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Top Ten Reasons Vaccines Don't Cause Autism (Ignoring Science Other than Counting)

Categories: Vaccines | Author: Matt O'Leary | Posted: 2/15/2015 | Views: 5534
This article describes the top 10 reasons why autism is not caused by vaccines, looking at the issue from the perspective of logic rather than science.

The Top 10 Reasons That Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism (Setting Aside All of the Scientific Evidence - Other than the Counting of Autism Cases)


So, I know a lot of people are confused over the question of whether autism is caused by vaccination. There is tremendous disagreement over the state of science, the solidness of the evidence, the qualifications of those issuing opinions, and just about everything being discussed in American culture about this topic.


I know of one way to simplify the issue. Let’s put the scientific debate about causation to the side (other than the counting of cases which all sides seem to be okay with). We don’t need science to figure this out. We can get rid of your concerns that vaccine research is controlled by big pharma or that government can’t be trusted in matters of science. You don’t have to worry about that bad experience you had with a doctor or that you generally distrust pointy headed scientists.


Let’s take the issue to the people and apply some common sense. We are, I think, qualified to investigate this topic using logic as our guide.


Some Cataloguing of What We Know


So, in making our evaluation, what do we know? We know that the global medical and governmental consensus is that, as of 2012, autism incidence (diagnosed cases) had hit around 150 cases per 10,000 people in advanced countries (or about 1 in 62 kids). We know that the incidence was a fraction of that in the 1980’s and before. And, we know that the large increases from less than 10 cases per 10,000 did not occur until the early 1990’s and thereafter, with exponential growth gradually starting (to more than 15 times its former incidence).


We know that certainly not all of that increase in incidence results from more kids having autism. Some people think that all of that increase in incidence can be explained by greater awareness and factors (like insurance reimbursements) that lead to more diagnoses. Others believe that a significant increase in actual cases is truly occurring.


We know there are a large number of people, including a small number of scientists (most who don’t publish in peer reviewed journals), who believe vaccines cause a large percentage of the cases of idiopathic autism (autism that does not have a specific cause like Fragile X Syndrome or fetal alcohol exposure).


We know that there are 3 basic theories on how vaccines cause autism. There is the MMR theory, originally postulated by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 in an article in the Lancet (which was ultimately discredited). There is the thimerosal theory, which argues that the ethyl mercury (about 50% by weight) in thimerosal, which has previously been widely used as a preservative in many vaccines has been the link between vaccines and autism. Finally, there is the general theory, not grounded in a particular mechanism, that somehow autism can be caused by vaccination.


One other thing we know is if one thing (A) causes another something (B), then an increase or decrease in (A) will also correlate with a change in (B), whether direct (A and B move in the same direction) or inverse (A and B move in opposite directions). But, it does not go the other way. Just because changes in (A) are correlated with (B), directly or inversely, does not mean (A) causes (B). It might but does not have to, logically. Much of the problems of modern society and modern science results from people and scientists not really getting that correlation does not mean causation (i.e. just because Americans have gotten taller over the last century does not mean that was caused by the increasing amount of soda we drink).


Typically, it is the presence of a direct or inverse correlation that lead researchers to try to determine if there is a causal relationship. If two factors don’t seem to correlate (one factor moves and that does not cause a measurable reaction in the 2nd factor), then the implication of causation is not raised and will typically not be investigated. For instance, a decrease in cigarette smoking does not correlate with the lack of a change in the ratio of male and female births. Thus, researchers have not jumped onto the assignment of determining if cigarette smoking and birth gender ratios are causally linked.


The Top 10 List of Reasons Why Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism


The first three Top 10 Reasons relate to the MMR theory of vaccines causing autism.


Reason #1: There Was No spike in Autism in the US When the MMR Vaccine Was Introduced


If inoculation with the MMR vaccine, as Andrew Wakefield and many others subsequently have claimed, is a major or even minor cause of autism, then there should have been a significant spike in autism when the MMR vaccine was introduced in the US in 1971. But, there was no such spike. Autism rates stayed generally in the same range around 10 cases (or below) per 10,000 during that time period. We only saw a significant trend upwards in the early to mid-1990’s.


  • There was NO CORRELATION between the introduction of the MMR vaccine, a huge spike in one variable, and a flat incidence of autism subsequently.


Reason #2: There has Been No Decrease in Autism Rates Tied to Reduced MMR Vaccinations


There have been various countries in which MMR vaccination rates have dropped, largely because of widespread concerns about the MMR vaccine and autism. This has been seen in the UK for years and has recently shown up in the US, with no corresponding reduction in autism.


More importantly, the most determinative study looking at a role for the MMR vaccine in autism involved Yokohama, Japan, in which, from 1988 to 1992, the rate of vaccination for MMR declined dramatically, with no MMR vaccinations in 1993 and several years thereafter. The study showed that the incidence of autism in children rose significantly from 1988 to 1996, with a particular spike in diagnoses starting with the birth cohort of 1993.


  • The drastic reduction in MMR vaccination, including a complete termination of such inoculations for 3 or 4 years, was INVERSELY CORRELATED with a spike in autism diagnoses.


Reason #3: Any Correlation Between MMR Vaccination and Regressive Autism is Otherwise Explainable, but Happenstance Will Leaves Some Parents Convinced of Causation


One of the arguments often made by those who advocate the MMR theory of autism involves regressive autism. Regressive autism involves kids who, as observed by their parents and pediatricians, had not shown significant characteristics of autism previously but who regressed around 16 to 18 months of life, often losing language skills and become more withdrawn than previously; regressive autism happens in less than 25% of kids. There are many parents whose children regressed who believe that regression was caused by the MMR vaccination which often occurs roughly around the same time, as it is recommended to be administered between the ages 12 and 18 months.


There are two major problems with this theory. First, because regressive autism typically develops around the time the MMR vaccine is given, there are going to be a significant group of kids whose regression occurs relatively soon after the MMR vaccination, by pure chance. As these parents observe signs of regression in a child they previously considered typical, many are going to think back to what had happened recently that might explain the regression. One of the events that frequently stands out (out of normal because most vaccinations had occurred during age 1), in many circumstances, was the MMR vaccination. It would be very easy to latch onto this as the cause of the regression and condition, particularly if you were already predisposed to be skeptical of vaccines. For such predisposed parents, whose kids just happened to regress temporally subsequent to the MMR shot, it would be hard to shake their belief that their “normal” child was not harmed by the vaccination, despite the fact that their child was an outlier in having a short time span separating the shot and the regression. For most kids who regress temporally remote from the MMR vaccination (either regressing before it is given or months after it is given), it would be much harder to blame the MMR vaccine because of the temporal mismatch. So, a significant number of parents are going to be convinced of a link simply because over a large number of cases of regressive autism, some cases of regression are going to be tightly clustered with the shot. And, convincing these parents otherwise is frequently going to be impossible. This is an example of the correlation does not equal causation fallacy eluded to above.


Second, scientists have examined in several studies home videos of kids who regressed around age 18 months and have shown that many of these kids had significant signs of autism as early as 6 months of age, suggesting the autism was present long before the MMR inoculation.


  • Any CORRELATION between the MMR vaccine and regressive autism only happens in a small number of kids and is easily explainable by happenstance


The next 3 Top 10 Reasons relate to the theory that the use of thimerosal as a preservative in vaccines causes autism.


Reason #4: There has Been No Spike in Autism Rates Tied to Great Increases in Thimerosal in Vaccines in the US


Thimerosal was first introduced as a preservative in multi-dose vaccines in 1928. It was quickly adopted as the best preservative available. Ethyl mercury exposure (roughly 50% of thimerosal) from thimerosal went from 0 micrograms (mcgs) to 75 mcgs between 1928 and twenty or thirty years thereafter, depending upon various factors. While this is not a huge change on an annual basis, the percentage change is enormous, in fact, infinite. If thimerosal is responsible for (or contributes to) the autism epidemic, then it stands to reason that autism rates should have shot up in the 1930s and 1940s. There is no evidence that this occurred, with autism rates holding steady below 10 case per 10,000 persons and no general societal panic about an autism epidemic.


Moreover, in the early 1990s, thimerosal exposure reached 187.5 mcg when Hep B (37.5 mcg of ethyl mercury) and Hib B (75 mcg of ethyl mercury over 3 shots) were added to the standard vaccination schedule. While the increased exposure to thimerosal does correspond with the start of a strong upward trend in autism incidence, the timing is not what you would expect. If thimerosal were a primary cause of autism, you would expect, after more than a doubling of thimerosal exposure, an almost immediate spike in autism incidence that then stabilized (now that the increase in exposure had reached a plateau), rather than what actually occurred which was a gradual increase in autism incidence that eventually became exponential. The curves don’t seem to together which is what you see with correlations.


  • There was NO CORRELATION between the introduction of thimerosal in vaccines, or its increase in the early 1990’s, and autism incidence


Reason #5: There Was No Decrease in US Autism Incidence Following the Elimination of Thimerosal in All Vaccines Other Than Flu Starting in 2001


By 2001, thimerosal exposure for a fully vaccinated child reached 187.5 micrograms. Out of an abundance of caution, and in light of the fact that the US was a rich country that could afford single dose vaccines rather than multi-dose vaccines where contamination is possible, the US mandated the elimination of thimerosal from all vaccines other than the flu vaccine which was only given to 20% of kids (which still used multi-dose vials for most shots). Thus, thimerosal exposure decreased drastically for all US kids and entirely for 80%.


The most important study on thimerosal done to date was completed in early 2008 using data from the California Department of Developmental Services (“DDS”). It is probably the most complete dataset of developmental disorders in the US and therefore uniquely useful for this type of measurement. This study measured rates of incidence of autism in California children on an absolute basis from 2001 to 2007 and tracked increases in incidence in an attempt to determine if the almost complete removal of thimerosal in the US by 2001 caused a reduction in autism incidence. The conclusion of the California study was the following:

               The estimated prevalence of autism for children at each year of age from 3 to 12 years increased throughout the study period. The estimated prevalence of DDS clients aged 3 to 5 years with autism increased for each quarter from January 1995 through March 2007. Since 2004, the absolute increase and the rate of increase in DDS clients aged 3 to 5 years with autism were higher than those in DDS clients of the same ages with any eligible condition including autism.

To translate, autism rates went up for each quarter during the study period and at a faster rate than for any other development conditions. The removal of thimerosal from US vaccines did not even cause a blip in the continuing increase in autism prevalence.


  • A dramatic decrease in thimerosal exposure is loosely INVERSELY CORRELATED with increasing incidence of autism (as for tight inverse correlation you would expect a fast spike in autism rates followed by a plateau rather than an exponentially increasing trend)


Reason #6: There was a Decreasing Thimerosal Exposure in Other Countries, Starting in 1992, at the Same Time Autism Rates Started Spiking


Thimerosal was removed from mandated childhood vaccines in Sweden and Denmark in 1992 / 1993. It was removed in Canada in 1996. If thimerosal were a / the cause of autism, then there should have been a dramatic decrease in autism rates in these countries during the 1990’s. This was not the case as autism rates have been showing a steady and global increase since around that time.


  • A dramatic decrease in thimerosal exposure is loosely INVERSELY CORRELATED with increasing incidence of autism


Reason #7: Autism Rates Have Been Comparable in Western Countries Despite Huge Disparities in Thimerosal Exposure


If the thimerosal hypothesis is true, there should also be big differences in autism incidence between countries with different levels of thimerosal exposure. For instance, the US autism rate in the 1990’s (with 187.5 micrograms of ethyl mercury from thimerosal in the first 7 months) should have been much higher than that of Sweden and Denmark and Canada in the 1990’s (trace exposure to ethyl mercury from thimerosal). No significant difference in autism rates has been recorded between those countries and the US.

The UK was another country where levels of thimerosal exposure were lower than that in the US. This is because the only thimerosal containing vaccine used in the UK was the DTP vaccine. When the US thimerosal exposure peaked in the 1990’s, UK exposure was less than half of that in the US (75 micrograms to 187 micrograms of ethyl mercury from thimerosal). However, the UK has consistently recorded comparable if not higher rates compared to the US.


  • There is NO CORRELATION between thimerosal exposure from country to country and autism incidence


The next three reasons relate to the generally theory that vaccines cause autism despite no idea as to the mechanism.


Reason #8: Autism Incidence in no Way Correlates with Vast Differences in Vaccination Patterns Globally


The number and type of vaccines vary from country to country around the world. Massive variation also occurred in the years during which vaccines were introduced, with differences by decades. The DPT vaccination is pretty common today. The Rotavirus vaccination is pretty rare. Some countries still use multi-dose vials with thimerosal; some countries have shifted to single dose vials without thimerosal for almost all vaccines. Hep B and Hib B were introduced some countries but not others, and a different times all over the world. Some countries introduced MMR in the late 1960’s / early 1970’s. Some countries still don’t give all three vaccinations (or any of the three), and some that do now only started doing so in the last decade. Rates of MMR inoculation vary widely within and between countries. For instance, in England, where the MMR theory first surfaced and where the hysteria has been particularly intense, inoculation rates vary between 32% and 95% from county to county, with most being closer to 90%.

If vaccines are responsible for all or most, or even many, cases of autism, you would expect a pattern to develop related to autism cases and vaccination rates, from country to country or year to year. Instead, what we have seen is a steady increase in incidence, which trend exists globally as far as we can see. And, autism is present at relatively high levels in all kinds of different countries, from Mexico to the United Arab Emirates to Sweden to Japan. Autism is present in developed and developing nations, in western and eastern countries, in predominantly Muslim and Christian countries, and in the north and south hemispheres. Any claim that a single factor (such as vaccines) is causing all or many autism is logically specious because of the diversity of the exposures that humans across the planet experience.


  • There is NO CORRELATION between global vaccination patterns and autism incidence


Reason #9: There is No Evidence that Supports the Global Mass Hysteria over Vaccinations and Autism


One thing that we know is that vaccinations have been of unmatched benefit to human kind. Smallpox has been eliminated because of vaccinations. Polio is close to being eradicated for the same reasons. Global killers of tens of thousands in past decades such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough have been knocked down to remarkably small numbers of cases each year in advanced countries through vaccines. The combination of vaccinations plus antibiotics (both developed by science) have extended the average human lifespan by several decades. This is not controverted. And, there is no evidence, other than anecdote (which is not evidence), that autism is caused by vaccination.


Yet, a recent study reported that 20% of millennials in the US believe vaccines cause autism. Logic and proof are clearly not in control here. There is a mass hysteria of some sort in charge of the narrative. The evidence is unequivocal that vaccines are of enormous importance to humanity. And, no evidence supports the claim that vaccines cause autism. But, huge portions of the American population, most of whom have no children at risk and no skin in the game, have become convinced of this narrative.


Clearly, something other than logic and the search for truth is at work here. It is likely a combination of many factors including an aversion to mandated medicine (like fluoridation), the break down in a sense of responsibility to the community, the lack of any proof of what actually does cause autism in most cases, an industry who preys upon parents for their profit, a susceptible media who cannot be trusted with differentiating between fact and fiction, a culture of people who increasingly only pay attention to things that confirm their beliefs and biases, celebrities who have been promoted by our culture into authorities on any topic they opine on, and many other factors. But, none of these factors involve any hint that vaccination can really cause autism.


Reason #10: Vaccine Theorists have not Scientifically Supported Their Claims that Vaccines Cause Autism


Okay I kinda lied that science was not going to be part of the discussion. But, let’s turn the tables from discussing the opinion of the scientific establishment and discuss the role of the scientific disruptors (i.e. the two researchers who fought the establishment, scientifically, to show that stomach ulcers are mostly caused by the h pylori bacteria). Typically, in science, if you want to attempt to prove something out of mainstream thought, you start with a hypothesis and engage in experiments to develop (or not) proof that supports your hypotheses. The hypotheses that vaccines cause autism has been on the table since at least 1998, 27 years ago. Yet, those who make this claim (an enormous and well-funded global group of people and organizations) have produced no scientific evidence to support this hypotheses that can withstand any real scientific scrutiny. Sure, there have been papers by unqualified individuals in for profit, not peer reviewed journals. Those don’t count. The burden of proof lies with those making the hypothesis, not the scientists supporting the status quo, and those who argue for a vaccine autism link have failed utterly to support it scientifically. Thus, according to science, vaccines don’t cause autism, scientifically (which is the best way our society currently has at establishing truth and defending society against those who want to tear truth down).




The above demonstrates that there certainly is no direct correlation between vaccinations and autism incidence. As such, there is no good reason to investigate whether vaccinations cause autism. You don’t even have to leave the starting gate on this. Without correlation, inquiry into causation is a waste of time. Such inquiry only happens because the inquirers have already decided on the result they are seeking, a decidedly non-scientific practice.


The best conclusion from the above is the absence of any correlation, direct or inverse. However, if you wanted to stretch things a little bit, and investigate a causal link, the by far better research topic would be, in light of the loose inverse correlation in some of the examples above, whether vaccines are protective against autism (not the opposite). However, no one seems interested in that more productive line of inquiry, which tells you something important.

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