Vaccinations, Part III

The Anti-Vaxers

In this section, we provide brief sketches of some of the most prominent people in today’s anti-vaccination movement, along with exposure of the flaws in their arguments. These people fall into two different categories. The first group is comprised of medical professionals (or former physicians) who have made claims regarding the safety of different forms of vaccination, or who have claimed to find a correlation between vaccination and autism. A second group consists of journalists or activists who have published articles or issued statements alleging problems with vaccination, or who are involved with groups that have taken an anti-vaccination stance.

1.  Andrew Wakefield

Andrew Wakefield is arguably the most important and influential anti-vaccination figure. He is a British former gastroenterologist and medical researcher. Along with twelve co-authors, Wakefield published a famous paper in The Lancet in 1998 (Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children: Lancet 351:37-641, 1998). This paper alleged that from a study of 12 children with autism or related disorders, the authors had detected a link between the MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) vaccine and the onset of behavioral symptoms.

Fig 3.1
Figure 3.1: Former British physician and anti-vaxer leader Andrew Wakefield.

The authors claimed to have identified a new form of inflammatory bowel disease that they termed “autistic enterocolitis.” Wakefield argued (M. Fitzpatrick, British Medical Bulletin 69, 143 (2004)) that the MMR vaccine “causes persistent measles infection in the gut; this results in a distinctive ‘enterocolitis,’ which in turn produces a ‘leaky bowel’ which allows toxic ‘opioid’ peptides … to enter the blood stream; passing to the brain, these peptides cause autism.”

An additional claim was that in all 12 children in the study, the symptoms of autism manifested themselves within one month of receiving the MMR vaccine. In fact, Wakefield and others claimed (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Vaccines and Autism) that some otherwise normal young children would begin to exhibit signs of abnormal behavioral symptoms almost immediately following treatment with the MMR vaccine.

Except for claiming that symptoms of autism appeared very shortly after vaccination, Wakefield and his collaborators provided no evidence for a link between the MMR vaccine and this “autistic enterocolitis.” However, there were some obvious opportunities to test these speculations. First, since the MMR vaccine was introduced into the U.K. in 1998, one would expect to see a measurable rise in autism after that date. Second, children suffering from inflammatory bowel disease would be expected to reveal evidence of measles infection and be strongly correlated with children who developed autism. And third, children with measles infections in their gut should be infected with virus from the vaccine and not with natural measles.

Wakefield’s claims were widely publicized, and had major repercussions around the world. The first dramatic effect was that following the publication of this article, the number of children receiving vaccinations declined dramatically. The Associated Press reported that “Immunization rates in Britain dropped from 92 percent to 73 percent, and were as low as 50 percent in some parts of London. The effect was not nearly as dramatic in the United States, but researchers have estimated that as many as 125,000 US children born in the late 1990s did not get the MMR vaccine because of the Wakefield splash.

Since the conclusions in Wakefield’s paper resulted from a trial of only 12 patients, this work immediately led to much larger trials of vaccination, to test whether the alleged results would hold up in more robust studies. For example, a study of 100 autistic children and 200 children without autism showed no link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Controls and the UK National Health Service have also found no link between vaccines and autism. They also found no link between bowel disease (which Wakefield’s group defined as “autistic enterocolitis”) and the MMR vaccine. Also, investigators found no correlation between children with autism, and those with gastro-intestinal inflammation.

In addition, the British Medical Journal found that autism rates continued to rise in areas where MMR vaccinations were decreasing. A major study was carried out in Denmark between 1991 and 1998. This study included over 500,000 children. This study found no difference in the rate of autism diagnosis before or after the MMR vaccine was administered, or between vaccinated or unvaccinated children. Finally, Japan decided to discontinue the MMR vaccine in 1993. Following that step there was no corresponding decrease in autism rates in Japan.

In November 2004, the BBC Channel 4 broadcast the results of a study by investigative journalist Brian Deer. Deer alleged the following:

a) Prior to publication of his paper, Wakefield had applied for a patent for a “single-jab measles vaccine” (in their paper, Wakefield’s group alleged that use of a single vaccine to simultaneously treat all three diseases (MMR) was likely the cause of the ‘developmental regression’ claimed in their study).
b) Deer revealed that a colleague of Wakefield’s had found no measles virus in the children in Wakefield’s study (the authors of the original study had claimed that measles virus was found in some of their patients).
c) Deer alleged that some of the patients in the Wakefield study were recruited by a UK lawyer who was preparing a lawsuit against MMR manufacturers. In addition, it was alleged that Wakefield had failed to disclose that he himself had been paid £400,000 by the lawyers responsible for the MMR lawsuit.

After publication of these allegations, 10 of Wakefield’s 12 co-authors published a retraction of their conclusions in The Lancet article. Here is their statement: “We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient.” Two years later, Deer released records showing that Wakefield had received £435,643 in undisclosed payments from the Legal Services Commission for the purpose of building a case against the MMR vaccine.

Up to this point, Wakefield had denied all of Deer’s accusations and had initiated legal action for libel against Deer, Channel 4 and a number of other groups. But once the records of payment were released, Wakefield dropped his libel suits and was ordered to pay all defendants’ costs.

Between July 2007 and May 2008, the UK General Medical Council held hearings to determine possible action against Dr. Wakefield. In Jan. 2010, the Council issued their findings. As reported by Stephen Barrett (“Lancet Retracts Wakefield Paper”, Autism Watch, May 2010), the GMC found that Wakefield had:

• Improperly obtained blood for research purposes from normal children attending his son’s birthday party, paid them £5 for their discomfort, and later joked during a lecture about having done this.
• Subjected autistic children to colonoscopy, lumbar punctures, and other tests without approval from a research review board.
• Failed to disclose that he had filed a patent for a vaccine to compete with the MMR.
• Started a child on an experimental product called Transfer Factor, which he planned to market.

The GMC ruled that Wakefield had “failed in his duties as a responsible consultant“, “acted against the interests of his patients,” and acted “dishonestly and irresponsibly” in his research. They recommended that Wakefield be struck off the UK medical register. This ended Wakefield’s career as a doctor.

In 2009, Brian Deer published the results of a new study. In this case, Deer reviewed the histories of all twelve patients who had been included in the study published by Wakefield and collaborators. As described by Wakefield, the results had been quite dramatic. All twelve youth had apparently shown normal progress until they received the MMR vaccine. Then, within a 14-day period, all children had shown dramatic effects of regression; in some cases, the onset of symptoms appeared immediately following the MMR shot.

Deer published a table contrasting the original hospital data on the children with the information published in the Wakefield paper. Deer found the following:

1) Of the nine children described as having regressive autism, three did not have any diagnosis of autism, and only one of the nine was diagnosed with regressive autism.
2) The Wakefield paper had claimed that all twelve children were “previously normal;” however, five of those children had documented developmental concerns that pre-dated the MMR shots.
3) The Wakefield paper claimed that in several instances, behavioral symptoms manifested themselves within days of vaccination; whereas hospital records showed that in some cases the symptoms appeared months following vaccination.
4) In nine cases, colonic histopathy results that showed no fluctuations in inflammatory cell populations had been changed to indicate “non-specific colitis.”
5) Patients were recruited through anti-MMR campaigners, and the study was commissioned and funded for the purposes of subsequent litigation.

In Feb. 2010, The Lancet formally retracted Wakefield’s 1998 paper. Here is their retraction statement: “Following the judgment of the UK General Medical Council’s Fitness to Practise Panel on Jan 28, 2010, it has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield et al are incorrect, contrary to the findings of an earlier investigation. In particular, the claims in the original paper that children were “consecutively referred” and that investigations were “approved” by the local ethics committee have been proven to be false. Therefore we fully retract this paper from the published record.”

As pointed out in “The Anti-Vaccination Movement” by Steven Novella (Skeptical Inquirer, Nov/Dec 2007), “an expert in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testified that Wakefield’s lab was contaminated with measles virus RNA. Thus, the PCR used by Wakefield was likely detecting this contamination, and not evidence for measles infection in the guts of children with autism who had been vaccinated … [as further evidence] the measles RNA Wakefield found matched the laboratory contamination and did not match either any naturally occurring strain or the strain used in the MMR vaccine.”

The above testimony, the many subsequent research surveys revealing no link between MMR and autism, and his questionable patient recruitment procedures suggest that Wakefield’s original research was at best sloppy, and at worst fraudulent. Wakefield has consistently maintained that his research was valid. He denies having financial ties to law firms, and claims that he is the victim of medical companies who benefit financially from selling vaccines.

In 2004 Wakefield moved to Austin, Texas where he became Executive Director of the Thoughtful House research center. He resigned in Feb. 2010 after the British Medical Council struck him off the UK medical register. However, he continues to work with anti-vaccination groups in the US. He has been active recently in testifying in various states that have tried to limit non-medical exemptions to vaccination laws.

Wakefield has continued to maintain that there is a link between vaccination and autism. His testimony to US state legislative bodies regarding mandatory vaccination is frequently sponsored by chiropractic organizations.

There is now very strong evidence that autism has a significant genetic component. We can point to the following facts:

1) Studies have been carried out of the occurrence of autism in identical and fraternal twins. Using a strict definition of autism, roughly 60% of identical twins and 0% of fraternal twins had autism. Using the definition of autism spectrum disorder, 92% of identical twins and 10% of fraternal twins had autism. This clearly indicates a strong genetic basis for autism.

2) Researchers have conducted “home movie” studies. Families frequently take movies of their child’s first birthday, before they would have received the MMR vaccine. Investigators who were given videos of children who were later diagnosed with autism were able to separate those from non-autistic children with a very high degree of accuracy. Indeed, trained investigators are able to detect very subtle signs of autism in children as early as 2-3 months. Thus, subtle symptoms of autism are present in early infancy, well before children received the MMR vaccine.

3) Certain abnormalities in the fetus are associated with increased incidence of autism. For example, children exposed to rubella before birth have an increased risk for developing autism, while children exposed to rubella after birth have no increased risk. Furthermore, children exposed to thalidomide during the first or second trimester have increased risk of autism. However, “autism occurred in children with ear, but not arm or leg, abnormalities. Because ears develop before 24 days gestation, and arms and legs develop after 24 days gestation, the risk period for autism following receipt of thalidomide must have been before 24 days gestation.”

Both in the UK and US, vaccination rates have dropped dramatically, largely because of the actions of Wakefield and the anti-vaxer lobby. With the drop in vaccination rates, we have seen increases in epidemics of measles and mumps, and deaths from these preventable diseases. The vast majority of children who contract these diseases were not vaccinated.

In 2016, Wakefield directed a propaganda film Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe. It was scheduled to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it was nominated by festival founder Robert deNiro, who has an autistic child. Under pressure from doctors, deNiro reversed his sponsorship and the film was not shown at the festival.

Dr. Ian Lipkin, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column: “Vaxxed … misrepresents what science knows about autism, undermines public confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines, and attacks the integrity of legitimate scientists and public-health officials.”

2.  Robert Kennedy, Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is the son of Bobby Kennedy, who was the former head of the Justice Department in his brother John F. Kennedy’s administration. Kennedy Jr. is co-director of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law.

Fig 3.2
Figure 3.2: Lawyer and environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Kennedy is an environmental activist. In this review we will focus on his views on vaccination. Kennedy’s most widely-known publication was an article called Deadly Immunity that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine and in in June 2005. That piece alleged that there was a government conspiracy to cover up links between the vaccine preservative mercury-based compound thimoseral and childhood autism.

However, in Jan. 2011 Salon retracted and removed Kennedy’s piece. Salon Editor-in-chief Kerry Lauerman stated that: “In the days after running ‘Deadly Immunity,’ we amended the story with five corrections (which can still be found logged here) that went far in undermining Kennedy’s exposé. At the time, we felt that correcting the piece — and keeping it on the site, in the spirit of transparency — was the best way to operate. But subsequent critics, including most recently, Seth Mnookin in his book ‘The Panic Virus,’ further eroded any faith we had in the story’s value. We’ve grown to believe the best reader service is to delete the piece entirely.”

One can get a sense of Kennedy’s objectivity by merely reviewing the first paragraph of his Rolling Stone/Salon article. The following paragraphs are taken from Seth Mnookin’s detailed analysis of Kennedy’s article. Mnookin subsequently wrote a book, The Panic Virus, that discussed the developments leading to declines in vaccination rates, and how prominent anti-vaxers provoked fears about vaccination.

In the following paragraphs, material from Kennedy’s article is printed in italics preceded by RFK, followed by Seth Mnookin’s commentary that appears inside square brackets and is introduced by “SM”:

RFK: In June 2000, a group of top government scientists and health officials gathered for a meeting at the isolated Simpsonwood conference center in Norcross, Ga. Convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the meeting was held at this Methodist retreat center, nestled in wooded farmland next to the Chattahoochee River, to ensure complete secrecy.

[SM: Note the emotive language – an “isolated” conference center “nestled in wooded farmland… to ensure complete secrecy”. Sounds suspicious, yes? Well, not really. Perhaps Kennedy should have read the actual full 286 page transcript of the meeting because then he would have learned (page 257) that it was only held there because there had been a Super Comp Computer Conference at the same time and that the Simpsonwood center was the only place available in Atlanta at such short notice. He might also have noted the closeted location had “created a spirit that (the meeting) benefited from”. But that would have robbed Kennedy of his sensationalist opening, I guess.]

The conspiracy mongering didn’t stop there. At the end of Kennedy’s first paragraph is:

RFK: All of the scientific data under discussion, CDC officials repeatedly reminded the participants, was strictly “embargoed.” There would be no making photocopies of documents, no taking papers with them when they left.

[SM: Sounds shady, right? Wrong. Again, if you read the transcript you’ll find the participants were actually told:  “…consider it embargoed and protected until it is made public on June 21 and 22 at the ACIP. There is a plan to do that.” (Page 256)
Completely different: it was only embargoed until official release later that same month. Kennedy seems intellectually dishonest in taking these non-issues and writing them up to make it sound as though there is something fishy going on.]

Kennedy’s article continues in this same vein. Participants are misquoted, and statements taken out of context. Kennedy argues that the purpose of this “secret” meeting was part of a conspiracy to acknowledge but cover up what Kennedy asserts is the relationship between vaccination and autism, a fact allegedly known to the conference participants.

Kennedy argues that there is a direct link between the mercury compound thimoseral (an organomercury compound that was a well-established antifungal and antiseptic agent) and autism. In 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics requested that vaccine manufacturers remove thimoseral from vaccines as a precautionary measure. This was rapidly accomplished in both the U.S. and the European Union. Since then, extensive studies in Denmark and Canada have shown that rates of autism continued to rise, even after thimoseral was removed from vaccines.

Kennedy followed up Deadly Immunity with a Huffington Post article called Attack On Mothers.  In this article he continues his assertions that thimoseral in vaccines is causing autism in otherwise healthy children. Kennedy claims there are “hundreds of research studies from dozens of countries showing the undeniable connection between mercury and Thimerosal and a wide range of neurological illnesses.”

Kennedy further asserts that “deliberately deceptive and fatally flawed studies were authored by vaccine industry consultants and paid for by Thimoseral producers and published largely in compromised journals that neglected to disclose the myriad conflicts of their authors in violation of standard peer-review ethics.”

It is true that exposure to high levels of mercury can cause serious neurological illness or death. The most widely-known case was that of residents of Minamata, Japan, where about 600 people died as a result of industrial methylmercury discharges into rivers and coastal waters.  Methylmercury is a known neurotoxin, in contrast to ethylmercury, into which thimoseral degrades.

Kennedy’s claims about thimoseral and autism contradict everything we know from comprehensive studies of vaccination and autism. After removal of thimoseral from vaccines, cases of autism continued to rise. The Institute of Medicine, the World Health Organization, the CDC and the FDA all reject any causal link between thimoseral and the incidence of autism. Nevertheless, it continues to be an article of faith among many anti-vaxer groups that vaccination, particularly the multiple-disease MMR vaccine, is a cause of autism, even though thimoseral is not actually used in the MMR vaccine.

3.  The Geiers

Mark Geier is an American physician who has published papers with his son David that allege a connection between vaccination and autism. Geier and his son have published several articles that claim a relation between mercury exposure during infancy and the onset of a number of neurodevelopmental disorders. Their articles speculate on a link between autism spectrum disorders and vaccines that contain the mercury compound thimoseral.

Fig 3.3
Figure 3.3: Mark Geier (right) and his son David Geier.

After the Geiers published their articles, they were reviewed by various panels. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics claimed that their studies contained “numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies and misstatements.” A 2004 Institute of Medicine review of vaccine safety concluded that their work was seriously flawed, “uninterpretable,” and marred by incorrect use of scientific terms.

In 2007, a paper by the Geiers was retracted by Autoimmunity Reviews. The New Scientist reported that the Institutional Review Board (IRB) that had allegedly reviewed and approved his studies of autistic children included Geier himself, his wife and son, a business partner and a plaintiff’s lawyer involved in vaccine litigation. The Maryland State Board of Physicians referred to it as a “sham IRB” that did not meet either the state or federal requirements for such an independent board of reviewers for research on human subjects.

The Geiers have developed a protocol for treating autism that uses the drug Lupron. They claim that Lupron removes “testosterone mercury,” and that this will “cure” autism. In fact, Lupron is a drug used in chemical castration, and its only legitimate medical use is to treat precocious puberty. When treating an autistic child, the Geiers order several dozen lab tests that cost a total of $12,000. If any testosterone-related result is abnormal, the Geiers recommend Lupron treatments using 10 times the dose used to treat precocious puberty. The therapy costs about $5,000 per month.

In April 2011, the Maryland State Board of Physicians suspended Mark Geier’s medical license on the grounds that he “endangers autistic children and exploits their parents by administering … a treatment protocol that has a known substantial risk of serious harm and which is neither consistent with evidence-based medicine nor generally accepted in the relevant scientific community.” Geier’s license to practice medicine in Maryland was formally revoked in August 2012.

Subsequently, Geier’s licenses to practice medicine were also suspended in Washington, Virginia, California, Missouri, Illinois and Hawaii. In 2011, David Geier was charged by the Maryland State Board of Physicians with practicing medicine without a license, and he was fined $10,000. Geier and his son operate several organizations from his private residence in Maryland, including the Institute for Chronic Illness and the Genetic Centers of America.

One of Geier’s main activities in recent years has been as a professional witness in court trials regarding allegations of illness or injury caused by vaccines. In 2003, a judge ruled that Geier represented himself as an expert witness in “areas for which he has no training, expertise and experience.” Other judges have ruled his testimony “intellectually dishonest,” “not reliable” and “wholly unqualified.”

4.  Donald Trump and the Anti-Vaxer Movement

In January 2017, Robert Kennedy Jr. met with President-elect Donald Trump. Kennedy claimed that at that meeting, Trump asked him to chair a new commission on vaccines. However, the Trump Administration said that no decision had been made regarding establishment of such a commission. To date, no such commission has been created.

Trump, Washington, USA - 14 Feb 2018
Figure 3.4: President Donald Trump, who claims that vaccination methods lead to health problems and cause autism.

Since he was a presidential candidate and following his election, Donald Trump has made a number of statements regarding vaccination, autism and the health risks that he believes occur with vaccination. At one of the parties taking place after Trump’s inauguration, he was seen with prominent anti-vaxer Andrew Wakefield, which raised speculation that anti-vaccination efforts might be supported by the Trump Administration.

Fig 3.5
Figure 3.5: Donald Trump and Andrew Wakefield at an event following Trump’s inauguration in Jan. 2017.

During the GOP presidential candidates’ debate in 2015, Donald Trump was asked whether he believed vaccination caused autism. He responded: “I am totally in favor of vaccines. But I want smaller doses over a longer period of time. Same exact amount, but you take this little beautiful baby, and you pump … I mean, it looks just like it’s meant for a horse, not for a child, and we’ve had so many instances, people that work for me. … [in which] a child, a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back and a week later had a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.”

Based on our experience regarding Donald Trump’s grasp of “facts,” it is impossible to know whether he is discussing events with which he has first-hand experience, or whether he is simply repeating stories that he has heard from other people.

On Sept. 3, 2014, Trump released the following series of tweets:

No more massive injections. Tiny children are not horses—one vaccine at a time, over time.” 9:29 am.
I am being proven right about massive vaccinations – the doctors lied. Save our children & their future.” 9:30 am.
I’m not against vaccinations for your children, I’m against them in 1 massive dose. Spread them out over a period of time & autism will drop!” 11:10 am
So many people who have children with autism have thanked me—amazing response. They know far better than fudged up reports!” 11:11 am

From :
“[In Feb. 2017], in a conversation with educators and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Trump reiterated these concerns. ‘So what’s going on with autism?’ he asked a teacher in the audience. ‘When you look at the tremendous increase, it’s really — it’s such an incredible — it’s really a horrible thing to watch, the tremendous amount of increase.’ ‘Maybe we can do something,’ he added.”

In a GOP Presidential candidates’ debate in Sept. 2015, Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Rand Paul all made statements that implied that childhood vaccination might produce health-care problems. Following that debate, the New York Times printed an op-ed column by Aaron Carroll, professor of pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Here are some of the comments by Prof. Carroll.

Here are the facts [about vaccines and vaccination]:
1) Vaccines aren’t linked to autism.
2) The number of vaccines children receive is not more concerning than it used to be.
3) Delaying their administration provides no benefit, while leaving children at risk.
4) All the childhood vaccines are important.
5) There is simply no scientific evidence that links vaccines to autism. Many, many, many studies have confirmed this. The most recent Cochrane systematic review of research on the MMR vaccine included six self-controlled case series studies, two ecological studies, one case crossover trial, five time series trials, 17 case-control studies, 27 cohort studies and five randomized controlled trials. More than 15 million children took part in this research. No one could find evidence that vaccines are associated with autism.

This … is one of the most studied subjects ever.  This year, a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at a cohort of about 100,000 children. All of them were followed from birth until they were 5 years old. Researchers once again looked at whether the MMR vaccine was associated with autism, and found that it was not. It wasn’t even found among children who had siblings with autism and who would therefore be at higher risk for the condition.

It’s also not correct to call autism an ‘epidemic,’ as Mr. Trump often seems to do. Autism is more prevalent as a diagnosis than it used to be. But much of that in recent years is because we’ve changed the definition of what it means to have ‘autism spectrum disorder.’

… Mr. Carson, though observing there was no evidence linking vaccines to autism, also said that many pediatricians were recognizing that ‘we are probably giving way too many in too short a period of time.’ I know of no data that supports this assertion. Pediatricians, as a group, overwhelmingly support vaccines and the current vaccine schedule.

Vaccines do not stress the human body that much. Children are continuously exposed to foreign substances that activate their immune systems. In a manuscript published in Pediatrics in 2002, Dr. Paul Offit and colleagues estimated that infants could respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time. The ones we give could never ‘use up’ the immune system. It is thought that 11 vaccines at once might require the attention of about 0.1 percent of the immune system.

… Spacing out vaccines provides no benefit, and leaves children susceptible to illnesses for a longer time. It also requires more trips to the doctor, each of which is a chance to be exposed to other sick children. In addition, studies show that spacing out vaccines reduces the likelihood that children will complete the full schedule of immunizations.”

5.  Dan Olmsted

Dan Olmsted was a journalist and senior editor for United Press International. This was a news agency of the Unification Church, which publishes the Washington Times newspaper. Olmsted wrote a series of articles alleging that vaccination was connected with autism. As we have noted, there is a wealth of data showing that there is no such connection.

Fig 3.6
Figure 3.6: Former journalist and anti-vaxer Dan Olmsted.

Olmsted’s articles were published in the Washington Times. In addition, Olmsted owned the Age of Autism Web site. Here Olmsted continued to allege that increases in autism were due to mercury poisoning, primarily from vaccines. But as we have seen, the mercury compound thimoseral was removed from virtually all vaccines in the late 1990s, and this had no effect on the rate of diagnosis of autism.

The Columbia Journalism Review made a critical assessment of Olmsted’s reporting on vaccination and autism. They concluded that his reporting was “misguided,” and sources quoted in this assessment believed that “Olmsted has made up his mind on the question and is reporting the facts that support his conclusions.”

Dan Olmsted died in Jan. 2017 from an overdose of prescription medication.

6.  David Kirby

David Kirby is a journalist based in New York. He is currently a contributing blogger for the Huffington Post.

In 2005 Kirby wrote a book Evidence of Harm – Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. In his book, Kirby interviewed a number of parents of autistic children, who believed that the autism was caused by mercury compounds in vaccines.

Kirby concluded that the issue was unproven but strongly suggested that thimoseral in vaccines was related to cases of autism. Kirby’s book was reviewed in the British Medical Journal. They called his book “woefully one-sided” and concluded “Kirby … ends up in the same angry and paranoid universe into which campaigners have descended, alleging phone taps and other forms of surveillance as they struggle against sinister conspiracies between health authorities and drug companies.”

7.  Jenny McCarthy

Jenny McCarthy is an American actress, model and TV host. She is also one of the best-known anti-vaxers. Ms. McCarthy has a son whom she claims is autistic. She also claims that he was helped by chelation therapy. The only medically appropriate use of chelation therapy involves the use of “chelating agents” to remove toxic amounts of heavy metals from the body.

Fig 3.7
Figure 3.7: Actress and vaccination critic Jenny McCarthy.

Although Ms. McCarthy denies that she is “anti-vaccine,” she promotes the view that vaccines cause autism and that chelation therapy can help “cure” autism. There is no credible scientific evidence that supports the use of chelation therapy for treating autism; furthermore, chelation therapy is associated with side effects that include liver and kidney damage, stroke, cardiac arrest, and death.

Ms. McCarthy first rose to fame as a Playboy Playmate in 1993, and was subsequently named Playmate of the Year. Following that Ms. McCarthy appeared at events sponsored by the World Wrestling Federation. In 2005 Ms. McCarthy wrote, produced and starred in the movie Dirty Love, for which she received 2006 Razzie Awards for Worst Actress, Worst Screenplay and Worst Picture (her husband at the time, John Asher, won a Razzie for Worst Director).

Jenny McCarthy has claimed that her son Evan was diagnosed with autism in 2005. She alleged that before vaccination he was a “crystal child,” but that after vaccination he began to suffer seizures. Some clinicians maintain that the symptoms McCarthy has described are more consistent with Landau-Kleffer syndrome, which is often mis-diagnosed as autism.

Apparently Ms. McCarthy tried a number of different remedies for her son, including “Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy … a gluten-free and casein-free diet, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, chelation, aromatherapies, electromagnetics, spoons rubbed on his body, multivitamin therapy, B-12 shots, and numerous prescription drugs.”

McCarthy alleges that her son’s condition was helped by chelation therapy. As we have stated earlier, because of the serious health hazards (including death) associated with these treatments, various health organizations agree that chelation therapy should not be used for any purpose other than the treatment of heavy metal poisoning.

Jenny McCarthy serves on the Board of Directors of Generation Rescue. This is a support organization for families with autistic children. In principle, an organization that assists families with autistic children could be very beneficial.

However, Generation Rescue espouses a number of ideas that are rejected by the mainstream medical community. First off, it endorses Andrew Wakefield’s notion that vaccination, and in particular the MMR vaccines, are a major cause of autism. Second, it endorses the notion that the antifungal agent thimoseral, which was used in children’s vaccines prior to about 2001 in the U.S., is linked to various adverse outcomes, including possibly causing autism. Recall that there was never any thimoseral in the MMR vaccine.

In fact J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, stated that “To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one.” Generation Rescue has continued to defend Wakefield even after his work was discredited and later proved fraudulent, and Wakefield’s license to practice medicine was revoked by the British General Medical Council (see the subsection on Andrew Wakefield above).

Generation Rescue also touts “cures” for autism that range from vitamins to herbs to chelation therapy. Jenny McCarthy’s presence brings the organization much publicity, to the extent that Generation Rescue is sometimes called “Jenny McCarthy’s Autism Organization.”

In 2013-2014, Ms. McCarthy was a co-host of ABC TV’s show The View. This was a controversial appointment because of her known views on vaccination and autism. In 2015 Jeffrey Lieberman, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, said of Ms. McCarthy: “She has no idea what she is talking about. What she said is misleading and harmful, and the measles outbreak is a clear indication of the response to the spread of such pseudoscientific myths.”


The causes of autism are not yet well understood scientifically. It is thus understandable that parents of autistic children would seek links they might grasp to explain their child’s behavior or provide hope for a cure. However, those parents are not helped by belief in pseudoscience that provides no actual relief for their childrens’ symptoms and furthermore exposes those children to increased risk of contracting serious vaccine-preventable diseases. There simply is no credible, reproducible scientific evidence of any causal link between childhood vaccinations and autism. Conspiratorial claims that such a link is caused by thimoseral in the MMR vaccine are patently false because thimoseral is not present in the MMR vaccine, and its removal from other vaccines has led to no reduction in autism occurrence rates. There is no evidence that vaccines which provide immunity to several diseases at once cause undue stress to a child’s immune system.





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