Friday, December 13, 2013
Dear Ms. Willingham:
All too often, both mainstream and non-mainstream media sources report stories that continue to promote a connection between vaccines and autism, referring to it as “controversy” or “debate.” Most recently, a lesser-known media outlet, the Whiteout Press, ran the headline, “Courts confirm vaccines cause autism,” which went viral on the Internet. The article made an overt appeal to a vulnerable population: “concerned parents seeking the truth.” We commend you for providing a clear and sound voice of reason in your response to that article (“Court Rulings Don’t Confirm Autism-Vaccine Link,” August 9, 2013).
We applaud you for providing a cogent background on each piece of the story, including the role of both the Italian courts and the “vaccine courts” in the United States, as well as for illuminating the difference between scientific versus judicial evidence.
The central point of the “Courts confirm vaccines cause autism” article is the 2012 finding of a local Italian court that a child was diagnosed with autism a year after receiving an MMR. The court made this ruling based largely on the retracted, fraudulent Wakefield MMR Lancet paper and the testimony of a single physician. The physician is widely known for advising parents on how to avoid compulsory vaccinations and has also written a book on an autism “cure” he has devised, facts which certainly demonstrate a conflict of interest. It is important information, and we thank you for sharing with your readers that this 2012 decision is currently under appeal.
The second piece of evidence that the Whiteout Press article relied on was the “vaccine court” in the United States, which is formally known as the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. We appreciate the detailed description you provided of the court, which is a long-standing mechanism established in 1988 that evaluates vaccine injury claims using a federal process to distinguish legitimate claims from those that are not. Specific to autism, the federal judges in the “autism omnibus” trials evaluated three test cases from a group and denied compensation for all as they were not convinced by the science or expert witnesses.
Of particular importance was the point you made about the primary function of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation program, which is to protect those involved in manufacturing and administering these life-saving vaccines from the litigious tendency of American society today. When one considers the millions of vaccines administered annually, litigation risks could be enormous and have the potential to limit a manufacturer’s willingness to produce these vaccines.
The medical and scientific community embraces the scientific method, places an emphasis on peer review and uses objective measurement in testing their hypothesis. This community, which adheres to those rigorous standards, has concluded with over 10 years of research and dozens of large-scale studies conducted in multiple countries which lead the medical/scientific community in a unanimous finding, that no credible evidence exists to date that would support a connection between vaccinations and autism. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment published an article in the Summer 2009 issue of the newsletter Science in Autism Treatment (Vol 6. No.1), Autism and Vaccines: The Evidence to Date. We encourage you to use resources such as this in future stories as sources of additional information for your readers.
The Center for Disease Control estimates the prevalence of American children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to be between 1 in 50 and 1 in 88, and as such the theme of autism makes frequent headlines and is a concern for parents nationwide. Your response article serves as an excellent model for journalists across media outlets, as it demonstrates the importance of taking time to investigate and report responsibly about critically vital topics, such as childhood vaccinations and autism. When journalists like you take the time to do so, they help to educate consumers and provide parents the evidence with which they can make informed decisions. Not only does continued attention to a vaccine-autism link draw resources away from other areas of autism research, it also continues to put thousands at risk for potentially life-threatening diseases which could have been prevented. Thank you again for providing an excellent model for other journalists and for your readers, who are no doubt better informed based on your factual, evidence-based reporting.
Elizabeth G. Callahan, BA, BCaBA and Dana Battaglia, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Association for Science in Autism Treatment