Viewpoint Expert opinions on trends and controversies in autism research.
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Opinion / Viewpoint

Smoke, mirrors and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s vaccine safety panel

by  /  12 January 2017
The Expert:

David Mandell

Professor, University of Pennsylvania

You may have heard by now: President-elect Donald Trump apparently is appointing Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to a commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity, with a particular focus on autism.

Policy points:

Frank talk about policy issues in autism

I am trained as an epidemiologist and health services researcher and have conducted autism research for almost 20 years. I am confident that the president-elect could not have found someone less qualified for this role. But please don’t let this appointment distract us from fighting the many policy changes the incoming administration is proposing that could have dire consequences for people with autism and other disabilities.

Kennedy is an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist. In 2005, he wrote “Deadly Immunity,” jointly published in Rolling Stone magazine and The article claimed that thimerosal, which until 1998 was used to preserve vaccines, causes autism. Kennedy went on to claim that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked with pharmaceutical companies to hide the risks associated with thimerosal. Rolling Stone and retracted the article in 2011 because of factual errors, but Kennedy continues to spread his theories.

The president-elect linked vaccines to autism during the second Republican presidential debate using a vague anecdote, thereby giving undeserved life to this discredited theory. As Paul Offit, one of the world’s leading vaccine experts, points out, of all the tremendous expertise available to Mr. Trump, he has selected the remarkably unqualified Kennedy to advise him.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that vaccines save lives and are among the most important medical innovations of our time.

Why would the president-elect engage with a conspiracy theorist and a thoroughly discredited pseudoscientist to reopen a settled question? His decision has the potential to put millions of children’s lives in danger, should their parents choose not to have them vaccinated.

Let’s call this ploy what it is: a distraction from the real policy proposals from Trump’s team that have the potential to destroy the system of care for millions of people with autism.

Thin link:

As writer Julie Beck said in a September 2015 article in The Atlantic, it is no longer interesting or useful to debate the connection between vaccines and autism. Myriad well-conducted studies show that vaccines don’t cause autism, and that the risk of vaccine injury is overwhelmingly outweighed by the lives vaccines save. Even a study funded by Safe Minds, an anti-vaccine group, found that vaccines cause no autism symptoms or autism-like neuropathology.

Despite this plethora of scientific evidence, one-third of American parents think that vaccines can cause autism. This in and of itself suggests that scientists and medical professionals have much more work to do in publicizing high-quality science. But by drawing further attention to this discredited link, Trump creates the illusion that he is investing in keeping our children safe and supporting individuals with disabilities and their families. In fact, the agenda he has proposed and the stated positions of his cabinet picks point to exactly the opposite.

For example, Trump has proposed dramatically reducing funding for Medicaid, which is the single largest payer for healthcare for individuals with autism. He also proposed to change Medicaid funding to a state block grant, which means that states would not have to follow regulations from the Center for Medicaid Services, such as the one stating that Medicaid should cover behavioral treatments for autism.

States of danger:

Trump also proposes to open up healthcare insurance markets across state lines. If that happens, out-of-state insurance companies would not have to follow state mandates. States would have significant incentives to repeal their mandates to stay price competitive, sparking a race to the bottom. The mandates that require healthcare insurers to cover autism services would be in danger of being gutted, especially if employers choose to offer insurance plans only from companies in states with no mandate.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act guarantees children with disabilities a free and appropriate public education. It may be the single most important civil right afforded children with autism. Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, has called this law “the single most irritating problem for teachers throughout America today” and “a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.” What will it mean to have an attorney general who won’t enforce this right?

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, is a staunch proponent of charter schools, which have no mandate to support children with disabilities. My own work in public schools suggests that many charter schools initially enroll children with disabilities and then send them back to their neighborhood public schools as soon as the charter school receives payment for that student.

Eyes on the prize, people. Although we should call out all fake science, please remember that there are very high stakes here, and that we should put the bulk of our energy into fighting for the healthcare and education that people with autism and all disabilities deserve.

David Mandell is professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Mental Health Policy and Services Research.

TAGS:   autism, policy

45 responses to “Smoke, mirrors and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s vaccine safety panel”

  1. Tracy Longman says:

    That’s odd, all his kids are vaccinated, how can he be antivax? I believe he has said many many times that he is provaccine, seems to me he just has some concerns about the safety of them, sounds like a reasonable concern, so if they’re safe, then there should be no worries, right?

    • Suppose I go around telling people that pizza contains a chemical that’s only slightly different from bleach. I’m anti-pizza even though that was technically true because I am spouting misinformation against the practice of eating pizza – it doesn’t matter how much pizza I scarf – all that changes is my motivation for anti-pizzaness – in this case, it might be that I want all the pizza for myself.

  2. Rachel Aspögård says:

    It’s what is in the vaccines? Is mercury good for the brain? Mmmmm…I wonder???

  3. Crystal says:

    I didn’t expect to see an article as bad as this in Spectrum News. History shows vaccine research in ALL areas is very important as many vaccines have been taken off the market, changed, or attempted improvement over time. The CDC was addressed just 2 years ago for their cover up of the MMR and autism connection in young African American boys (William Thompson). There is good reason to continue to investigate and research the safety of vaccines. Our children are our future.

  4. Claire Cameron says:

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  5. Lisa Wiederlight says:

    SafeMinds takes issue with Dr. Mandel’s assertion that our organization is an “anti-vaccine group.” To raise concerns about the current immunization program does not make one anti-vaccine, any more than being concerned about car seat safety makes an organization anti-car seat. Clearly Dr. Mandel did not read our post questioning the findings from the study our organization partially funded many years ago. That post, delineating our many concerns about the study methodology and findings, can be found online here (

    While vaccines have saved the lives of many people, they have also maimed, injured, and killed others. By way of example, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a federal program that compensates victims of vaccine injury, has paid out over $3 billion since 1988 to people who have been injured or killed by vaccines, and has compensated at least 83 cases of brain injuries involving autism or autism-related features. According to peer-reviewed academic research available to everyone online, the American vaccine schedule has been linked to higher incidences of infant mortality, and aluminum-induced neurotoxicity; and vaccinating low-birth-weight babies has been found to lead to breathing difficulties, seizures, and death.

    We must also register our concern with Dr. Mandel’s information sources. According to a CBS News investigative report by Sharyl Attkisson, the vaccine industry gives millions to the American Academy of Pediatrics for conferences, grants, medical education classes, and even helped to build their headquarters. This includes:

    • A $342,000 payment from Wyeth, maker of the pneumococcal vaccine – which makes $2 billion a year in sales.

    • A $433,000 contribution from Merck, the same year the academy endorsed Merck’s HPV vaccine – which made $1.5 billion a year in sales.

    • Another top donor: Sanofi Aventis, maker of 17 vaccines and a new five-in-one combo shot just added to the childhood vaccine schedule last month.

    Finally, we must point out that Dr. Mandel, while crediting Dr. Paul Offit as a “vaccine expert,” did not disclose that Dr. Offit shares a patent for the Rotavirus vaccine with vaccine manufacturer Merck. He also holds a $1.5 million research chair at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania funded by Merck. This conflict of interest should have been stated in Dr. Mandel’s article to increase its objectivity.

    SafeMinds is committed to finding all of the environmental causes of autism, and we believe all credible risk factors for autism should be investigated. Enough research has been done to raise concerns about vaccines being a risk factor for autism. We need to fund unbiased research, rather than closing down discussions. SafeMinds is only interested in providing facts to the public so that parents can make their own decisions for their children’s health with their family physicians.

    • Matt Carey says:

      Why put “vaccine expert” in scare quotes when, by your own discussion, you mention someone who has actually patented and seen through development a vaccine which is currently in use and saving lives?

      You do yourself no service complaining about labels to your org while showing a clear bias against vaccines and attacking those who, very clearly, are true vaccine experts.

      Given that the audience here is largely academic researchers, misrepresenting conflicts of interest is going to backfire.

      Dr. Offit does not not “share” a patent, as he assigned the rights to his institutions. A point not lost on any reader here who has been an inventor working for an academic or industrial institution. Further. Dr. Offit’s institutions sold their rights years ago to those patents. While Dr. Offit was entitled through his contract to a fraction of that sale, that was many years ago. There is no opportunity for profit now or in the future from that patent.

      Also, as many reading this themselves hold endowed chair, the statement that one of Dr. Offit’s endowed chairs (by the way, holding an endowed chair is another sign of one being a vaccine expert, sans scare quotes) was originally funded by Merck. But anyone who has experience in academia knows that one funds an endowed chair and then loses control over that funding. Certainly Dr. Offit would be aware of and respectful of the Merck connection, but Merck would have no direct influence over his actions.

      My own advisor held an endowed chair, which is now held by a friend of mine. Those who funded it are largely now out of business, yet the endowment continues.

      These points have been discussed online time and again. There are no conflicts of interest to disclose, and disclosing them wouldn’t have been necessary here anyway.

      Since SafeMinds is only interested in providing facts, as you state, I do hope this is the last time these points are addressed.

      • Mike Stevens says:

        Presumably in the opinion of Lisa, a “vaccine expert” is not a paediatric professor with 30 years clinical and scientific experience of vaccines, who has actually invented vaccines in common use and who has written several reference textbooks and hundreds of scientific articles on the topic.
        A vaccine expert would be some non medical individual who has spent several hours browsing antivaccine propaganda websites.

    • kfunk937 says:

      The moderator’s clearly stated guidelines (posted 8 1/2 hours prior to your comment) appear to have escaped your notice:

      – Stick to the science
      – Be brief
      – Be polite
      – Stay on topic

      To be fair, one out of four (polite +) could be considered to be a start. But this article is not about you or your pet anti-vaccine organisation, nor is Sharyl Attkisson remotely a scientific source.

      Flagged accordingly.

  6. Katie Wright says:

    Agree…It is so lazy to label anyone with the slightest concern about vaccine safety “anti- vaccine!” It is exactly that “I know better than everyone,” attitude that American parents find so condescending. It is hugely counter -productive as well. Every child is different and severe adverse reactions do happen. I challenge Dr. Mandell to find one RFK quote in which he tells people not to vaccinate. RFK vaccinated his kids. The hyperbolic vitriol against Mr. Kennedy does nothing to reassure thoughtful and concerned American parents that our vaccines are as safe as they could be. Additionally the over the top reaction to the mere suggestion of a vaccine safety study group only confirms the need for more transparency.

  7. David Mandell says:

    I appreciate Ms. Weiderlight’s response to my Viewpoint and her willingness to engage in open dialogue. Ms. Weiderlight makes three assertions: 1) SafeMinds is not an anti-vaccine group; 2) money paid out by the so-called “vaccine court,” which compensates people who can demonstrate vaccine-related injury, proves that vaccines cause autism; and 3) my sources, specifically Paul Offit and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are not credible because they have received money from pharmaceutical companies. Below I address each:

    What does SafeMinds do?
    SafeMinds does indeed do more than advocate regarding the connection between vaccines and autism. They co-led initiatives to prevent elopement among people with autism and to prevent suicide. The bulk of SafeMinds’ advocacy and their stated mission is to identify environmental factors that increase risk for autism. The general scientific consensus agrees that some portion of autism is caused or exacerbated by environmental toxins.
    For Ms. Weiderlight to say that SafeMinds is not anti-vaccine is misleading. Of the 20 studies SafeMinds has funded, about 75% attempt to find a link between mercury and autism or thimerosal (the preservative that used to be in many childhood vaccines) and autism. There aren’t any other potential toxins to which they pay as much attention. Their website makes a misleading comparison between methylmercury, a known neurotoxin that stays in the body, and ethylmercury, the quickly-excreted form of mercury found in thimerosal. If thimerosal caused autism, we should have seen a dramatic decline in autism in the 2000s, given that it was removed from most childhood vaccines in 1998. And yet rates of autism rose as fast or faster in the 2000s than in the 1990s.
    Ms. Weiderlight also points to a SafeMinds blog that raises concerns regarding the study they funded that did not find a link between thimerosal and autism. I assure her that I read it. The blog implies that the researchers colluded not to conduct the specific research SafeMinds funded. It is not a scientific critique of the study. There is no discussion of even the possibility that the findings are accurate and thimerosal doesn’t cause autism.
    SafeMinds also hosts two websites “that provide critiques of the flaws of studies that are often used to refute the vaccine-autism link.” (from their website) Rather than a scientific critique of the studies that find that vaccines don’t cause autism, the websites charge that the authors of each study colluded with vaccine makers cover up the “real” findings. The websites talk about “paid spokespeople,” implying a conflict of interest at best and outright conspiracy at worst. I am intrigued that SafeMinds does not apply the same rigorous critique to studies that report a thimerosal-autism link. One could argue that most of these studies are flawed by biologically implausible links, small sample sizes and poor clinical characterization, among other problems.
    So yes, I think I can stand by my assertion that SafeMinds is anti-vaccine, separate from the other good work that it does.

    But what about the vaccine court?
    The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is, as Ms. Weiderlight describes, a federal program that compensates victims of vaccine injury. It was started in the 1980s as a way to keep vaccine makers in the business of manufacturing vaccines despite the threat of lawsuits. And certainly there is very good evidence that in rare cases, vaccines cause very serious injury and even death in children.
    Here’s how vaccine court works: a parent or guardian files a petition. The petition gives the date of the vaccine and describes the adverse symptoms that followed. The petitioner must show that the symptoms occurred within a certain time period after the vaccine was administered. You can see the whole list at The petitioner doesn’t have to prove that the vaccine caused the symptoms, just the timing of the symptoms following the vaccine. And we all remember that correlation doesn’t equal causation, right? Eighty percent of cases are settled without finding that the vaccine caused the injury. But let’s assume for a minute that all those settled cases were truly vaccine injury and do some math. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, from 2006 to 2014, about 2.5 billion doses of vaccines covered by the program were administered. There were 3,672 petitions adjudicated by the Court during this time period; 2,310 were compensated; 83 were for autism-like syndromes. So for every 1 million doses of vaccine that were distributed, 1 individual was compensated, and 1 in 30.1 million was for an autism-like condition. If we use these data as proof of anything, as Ms. Weiderlight suggests, its proof that if vaccines did cause any autism, it would be the most minuscule fraction imaginable.

    What about my sources?
    I agree that we must always look at who funds research when we interpret the findings. Incidentally, I do not take money from pharmaceutical companies (not that anyone’s asked…or offered).
    In my ViewPoint I refer to a blog that Dr. Offit wrote describing the evidence that vaccines don’t cause autism. Dr. Offit is the creator of the rotovirus vaccine, which is credited with saving millions of lives. He is one of the most decorated physicians in the world. He and his family also have received many death threats because of his statements that vaccines don’t cause autism. In the interest of full disclosure, Dr. Offit has lectured in my undergraduate seminar a couple of times and I am a member of the Autism Science Foundation scientific advisory board, of which he is a founding board member.
    I also cite the American Academy of Pediatrics, the primary professional home for more than 60,000 pediatricians in the United States.
    But sure, don’t take their word for it. Skepticism and turning to primary sources is very important. So please read the Institute of Medicine report on vaccine safety, or the recent vaccine safety review in Pediatrics, or the older ones in JAMA, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world. Go back to the epidemiological studies on which those reviews are based. All say that vaccines don’t cause autism. Of course the irony of SafeMinds’ critique of my sources is that Andrew Wakefield, who started this panic with his now thoroughly discredited and falsified study, failed to disclose his own conflict of interest. He was taking money from lawyers who had brought a suit against vaccine manufacturers. He also was developing his own measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. Has SafeMinds addressed this conflict?
    Incidentally, I don’t think that Mr. Kennedy has any credibility as a scientist in any area. If one wanted to truly address issues of vaccine safety and scientific integrity, why wouldn’t one appoint an expert?

    Eyes on the prize!
    I used this phrase in my ViewPoint to point out that the Kennedy story is a distraction. SafeMinds says on their website that we as a society have failed to provide a meaningful system of care for people with autism (my words, not theirs). I agree. The autism advocacy community and the larger disability community cannot afford to be split on this issue. People with autism are in danger of losing their health care and their right to a meaningful education. Who knows what will happen to Medicaid and Section 8-funded housing and the vocational rehabilitation system. Loss of these supports will endanger the lives of many more people with autism than vaccines ever have.

    • Katie Wright says:

      Thimerasol was not required to be removed from childhood vaccines until Jan 1 2004. I too assumed that the1999 AAP recommendation meant immediate removal- my mistake and also theirs…When I called my pediatrician in 2004 to sure myself my son (born in 2001) had not received Hg in vaccines she told me: “The recommendation to remove thimersaol vaccines was VOLUNTARY until 2004 and I was not going to throw away perfectly good vaccines.” Thanks AAP for taking chances with my son’s health you had no right to take.

      I hear the same story for almost every mother of of an ASD child 15 and older. No pediatricians threw out vaccines until it was legally mandatory. And yes we are seeing far fewer cases of severe regressive autism in children until 15, which is a good thing.

      • David Mandell says:

        Katie thanks for correcting me about the removal of thimerosal. From where do your data come about there being far fewer cases of more severe autism?

      • Mike Stevens says:

        The removal of thimerosal (please note how it is spelled, Katie) was not “voluntary”. The last production of any vaccines with it (except multi dose flu) ceased in late 1999/early 2000.

        Vaccines would not have still been in use in 2004, that is ridiculous. Vaccines from 5 years before would have passed their expiry date 3-4 years earlier, and no “out of date” vaccines are allowed to be administered.

        Your anecdotal report of what your doctor supposedly said sounds suspiciously like it was entirely fabricated just for the purposes of corroborating your narrative.

    • Twylaa says:

      Defenders of the vaccine program often like to say that its easy to get compensation from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, but that is actually far from true. Only one in five cases are compensated, and it often takes many years for cases to finally be compensated.

      For an account of how hard it is to get compensation, read this book. This is only one story, but there are many more easily available.
      A Bad Reaction, by Sarah Bridges

      Also see this book:
      The Vaccine Court: The Dark Truth of America’s Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
      by Wayne Rhode

      • Twylaa says:

        As far as the number of autism cases compensated, the court has a strict policy of not compensating for autism. But cases of children with autism are sometimes compensated if the autism is not mentioned, such as if the case is filed for brain damage. Some of these cases are described here:

        Unanswered Questions from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: A Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury

        It should also be noted that many parents are not even aware of the vaccine court, and don’t become aware until years after the vaccine injury. There is a three year deadline for filing claims, and many parents miss this deadline.

    • If it’s exacerbated by toxins, it’s even MORE important to vaccinate autistic children, not more important to avoid.

  8. David Mandell says:

    And why is this just a discussion of vaccines? What do you think of Trump’s other proposals? Will you devote energy to protecting education and health care for children with autism?

  9. JoVanna says:

    Prof Mandell raises the prospect of a forthcoming assault on the education and healthcare rights of children and adults with autism. Frankly, It is a really scary article for a parent of children with autism. And it was written before the senate hearings last week, which simply reinforced these concerns. The article makes a very clear point: don’t take the bait, don’t get distracted by vaccines, focus on the threat on healthcare and education.
    And what do we see in the comments? All the comments are about vaccines!
    Congratulations! you swallowed the bait.

    I assume the comments are written by parents of individuals with autism. And I do not understand. How is this advocating for your children? If my child runs the risk of losing access to the healthcare and education that he desperately needs, why should I care whether Mr Kennedy vaccinated his kids or not? If you want to talk anecdotal evidence, my child was vaccinated way after 2004, and has severe autism.

    Most days I do not have time to comment on articles like this because looking after my child takes all of my time. I do not understand how you parents have time for this, unless you can afford to pay a small army of people to look after your kids. I do not understand how you can ignore this threat to healthcare and education, unless you can afford to pay for this privately. Here is a message from a parent living in the real world: if you think you are advocating for individuals with autism and for their families, you are doing a pretty lame job.

    • Twylaa says:

      If he had only written about subjects such as education and medicare, then the comments would not be about vaccines. The title of the article is “Smoke, mirrors and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s vaccine safety panel”, and the author spends much of his words on disparaging RFK jr and claiming that vaccines don’t cause autism. Hence the comments about vaccines.

  10. JoVanna says:

    Prof. Mandell,
    thank you for writing this article. It is not a pleasant read, but I hope it is widely read in the autism community. Unfortunately, it is a very fractured community.
    Perhaps, a major threat like this may bring this community closer together.

  11. Joan Griggs says:

    As a High School Special Ed Paraprofessional and a mother of a 23 year old son with Autism who went through the Public School System, “least restrictive environment” does not mean these students are being served! I see it every day. The Public School curriculum is not equipped to serve students who do not understand the instruction on the 9-12 grade level. Material needs to be modified for each student, but that is not being done. They are being given grades just to pass them through the system. Inclusion is rare, they still have to be taught at such a low level that the “typical” students are not involved with them at all.
    Therefore I am a pro-resource classroom, bringing these guys back into a smaller classroom, maybe pulling a few, more willing and capable “typical” students to come in and work with them and keep them in an environment that is more comfortable for them rather than to force them into these classrooms of 30-35 students that are entirely too overwhelming.
    Once they age out of High School, this “least restrictive environment” is rarely imposed on them. Most of them sit at home, or go to a Day Center where they continue to be secluded from the rest of the population anyway. The current focus is “getting them in the community”. However, that still is only integrating them into the workforce at such a low percentage, the majority is still being secluded. Until our society is ready to fully include this population post-high school, why force them all into the chaos of the “regular-ed” classroom.

    Also, my son has not received a vaccine since he was 3 years old and diagnosed with Autism! At 19 years, he began having Seizures. You will never be able to convince me that modern medicine, food additives, artificial ingredients, genetically modifying and the level of toxicity of our water, which the FDA have allowed in our food supply, has not caused 90% of the ailments affecting our world today! This rise of Autism and other disabilities came from somewhere…Genetic mutation…why is it so rampant today? Why has the FDA allowed these toxins to remain? Whose pocket is being padded by the continuation of the production of these products? I can only hope to see some changes!

  12. Matt Carey says:

    The term “anti-vaccine” is problematic, as demonstrated above. Not because there are not anti-vaccine individuals or organizations, but because it sidetracks the discussion.

    Prof. Mandell stated

    “Even a study funded by Safe Minds, an anti-vaccine group, found that vaccines cause no autism symptoms or autism-like neuropathology.”

    And all the discussion following is about whether it is valid to refer to SafeMinds (I believe it is one word) is “anti-vaccine”.

    The real meat of the statement is that they funded a study which goes completely against the idea that vaccines cause autism. A good study, but one whose conclusion has been demonstrated again and again in previous studies.

    Taking this a step further, the real point is that the evidence is overwhelmingly against vaccines being a cause of autism (and even more so that thimerosal was a cause).

    But, as happens time and time again, the discussion keeps focusing on whether it is fair to refer to a group as “anti-vaccine”.

    One reason I rarely use the term.

  13. Matt Carey says:

    Mr. Kennedy’s arguments about mercury are clearly spelled out in his book. There was even a section on autism which was not in the original, but was distributed online.

    His arguments are just a rehash of the failed arguments of the past decade, and ignore a great deal of counter evidence.

    I’ve spent over a decade following exactly these arguments. And many hours following the more recent false claims of research fraud. Mr. Kennedy’s just simply false. So clearly that it is amazing that he still pursues them.

    In the end, his efforts are harmful and damaging to the autism communities. The vaccine-causation idea is at least as damaging as the “refrigerator mother” theory of the previous generation. Mr. Kennedy presents his ideas at autism parent conventions, places where all sorts of fake “cures” for autism as a “vaccine injury” are touted to parents. Mr. Kennedy has never, to my knowledge, distanced himself from those clearly unethical charlatans. Mr. Kennedy is part of the problem to the autism communities, not the solution.

    • Twylaa says:

      The section on autism is in the current edition of Mr. Kennedy’s book. It was only omitted from the first edition.

      Some children have recovered from autism with those treatments that you’re calling fake. Others have become much more comfortable and better able to function, for example when gastrointestinal distress is addressed with dietary intervention, digestive enzymes, and probiotics.

      The fact is, sometimes vaccines do cause autism. Thousands of parents have witnessed this, and their accounts are constant with the HRSA vaccine injury table which says that vaccines can cause encephalopathy (disease/injury to the brain) and encephalopathy (inflammation of the brain).

      This article describes and links to some of the science supporting a link between vaccines and autism.
      Autism and the Immune System

      BTW there’s more to science than epidemiology. Epidemiology can give clues to causation, but when multiple factors are involved (such as genetics, environmental toxins, and vaccines) it can be hard for epidemiology to tease out (or rule out) causes.

      Here is a review of a recent book that pulls together a whole lot of autism science.
      “The Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism”: A Dazzling Scientific Achievement

      • Brian says:

        As you already know Twylaa, the unvaccinated develop autism at the same rate as the vaccinated, so it’s obvious that vaccines don’t cause it.

        Please stop spreading the anti-vaccine and anti-autism propaganda.

        • Twylaa says:

          There’s no study showing that the unvaccinated develop autism at the same rate as the vaccinated. That’s an empty declaration.

          • Brian says:

            Twylaa says “There’s no study showing that the unvaccinated develop autism at the same rate as the vaccinated”

            Of course this is false. Studies have been independently replicated all over the world. The vaccines have been studied individually and in combination, with or without certain ingredients, looking at general populations or specific groups with genetic susceptibilities… and the results are always the same.

            -Taylor et al. (1999) studied 498 children in the UK showing no difference in autism rates or age at ASD development based on vaccination
            -Makela et al. (2001) studied 500,000 children in Finland showing no difference in autism rates or age at ASD development based on vaccination
            -Madsen et al. (2002) studied 500,000 children in Denmark showing no difference in autism rates or age at ASD development based on vaccination
            -Hviid et al. (2003) studied 450,000 children in Denmark showing no difference in autism based on thimerosal in vaccines
            -Verstraeten et al. (2003) studied 125,000 children in the U.S. showing no difference in autism and other disorders based on thimerosal in vaccines
            -Miller et al. (2004) studied 100,000 children in the UK and found no difference in autism and several other disorders based on thimerosal in vaccines
            -DeStefano et al. (2004) studied 2,500 children in the U.S. showing no difference in autism rates based on vaccination
            -Smeeth et al. (2004) studied 5000 people in the UK and found no difference in autism and several other disorders based on vaccination
            -Honda et al. (2005) studied 300,000 people in Japan showing no difference in autism rates based on vaccination
            -Fombonne et al. (2006) studied 28,000 children in Canada showing no difference in autism rates and other developmental disorders based on vaccination
            -Richler et al. (2006) studied 300 people with autism in the U.S. and found no difference in regressive autism rates based on vaccination
            -Uchiyama et al. (2007) studied 900 people with autism in Japan and found no difference in regressive autism rates based on vaccination
            -Price et al. (2010) and DeStefano et al. (2013) studied 1000 children in the U.S. and found no difference in either classical or regressive autism rates, or other forms of ASD, based on thimerosal or other ingredients in vaccines
            -Kuwaik et al. (2014) studied autism rates among those who had older siblings with autism, showing no difference based on vaccination even with genetic predispositions to autism
            -Jain et al. (2015) replicated the study with 95,000 people and got the same result
            -Baxter et al. (2015) showed that, when using the same diagnosis criteria, the autism rate was the same 25 years ago as it is today
            -Gadad et al. (2015) showed no difference in autism rates in rhesus monkeys based on vaccination, and their brains were dissected just to make certain. Also, this study was funded by anti-vaccine groups
            -Taylor et al. (2014) performed a meta-analysis (better than double-blind studies!) with 1,250,000 people, showing no difference in autism rates based on vaccination

  14. Matt Carey says:

    “Let’s call this ploy what it is: a distraction from the real policy proposals from Trump’s team that have the potential to destroy the system of care for millions of people with autism.”

    While it is certainly a distraction, I am not certain it is a ploy. Mr. Trump has not demonstrated a consistent ability to discern the difference between facts and alternative facts.

    That said, this distraction is certainly the key point in the above article. We face a very real possibility of a future where autistics have even less support that today.

    The affordable care act has allowed many autistics to keep insurance and, with it, access to medical care. Autistics are not often employed and, when they are, are often not in high paying jobs with benefits. Further, autistism is a “pre existing condition” and autistics often have one or more significant other pre existing conditions. The ACA opened the door to health care access that had previously been closed. The restructuring of the ACA could very well mean the loss of access to health care for many in our community.

    Further, the push to block grant Medicaid could result in a loss or reduction in many services for people with disabilities.

    And these are only two areas where the direction of the Trump administration directly threatens our own.

    Perhaps rather than spending our time discussing whether this org is “anti-vaccine” or that person is an expert, we could actually do something to counter or lessen the oncoming damage.

    Sadly, there are very prominent voices in the autism-is-caused-by-vaccines community who have become very staunch Trump supporters. To the point that they have asked their followers to just stop any and all criticism of Mr. Trump. Others acknowledge that Mr. Trump’s policies will have adverse impacts on many individuals, but they ask their friends to put that aside for the potential advantage of the advancement of the failed idea that vaccines cause autism. To put it simply, and ironically for that community, people are asked to accept the setbacks for a sense of a “greater good”.

  15. Twylaa says:

    A correction: Rolling Stone did not retract the article Deadly Immunity.

    “Editor’s Note: The link to this much-debated story by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was inadvertently broken during our redesign in the spring of 2010. (We did not remove the story from the site, as some have incorrectly alleged, nor ever contemplated doing so.) The link to the original story is now restored, including the corrections we posted at the time and the subsequent editorial we published about the ensuing controversy.

    “To read the story, which appeared in the July 14, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone, please login or create a subscription to RS Plus.”

  16. Scott CooperJohnston says:

    Correction: Rolling Stone did NOT retract Kennedy’s 2005 article and founder and former editor-in-chief David Talbot condemned Salon’s retraction – Talbot slammed Lauerman’s decision, saying – among other criticisms – that it “smacks of editorial cowardice”.

  17. disqus_5XoSHFR5sU says:

    My Mother had polio as a child. It damaged one side of her body. I remember going to doctor to get my ‘flower garden’ on my left arm before I started elementary school. Smallpox vaccination and a big, ugly scab and scar. I remember standing in line to eat the ‘sugar cube’ polio vaccine. I had whooping cough, mumps, measles(red, German, 3 day…..whatever, I think I had them all), chicken pox, scarlet fever when I was a child. I am 66 years old and wish I were healthier because no one ever talks about the genetic side effects of actually having these illnesses. I have an autistic, non-verbal, spd, seizure disorder granddaughter that is 8 years old. She was born with reflux problems, crying that could not be soothed and then experience her first seizure at 9 months. Parents have a right to decide about vaccination for their own children but that decision affects every child they interact with. Travel immunizations…..look that up and see what is required. At some point, there will have to be vaccines.

  18. Claire Cameron says:

    Hi there. Thank you for reading Spectrum and taking the time to comment on this article. We appreciate it. I would like to take the opportunity once again to remind readers of our comment forum guidelines. These guidelines are designed to help maintain and safe, inclusive and scientific forum for discussion on Spectrum. Comments that are deemed to contravene these guidelines will be moderated and potentially deleted. Please consider them before commenting:
    – Stick to the science
    – Be brief
    – Be polite
    – Stay on topic
    If any one has questions about these guidelines, please see our About page for more:
    To clarify, we do not tolerate comments about vaccines and by ‘science,’ we mean peer-reviewed science published in a journal.
    Feel free to email me at if you have further comments or questions that are not answered on our site.

    Thank you for your consideration, and thank you for helping to maintain our comment forum.

    • Leslie says:

      Can you clarify why you don’t tolerate comments about vaccines on an article titled “Smoke, mirrors and Robert Kennedy Jr.’s vaccine safety panel”?

      • Claire Cameron says:

        Hi Leslie, thanks for asking for clarification. I should have been clearer. I have edited my above comment so that other readers who may have had the same question will be able to read it.

        To clarify: We do not tolerate comments on the speculation over whether vaccines can cause autism. As far as we are concerned, the science on that is clear. We are a science-based site and we believe that the theory that vaccines cause autism creates grave public health risk. Comments that support this theory will be moderated.

        If you or any other readers have any further questions about our comment policy, please see our guidelines here: Feel free to email me at

        • Katie Wright says:

          Pediatricians (the office nurses told me) regularly use up all the vaccines on their shelves unless there has been a specific recall. Despite AAP recommendations for the removal of Hg in 1998 pediatricians (my doctor’s quote) “were perfectly within their rights to use Hg containing vaccines until it was explicitly no longer legal as of Jan 1, 2004.” That is why my son (born in 2001)received Hg vaccines in the year 2001, 2002 and 2003. No one wishes this was untrue more than me.

        • Claire, did you really have to use the word ‘theory’ there? It’s kind of not a theory.

          Other than that, agreed.

  19. Ethyl says:

    I think there would be far fewer refusenix if parents concerns were taken seriously. I don’t know of anyone who questions vaccine safety for all children, who did not first have a child who had a severe reaction. I think vaccines are safe, for the most part. But the lack of interest in why kids with neurological disorders are more likely to have reactions kind of bothers me. These kids keep getting swept under the rug because science just doesn’t know ~why~ and doesn’t seem particularly interested in looking. I think it is a terrible mistake on their part.

  20. Planet Autism says:

    Some science:

    “Aluminium in brain tissue in autism”

    “The relationship between mercury and autism: A comprehensive review and discussion”

    What do mercury and aluminium have in common? Both are metallic elements used as vaccine adjuvants.

    “Given that vaccines are mandatory for most children in public schools, it makes sense that they should be scientifically proven to be safe. However, in a careful analysis of thousands of articles in the peer-reviewed literature on toxicology and immunology, nowhere can we find evidence for these claims on vaccine safety are based upon a gold standard of clinical research: long-term, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.

    What is glaringly absent is research examining the cumulative toxicological impact of the CDC vaccine schedule over a long period of time. Never has a concise epidemiological study been published that compares the long-term health outcomes of a group of infants and children given the recommended CDC immunization schedule and a cohort of unvaccinated children.”

    Plenty of references on the above article.

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