Raise your hand if you have ever read a scientific study? Or even looked at one. Scientific studies are these megaliths of information. They can be tedious to read, difficult to understand–after all, they are their own completely unique language. To a lay person, like me, we need other people to make these studies more accessible. We need headlines that reiterate the important messages of what’s been uncovered in a truthful, honest way. After all, we all want the same things right?
A group of research scientists at Kaiser Permanente Research Division asked the question: “Is there an association between maternal influenza infection and vaccination and autism risk?” in their study “Association Between Influenza Infection and Vaccination During Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder” published November 28, 2016. The cohort study included 196 929 children born at Kaiser Permanente in Northern California from January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2010 at a gestational age of at least 24 weeks. Their results came in and there was a nearly 26% increase (crude hazard ratio) in ASD for those pregnant mamas that got a flu shot in the first trimester of their pregnancy. Wow! This is news right? Everyone should report the actual findings from the study, right? Wrong.
No mention here:
Nothing to see here:
Some journalists may have even read the study (gasp), because they kind of said it in a way you could understand, if you knew how to read between the lines:
Someone actually acknowledged there was a link, but just a fluke:
A fishy pattern quickly emerged. Is it true? I know we can’t trust mainstream media, but now we can’t trust non-mainstream journalism either? I saw these headlines say one thing and the actual study results say another. And then my head hurt.
“The results of this study confirm that neither getting influenza during pregnancy or getting a flu vaccine in the second or third trimester is associated with risk of autism in the child,” said study author Lisa Croen. What she didn’t say, however, is that getting a flu shot in the first trimester poses a risk for autism. They literally aren’t allowed to say there’s a risk. They then said that the association could be “due to chance.” So if it comes to light that vaccines are proven in a study to in fact be dangerous, it is merely by CHANCE. Nice.
I know, I know… Vaccines don’t cause autism. The link is debunked, it was a myth, there was a British guy. Yada yada. Well folks, vaccines CAN cause autism. I know, I know. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. By all means, don’t believe me. In fact, don’t believe anyone. Do yourself a favor and READ.
So, what else did this study yield? It found that vaccinated pregnant mothers were 34% more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Children with autism were 29% more likely to have a mother who had gestational diabetes. Pregnant women who got the flu shot were 52% more likely to have an autoimmune disorder, and were 63% more likely to have had an asthma diagnosis. This could be part of the explanation, like a person with a tendency toward allergy and irrational immune response maybe isn’t the best person to get a vaccine when pregnant? Maybe another immune system upheaval is not what the poor mama needs?
The study looked at autistic outcomes in the children and saw that 1.54% of “unvaccinated” mothers had a child with autism, contrasting with 1.69% of vaccinated mothers had a child with autism. First trimester vaccination yielded a higher proportion of 1.91% of children developed autism, which represents a 24% increase over the controls, which could be higher if the controls weren’t really controlled that well.
Unfortunately, no where in the study does it define the “unvaccinated” pregnant controls. This study is looking specifically at influenza infection and maternal influenza vaccination. What about Tdap? It’s not listed as a covariate. Not only could the study population been given the Tdap, which wouldn’t affect first trimester results because Tdap is generally given in the last trimester, but it could affect our “unvaccinated” group, because well, it means they weren’t experiencing a completely vaccine free pregnancy. Also we do not have any information on the children’s immunization record after birth, which could further play a role.
We see other things though. We see 5.9% of vaccinated women gave birth to babies before 37 weeks gestation, verses 6.7% of unvaccinated women. But of those premature babies, those with ASD were more likely to be born before 37 weeks gestation: 9.4% vs. 6.4% without ASD. Preterm birth we have known is associated with ASD outcomes, but this study found that preterm birth was not associated with neurodevelopmental disorders except when preterm birth was coupled with vaccinations. And the vaccinations they were looking at was the pediatric schedule of vaccines, not prenatal vaccines. So imagine the cumulative effect: A pregnant woman with a tendency toward allergy gets a vaccine when pregnant in the first trimester, maybe has preterm birth, then that premature infant gets vaccinated on the same schedule as full term babies. This child may very well develop autism.
So you can imagine I was jumping with joy when in April a letter to the editor (“Influenza Vaccination in the First Trimester of Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder”) was addressing the study in question, “Association Between Influenza Infection and Vaccination During Pregnancy and Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorder.” I wasn’t alone in thinking this was really messed up. Especially given that the dates of the study are looking at births from 2000-2010, a time when the rate for autism went from 1 in 150 to 1 in 68 in 2010. Today we closer to 1 in 43 for boys. The prenatal and pediatric vaccine schedule is also ramping up and studies like these are used to encourage women to vaccinate, whilst withholding important information about the risks.
So I did what anyone would naturally do, I emailed all the news sites that reported on this study to let them know the debate isn’t over. Science hasn’t cleared vaccines yet again. The results are there. Other researchers are noting some erroneous and dangerous interpretations of results, which may even be downplaying the seriousness of it all.
Only one news source got back to me, and she even contacted one of the study’s authors. This is what I got back:
They are standing by their results (and don’t want to own up to a Vaccine-Autism connection, but think additional studies are needed), which let me reiterate are:
Pregnant women who got a flu shot in the first trimester were 20% more likely to have a child with autism than women not vaccinated with a flu shot. That is after adjusting for their covariates.
Crude hazard ration gets it closer to 26%. Again, our “unexposed” group could have still had other interventions like Tdap, we don’t know. Once again, we don’t have a fully unvaccinated control group. And of course, we don’t have any information about if any of the children are unvaccinated. If we could see what the rate of autism is in a baby whose mother did not receive any vaccines, and also did not receive any vaccines after birth, well we might end up at a number like this: 300%. Vaccinated children in this study had a 300% increase of autism over the unvaccinated kids. But don’t believe me, read it for yourself.
Beyond the vaccine-autism debate, why are all these news sources lying to us? Why aren’t they asking questions?