/attention has been devoted to this. In the end, despite my grandson’s plight, I certainly defend and advocate the benefits of vaccination.

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