Between Aug. 26 and 27, 2020, quietly and without fanfare, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) removed the heading “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” from the top of their vaccine safety webpage.
The removal was brought to light by ICAN (Informed Consent Action Network), a vaccine safety advocacy organization, in a press release on Jan. 21 regarding the change. For years, ICAN has been pursuing legal action against the CDC, requesting the government organization remove this statement due to lack of evidence to prove the claim.
Although the CDC deleted the heading, a subheading with the same message remains on the webpage.
On the surface, quietly removing five words from a website seems like a minor event, but this action leaves unanswered questions. Could it be an unrelated routine webpage update by the CDC, or is the change a direct result of ICAN’s legal efforts?
To grasp the importance of the CDC removing “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” as the headline on their “Autism and Vaccines” page and decipher why it was removed, we need to review the events that led up to it.
‘No scientific studies to back up its long-declared assertion’
The battle between ICAN and the CDC began in the summer of 2019 when ICAN submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the CDC to produce the studies used to claim that vaccines, particularly the DTaP vaccine, does not cause autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The non-profit group also included requests for the same information regarding HepB, Hib, PCV13, and IPV, as well as studies to support cumulative exposure to these vaccines during the first six months of life do not cause ASD.
After months of no response from the CDC, ICAN sued the agency in federal court. The complaint, filed Dec. 31, 2019, argued that for various non-profit autism groups to assure parents of children with ASD that vaccines did not cause their child’s condition, they would like to have available the studies the CDC relied upon to make their claim.
The complaint goes on to state that, “given the CDC’s broad and unequivocal assertions that ‘Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism,’ there must be a robust body of science that supports this conclusion.”
In response, on March 2, 2020, the CDC submitted 20 studies to the Southern District New York Court, including one relating to MMR (a vaccine ICAN did not challenge,) 13 relating to thimerosal (an ingredient not in any of the vaccines ICAN queried,) five relating to both MMR and thimerosal, and one relating to antigens, not vaccine exposure.
According to the ICAN press release, “on the CDC’s list was a recent review by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), paid for by the CDC, which conducted a comprehensive review looking specifically for studies relating to whether DTaP does or does not cause autism. The IOM concluded it could not identify a single study to support DTaP does not cause autism. Instead, the only relevant study the IOM could identify found an association between DTaP and autism.”
Because of this, the non-profit organization claims the CDC had essentially “conceded it has no scientific studies to back up its long-declared assertion that vaccines given to babies do not cause autism.”
After examining the CDC webpage further, I found there are two paragraphs under the current subheading, “Vaccines do not cause autism.”
The first paragraph states: “Some people have had concerns that ASD might be linked to the vaccines children receive, but studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD. In 2011, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) on eight vaccines given to children and adults found that, with rare exceptions, these vaccines are very safe.”
However, the IOM review used to back up the claim, “studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing ASD” comes to this conclusion: “Conclusion 10.6 — The evidence is inadequate to accept or reject a causal relationship between diphtheria toxoid-, tetanus toxoid-, or acellular pertussis-containing vaccines and autism.” Interestingly, with the DTaP vaccine alone, there are several adverse events listed, including seizures, encephalitis, adult-onset multiple sclerosis, and SIDS, that have the same conclusion.
In the second paragraph, the CDC states: “a 2013 CDC study added to the research showing that vaccines do not cause ASD. The study looked at the number of antigens (substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies) from vaccines during the first two years of life. The results showed that the total amount of antigen from vaccines received was the same between children with ASD and those that did not have ASD.”
However, after closer examination, although the 2013 study the CDC references shows no association between the number of antigens in vaccines and ASD, it does not look at vaccines in their entirety. According to the discussion section of the study, “The possibility that immunologic stimulation from vaccines during the first 1–2 years of life could be related to the development of ASD is not well supported by the known neurobiology of ASD, which tends to be genetically determined with origins in prenatal development, although possible effects in early infancy cannot be ruled out completely. It can be argued that ASD with regression, in which children usually lose developmental skills during the second year of life, could be related to exposures in infancy, including vaccines; however, we found no association between exposure to antigens from vaccines during infancy and the development of ASD with regression.”
For some parents questioning whether vaccines cause autism, this data does not deliver a definitive answer.
Because of this, after the March ruling and CDC’s release of 20 studies, ICAN submitted another FOIA demand to the CDC that requested “all studies supporting the claim that DTaP does not cause autism,” and “studies created or retained by CDC to support the claim that DTaP does not cause autism.”
According to the organization, “the difference between this and ICAN’s prior requests is subtle but powerful. Instead of asking for the studies the CDC ‘relied upon’ to support that DTaP does not cause autism (as it did previously), ICAN was now seeking the studies that in fact ‘support’ that DTaP does not cause autism.”
ICAN says, in response to this request, the CDC could not list its MMR or thimerosal studies as they did previously, and, knowing ICAN would push the matter in court, quietly removed the “Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism” heading while leaving it in a less obvious subheading.
Whether ICAN’s legal actions are the reason behind the CDC updating their webpage is still up for debate. To answer this question, I reached out to the CDC for comment. They did not respond to my request.
Because “Vaccine ingredients do not cause autism” is also on the CDC’s website, ICAN continues to demand the release of the studies that prove these statements.
According to ICAN’s press release, “whether one or more ingredients, like water used in vaccines, does not cause autism is not really the issue. The question is whether the vaccine, the product itself as formulated, causes autism. And we now know that the CDC finally understands that it can no longer claim that Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.”
On a final note, the CDC did produce 20 studies it believes show no link between certain vaccines and ASD, and many parents have had their children vaccinated with no apparent adverse effects.
However, when a parent is told vaccines are safe, then witnesses their child have an unexplained yet very noticeable reaction immediately after receiving one or more vaccines, and that child is later diagnosed with autism, it will understandably cause doubt. To them, this is the only observational evidence they need to begin to question vaccine safety. Additionally, when a trusted organization backs safety claims on what appears to be vague study results, it only fuels that doubt.
The medical community and government agencies need to understand that to alleviate these concerns among anti-vaccine and pro-safe vaccine people, there must be 100% transparency, with safety statements backed by thoroughly vetted, definitive, independent research not funded by government agencies or vaccine makers. They must acknowledge parent’s observations and concerns and be willing to look at both sides of the debate objectively, working cooperatively towards finding the root cause of ASD, whether vaccines play a role or not.