Researchers rekindle vaccine-autism debate
Autism | New study claims to show a link between widespread use of fetal cell vaccines and an upsurge in autism
by Daniel James Devine
Posted 9/19/14, 01:52 pm
The mysterious childhood developmental disorder known as autism affects hundreds of thousands of U.S. kids, causing social and communication disabilities ranging from mild to severe. It has no available cure, and causes for the condition remain unknown. Multiple studies in recent years seem to have refuted the notion that vaccines might cause autism, but one new study has set out to challenge the consensus.
Published in the online Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology this month, the study found a correlation between the upsurge in cases of autism and the widespread use of vaccines made with fetal tissue cell lines. It is the first study to examine the link between autism and fetal cell vaccines, according to the primary author, Theresa Deisher, a stem cell scientist and the founder of Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute in Seattle.
“We firmly feel that the data is compelling enough that it justifies very immediate and stringent safety studies and analysis,” Deisher told me. “If this were a pesticide, it would already have been banned.”
Deisher and other researchers at Sound Choice used public data to plot the sharp rise of autism prevalence in several countries. The year in which autism rates began to surge upwards in each country is what they referred to as the “change point.”
They found that autism change points in the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Australia corresponded with the introduction or increased use of fetal cell vaccines. For example, in the United States, Deisher’s team found that change points marking increased autism diagnoses occurred around 1981, 1988, and 1996. They believe those dates correspond to the introduction of Meruvax II (for rubella) and MMR II (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccines in 1979, the addition of a second MMR II dose in the late 1980s, and the introduction of the Varivax vaccine (for chickenpox) in 1995. They found similar correlations between autism change points and fetal cell vaccines used in the other countries.
The researchers aren’t certain how the fetal cell vaccines might have caused cases of autism, but Deisher said one of two possible mechanisms might be responsible. Fetal cell vaccines contain fragments of human DNA and retroviruses, so one mechanism might be an autoimmune response caused by the foreign DNA.
The second possible mechanism is the process of gene insertion. Cells might accidentally take up the DNA fragments and incorporate them into their own genome, Deisher said. That wouldn’t be expected of many other vaccines that are made using animal, not human cell lines, because DNA is decorated with chemical groups “like the icing on a cake,” Deisher said, and the icing is different for each species: “DNA from a chicken cell will be decorated like DNA from a chicken. And a human gene would never take it up.”
Many vaccines are developed using cell cultures taken from chicken eggs. But the vaccines cited in Deisher’s study were developed with widely-used cell lines taken from aborted fetuses decades ago. Since these cells are self-perpetuating, they don’t involve continued abortions in order to be used in vaccines or other research, but they raise questions among some Christians about moral complicity with evil.
Although Deisher thinks some concerns about the health effects of vaccine ingredients are well-founded, she said she’s not “anti-vaccine.” According to Sound Coice’s website, one of the organization’s goals is to raise consumer awareness about “the widespread use of electively aborted fetal material in drug discovery, development and commercialization.”
WORLD reached out to other autism research groups for comment on the new study, without response.
Although some parents of children with autism have for years worried that childhood vaccines are to blame for their children’s developmental problems, most experts are likely to be skeptical of new claims involving a vaccine-autism link: Multiple studies have searched for an association between vaccines and autism and failed to find one. One well-known study in 1998 claimed a link between measles vaccines and autism, but the British journal The Lancet retracted the paper in 2010, saying the lead author had falsified his data.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children in the United States is affected by autism spectrum disorder, a range of autistic symptoms that varies in severity. The agency says parental age and genetic predisposition appear to be risk factors. Autism affects boys much more often than girls, and the prevalence of the disorder continues to increase sharply (in 2000 only 1 in 150 children were thought to be affected).
Some people have blamed the increased prevalence on expanded awareness and diagnosis of the problem. Deisher and her colleagues said they did not find any correlation between diagnostic criteria and increased autism in their study. Because the definition of ASD has broadened over the years, they said their study focused only on autistic disorder, the most severe form of ASD.