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May 13th, 2008
10:48 AM ET

Vaccines and autism

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Last week, I sat down with Dr. Bernadine Healy at CNN's Women's Health Summit in New York City. She is a remarkable person who has been the "first" at many things, including the first woman to head the National Institutes of Health. We talked about many things, including the persistent brain fog patients and their doctors have when it comes to heart disease and women. Everyone should know that heart disease is the biggest killer of women; in fact heart disease kills ten times as many women as breast cancer.

What I wanted to blog about today, though, is her response to a question I asked about autism. She had written a column about the topic in U.S. News and World Report and told me she believes the link between vaccines and autism is "biologically plausible." Of course, that spurred several more questions from me (click here to watch). Healy went on to say that many in the scientific world have been quick to dismiss the concerns of parents and have not conducted the necessary studies of causation to definitively rule out a vaccine/autism link.  Healy's comments have become a lightning rod in the medical community – with an infectious disease expert with the American Academy of Pediatrics calling CNN twice yesterday to express concern parents will misconstrue Healy's comments and stop get their kids vaccinated – and that vaccines save lives.

Wow. We had to take a moment at the summit, where I reminded the doctor that her comments seemed to fly in the face of most of her former colleagues at the NIH, and the CDC, FDA, and AAP for that matter. She is sticking to her guns, as is the neurologist father of Hannah Poling, who believes when the vaccine court awarded his daughter Hannah compensation, it was a milestone in this debate. Neither are anti-vaccine, and both are arguably legitimate scientists.

I have said over and over again that I was going to keep digging into this issue. What is happening here? For the record, I have had both my girls vaccinated on schedule, but I am curious - what do comments like Healy's say to parents and scientists?

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soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Ryan

    chirag – "When" I have a heart attack? It really is funny to me that your rhetoric includes words such as "ethical." What is not ethical is intimidating people into vaccinating their children and twisting the truth and facts to make them believe vaccines are required. What is not ethical is injecting a flood of poisons and toxins from the vaccines into an undeveloped immune system of a newborn. Thimerosal is only on piece of the puzzle. There are other toxins in vaccines, like formaldehyde and aluminum. Aluminimum is widely used in vaccines and is a known neurotoxin. Do you think this is disputable? What happened to "First, do no harm?"

    And for your information, thimerosal is still used in vaccines today, other than the flu vaccine. All it takes is a little research to find the package inserts, like here: http://www.vaccineshoppe.com/US_PDF/ActHIB_5122_08.03.06.pdf.

    http://www.vaccinesafety.edu/package_inserts.htm has a good list of package inserts for various vaccines.

    The words you use to describe the certain disasters of not vaccinating are well placed, and they are all too common by vaccine proponents to scare people. You use words such as "deadly" or "debilitating" to describe the terrible side effects of “Vaccine preventable diseases”. Why is it that people in favor of vaccines, such as yourself, do not discuss the "deadly" or "debilitating" side effects of receiving a vaccine that in no way is a guarantee of not getting xyz disease? As for control groups, I don't think it would be accurate to compare children of developing countries to children of this country. Developing countries do not have the sanitation, cleanliness, and hygiene of this country. These are key factors to the decline of diseases, not vaccines.

    Don't get me wrong, my opposition to vaccines does not mean that I don't think drugs are beneficial and life saving when used properly. But trusting the FDA to ensure the safety of these drugs is a joke. My faith goes away when FDA members sit on the Boards of the very pharma companies whose drugs they approve. I lose trust in the FDA when it allows for the deception of labeling of Trans Fat as 0g, despite the fact that hydrogenated oils are listed on the ingredient list and in spite of the fact that the Institue of Medicine says that there is no safe level of trans fat in the diet. By the way, I don't eat trans fat so I can mark that off of the list of possible causes for my pending heart attack.

    May 23, 2008 at 02:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. bobby

    A Reveur: what do you mean coincidence doesn't mean cause. coincidence is ruled out when the numbers go from 1 and 10,000 to 1 and 150. That's not coincidence, that's genocide.

    May 28, 2008 at 15:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. bobby

    Michael Melgar: the references listed are nothing more than distorted under researched biased opinions. I'm not sure why everyone is acting like the U.S has a wonderful track record in health and medicine. These are the same people that injected syphillis into black men during the Tuskegee Experiment. The same people (Merk) that put a pill out on the market a few years back that did absolutely nothing. It was used to raise profits! These are the same people that have yet linked AIDS to a viable source (you don't even want hear my thoughts on that). The same people that have only come up with "treatments" for diseases and no cures in over 50 years! And lastly, these are the same people that come up with diseases like lazy leg syndrom which have never been issues in America before. It's truly sad how corupt and decietful this industry is. WAKE UP AMERICA!

    May 28, 2008 at 15:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. joelle

    A Reveur is right.Just, that it is not genetic either or due to environmental

    May 30, 2008 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bill Couzens

    It is critical that health care providers consider the impact of collective environmental exposures and their negative impacts on human health. Incomplete data does not mean safe.

    Bill Couzens Founder, Lesscancer.org

    June 2, 2008 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Peter Shefler

    Dr. Stephanie Cave testified before the the Committee on Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives and Congressman Dan Burton July 18, 2000 regarding the link between Mercury and Autism. Burton, who has an autistic grandson, has held several hearings since then on vaccine safety and more information and documents about the government knowing about the risks of thimerosal are being uncovered. Through the Freedom of Information Act, SafeMinds recently recovered the transcripts of the "Simpsonwood Meeting" in which doctors from the CDC and FDA appear to be very aware of research showing links between Thimerosal in Vaccines and neurological disorders, but agree not to acknowledge it. Now a new University of Pittsburgh study with primates – the kind of research Dr. Healy says we need to do to show causality – indicates that Rhesus monkeys given thimerosal in doses equivalent to those received in childhood vaccinations developed symptoms of autism. Transcripts of all of the above as well as Healy's CBS interview can be found on the Healing Arts website at:
    http://www.healing-arts.org/children/mercury_in_vaccines_autism_research/thimerosalinvaccinationslink.htm

    July 19, 2008 at 03:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. fimp5

    It seems these doctors are acknowledging there could be a link between vaccines and autism. However, just because there could be a connection there does not mean that children should not be given their vaccinations. I do think it is very possible that something in the vaccines may trigger the onset of autism in someone genetically predisposed to it. With that said, the benefits of the vaccines, I think, far outweigh the potential of developing autism. As one of the previous posters said, parents should definitely consult their family histories. And parents may also want to consider spacing out the vaccines, so their children still get them but they are spaced out a bit more than the current vaccination schedule. There is a really great debate about the vaccines and autism subject at http://www.opposingviews.com/questions/are-autism-and-vaccines-linked Experts from both sides debate the issue and make some thought-provoking point. Great read on the subject!

    September 18, 2008 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cycle3man Paul s

      It seems to me a pre-vaccination test for each vaccine, should/must be developed to determine if a child has a predisposition to becoming Autistic in response to being vaccinated. Who is working on developing such a set of tests???

      July 31, 2013 at 22:14 | Report abuse |
    • Yankeegirl

      I totally agree iwth Cycke3Man Paul. Research has shown that there is an assoication between having a family history of auto immune, neurological disease and neuropsychiatric disorders in families of children with autism so doing a simple family history screening prior to vaccinating could spare a lot of children from regressing into autism. What people need to understand is that there is a senstive subset of children who simply cannot tolerate the load of vaccines recommended on the CDC schedule- these children are at far greater risk for serious adverse reaction than children with no familiy history of these conditions. Autism is simply a label for an underlying neuroimmune dysfunction- that is really what underlies the behaviors assoicaited with autism. All infants should be pre-screened PRIOR TO vaccinating and put on an alternative scehdule. Coookie cutter approach to vaccinating does not work and is a disaster for some children- would you ever give a child with a peanut allergies a peanut butter sandwich?? Of course not- we need to be just as protective of children who are prone to adverse reaction from vaccines

      August 1, 2013 at 14:46 | Report abuse |
  8. Bar Fridge ·

    my baby enjoys playing on the baby swing, baby swings can really make your baby happy ."`

    November 12, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Louis Vuitton Site Officiel

    If you fun and flirty, you might carry a giraffe handbag or a pearl patent purse with pink polka dots. Louis Vuitton Site Officiel http://www.vademecall.com/lv.htm

    July 30, 2013 at 23:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. lilady

    How ridiculous is this? Anne Dachel the Media Director of that crank anti-vaccine, anti-science blog Age of Autism, has notified her groupies about this blog, trying to revive a 5 year-old-discussion.

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2013/07/dachel-media-update-autism-relax-america.html

    BTW, Dr Healy died two years ago.

    July 31, 2013 at 23:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NorthernLass

      "How ridiculous is this? Anne Dachel the Media Director of that crank anti-vaccine, anti-science blog Age of Autism, has notified her groupies about this blog, trying to revive a 5 year-old-discussion. "

      You mean like how you like to notify your groupies and sycophants to comment on blogs and articles that discuss things like this? It's also highly humourous for you to make this comment after following said link. I agree, it is ridiculous.

      Hello pot, meet kettle.

      "BTW, Dr Healy died two years ago."

      Completely irrelevant. Her death does not invalidate what she has said.

      August 2, 2013 at 07:06 | Report abuse |
  11. Yankeegirl

    In a press release dated January 16, 2013, IOM stated this (and this is a direct quote): "However, the elements of the schedule - the number, frequency, timing, order, and age at which vaccines are given - are not well-defined in existing research and should be improved. "
    - Source; "IOM Report Details Strategy for Monitoring Safety of Childhood Immunization Schedule"

    On their web site the CDC states this in regards to adverse reaction; " Vaccines are developed with the highest standards of safety. However, as with any medical procedure, vaccination has some risks. Individuals react differently to vaccines, and there is no way to predict how individuals will react to a particular vaccine."

    SO IOM is basically admitting the combined effects of vaccines is poorly understood in existing research and CDC admits that vaccines carry risks and that individual immune response varies and they cannot predict how individual immune systems will respond to vaccines.

    So the science on vaccine safety is in fact NOT COMPLETE. The safety of the CDC vaccine schedule (timing, order, frequnecy, number and age at which vaccines are given) is not well understood. Meanwhile autism numbers have soared to 1 in 88 American children and 1 in 54 AMerican boys. When are they going to acknowledge that a sensitive subset of kids who are at high risk for serious adverse reaction exists? How long are we going to let them play Russian Roulette with our kids? AUTISM IS COSTLY. MANY CHILDREN WITH AUTISM REQUIRE LIFELONG CARE. THIS CRISIS EFFECTS OUR FUTURE. Whether you have a child with autism or not WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. We need a united voice to demand answers.

    August 1, 2013 at 15:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lilady

      How about looking at the body of evidence about the safety, the timing of vaccines, the spacing of vaccines and each ingredient in vaccines and the lack of evidence that vaccines are not implicated in the onset of autism? From the American Academy of Pediatrics (updated April, 2013):

      http://www2.aap.org/immunization/families/faq/vaccinestudies.pdf

      How about reviewing the consequences in terms of morbidity and mortality of not vaccinating children against serious, sometimes deadly, vaccine-preventable-diseases?

      http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/whatifstop.htm

      How about you and your groupies at those anti-vaccine websites, show us studies published in *reliable, first-tier, peer-reviewed science and medical journals, that refute the studies I have provided?

      *Anything that the pig farmer at whale.to has published or studies authored by your heroes, disgraced and discredited former medical doctors Mark Geier and Andrew Wakefield is not reliable

      August 3, 2013 at 11:00 | Report abuse |
    • yankeegirl

      Lilady- the IOM seems to be at odds with what the AAP is saying. IOM says the timing, number, frequnecy, order and age at which vaccines are given ar NOT well understood and should be improved.

      FYI, my son is fully vaxed so calling me and other parents "antivax" makes NO SENSE. Unfortunately I complied and had my son vaccinated using the CDC recommended schedule- he now has an autism dx along with 1 in 54 other American boys. What a legacy! It's the CDC recommended APPROACH to vaccinating babies that I object to. The CDC's cookie cutter approach is a DISASTER for some kids. The CDC does not take into account a senstive susbet of children who are at greater risk of adverse reaction. A simple screening for family history of autoimmune, neurological or neuropsychiatric disorder could help identify these children. As the CDC says IN THEIR OWN WORDS: immune response varies and there is no way to predict how an individual will react to a particular vaccine. BUT YOU CAN SCREEN THOSE WHO MAY BE MORE AT RISK AND THAT IS NOT BEING DONE. That is why I am in this fight.

      August 3, 2013 at 13:07 | Report abuse |
  12. Sophia Stead

    I’m impressed, I must say. Actually rarely do I encounter a weblog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you will have hit the nail on the head. Your thought is outstanding; the difficulty is something that not sufficient individuals are speaking intelligently about. I am very completely happy that I stumbled across this in my seek for something referring to this.

    August 15, 2013 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.