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Court ruling on (lack of) autism-vaccine link

Posted in Legal issues, Off topic, Scientific research by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on February 12, 2009

Following up on my earlier post.

The Washington Post reports:

Thousands of parents who claimed that childhood vaccines had caused their children to develop autism are wrong and not entitled to federal compensation, a special court ruled today in three decisions with far-reaching implications for a bitterly fought medical controversy.

The New York Times adds:

These three decisions, each looking into a different theory as to how vaccines might have injured the children, are expected to guide the outcomes of all [5,000 similar] claims.

The judges ruled that the families seeking compensation had not shown that their children’s autism was brought on by the presence of thimerosal, a mercury vaccine preservative, by the weakened measles virus used in the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, or by a combination of the two.

The Washington Post continues:

The decision by three independent special masters is especially telling because the special court’s rules did not require plaintiffs to prove their cases with scientific certainty — all the parents needed to show was that a preponderance of the evidence, or “50 percent and a hair,” supported their claims. The vaccine court effectively said today that the thousands of pending claims represented by the three test cases are on extremely shaky ground.

In his ruling on one case, special master George Hastings said the parents of Michelle Cedillo — who had charged that a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused their child to develop autism — had “been misled by physicians who are guilty, in my view, of gross medical misjudgment.”

Hastings said that he was deeply moved by the suffering autism imposed on families such as the Cedillos, but that “the evidence advanced by the petitioners has fallen far short of demonstrating . . . a link.”

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MMR-autism report author fixed results

Posted in Off topic, Scientific research by Matt at WelcometoIllinois on February 8, 2009

This is a bit off-topic but I think it is important to spread the word given that the health of children is at stake. The Sunday Times reports:

“The doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients’ data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.”

I find it fascinating – not to mention alarming – that Wakefield’s report continues to dominate thinking about the MMR jab over ten years after it was published, despite the countless subsequent reports that have either disproved or failed to support its claims.

It would be funny if the impact on our children wasn’t so potentially tragic. As The Guardian reported this week:

“Measles cases have risen to a record high as children who were never vaccinated against the disease become ill, the Health Protection Agency said yesterday.

Last year there were 1,348 cases of the disease in England and Wales, the HPA said, up from 990 in 2007. Those numbers may yet rise as more reports come in.

The agency blamed the increase on a paper from Dr Andrew Wakefield and colleagues published in the Lancet in 1998 which hypothesised a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Although that claim has been demolished, the fallout continues.”

As a report from the British Medical Journal, also in The Guardian pointed out:

“Children occasionally die from measles. These are usually children who have not been vaccinated. In the early 1990s, more than 150 children died in the US because of a measles outbreak among young children who hadn’t been vaccinated.”

Today’s Sunday Times report states:

“The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab…

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children’s ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated.”

Along with two other professors, Wakefield is defending himself against allegations of serious professional misconduct brought by the General Medical Council related to ethical aspects of the study, rather than its findings.

However, ten of the original 13 authors of the report retracted their findings in 2004, while the editor of The Lancet admitted that in hindsight it should not have been published due to conflicts of interest.

Just last month the senior vice-president of communications and strategy at Autism Speaks, resigned from the charity in a dispute over the continued funding of research into the original report’s findings.

“If you keep looking under the same rock, you’re going to keep finding the same thing,” said Singer. “Over and over, the science has shown there is no causal link between vaccines and autism. It’s time to look for answers in new and different places.”

The position of the Down’s Syndrome Association on MMR, incidentally, states:

“The vast majority of independent research bodies, who have looked into the evidence relating to MMR and autism, have found no good quality evidence linking the two. There is no reason to suggest that children with Down’s syndrome would be any more at risk of adverse side effects. The diseases which MMR protects against would be likely to be serious for a child with the syndrome, and single vaccines would leave the child at risk from these diseases for longer.”

I should perhaps note that The Sunday Times report concludes:

“Through his lawyers, Wakefield this weekend denied the issues raised by our investigation, but declined to comment further.”