June 28, 2007

CDC: Out of Excuses on the Autism Study that "Should be Done"

CDC: Out of Excuses on the Autism Study that "Should be Done"
Posted June 27, 2007 | 11:01 PM (EST)

A simple study of autism rates among vaccinated and unvaccinated children "could be done and should be done" to help settle the raging debate that has now spilled into the US Federal Courts.

The words of some anti-vaccine zealot? An overwrought parent lashing out at something, anything, to blame? Or perhaps a greedy trial lawyer pining for the big bucks of injured-kiddie tort.

No, these were the measured, thoughtful remarks of CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding, at a Washington press conference two years ago.

But Gerberding never ordered the study -- one that could silence this tiresome argument once and for all; a study that any rational person would concur "should be done."

Why not? One reason, the powerful director said, is that "very high levels of vaccination... record immunization levels," make it "very, very difficult to get an effective numerator and denominator to get a reliable diagnosis."

But maybe it's not that difficult to find an "effective numerator" (i.e., unvaccinated children) after all.

It certainly wasn't hard for the respected polling company, Survey USA, to find nearly 1,000 unvaccinated children living in nine counties in California and Oregon. All they had to do was pick up the phone.

Survey USA, commissioned by the anti-thimerosal group Generation Rescue, completed telephone interviews in 11,817 households with one or more children age 4 to 17. Of the 17,674 children inventoried, 991 were described as being completely unvaccinated.

Interestingly, the survey found that, among boys (who have neurodevelopmental disorders at a 4-to-1 ratio over girls) vaccinated children were 155% more likely to have a neurological disorder, 224% more likely to have ADHD, and 61% more likely to have autism. Among boys aged 11-18, the increased autism risk was 112%.

This survey suggests there might be a trend here worthy of further investigation. But is it hard science? Of course not, and that is precisely my point.

We need the CDC, or some other well-funded agency, to conduct a comprehensive health study of vaccinated and unvaccinated children, now, using the soundest epidemiological tools available.

And for those who think that phone surveys are a patently ridiculous way to study autism, consider this: The Survey USA methodology was based on the model that the CDC itself has employed in national prevalence studies for ADHD and autism. In fact, Dr. Laura Schieve, co-author of the CDC's two national autism phone surveys said that parent reports demonstrate "high reliability, or reproducibility."

Which brings us back to that numerator. There are clearly enough unvaccinated kids (outside Chicago there is an entire HMO-full) to finally do the study that Dr. Gerberding herself says "could and should be done."

Maybe the Survey USA poll is way off base. Maybe an actual scientific investigation, one that controls for bias and other potentially confounding factors, would show the exact opposite. Maybe, as one would hope and intuitively expect, vaccinated children are truly healthier and happier than unvaccinated children.

I hope that the CDC can prove that they are. Wouldn't that be a wonderful thing? And like I have said before, it would certainly shut up the likes of me.

Now that Dr. Gerberding no longer has the excuse that "record immunization levels" preclude such a study, perhaps she might direct some of the recently appropriated Combating Autism Act funds to studying the two groups of children.

For those that disagree -- and I look forward to your rational comments on why this study should never be done -- I suggest you take up your concerns with the CDC director herself, and not with me.

After all, Dr. Gerberding is the one who said that this study "should be done." And I, for one, could not agree with her more.

PS: This week, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced the "Comprehensive Comparative Study of Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Populations Act of 2007" (H.R. 2832). For more information on this legislation, please visit: http://maloney.house.gov

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