Anti-vaccine groups fund study that shows no link between vaccines and autism

I had to read this news story twice. I could hardly believe my eyes and laughed almost the entire time I read it. Newsweek reports that for ten years anti-vaccine groups provided scientists and different universities funding to conduct long-term research on the behaviors and brain changes of rhesus monkeys whom were given vaccinations. The most recent manuscript published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) showed concluded that childhood vaccines did not result in any brain or behavior changes in the primates. Newsweek points out:

Anti-vaccine activists have claimed that both the vaccines with thimerosal—a mercury-based antifungal and antiseptic preservative—and the MMR vaccines are linked to autism. Thimerosal was removed from most vaccines in the late 1990s. But the researchers wanted to study its potential health effects anyway.

The researchers then put the monkeys together in cages to see if they exhibited any new autistic-like social behaviors, such as fear, withdrawal, rocking, self-clasping and stereotypy (repetitive behavior). They reported that the monkeys’ behaviors remained unchanged. (Another paper by some of the same researchers, published in February in Environmental Health Perspectives, assessed the learning and social behaviors of the same group of monkeys and found the vaccines did not affect their development.)

For the PNAS paper, the researchers also conducted postmortem analyses of the primates’ brains after they had been euthanized. The team looked for brain abnormalities, including those in the volume and density of the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus regions, all of which have been shown to have some variations in children with autism. They also looked at the numbers and size of certain types of brain cells, known as Purkinje cells; some studies have shown there are fewer Purkinje cells in the brains of children with autism. The researchers say they didn’t find any marked differences in the brains of monkeys in the vaccine groups compared with those in the control group.

Needless to say, the group who funded the study, SafeMinds, is disappointed with the PNAS manuscript’s results. The group states that two University of Pennsylvania papers published in 2010 showed that vaccines affected the brains of infant macaques primates suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. One researcher for the Johnson Center for Child Health & Development, Dr. Laura Hewitson, said the study they used entailed a larger population of monkeys with decades of experience working with non-human primates.

For example, Dr, Hewitson told Newsweek, in the pilot study we examined 13 different neonatal reflexes from birth to 14 days of age in just two groups of animals. In the current study, we examined those same 13 reflexes, plus six others from birth to 21 days of age, in six groups of animals—a much more comprehensive experimental design.

She added that all of the researchers, technicians and behaviorists involved in collection and analysis of data did not know which of the monkeys were in the vaccine groups or the control group. The researchers also implemented a “chain of custody” protocol once the data were collected, in which they reviewed chronological documentation that shows the control, transfer and analysis of all data sets. Hewitson says that her team used an independent statistical consultant for all data analysis, and that two additional outside investigators from two other academic institutions confirmed their findings.

As you can see, we have done everything possible to ensure the integrity of the data. My co-authors and I stand by our published findings,” she says. “The comprehensive nature of the current study underscores why the findings from the pilot study should be interpreted with an abundance of caution, given the small number of animals included.

Not surprisingly, SafeMinds is calling for a re-assessment of the data thinking there is some sort of adverse effect on the part of vaccines. This goes to show that in the end science doesn’t care about our beliefs, only what the facts are. In this case it was anti-vaccine groups funding research in hopes of finding a link to vaccines. In the end they were proven wrong. As Emory University historian Dr. Elena Conis points out in a Los Angeles Times commentary, the anti-vaccine movement is an outgrowth of the environmentalist movement.

The efforts of anti-vaccine activists are an extension of the green movement’s holy war (i.e. jihad) to eradicate human life from the face of the Earth. Fortunately, the studies they funded found out exactly the opposite of which SafeMinds had hoped making their quest to undermine immunizations harder if not nearly impossible.