Journal questions validity of study linking autism and vaccines

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A study published earlier this month on an alleged link between vaccines and autism has been removed from the public domain pending further investigation, according to Translational Neurodegeneration.

In an online statement, the scientific journal said the paper had been removed “because of serious concerns about the validity of its conclusions.”

CNN first became aware of the study when an iReport was posted about its publication and the controversy surrounding it. iReport is CNN’s user-generated news community.

Brian Hooker, author of the study and a biochemical engineerfound African-American boys who were given the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, known as MMR, before age 24 months were more likely to be diagnosed with autism.

To reach this conclusion, Hooker said he analyzed the same set of data that was the basis for a 2004 study done by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2004, scientists at the CDC’s National Immunization Program published their study in the journal Pediatrics.

Researchers compared 624 children with autism, age 3 to 10, with 1,824 developmentally healthy children.

Most of the children, according to the study, were vaccinated between 12 and 17 months of age in accordance with vaccination recommendations.

The CDC study authors found no link between the age children were given their first MMR vaccination and autism diagnoses. Nor did they find a statistically significant increased risk for a particular racial group.

The CDC’s raw data was made available for other scientists to use when its study was published in 2004. Hooker said he began his research after he was contacted by one of the original study authors, William Thompson, in November 2013. Thompson is a senior scientist with the CDC, where he has worked since 1998.

Hooker said he believes the increased risk for African-American boys he found was not identified in the CDC study because the researchers, including Thompson, deliberately limited the number of participants they included in their analysis, which he said altered the results. Hooker said that by excluding children without birth certificates, the CDC study results were skewed.

“I regret that my co-authors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article,” Thompson said in a statement sent to CNN by his lawyer. “I have had many discussions with Dr. Brian Hooker over the last 10 months regarding studies the CDC has carried out regarding vaccines and neurodevelopmental outcomes, including autism spectrum disorders. I share his belief that CDC decision-making and analyses should be transparent.”

However, Thompson went on to say that Hooker had recorded these conversations without his consent, and had posted them online without his knowledge.

In a statement to CNN on Monday, the CDC said its study presented results for two sets of children: all children initially recruited for the study, and a subset of children for whom a Georgia birth certificate was available.

“Access to the information on the birth certificates allowed researchers to assess more complete information on race, as well as other important characteristics,” the CDC statement said.

Dr. Frank DeStefano, lead author of the 2004 study, said he and his colleagues stand by their findings. DeStefano said all the study authors, including Thompson, agreed on the analysis and interpretation before the study was submitted for publication 10 years ago. However, he said he plans to review his notes and will decide whether to run another analysis on the data.

The new study by Hooker has been publicized by groups likeFocus Autism, which say vaccines have contributed to the “current autism epidemic and rise of chronic illness in children.” Hooker is a scientific adviser for the Focus Autism Foundation, which funded his study. He also has a 16-year-old son with developmental delays who he said is “vaccine injured.”

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, said the design of Hooker’s study is questionable, and that his analysis is “not fine-tuned enough to give you meaningful information.”

“If you analyze data enough times and enough ways, you’re bound to find something that is statistically significant,” said Witznitzer, after looking at both studies. “This does not mean that the result is a true positive (vs. a false positive) or meaningful.”

The debate over whether autism spectrum disorders are caused by vaccines started when researcher Andrew Wakefield published a now-retracted study in The Lancet in 1998 that linked the MMR vaccine to autism.

Most of Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their names from the study when they learned Wakefield had been compensated by a law firm intending to sue manufacturers of the vaccine in question. In 2010, Wakefield lost his medical license. And in 2011, The Lancet retracted the study after an investigation found Wakefield altered or misrepresented information on the 12 children who were the basis for the conclusion of his study.

Other researchers have not been able to replicate Wakefield’s findings. In fact, several subsequent studiestrying to reproduce the results have found no link between vaccines and autism, including several reviews by the Institute of Medicine. Most recently, a study published in Pediatrics on July 1 concluded that vaccines do not cause autism spectrum disorders.

An editorial published with the Pediatrics study added that the debate should be put to rest. This review was done by the RAND Corporation at the request of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and claims to be the most comprehensive review on the safety of vaccines.

“I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives,” Thompson said in his statement. “I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race.”

While the cause of autism is not known, several studies indicate it starts in utero, long before a child is given the MMR or any other vaccinations. As such, DeStefano and other experts in the field have said it is biologically implausible for vaccines to cause autism.

“We know the brain and cellular features for children begin when the child is still in the womb. The brain is already developing the wiring that will manifest in autism,” DeStefano said.

Hooker said his results raise more questions than answers and pointed to the need for additional studies.

The advocacy group Autism Speaks, which declined to comment on Hooker’s study, referred CNN to its “Vaccine and Autism” statement, which says:

“We strongly encourage parents to have their children vaccinated for protection against serious disease. We recognize that some parents still have concerns about vaccines, particularly if they have a child or relative with autism. We urge them to find a health practitioner who will consider their concerns and help them ensure the well-being of their child.”

CNN’s Jacque Wilson and Miriam Falco contributed to this story.


  • Kristin

    Dr. William Thompson admits the CDC falsified data in a press release, was RECORDED admitting his guilt over all the children injured by the MMR vaccine due to their cover-up , and the media is attacking Dr. Hooker’s study? Are we in the Twilight Zone? Guess where Dr. Hooker’s data came from? He FOIA’d the 2004 study from the CDC and received all the raw data, which caught the attention of Dr. Thompson. It’s why he called Dr. Hooker in the first place, and admitted his guilt! WAKE UP MEDIA!!!!

    • reissd

      It’s unfortunate that Dr. Thompson thinks so, but there really isn’t evidence of any such thing. The original DeStefano study had analyses on both the full set and those with birth certificates. The only evidence of a link is Hooker’s fatally flawed study. There’s no evidence of wrongdoing.

  • lilady RN

    That journal where Brian Hooker published his study has removed the study from its website, no doubt after multiple science journalists/science bloggers found that Hooker manipulated the data sets which he received from the CDC.

    Too bad that Dr. Hooker and the disgraced and discredited former medical doctor Andrew Wakefield resorted to illegally recording conversations between Hooker and a researcher at the CDC…the so-called “whistleblower”, who has now issued a statement from his attorney.

    The data sets that Dr. Hooker received under FOIA requests are available from the CDC…for any other epidemiologist wannabe to review and publish an article.

    Who are you going to believe? A litigant before the vaccine court who has yet to prove that his child autism was caused by vaccines after 12 years of stalling the court (Hooker) and the charlatan Andrew Wakefield who engaged in illegally recording conversations to produce a bogus study…or…the hundreds of studies conducted by researchers and academics around the globe and published in first-tier, peer-reviewed journals, which examined millions of children’s vaccinations records and found no association between vaccines, the ingredients in vaccines, the spacing and timing of vaccines and the onset of autism or any other developmental disorder?

  • J Bishop

    The CDC found a statistically significant signal involving MMR autism risk in their data and changed the entry criteria by reducing numbers of that one racial group to weaken the statistical confidence and then dismissed the signal. You don’t change the study protocol after viewing the results. That is fraud. Hooker’s analysis only confirmed CDC’s initial findings. A top CDC scientists, Dr. William Thompson, has admitted to involvement in hiding of problematic findings regarding MMR and thereby denying informed consent and the ability to move forward in research and understanding, prevention, and treatment of vaccine related injury.

    • ANB2014

      Bishop, your understanding of the DeStephano paper is seriously flawed. The CDC did not find “a significant
      signal involving MMR autism risk in their data.” That was Hooker, and the journal that published his paper retracted it soon after.

      Why can’t anti-vaccine people bother to learn the facts before commenting?

  • Chris

    ********** The MMR vaccine

    Dr. Andrew Wakefield of the UK, is a 5th generatiion medical doctor, he has written over 140 medical papers.
    Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s research starting in 1995, found the measles virus / typed to the vaccine strain, growing on & infecting the GI track and colons of Autistic children in the UK.

    These children often have chronic diarrhea that may last for years. The same measles virus problem has been found in other Autistic children, replicated in five other countries, by five other researchers.
    Dr. Wakefield suggested using three separate vaccines for the three MMR viruses. This was done in England with a major loss of revenue to GlaxoSmithKline, who makes the MMR vaccine in the UK.

    Dr. Wakefield wrote a five-page paper on 12 children with the MMR condition in 1998.
    There are now 5 other similar / measles gut virus Autism papers / from 5 different countries.

    The UK government then later blocked the import if the three separate MMR vaccines and only offered the GSK / MMR vaccine to UK parents. It was THEN that the UK MMR vaccination rates began to drop.

    A major part of the UK MMR problem was Prime Minister Tony Blair who would not state which vaccines were given to his son…..

    … Because of the work of Dr. Wakefield, Autistic children, who often lose their ability to speak, are now treated for this often painful gut condition. Being “always bent over” (in pain) is no longer just considered a part of being Autistic.
    The medical complaint against Dr. Wakefield was made by a UK Murdoch journalist Brian Deer, NOT the parents of the Autistic children that Dr. Wakefield was trying to help.

    Brian Deer has spent seven years trying to discredit a five page paper. He will not disclose his finances of the matter.
    Harvard drop out Jr. Murdoch / son of Rupert / for some reason was on the board of directors of GlaxoSmithKlein who manufacture the MMR vaccine in the UK and hired Mr. Deer.
    Vaccine safety and wisdom in the United States is based on

    UK Murdoch news reporter Brian Deer / found here with friend Dr. Nancy…

    Dr, Nancy believes Brian Deer is a medical genus…

    Brian Deer has spent 7 years trying to discredit a 5 page 1998 Andrew Wakefield paper on 12 children. hundreds of children with similar symptoms followed…

  • reissd

    Thank you for this excellent analysis. It would be tragic if Hooker’s fatally flawed analysis led any parents to deny their children protection of MMR, against the evidence. The article was dissected by scientists who suggested the following:

    A. The statistical methods were flawed:
    · It treated a case-control study as a cohort study, which it was not.

    · It used the wrong measure of statistical significance.

    · It used a methodology that did not account for confounders, when the matching ofcases and controls shows confounders.

    · It ignored other factors.

    B. The references used were for poorly designed studies and did not address the many other studies that did not have similar findings.

    For more, see:
    1. Respectful Insolence (Brian Hooker proves Andrew Wakefield wrong about vaccines and autism)

    2. The Poxes (Andrew Jeremy Wakefield plays video director while African-American Babies die, or something).

    3. Epidemiological: Directed Acyclic Graphs and the MMR vaccine doesn’t cause autism

    4. Leftbrain Rightbrain
    Autism, Atlanta, MMR: serious questions and also how Brian Hooker and Andrew Wakefield are causing damage to the autism communities

  • reissd

    As to the alleged whistleblower: Thompson says data was omitted. He disagrees with the decisions. But I don’t see which data was omitted: both the full raw data and the data on the sub group with birth certificate are, in fact, in the paper. There are professional reasons to do a sub analysis like this – in this case, controlling for confounding factors, and other scientists obviously disagreed with him that this was inappropriate. This kind of disagreement is not wrongdoing. Thompson thinks it was wrong. But there really is no evidence of data fixing.

    Note that there is no real evidence of a link between MMR and autism in any group. Multiple large studies found differently. The only evidence for the link was Hooker’s study, so fatally flawed that scientists pointed out it just can’t stand – and the journal pulled it for its many inaccuracies. So one methodologically defective article v. many studies from all around the world. Guess which is right.

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