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Dr. Andrew Wakefield is one of the most vilified medical practitioners of recent times, and now he carries the extremely rare dishonor of a retraction in The Lancet, on the paper he coauthored in 1998 suggesting a potential link between autism, bowel disease and Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
I believe that the public lynching and shaming of Dr. Wakefield is unwarranted and overwrought, and that history will ultimately judge who was right and who was wrong about proposing a possible association between vaccination and regressive autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).
Wakefield’s critics can condemn, retract, decry and de-license all they want, but that does nothing to stop or alter the march of science, which has come a long way over the past 12 years, and especially in the last year or two. The evidence that autism is increasing at alarming rates, and that some thing (or things) in our environment is wreaking havoc on a vulnerable 1 percent of all U.S. children is now so irrefutable that, finally, the federal government is climbing aboard the environmental research bandwagon—way late, but better than never.
This long-overdue paradigm shift will leave many in the scientific community with some proverbial but nonetheless uncomfortable egg on their increasingly irrelevant faces: Those who have protested with shrill certainty that autism is almost purely genetic and not environmental in nature, and therefore not really increasing at all, will hopefully recede from the debate.
And that begs a nagging question: If those people were dead wrong about environmental factors in autism, could they also be mistaken in their equally heated denials about a possible vaccineautism link? More bluntly, why should we heed them any longer?
We need to examine a host of environmental factors (air, water, food, medicine, household products and social factors) and how they might interact with vulnerable genes to create the varying collection of symptoms we call “autism.” But these triggers almost have to be found in every town of every county of every state in the land—from Maine to Maui.
Are vaccines the only contributing factors to autism? Of course not. Other pharmaceutical products like thalidomide and valproic acid, as well as live mumps virus, have been associated with increased autism risk in prenatal exposures, so we already know that a variety of drugs and bugs can likely make a child autistic. But, there are now at least six published legal or scientific cases of children regressing into ASD following vaccination— and many more will be revealed in due time.
There was the case of Hannah Poling, in federal vaccine court, in which the government conceded that Hannah’s autism was caused by vaccine-induced fever and overstimulation of the immune system that aggravated an asymptomatic and previously undetected dysfunction of her mitochondria. Hannah received nine vaccines in one day, including MMR.
Then there was the Bailey Banks case, in which the court ruled that the petitioners had proven that MMR had directly caused a brain inflammation illness called “acute disseminated encephalomyelitis” (ADEM) which, in turn, had caused PDD-NOS, an autism spectrum disorder, in Bailey.
And last September, a chart review of children with autism and mitochondrial disease, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, looked at 28 children with ASD and mitochondrial disease and found that 17 of them (60.7 percent) had gone through autistic regression, and 12 of the regressive cases had followed a fever. Among the 12 children who regressed after fever, one-third (4) had fever associated with vaccination, just like Hannah Poling.
The authors reported that “recommended vaccination schedules are appropriate in mitochondrial disease,” although “fever management appears important for decreasing regression risk.”