Donald Trump’s debunked claim linking autism to vaccinations highlights danger of fad hysterias


Donald Trump is now the poster child for scientific ignorance. His campaign is still reeling from his anecdotal explanation for why many children get autism.

We had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day, 2 years old, a beautiful child, went to have the vaccine and came back and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic.


Unfortunately for science, and reflecting poorly on his medical training and advice, physician Ben Carson followed Trump’s comment with his own irresponsible opinion,

“We have extremely well-documented proof that there is no autism associated with vaccinations, but it is true that we’re giving way too many in way too short a time and a lot of pediatricians recognize that,”

The last part of Carson’s statement is totally false. The American Academy of Pediatrics has had a blistering reaction to this, including saying that these comments were “dangerous to public health.” This was followed up by a statement from AAP Executive Director Dr. Karen Remley, “There is no ‘alternative’ immunization schedule. Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer.”

These comments are still the ripples in the pond from the stone thrown by researcher Andrew Wakefield in 1998. Wakefield and 12 of his colleagues published a sensational paper speculating a link between a standard measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism. That launched a global hysteria, hyped up Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and other celebrities who campaigned for parents to stop vaccinating their children. It created an international public health crisis, with sharp drops in MMR vaccinations and outbreaks of the disease.

The Lancet, who published the paper, eventually retracted it after it uncovered discrepancies in the data and evidence that Wakefield was on the pay over ambulance chasing attorneys pursuing lawsuits against vaccine companies.Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 1.33.31 AM

I don’t think at this point that there were any educated readers who still believe that childhood vaccines, and the MMR vaccine (immunization vaccine against measlesmumps, and rubella) in particular, are the cause of autism or other pediatric harm, but apparently I was wrong.

“I strongly disagree with Donald Trump’s assessment that vaccines are a trigger for autism in some children,” Mark Schleiss, Professor of Paediatrics and Director of Division of Infectious disease and Immunology, University of Minnesota, told the Genetic Expert News Service. “This statement is dangerous; patently false; has been proven inaccurate; and put children and society at risk for outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illness. I believe Trump should apologize for his remarks and retract these statements immediately.”

GENeS, an independent resource launched with seed funding from the Genetic Literacy Project, has posted a collection of responses by some of the top experts in the field. Trump’s ignorant comments to suggest that it would be helpful to revisit what we know about this terrible disease and how the vaccine works.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

First, vaccines (generally speaking) work by “herd immunity”. They only have broad and deep effect if the overwhelming majority of a population is vaccinated.5005713_orig

An example of this, using a ‘95/5’ model is that since vaccines are about 95% (really greater in many cases) effective, being vaccinated isn’t a panacea against that particular disease. This would leave you open to one chance in 20 of being under-protected. However, in a society where 95% (or greater) of the population are immunized, the herd immunity begins to become manifest. This means there aren’t any robust paths (vectors) through the population for the disease to propagate. In this way, being un-immunized in a highly-immunized city, your chances of contracting a particular disease is lower than if you are individually immunized in a highly un-immunized city.

This theory takes much of its logic from population statistics and the excellent work of Paul Offit, M.D., director of the Vaccine Education Center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Herd immunity has become more-and-more of a discussion topic as some under-vaccinated groups have caused problems in their communities by reigniting diseases not often seen in decades (see here and here). I’ve spoken about herd immunity on Doctor Radio (Sirius XM) along with others, and the number of requests for further information regarding ‘herd immunity’ has increased considerably over the past two years.

MMR causes MORE issues if delayed

baby-vaccinations-20766358-300x300Last October, evidence was published in JAMA Pediatrics showing the negative effects of delaying the MMR vaccine in children, as Trump has suggested doing. Specifically, the risk of fever and seizures in children who received the vaccine at 12 – 16 months was lower than in children who received it between 16 – 23 months. The principal reason cited most often by parents who decide to delay these sequential vaccinations is ‘to build-up stronger immune systems’ before being exposed. The reason we have science in the first place is to usurp anecdote and opinion. Clearly, all of the available empirical evidence shows that this delaying isn’t helping; and in fact, may be harming.

Hippocrates’ famous oath (which incidentally was likely never recited by him) includes primum non nocere: First, do no harm. Of course, I won’t try to explain that vaccines are risk-free – nothing is, but in the context of healthcare best-practices and evidence-based medicine, primum non nocere really takes on a form more like: “A treatment should be offered to a patient if its benefit is likely to exceed the risk.Polio_vaccine_poster” Vaccines have been the singular healthcare treatment which has prevented more deaths and more disease than any other intervention ever put into practice in the history of humanity.

Further research on 323,247 children just published in Pediatrics shows that delaying pediatric vaccinations (MMR or MMRV) doubles the relative risk of seizures. In the interest of explaining the full story, the risk is already very low (about three to four cases per 10,000 children vaccinated); so doubling this risk rate makes the ‘delayed’ group suffer about seven to nine cases per 10,000 children vaccinated. But it’s a difference that an additional 1,200-1,500 children per year shouldn’t need to suffer.

The increased risk, the researchers noted, “is likely due to a complex interplay between the immunogenicity of the vaccines, the genetic and physiologic susceptibility of the child, and the age-based maturation of the child’s immune system; as the immune system matures in the second year of life it also becomes capable of greater febrile response to immune stimulants, such as vaccines.” So the vaccines and adjuvants are doing exactly what they are designed to do: stimulate an immune response to (a) specific pathogen(s). But increased febrile (fever) effects or increased seizures are in themselves unwanted effects that can cause problems.

Those parents are participating in what I call a “live” ‘delayed-choice’ experiment in the population, where their opinion and anecdote is actually negatively impacting real children daily. Remember: Not only are there negative effects demonstrated in the above study from the interplay of the vaccine itself with the immune system and other genetic factors, but the delayed-choice experiment also leaves the children unprotected for longer against these pathogens for which the vaccines are intended to prevent infection by. In addition, the best available data that we have regarding longitudinal (testing over time) assessment of neuropsychological function in 7-10 year olds indicates that even down the road, children perform the same or better (hint: not worse) if they have received on-time pediatric vaccinations rather than delayed-receipt vaccinations.

So the genetic basis for herd immunity and differential effects of vaccines (and delayed-choice adverse effects) is likely real and supported by the researchers. We don’t know how we’ll individually respond (if at all) to any administered drug treatment or vaccine, but we do know that population-wide immunity has given us all the health and security that we have to pursue the current development of society.

This is the reason that the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses CDC’s childhood vaccination schedule: It is the one most-supported by evidence, and any deviation from it is not supported by data. The GMO debate that continues to rage–as well as that of so-called ‘natural’ cures, holistic medicine, etc.–is the same as the paradigm of the delayed-choice experiment: As food supplies become more robust and healthful as a result of GMO practices and better applications of scientific knowledge (such as better temperature integrity, frost resistance, pest resistance, shipping integrity, etc.) so too have we become more knowledgeable in our healthcare treatments such that terrible diseases become long-forgotten footnotes in history books. Consumers don’t need to worry about ‘really’ important problems so they become enraptured with fake concerns, such as GMOs and vaccines. These phrases and movements become fashion, not viable alternatives to good healthcare.

Ben Locwin, PhD, MBA, MS is a Contributor to the Genetic Literacy Project and is an author of a wide variety of scientific articles for books and magazines. He has also spoken widely on vaccines and adjuvants, and is a researcher and consultant for a variety of industries including behavioral and psychological, food and nutrition, pharmaceutical, and academic. Follow him at @BenLocwin

  • Marilyn

    I have bookmarked this article in order to respond to the next antivax post I see on Facebook! I can’t believe that people let their babies risk horrible diseases like polio. I can’t believe all the otherwise smart people I’ve met who refuse a flu shot because they “don’t get sick very often”. Thank you for explaining in one article why both choices are really stupid.

    • Mike T

      Good thing we have plumbers.

    • Stace325

      I guess Marilyn knew Trump would be running for president and say something about vaccines A YEAR AGO!

  • PK123

    They can’t definitively say anything. They don’t know. It’s possible vaccines cause some side effects including to brain function. How many people actually get checked for autism? if it’s not severe it’s probably going undetected, so kit’s probable that it can cause it among other things. They don’t even know what causes autism, they just know what it is, like so many other things.

  • DUKE

    Trump wasn’t speaking against vaccinations necessarily, he was sharing a personal story regarding such. And Carson was speaking the truth too!!
    There is conflicting evidence to support both sides from what I have researched, as with global warming!

    • Steven Irizarry

      no you either support vaccinations or you support pseudo-science and ISIS

      • David Ashton

        You should support continual, thorough, objective medical research. Opponents of thalidomide did not believe in UFOs or the Tooth Fairy,

      • pissed man

        Every vaccine and illness is different. For benign diseases they are a complete waste of time. For some catastrophic diseases they make sense, but they have problems that should be studied thoroughly. I also believe that the science can be improved. I would also suggest a study of populations in the same area that are vaccinated vs unvaccinated to provide a better study. But most of us don’t have 20 years to wait. there is a lot of data indicating so many vaccines, and too early, especially based on weight, have many problems.

        • gmoeater

          In that case, if you vote, you should definitely vote for Donald Trump. Two peas in a pod.

  • David Ashton

    Mercury may have been the problem. With my eldest daughter quite probably.

  • pissed man

    There are hundreds of papers on both sides and I would say the science is far from settled. even the CDC whistleblower said that they threw out the data that showed MMR injections of Male Blacks before 36 months increased autism. I would also say that based on the whisleblowers in the vaccine companies, the CDC and the Simpsonwood coverup that any papers coming from industry or CDC would be questionable and probably do not ask the right questions, Similar to GMO’s

    • If you believe the science of vaccine safety is not settled than you probably deny evolution and believe organic foods are safer Anne mire nutritious than GMO foods and that Chen trails exist and that fluoride is killing us; you views are classic science denialism.

      • pissed man

        It’s great to be a target of someone so infamous, I must be doing something right.

        Just what is the SCIENCE of vaccine Safety? Which vaccine are you talking about, have you read the vaccine inserts?

        John, There are many things still being debated on vaccine technology today, you might want to note this. CONTAMINATION is a constant issue (SV40, Bird flu, HCG, Other Avian Chimp and Pig Virus, Rust, and many of the things used in vaccines are at issue), You might want to do some study here, tons of papers on pubmed, and many others. Now with your limited knowledge on Genetics, you might even question the use of human genetic material being used to produce some vaccines. so which one, John, which one you want to talk about first as they are all different. I have hundreds of pages on this stuff, let’s get it all out there for everyone to digest and study up on. Let’s start with some Biggies:

        OAS (Original Antigenic Sin…might want to look that one up, Also don’t forget Antibody Dependent Enhancement, ADE

        Aren’t these problems the explanation why the whooping cough vaccine failed, or maybe why more than 50% of the cases of outbreaks are among the vaccinated? It also explains why the vaccinated who lose resistance catch a worse case of the disease later in life. Oh and by all means let’s discuss how long the resistance lasts as they all fail the long term, so they are a complete failure when compared against the benign disease.

        Why would the vaccine court pay out Billions if vaccines are so safe? Why would courts outside the US find vaccines liable for issues if they are “safe”.

        Just to get back on cue:

        Let’s just look at what was said here…that vaccinating earlier is better because of a study. Well, how about underweight infants:

        Adverse Events After Routine Immunization of Extremely Low-Birth-Weight Infants

        Stephen D. DeMeo, DO1; Sudha R. Raman, PhD2; et al
        Immunization of extremely low-birth-weight (ELBW) infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) is associated with adverse events, including fever and apnea or bradycardia, in the immediate postimmunization period. These adverse events present a diagnostic dilemma for physicians, leading to the potential for immunization delay and sepsis evaluations.

        Primary Immunization of Premature Infants with Gestational Age <35 Weeks: Cardiorespiratory Complications and C-Reactive Protein Responses Associated with Administration of Single and Multiple Separate Vaccines Simultaneously

        these showed that approximately 20% of the babies had cardiorespiratory events within 48 hours, and 20% had Intraventricular hemmorage (Brain Bleeding).

        so based on these findings of HUGE problems for Premies, would it not be a good idea to follow the precautionary principle and put off vaccination based on weight? One of these is JAMA, the other is EU.

        So I guess the "SCIENCE' is up for heated debate, or maybe someone is trying to confuse the issue and increase harm. Age vs Weight.

        • gmoeater

          Pissed, it is you who is the troll. Your first sentence above “It’s great to be a target of someone so infamous” is exactly why internet trolls post. Look it up. The purpose is to get a reaction, any reaction, even negative, from scientists and others more educated than they are. It’s a narcissist thing. Look up “internet trolls.” Your statement has just identified exactly why you stay on this site. To get a reaction —- any reaction — to your amazingly ignorant but arrogant posts.

    • Jason

      “There are hundreds of papers on both sides and I would say the science is far from settled.”

      I wonder why none of the worlds leading scientific organizations seem to agree with you?

  • pissed man

    “As food supplies become more robust and healthful as a result of GMO practice…” This completely ignores the Science, and Real world experience. USA rates are trailing EU in nearly every area comparing NonGMO to GMO, GMO’s are producing less, with more inputs! I have the papers if you want to see it is from the EU AG agency. That’s why EU is banning GMO’s because they do not work or improve anything. As far as feeding the world, what a croc, 95% of GMO is used for fuel or animal feed! ALL long term independent feeding trials show catastrophic consequences of GMO and roundup use which is typically much higher for 75% of GMO, So for health it is a complete lie. This statement borders on Negligence or scientific misconduct.

    • You have not studied the data. The EU countries use far more chemical inputs than do GMO food producers. Less than 50% of GMO is used for animal feed, and that’s a great value. There is not one long term independent feeding trial published in a mainstream peer reviewed journal–NOT ONE–that shows any ill effects from GMOs. On the other hand there are more than 1400 independent studies showing no health problems associated with GMOs and its’ the consensus of 244 independent agencies around the world–while not one has raised concerns about GMO safety. Your “facts” are actually 100% wrong.

    • Farmer Sue

      False, Pissed man. (Are you Donald Trump?)
      Absolutely false.
      In my area, GE crops such as GE sugar beets have a 40% higher yield. (Uh, duhhhhhh …. why do you think farmers pay a premium for GE seeds, if the yield isn’t greater? Use your brain.)
      With more sustainable land practices, less tilling of the soil, less tractor fuel.
      What are you smoking? Why would you just make up stuff like this?
      Talk to a real farmer. Learn something. And get a better attitude.

  • Stace325

    If using aborted baby fetus and animal tissue DNA isn’t enough for one to question the safety of vaccines, other common ingredients should. They include: Thermerisal (Mercury), Formaldehyde, Aluminum, Poly Sorbet 80… The CDC Recommends Hepatitis B at birth: Anyone that would recommend or give a newborn a vaccine for a disease that is transmitted though sex or drug use has to be INSANE!