By Mr. Hainey, Dr. Ewoldsen, Eliana Gabriel, and Thomas Kiely
On December 16, 2019, the Spartan Newspaper published our third issue of the school year, which included an opinion article titled “CA Legislation on Mandatory Vaccination Draconian,” written by Peter Tran, an LCHS student with autism. This article was incorrectly placed into the News section, a mistake for which the Spartan Newspaper staff apologizes. It was inaccurate to present this piece as factual, and it could have greatly misguided the students of La Canada High School or anyone else who might have read the article. The article should have been labeled as an opinion piece.
While the article did not explicitly declare that vaccines lead to autism, it suggested and implied that there is good reason to believe that there is a causal link.
To respond, we have employed the assistance of the two biology teachers at LCHS, both of whom have experience writing and interpreting peer-reviewed scientific papers, in hopes of receiving the most factual and accurate response to this article’s numerous misleading interpretations. The following was written by Mr. Hainey and Dr. Ewoldsen.
The following statements do not seek to express an opinion upon the subject matter discussed in the article “CA Legislation on Mandatory Vaccination Draconian.” That is not our purpose. Instead, the aim of this writing is to rectify the scientific errors and inaccurate interpretations of scientific knowledge made in the aforementioned article and to affirm that the current scientific consensus is that no link has been established between vaccination and autism.
The article claims that “there is a clear, established correlation between the cumulative number of childhood vaccinations received and the incidence of autism over the past 35 years.”
This claim omits the multitude of factors identified in the cited study that correlates with incidences of autism. Specifically “several of these influences, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers, aluminum adjuvants, the herbicide glyphosate, and obesity among U.S. women, have increasing trends that are positively correlated to the rise in autism” (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4177682/, see all figures, discussion, & summary). With such a myriad of variables demonstrating a correlation, and from only one study, we cannot suggest that a clear and established correlation has been made, rather, we can only conclude that much more work needs to be done to identify any singular or plural connection to autism incidence.
In the article, the following question is raised: “What if there’s some critical antigenic “load” introduced at a critical stage of development that causes autism in genetically susceptible infants?” This idea, that exposure to large numbers of antigens at once (‘antigenic load’) could cause autism, has already been investigated and found to be unsupported. Comparisons of infants with and without autism exposed to differing viral loads demonstrated no correlation between increased antigen loads and incidence of autism (https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(13)00144-3/pdf).
The article also references a 2009 CalTech study: “What might the mechanism be for vaccinations to cause autism? In 2009 a group of CalTech scientists infected pregnant mice with influenza. They discovered that the offspring of those mice had abnormal brain architecture in the cortex and cerebellum, areas affected in autism.”
The cited study indeed demonstrated the claim. However, suggesting this is a mechanism for vaccines causing autism is misinformed. The study infected pregnant mice. Vaccines are given after birth and most expose, rather than infect, the patient with antigens. Further, this study was conducted on mice, not humans. These are sincere differences between this study and the author’s suggestions.
Another study mentioned in the article made the following claim: “In 2016, MIT’s McGovern Institute discovered that an increase in a cytokine IL-17A from the body’s response to an infection (or vaccination) rather than the infecting virus itself is what results in autistic behavior and changes in fetal mice brain cytoarchitecture.”
This study was unfortunately not cited in the newspaper article and was undiscoverable by ourselves. But, yet again, this study is on fetal mice, not postnatal, as vaccines are currently given. Further research comparing antigen loads given between children with and without autism suggests the cytokine IL-17A connection is unlikely. (https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(13)00144-3/pdf)
A part of the article stated: “Mt. Sinai School of Medicine showed in 2008 that autistic postmortem brains had elevated proinflammatory cytokine levels.”
Looking further into the research paper that the author cited, we found the following: “Conclusion: ASD [autism spectrum disorder] patients displayed an increased innate and adaptive immune response through the Th1 pathway, suggesting that localized brain inflammation and autoimmune disorder may be involved in the pathogenesis of ASD.” This study, with a small sample size admitted by its authors, provides evidence that suggests autism may have an autoimmune cause, not one from vaccines.
The article states, “In 2012, children with autism demonstrated elevated IL-17A serum levels.”
Again, the research cited in the article suggests that “autoimmunity to brain tissue may play a pathogenic role in autism” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410815/. This does not suggest a connection between elevated IL-17A serum levels, vaccines, and autism collectively.
Another question from the article: “Could it be that the elevation in IL-17A that confers immunologic protection in neurotypical children wrecks havoc in the brains of children predisposed to autism?”
More research is needed to answer this question from the article- it is a question that does not link elevated IL-17A serum levels, vaccines, and autism.
The article’s author concedes, “Although the evidence for a connection between the known increase in IL17-A production from vaccinations and abnormal brain development and behavior in fetal mice injected with IL17-A is only hypothetical conjecture at this point”
Hypothetical conjecture indeed. As the responses above have outlined, the research cited does not support connections between autism and vaccines as alluded to in the article.
In conclusion, our hope is that these responses clarify and correct the interpretations of scientific research cited in the article discussed. Above all else, we hope to encourage all readers to always check and read primary sources to verify the scientific claims made in argumentative articles.