Journal takes down autism-vaccine paper pending investigation
Although we don’t know if the events are related, the move comes amid claims that a CDC whistleblower has accused health officials of suppressing information about the link.
Not surprisingly, the prospect that the CDC has been sitting on evidence of an autism-vaccine connection for more than a decade has inflamed the community of activists wrongly convinced that such a link exists.
The paper, “Measles-mumps-rubella vaccination timing and autism among young african american boys: a reanalysis of CDC data,” was written by Brian Hooker, an engineer-turned-biologist and an active member of that community. It was submitted in April, accepted on August 5, and published on August 8.
Translational Neurodegeneration, which published the article earlier this month, has now removed it and posted the following notice:
This article has been removed from the public domain because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions. The journal and publisher believe that its continued availability may not be in the public interest. Definitive editorial action will be pending further investigation.
BioMed Central, which publishes the journal, declined to comment while the inquiry is ongoing. We’ve made the open access paper available here, and Science-Based Medicine has a thorough overview of the case. Here’s the abstract of the paper:
Background: A significant number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder suffer a loss of previously-acquired skills, suggesting neurodegeneration or a type of progressive encephalopathy with an etiological basis occurring after birth. The purpose of this study is to investigate the effectof the age at which children got their first Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine on autism incidence. This is a reanalysis of the data set, obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), used for the Destefano et al. 2004 publication on the timing of the first MMR vaccine and autism diagnoses.
Methods: The author embarked on the present study to evaluate whether a relationship exists between child age when the first MMR vaccine was administered among cases diagnosed with autism and controls born between 1986 through 1993 among school children in metropolitan Atlanta. The Pearson’s chi-squared method was used to assess relative risks of receiving an autism diagnosis within the total cohort as well as among different race and gender categories.
Results: When comparing cases and controls receiving their first MMR vaccine before and after 36 months of age, there was a statistically significant increase in autism cases specifically among African American males who received the first MMR prior to 36 months of age. Relative risks for males in general and African American males were 1.69 (p=0.0138) and 3.36 (p=0.0019), respectively. Additionally, African American males showed an odds ratio of 1.73 (p=0.0200) for autism cases in children receiving their first MMR vaccine prior to 24 months of age versus 24 months of age and thereafter.
Conclusions: The present study provides new epidemiologic evidence showing that African American males receiving the MMR vaccine prior to 24 months of age or 36 months of age are more likely to receive an autism diagnosis.
Last week, a video narrated by none other than Andrew Wakefield appeared on YouTube which associates the Hooker study with the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments. (Wakefield, by the way, cites his own thoroughly discredited work with pride.) It also includes muddy audio recordings of an alleged CDC whistleblower, vaccine researcher William Thompson, PhD, apparently coming clean about the cover-up. In the video, Hooker says Thompson has “expressed significant remorse” for “lying” about the data.
So far, we haven’t heard from Thompson about the matter. Perhaps he will stand by the tape, perhaps not. We tried to contact him by phone — at a (770) number, not a (404) area code, as Hooker says in the video, it’s worth noting — but couldn’t reach him.
We’ll update as we learn more.
Update, 5:45 pm Eastern, 8/27/14: Thompson has issued a statement that reads, in part:
I regret my co-authors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data was collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.
I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race. Vaccines prevent serious diseases, and the risks associated with their administration are vastly outweighed by their individual and societal benefits.
My concern has been the decision to omit relevant findings in a particular study for a particular sub-group for a particular vaccine. There have always been recognized risks for vaccination and I believe it is the responsibility of the CDC to properly convey the risks associated with the receipt of those vaccines.
I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes including autism spectrum disorders. I share his belief that CDC decision-making analyses should be transparent. I was not, however, aware that he was recording any of our conversations, nor was I given any choice regarding whether my name would be made public or my voice would be put on the Internet.