By Professor Doom
For those not in the know, Vaxxed is a documentary on “possible” problems with vaccinations. I have to admit, I’d been looking forward to this documentary for a while. It’s on Amazon, with little fanfare.
Before I talk about what it does say, let me address what it doesn’t say: there’s absolute proof of a vaccine-autism link. In fact, it doesn’t even address, medically speaking, how such a link might exist. That said, it does have some relevant things in it.
The documentary begins with snippets of media hysteria about the measles outbreak at Disney a few years back, affecting a hundred or so people. While as good a start as any, they should have supplemented this with an important detail: around 100,000 kids a year are being diagnosed with autism…it was much closer to zero just a few decades ago. Vaxxed does mention that if the increase continues, some 80% of males will be autistic in a few decades …I’m pretty sure we’ll have rioting in the streets before then, so I don’t put much faith in this projection.
Pretty much everyone with measles will fully recover in 2 weeks, while autism is often a lifelong debilitating illness. Why doesn’t the media focus on those many thousands of kids a year, instead of a hundred who caught measles? It’s a question Vaxxed only dances around. Vaxxed also doesn’t point out that some of the kids who caught measles were fully (i.e., twice) vaccinated against measles…it’s fair to question the efficacy of the vaccine when you have such a demonstration of failure occur repeatedly in a small (and basically random) sample.
Later in the show, Vaxxed runs another story, which I think they should have started with:
In 1987, Smith-Kline Beecham (SKB) released a vaccine in Canada. This vaccine, Triverix, caused meningitis. The meningitis outbreak was so bad they quickly stopped giving the vaccine in Canada.
Now, SKB had a choice: they could lose money, or sell the damned vaccine elsewhere. Corporations are all about money, so SKB changed the vaccine name to Pluserix, and sold the vaccine in the UK. Again with the meningitis outbreak, and again, they had to stop selling the vaccine there.
Now, SKB had a choice: they could lose money, or sell the twice-damned vaccine elsewhere. No surprise, they then sold the vaccine in Brazil. Again it caused a meningitis epidemic in a mass vaccination campaign. These events are established fact.
Vaxxed doesn’t reinforce the point here, but I will:
When faced with a choice between not making kids sick, and making money, a corporation will make money. I’m not criticizing corporations here, and I say this with the same inflection I say “when faced with a choice between not making kids sick, and sucking the juice from a fly, a spider will suck the juice from a fly.” It’s just how things are, and so I’m very wary of trusting corporations to take care of kids, unless they’ll lose money for doing it wrong.
“That’s just a conspiracy theory,”
--A friend high up in the FDA assured me there’s no such thing as a vaccine court, and she’s supremely confident all vaccines are quite safe, always have been, always will be. I have doubts, and she laughed hysterically when I expressed them. Too hysterically, truth be told.
Alas, there’s a special vaccine court where taxpayers pay the damages of vaccinations gone wrong, insulating vaccine-making companies from losing money if they make kids sick.
This is a recipe for disaster. I wish Vaxxed had outlined the implications here clearly, because even if all vaccines today were proven to be perfectly safe for everyone, having this type of insulation against loss would mean inevitably, a corporation will choose to make more money over any safety concern (they already must do so as matter of corporate policy, of course)—any safety protocol would cost money, and that would impact the bottom line unnecessarily.
“But muh polio!”
--a common reply to any criticism of vaccines. It’s important to understand that just because some vaccines are really good, that this shouldn’t be taken to mean all vaccines are really good. I seldom seem to get this idea across when I try to explain to people in person, however.
Vaxxed gives plenty of anecdotes of parents who saw their kids degenerate into autism shortly after receiving a particular vaccine: specifically the triple vaccine MMR (for measles, mumps, and rubella). Now, I’m no big fan of anecdotes, especially on a show with a clear agenda…but when literally tens of thousands of parents say the same thing, I think it’s fair to ask the question about there being a relationship here.
Autism rates are skyrocketing. It used to be too rare to be even estimated, then 1 in 10,000 in the early 1980s, but in the 90s (when this particular vaccine became very popular), it skyrocketed. It was 1 in 68 five years ago. It’s 1 in 45 today, this rate of increase is VERY scary, that’s more than 2% of the next generation, not so rare at all...we should be asking loud questions about what our entire population is being exposed to in infancy, “coincidental to vaccines,” to cause this. Vaxxed doesn’t address other possibilities besides vaccines, but I’m quite willing to believe there are multiple reasons for this frightening rise in the occurrence rate of an increasingly common lifelong debilitating illness which barely existed in our past.
Vaxxed decorates their story with damning recorded phone calls from a CDC whistleblower, Dr. Thompson. He was part of “the big study” saying that absolutely, positively, no way, no how, is there a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, and that all those parents have lying eyeballs. Dr. Thompson says the CDC cooked the data to get that result of “no evidence.”
One of the CDC workers responsible for the study is now very highly paid working for the vaccine company protected by that study. There’s a conflict of interest here which merits consideration, but Vaxxed doesn’t spend much time on it (to be fair, it would take many hours to cover all these points)…they mention it, so that’s something.
So what does Vaxxed discuss? Mostly Vaxxed talks about statistical results from that data.
Before addressing their result, I want to talk about statistics for a bit. The bulk of research today is just statistical research. Some researcher makes a guess, gets some data, then manipulates the data to confirm his result. Then it gets published. Much of our “scientific” research published in the last 20 years or so is bogus, which is why there’s a huge problem now as many “scientific” results cannot replicated (close to half, it depends on the field).
As something of a statistician, I know full well how trivial it is to manipulate the data to say what you want once ethics is abandoned…but you need not trust me when I say this, since this manipulation is clearly what’s happening in our “research” today.
So if the whistleblower says the data has been manipulated, I believe him—at this point I’d have to have collected the original data myself to believe the results of any study. The whistleblower has been asked to testify before congress, but the CDC won’t allow it. When the government acts this suspiciously, I’m inclined to believe the worst.
“. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”
--from Wakefield’s paper.
Vaxxed also interviews Dr. Wakefield. Wakefield made and published a very small study showing something bad about the MMR vaccine, and in the study he even concedes that it was just a preliminary study suggesting more research, and encouraged people to take individual vaccines (i.e., just the vaccine for measles, then another for mumps, the another for rubella—the company responded to the rising demand for this by refusing to offer the individual vaccines any more, as they had loads of MMR vaccines to sell). Despite Wakefield’s own (justified) reservations about his own study, his career was utterly destroyed and the study repudiated by the journal which originally published it.
Again, perhaps it was a bogus study (although, unlike many studies, it can be replicated). But…half of the studies in those journals are bogus, aren’t getting repudiated, and the researchers involved aren’t getting destroyed. I have to ask: why was Wakefield singled out for a piffling study that only suggested more study? Vaxxed doesn’t ask this question, alas.
Vaxxed claims that they have the original data from the whistleblower, and one glaring detail in this data is it shows a massive correlation between the MMR vaccine and its effect on African-American males in particular (to be accurate, they show such males to be more likely than others to get autism after getting the vaccine, but bear with me for now).
One more time: Vaxxed has evidence that African-American male infants are more likely to get autism from vaccination than other races.
Now, wait just. One. Minute.
Time and again I hear talking heads on TV screeching about how blacks are being so oppressed in this country, and it seems every week there’s another infinitesimal outrage that reasonable people would ignore (hi Starbucks!). To some extent, I see their point on some things, but here we have evidence that blacks are literally being targeted for a lifelong debilitating illness.
Where’s the screaming in the media? Did I mention a hundred thousand kids a year get this diagnosis? And somehow the media doesn’t see anything to cover here. Hmm.
Now, even though I don’t have the data in front of me, I’m still going to trash this result, and would even if I did have the data. Vaxxed doesn’t give me a p-value, which is a number, hopefully small, which indicates how good the evidence is. Let’s suppose this p-value is 0.0001—this is considered ridiculously strong evidence (I’ve reviewed doctoral dissertations with p-values around 0.09, to put in perspective how strong I’m assuming the evidence is).
And yet I’m still suspicious of the result? Yes. See, this was a massive data set, and they probably looked at hundreds of cross-variables. Not just “male” and “female” but also “black,” “white,” “Hispanic,” “Asian,” all the other races. Now cross reference with age of vaccination—3 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 15 months, etc. Now cross reference with prior illnesses and antibiotics use. All those cross-references mean you’re looking at thousands of p-values. In this circumstance, just on pure luck, you could easily get a p-value below 0.0001. So as a professional statistician, I’m not convinced even with this p-value, at least based on my understanding of the data set.
But that’s what a skeptical statistician would say, and our media doesn’t think things through nearly so clearly. I’ve seen the media go ape on much flimsier evidence regarding poor treatment of black people. So, I’m forced to wonder why the media silence here. Why is the possibly unjust shooting of one black adult male (often with a criminal history) a huge deal, but this patently unfair damning of many thousands of innocent black male infants not a problem at all?
My concerns about this evidence aren’t relevant, however. There is a real hammer blow in Vaxxed so powerful it not only smashes their dubious statistical evidence given above into complete irrelevancy, but also completely annihilates the relevance of all those studies which fail to show any connection between vaccines and other ailments.