Today in the LA Times, biased health reporter Thomas Maugh wrote that a new research study had been published that showed that Delaying Childhood Vaccinations Does Not Improve Children's Health. Take a moment and read it... it is quite convincing.
Oddities, musings and news from the health world
Delaying childhood vaccinations does not improve children's health, study finds
May 24, 2010 | 12:11 pm
Now that the thimerosal-autism link has been thoroughly discredited, some autism advocates argue that neurodevelopmental problems are caused by overloading children's immune systems with too many vaccines too early in life. As a result, a growing number of parents are asking pediatricians to use alternative vaccination schedules that spread out the shots, even though there is no evidence to suggest that the practice may be helpful. In fact, common sense suggests that it is more likely to be harmful because the highest incidence of infection and mortality from pertussis, for example, occurs in the first six months of life. Failure to vaccinate also exposes other children in the community to infectious diseases that they might otherwise avoid.
Researchers cannot ethically conduct a clinical trial of delayed vaccinations because of the potential risks to the children involved. In an effort to circumvent this problem, pediatric infectious disease specialists Dr. Michael J. Smith and Dr. Charles R. Woods, both of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, analyzed data on 1,047 children enrolled in a previous study designed to determine whether thimerosal produced an autism risk. The children were born between 1993 and 1997, vaccinated by their parents on a schedule of the parents' choosing, and then subjected to a series of 42 neuropsychological tests between the ages of 7 and 10.
Just under half of the children (491 or 47%) received their vaccines on a timely basis, within 30 days of schedule. An additional 235 (23%) received all vaccinations, but not on schedule, and the remaining children received some but not all vaccines. On-time vaccination was most likely to occur among households in which the mother was highly educated and in which household income was higher.
The Louisville duo reported Monday in the journal Pediatrics that delayed vaccinations did not improve outcomes. In fact, outcomes in this group might have been worse. The researchers found that children vaccinated on time performed higher on 15 of the 42 tests than those who were not vaccinated on time. The latter group did not perform higher on any test. The researchers did not offer a potential explanation for this finding, but it may be linked to the higher household incomes.
Current vaccination schedules call for even more shots, so the results are not directly translatable, the authors conceded. But even with the added shots on the new schedule, children are actually exposed to lower doses of antigens because of improvements in the vaccines, they said, so the safety should remain the same.
"This study provides the strongest clinical outcomes evidence to date that on-time receipt of vaccines during infancy has no adverse effect on neurodevelopmental outcomes 7 to 10 years later," the authors wrote. "These results offer reassuring information that physicians and public health officials may use to communicate with parents who are concerned that children receive too many vaccines too soon."
The study was funded internally at the university. Woods has received honoraria from pharmaceutical companies for speeches and has received research funding from them for other projects.
-- Thomas H. Maugh II
He reviewed (badly) a study that reported that a sample of children who were both vaccinated according to the CDC schedule, and their peers who were unvaccinated or vaccinated selectively, and found that there was no difference in neuropsychological outcomes. The study, according to the authors, was needed in part because:
"as the visible threats of vaccine-preventable diseases have decreased, parental concerns about vaccine safety have increased. Most recently, these concerns have focused on the now debunked links between autism and the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine as well as concerns about the ethyl mercury–
containing preservative thimerosal..."
Well no, the thimerosal link has not been debunked, but lets skip that for now and note that parents greatest vaccine concern these days is autism. So that suggests that this study will address that concern, right?
Thomas Maugh certainly sees it that way. He wrote that the study, "analyzed data on 1,047 children enrolled in a previous study designed to determine whether thimerosal produced an autism risk."
Well GREAT! This looks like one of those studies that I personally have been begging Main Stream Medicine to do! Except that it actually isn't, it doesn't do what Maugh is telling you it does, and it looks to be just another PR stunt.
Maugh might see this too, if he read the whole study carefully. Curiously, the word "autism" only appears twice in the paper. Once in the intro, where I quoted above, and once a full nine pages in, tucked in the last paragraph before the conclusion that curiously reads:
Finally, our analyses were limited to publicly available data from the original study. Future VSD studies without this restriction would be able to assess a wider range of outcomes. These include putative vaccine adverse effects such as neurodevelopmental delay, autism, and autoimmune disorders.
What's that? Neurodevelopmental delay, autism and autoimmune disorders weren't measured? I am confused. I thought that this study was supposed to allay my fears about those things too?
You see this study is not really a new, good study, it is just a rehash of an old, bad study that the New England Journal of Medicine published to make it look like vaccines didn't cause autism. In the fall of 2007, they published a study called, "Early thimerosal exposure and neuropsychological outcomes at 7 to 10 years.", which reported that getting more thimerosal in vaccines didn't cause adverse neuropsych outcomes 7 to 10 years later. (except that if you read the whole study you find that it did cause verbal tics and speech delay). But here is where the sleight of hand takes place... pay close attention.
The abstract of that first study contains this very important note (that none of the media seemed to see):
"(We did not assess autism-spectrum disorders.)"
That's right readers... NONE of these wonderful, fab, illuminating, reassuring studies have anything to do with autism! Autism was part of the EXCLUSION criteria for the first study, therefore it was also not measured in the second study. No children in these two studies had autism. If you had autism, you were not allowed in these studies! (* see note regarding these last two sentences)
NOT AUTISM STUDIES!
(wanted to make sure I got my point across)
But you wouldn't know that from reading Maugh or from the Pediatrics study... you would have to have read the abstract in the New England Journal of Medicine yourself (not the press on it, as that was left out of the media), know that it was not an autism study, to know that this Pediatrics study is not an autism study, to know that Thomas Maugh has no idea what he is talking about. He is either incompetent to report on health research or he is purposefully lying to the public when he claims that this is based on a "previous study designed to determine whether thimerosal produced an autism risk".
You might try to point that out to him, but I have found that he is not really open to discussing the problems in his writing.
So that is how they do it folks... they do a vaccine study, not on autism, but something autism sounding and phrase it so the reader assumes that autism is included, don't mention that autism is not measured in the press release, let journalists print that it actually DOES study autism, then base more studies on that initial study that never mention that autism is not even on the menu, and viola! The public hears lots of stories about how vaccines don't cause autism.
But that one small sentence "(We did not assess autism-spectrum disorders.)" is like the pea under the mattresses for the autism mom princess. It pokes at us and keeps us awake all night, but few others will ever even notice it is there.
While I was out of town this week an interesting conversation has taken place in the comments section on this last claim of mine that autism was in the exclusion criteria. I think that I may have made an assumption here. As you can see, it is not explicitly stated that those with autism were excluded from the study. I think I made that leap when reading that autism was not measured.
But it brought up more interesting questions about potential shenanigans in the sampling. To reasoning, this study should have NO ONE with and ASD diagnosis in the sample (as it is not measured) or should have a representative sample of ASD (to the rate in the gen pop of the birth cohort) as would a true random sample.
But neither is stated and as the discussion notes, children were dropped from the study with no explanation of why.
I would like to know the answer to a simple question... how many children with an ASD diagnosis are in this sample?
Mind you, even if there was a representative sample of kids with ASD in it (which I will shocked if there are) it is still not an autism study, so comments sentence "Autism was part of the EXCLUSION criteria for the first study... No children in these two studies had autism. If you had autism, you were not allowed in these studies!" would need to be dropped from this article to make it accurate.
Read the discussion below and thanks to those who held this exchange in my absence.
Another potential problems is the cessation of vaccination following autistic regression.
If you use the sample of my two sons, you would get results that the fewer vaccines one has, the higher the chance of having autism. Because when Chandler regressed after 18 months and 21 doses of vaccines, we stopped vaccinating him. While his older brother received more shots because:
1. He was older and was on the recommended schedule for twice the time his little brother was and
2. We allowed him to have two additional shots after his brother's regression (but he is now done).
So any study would need to take into account vaccination stoppage following regression, which is probably now the norm.
Which is why I think that only a fully vaccinated, completely unvaccinated study would really give us true insight into autism risk according to vaccine intake.