Possible Vaccine-Autism Link Triggers Congressional Probe


Possible links between autism and the press coverage recently, as congressional hearings have been conducted to review evidence of a link between the two. Autism is a complex, lifelong developmental disability manifesting as difficulty with language, social interactions, communication, and behavior. The degree of autism can vary dramatically, and children with this disorder can score variably on intelligence tests from ranges suggesting profound mental retardation to above-average abilities. About 30 percent of children with autism may also have epilepsy. Boys are three to four times more likely to be affected by autism than are girls.

Early in the history of autism, it was thought that the disorder might affect those in higher socioeconomic brackets with greater frequency than other populations, but autism now occurs in all racial and ethnic groups and social strata. The incidence of autism has increased dramatically in the past decade; as many as 1 in 300 children are affected, compared with 1 in 10,000 suspected cases in 1978[1].

There is no known cause or cure, although many causal pathways have been suggested, including genetic predisposition, metabolic disorders, infectious disease, and environmental factors; a number of interventions and treatments may reduce the expression of the symptoms[2].

Although many vaccine proponents have adamantly denied a connection between the MMR vaccine and the subsequent development of autism, the evidence linking the two is compelling. Senator Dan Burton (R., Ind.) initiated the congressional hearings after autism developed in his own previously healthy grandchild after routine childhood vaccinations[3].

The most striking features of the association between MMR and autism are that (1) the prevalence of the disorder has increased significantly, coinciding with the introduction of the trivalent vaccine in the 1980's (previously, MMR vaccines were given separately) and (2) the fact that the children who developed autism were entirely healthy and developmentally normal before receiving the vaccine. Parents have literally watched as their active, communicative, and intelligent children reverted to preverbal states, became withdrawn and behaviorally difficult, and sometimes resorted to self-inflicting damage, such as repeated head banging.

Researchers have established several mechanisms, suggesting a causal effect. One mechanism is the already established persistent viral infection leading to autoimmunity, particularly against myelin-basic protein of the myelin sheath, resulting in destruction of the protective coating of the nerve fibers that are essential for higher brain activities. It has already been clearly established that vaccines can lead to demyelinating disorders[4]. In one research study, up to 80 percent of autistic children demonstrated evidence of autoantibodies specific to brain structures, whereas 0 to 0.5 percent of nonautistic children have such antibodies[5].

Vaccine-related autism has also been found concurrent with chronic bowel inflammation (reactive ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia), not a surprising finding, since many live viral infections may persist in bowel tissue. Of twelve children studied with this bowel disorder, eight experienced onset of related behavioral symptoms after MMR vaccinations[6]. Although behavioral changes may occur as early as days or as long as several months after MMR vaccination, in the eight children in the study the average interval from exposure to onset of behavioral symptoms was 6.3 days[7].

Gluten and wheat sensitivities, prevalent in autistic children, may also be related to this phenomenon, and the connection between behavioral disorders and celiac disease was first described by Hans Asperger as early as 1961. It is thought that an inflamed or dysfunctional intestine plays a part in behavioral changes, perhaps in part owing to incomplete breakdown and excessive absorption of components found in certain foods, including barley, rye, oats, and casein from milk and dairy products[8]. These “opioid” substances, as they are called, may have direct deleterious central nervous system effects[9].

Another possible mechanism involves depletion of the existing supply of vitamin A by live measles vaccine, which may alter metabolic pathways necessary for appropriate neurotransmitter functioning. Decreased immunity and increased autoimmunity may also be related to vitamin A depletion, gut disturbance, and related behavioral problems, as previously described[10]. Enhanced nutritional supplementation has improved symptoms of autism, reducing behavioral problems and increasing communication and sociability[11].

Although the connection between autism and MMR vaccine is disputed by many medical professionals, the evidence linking the two, at least in the eyes of the parents of thousands of autistic children, seems apparent. In his Committee on Government Reform presentation, Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., states that although it is claimed that vaccines are safe, “physicians are indoctrinated to disbelieve claims of harm and are not trained to recognize…adverse reactions.”

Andrew Wakefield has suggested that one solution to the problem of multivalent MMR vaccines leading to the development of autism is to space the administration of these vaccine doses, giving them separately, not as a trivalent vaccine. It appears that it is the combination of the three that is especially problematic, with each possibly interfering with the actions of the other and creating unpredictable effects on the immune system[12].

Another relationship between autism and vaccination exists when susceptible women are given rubella vaccine postnatally and then proceed to breast-feed. A significant correlation has been found between the vaccine and adverse reactions in the women as well as significant adverse effects to the child, notably the development of autism, when the child receives routine rubella vaccination when the child is approximately 15 months old[13].

Mary Megson, “Is Autism a G-Alpha Protein Defect Reversible with Natural Vitamin A?” (presentation proceeding from the 1999 Defeat Autism Now! conference).
Deborah Hirtz, “The Challenges of Autism—Why the Increased Rates?” (presentation by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, NIH, before the Committee on Government Reform, April 6, 2000).
Dan Burton, Opening Statement, “Autism: Present Challenges, Future Needs—Why the Increased Rates?” (presentation to Committee on Government Reform, April 6, 2000).
Stratton et al., 34–39.
Vijendra Singh, “Autism: Present Challenges, Future Needs—Why the Increased Rates?” (presentation to Committee on Government Reform, April 6, 2000)
Wakefield, et al., 637–41.
Ibid., 638.
Ibid., 639–40
Ibid., 640. Andrew Wakefield, “Testimony before Congressional Oversight Committee on Autism and Immunization.”
See no. 1 above.
Bernard Rimland, “The Autism Increase: Research Needed on the Vaccine Connection” (presentation to Committee on Government Reform, April 6, 2000)
F. Edward Yazbak, “Autism: Is There a Vaccine Connection?” (1999).
Adapted from Vaccinations: A Thoughtful Parent's Guide by Aviva Jill Romm, published by Healing Arts Press and available by visiting www.clicksmart.com or by calling (800) 246-8648. This excerpt is modified with permission.

Human Lymphomas Linked to Tainted Vaccine
University of Texas Southwestern researchers have established a link between human non-Hodgkin's lymphomas and a monkey virus carried by some people.

The study was published in the March 2002 edition of the British medical journal The Lancet. Researchers examined nearly 400 tumors and control tissues and found the viral footprint for simian virus 40 (SV40) in the tumors of 43 percent of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The virus, predominantly of the B-cell type, was present in 9 percent of Hodgkin's lymphoma cases, a significantly lower rate. The percentage of SV40-positive findings among healthy subjects and patients with other types of adult and pediatric cancers, other than bone tumors, was zero to 6 percent.

Approximately 287,000 new non-Hodgkin's lymphoma cases are diagnosed worldwide every year.

SV40 was first transmitted to humans between 1955 and 1963 in contaminated batches of polio vaccine. As many as 30 million people may have been vaccinated with the tainted serum. Persons born after 1963 also have been found to carry the virus, but scientists are uncertain how the virus was transmitted to them. Estimates for the number of carriers range between 2 percent and 13 percent of the population, although large population-based studies are needed.

Dr. Adi Gazdar, professor in the Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research and the Department of Pathology and principal investigator on the study, said the findings fully confirm earlier research on hamsters that associated SV40 with brain and bone tumors, mesotheliomas (tumors in the lining of the lungs and other organs) and B-cell lymphomas. SV40 had been associated in humans with brain and bone cancer and mesothelioma, but the human lymphoma connection is new. The rates of virus detection in HIV-positive and HIV-negative subjects with lymphoma were similar, a fact that came as a surprise to the researchers.

Dr. John Minna, director of the Hamon Center for Therapeutic Oncology Research, said that it is known that SV40 activates a protein that interacts with and deactivates the proteins that control the normal cellular life cycle, creating immortal malignant cells.

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