Unshelved by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
comic strip overdue media

Thursday, February 04, 2010

It probably won't end the debate

but it's a good move.

Journal Retracts Study Backing Vaccine-Autism Link

The original study examined 12 children in Britain and put forth the hypothesis that the MMR vaccine could be a cause of autism. In Britain, MMR vaccine coverage dropped sharply -- from 92 percent in 1995 to 84 percent in 2002, after the publication of the study. The country has experienced several large measles outbreaks since then.
Umm...even I took enough statistics to know 12 cases do not a good sample number make. Then there's:
More than 20 studies have been conducted since the Lancet study that show there is no association between the MMR vaccine and autism, and no studies have been published in peer-review journals that support the idea, Halsey says.

"It's very important that the article was retracted because it validates that the material that was submitted for publication was not based on good science," he says. "I hope that those parents who still have some apprehension and uncertainty in their minds about MMR will now feel more comfortable having their children immunized and immunized on time."
Of course, there will be parents who are against immunisation anyway, but the fact is the risks from measles, mumps, and rubella--to the child and to those others who are not immune--are far greater than the vaccine's. That's not to say that vaccines are perfectly harmless--there's a reason people are warned against the flu vaccine if they are allergic to eggs, for example. My own mother refused to have me vaccinated against mumps (on religious grounds, since that was the only viable way) when I was in junior high because I'd had it confirmed on both sides of my neck and the chances of a recurrence were very small, compared to a possible reaction to the vaccine. I don't think she was crazy in this. But keeping your children from being vaccinated due to baseless information or even worse, hosting parties so kids will get sick and gain a natural immunity, is just plain, well, wrong. (And I'd call the latter legally actionable, in my opinion, if the child were harmed through contracting the illness.)

The fact of the matter is medicine is based to some extent on probability. There is of course the directive to 'do no harm'. But sometimes it's difficult to determine what will cause the greater harm. In vaccines, however, it's clear that stopping the diseases is really the greater good, with good evidence to that effect.

I have every sympathy for those parents searching for a reason for their children's autism. And with such an increase in diagnoses (some could be because we know more about autism, but I don't think that can possibly account for all the increase), there very well could be something in the environment causing it. I believe that this is the case whole-heartedly, because frankly we have trashed our environment with all sorts of toxins in recent decades. Finding the problem is literally like searching for a needle in a haystack. I've heard ideas ranging from the thimerosal in vaccines to mercury in fish to plastics and beyond. We want an answer. But that's an emotional desire. We can't fit science into our views. We can't make it give us an answer. Science is based on trial, on experimentation, and on repetition of results, and this study did not hold up under scrutiny, and therefore The Lancet is right to retract it. It might let the air out of the sails of the debate a little, but the debate isn't going to go away--again, because it's become emotional, not factual. But, still, it helps set the scientific record straight on the evidence.

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