Healthy Kids    

WEB EXCLUSIVE! Readers Speak Out on Autism Vs. Vaccine Story

We hear from a Vassar Professor and Pediatrician

In a letter dated April 20, 2011, David Esteban, Assistant Professor of Virology and Microbiology, Vassar College, writes:

Dear Hudson Valley Parent Magazine:

In your most recent issue, a story titled “Vaccines and Autism: The Controversy Continues” was published (April 2011).  The only thing that is continuing the controversy is continued publication of articles such as these that present misleading information.  Scientifically, the issue is settled:  there is no link between autism and vaccines. 

The story downplays the fraud committed by Andrew Wakefield.  It is clear that Wakefield falsified his data.  He has been stripped of his positions, degrees, and license to practice.  Brian Deer, the reporter who uncovered the fraud, is now under attack.  Shooting the messenger is just a last ditch attempt to save a movement based on falsehoods.  All you have to do is look at the data and the findings, the large body of independent scientific research that clearly shows there is no link.


It is also clear that he had financial interests in seeing the MMR vaccine discredited, since he had developed his own vaccine.  Interestingly, the anti-vaccine movement is quick to blame vaccine manufacturers as being influenced by profit motive or finding conspiracy in discrediting Wakefield’s findings, but Wakefiled’s clear financial conflict of interest is conveniently overlooked.  

However, I realize that evidence of fraud and financial conflict of interest isn’t going to resonate with many in the anti-vacccine movement.  The fact is, scientifically, it doesn’t really matter that his data was fraudulent.  The Wakefield study involved only 12 children, a sample size much too small to draw strong conclusions.  Further, the study was poorly designed:  to connect vaccines to autism, the study depended entirely on parental or physician recall of events in the past, a method known to be highly ineffective.  In fact, its not much different from anecdotes.  

Since Wakefield’s study, there have been many subsequent studies involving larger number of participants that have been rigorously designed and appropriately controlled and NONE have supported a link between vaccines and autism.  The reason the scientific method works, and the reason humanity has gained great knowledge and understanding of the natural world around us is that the scientific method is self-correcting.  Any finding must be verified independently, by other researchers, using a combination of different approaches.  Only after a significant body of work is developed can a strong conclusion be made.  Wakefield’s study triggered such a body of research, which has consistently shown that that there is no link between vaccines and autism.  That is to say, Wakefield’s conclusions have not withstood the test of the scientific method.  The fact that his data was fraudulent only confirms what scientist already knew: vaccines do not cause autism.


The article describes the personal experience of specific parents who believe their children are autistic as a result of vaccination.  Anecdotal data can be used to support any position.  Where are the interviews with parents of vaccinated children who don’t have autism?  The anecdotal data doesn’t stand up when you consider the many anecdotes I have about parents who vaccinated and don’t have autistic kids.  Whose anecdotes should we believe?  The only information we should consider is from well designed and controlled studies.


The article also describes a study presented at the Pediatrics Academic Society conference in Vancouver in 2010, which Mr. Lachman claims confirms the link between autism and vaccines. I, and others, have carefully searched the abstracts of the work presented at the conference and found no such study.  Two abstracts addressed gastrointestinal symptoms associated with autism, the closest I could find to the topic.  However, the issue of vaccination is not addressed in these studies.  It would be appreciated if the author provided a specific citation so that readers can look at the study themselves.  It is concerning to me that either Mr. Lachman completely misunderstood the research or is being intentionally misleading.  In fact, in the article, he writes that Wakefield's study connecting vaccines to autism has been vindicated, and in support states that the PAS study links gastrointestinal disease in autistic children.  The issue in question is not regarding a connection between gastrointestinal symptoms and autism but a connection between vaccines and autism.  There appears to be a vast leap, making conclusions that simply can not be made from the data.   Implying that these studies support a link to vaccination is entirely misleading.


Finally, Wakefield’s study, the actions of the anti-vaccine movement and the perpetuation of misleading information is troubling on a very deep level.  Children are dying from preventable diseases, directly attributable to decreased vaccination rates.  It is a crime that this should happen.  The other victims in this whole scandal are kids with autism.  Rather than focusing on finding the actual cause of autism, the distraction of the vaccine link has driven the focus away from valuable research that needs to be done.  With so much data to support the absence of a link between vaccines and autism, and so much reason to find the real cause (or causes) of autism, I seriously wonder whether the driving force behind this movement is now the desire to be right, rather than the desire to protect our kids.  



David Esteban

Assistant Professor of Virology and Microbiology

Vassar College

(We have contacted Professor Esteban to thank him for writing, and ask if he would be interviewed for a followup to this very important topic.)


And now we hear from Nancy Giannini, MD, Kathleen Diannin, MD, Hopewell Junction, NY..


Hello, my name is Nancy Giannini, and I am a Pediatrician in the Hudson Valley. I typically have always enjoyed your magazine, and have often recommended it to parents because it has so many good features, information for new parents, and fun activities for kids to do. However, I feel the article on Autism in the April 2011 issue was very biased against vaccines and will be a disservice to the community. To focus half your article on one unfortunate family is misleading.


People fail to understand the severity of the diseases we can prevent with vaccines, because we have been so successful in eradicating them. Why didn't your article mention the families that have had their children die before vaccines were invented? Or the recent death of innocent children from Hib menningitis, another preventable disease from vaccines? Or that even though people are choosing not to vaccinate, the diagnosis of autism continues to increase? There are certainly many unkowns regarding autism, but science has clearly shown, through studies of thousands of patients, not just 12, that there is no link between autism and vaccines. There is a definite genetic component, which would explain, at least partly why 2 children in the same family were affected. There are risks and benefits to everything, and no, I cannot say with 100% accuracy that there will be no side effects from the vaccine, but in most cases, they are mild. But I can say with certainty that if people continue to avoid vaccinating, we will see an increase in preventable diseases that can cause death, especially in infants, who are too young to be vaccinated.


I also take issue with your comment that doctors "get $30 per vaccination," so there is a financial incentive to give as many vaccinations as they can'. You couldn't be more wrong! As a physician , I can tell you, we may get $30 per vaccination, if we are lucky, but we may pay $40 to order that same vaccine! We lose money on vaccines every day, and in fact this very factor makes it very difficult for small physician practices to stay in business. We provide vaccines to our patients because we believe it is the best protection for them and their health, even if it costs us more to do so. I'm very disappointed with this issue of Hudson Valley Parent. If you wanted to be fair and show the other side of the vaccine controversy, you may want to look at a website from  Childrens Hospital of Philadelphia It answers many frequently asked questions about vaccine safety, and would be a great resource for parents.


Thanks for your time.


Nancy Giannini MD

Kathleen Ennabi Pediatrics

2529 Rt 52 Suite 3

Hopewell Junction, NY 12533


(We contacted Dr. Giannini to let her know that the $30 per vaccine quote was from a mother who was interviewed by the writer and it was not a statement made by HV Parent.)