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Autism Speaks softens message on vaccines?

Posted Aug 24 2009 10:52am

That is the message of a recent article by Mark Roth, Autism group softens stance on vaccines.

Autism Speaks, the nation’s largest autism advocacy group, recently made its clearest public statement yet that minimizes the link between vaccines and autism.

Mr. Roth discussed a recent statement from the Autism Speaks website by Dr. Gerri Dawson, Autism Speaks’ chief science officer. He quoted Dr. Dawson as stating:

“So … given what the scientific literature tells us today,” she says, “there is no evidence that thimerosal or the MMR vaccine cause autism” and “evidence does not support the theory that vaccines are causing an autism epidemic.”

It has been, well, interesting watching the reaction to Autism Speaks in the past few years. As recently as two years ago, the vaccines-cause-autism organizations were highly critical of Autism Speaks for ignoring the vaccine question. In fact, it seems like just this year that Autism Speaks “outed” itself as supporting the vaccines-cause-autism idea. This occurred when Alison Singer was forced to resign from Autism Speaks since she wouldn’t vote for vaccine-causation research in the IACC.

From my perspective, this “softened” stance by Autism Speaks is still a stronger message than they were sending a year ago.

This all begs the question: why did Autism Speaks soften their message?

I can speculate (and that is all this is, speculation). First, the vaccine question is highly charged. My guess is that Autism Speaks put off making a definite statement as long as possible. When Alison Singer resigned over her vote in the IACC (voting to remove vaccine research from the funded projects), Autism Speaks was forced to make their views public.

The departure of two key people, Alison Singer and Eric London over the vaccine question was not good publicity for Autism Speaks. Much more, the creation of the Autism Science Foundation gives potential donors a second viable option for an autism research charity that doesn’t fund vaccine-causation research (the first being the Simons Foundation ).

What is odd about Dr. Dawson’s comments is this: If there is no evidence that thimerosal causes autism, why does Autism Speaks fund thimerosal research? Here are grants from 2008:

Differential Effects of Thimerosal on Cell Division and Apoptosis in Normal vs Autism Spectrum Disorder Cell Lines ($60,000 for one year)

and

Vulnerability phenotypes and susceptibility to environmental toxicants: from organism to mechanism ($330,000 over 3 years)

Specifically, thimerosal and other vaccine adjuvants will be studied.

(sidenote: Thimerosal isn’t an “adjuvant”)

and

Analysis of developmental interactions between Reelin haploinsufficiency, male sex, and mercury exposure ($324,340 over 3 years)

and

Etiology of Autism Risk Involving MET Gene and the Environment ($659,100 over 3 years)

The next line of experiments will examine the relationship in an even larger sample, and assess the functional effect of the MET gene polymorphism on immune cell activity, and to further examine the impact of environmental toxins (including ethyl mercury) on the gene expression-dependent function of maternal immune cells.

Is Autism Speaks softening their “message” or softening their “stance” on whether vaccines and/or mercury cause autism?

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