Yes, Let’s Look at That IOM Review of Vaccines and Autism…

by Jan 13, 2017Health & Vaccines3 comments

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (Daniel Schwen/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Scientific American provides an example of how the mainstream media's reporting on the subject of vaccines is based not on science, but dogma.

Correction: This post contains an error. See the “*” and further notes below.

Scientific American has a story critical of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has reportedly been chosen by President-elect Donald Trump to head a commission on vaccine safety, dismissing him as having “promoted anti-vaccine propaganda completely unconnected to reality”.

The criticism continues:

Kennedy made his name in the anti-vaccine movement in 2005, when he published a story alleging a massive conspiracy regarding thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that had been removed from all childhood vaccines except for some variations of the flu vaccine in 2001. In his piece, Kennedy completely ignored an Institute of Medicine immunization safety review on thimerosal published the previous year….

Okay, stop right there.

So Kennedy argues that vaccines can cause autism, right? But in putting forth this hypothesis, he is ignoring an Institute of Medicine (IOM) safety review.

So that IOM study must have concluded that the hypothesis is implausible, right? (After all, the title of the Scientific American article is “How Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Distorted Vaccine Science”.)

That’s evidently what Scientific American would have us believe.

In fact, the IOM’s Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism (2004) concluded as follows*:

The committee concludes that although the hypothesis that exposure to thimerosal-containing vaccines could be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders is not established and rests on indirect and incomplete information, primarily from analogies with methylmercury and levels of maximum mercury exposure from vaccines given in children, the hypothesis is biologically plausible.

The committee also concludes that the evidence is inadequate to accept or reject a causal relationship between thimerosal exposures from childhood vaccines and the neurodevelopmental disorders of autism, ADHD, and speech or language delay.

This is just standard fare for the mainstream media. Don’t let the “Scientific” in this particular source’s title fool you. It isn’t science that guides the media’s reporting on this issue, but dogma.

* Correction (January 22, 2017): This conclusion is from the 2001 IOM review, not the 2004 review. (Thanks to Ali for pointing out my error in the comments.) When reading the Scientific American article, I recalled the IOM acknowledging that the hypothesis is “biologically plausible” so searched for that phrase in the 2004 report. It does appear exactly as it did in the 2001 report, but in my haste I didn’t notice this was in an appendix noting “Conclusions from Previous Reports”. The 2004 conclusions were as follows:

Causality Conclusions

The committee concludes that the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.

The committee concludes that the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and autism.

Biological Mechanisms Conclusions

In the absence of experimental or human evidence that vaccination (either the MMR vaccine or the preservative thimerosal) affects metabolic, developmental, immune, or other physiological or molecular mechanisms that are causally related to the development of autism, the committee concludes that the hypotheses generated to date are theoretical only.

Note that the IOM in the 2004 conclusions does not reject the biological plausibility. It is evident this revision to its conclusions was based more on politics than science. The IOM actually took the extraordinary step of recommending that no further studies be done examining whether there is a causal association between vaccines and autism:

The committee concludes that much more research must be conducted on autism. However, research should be directed towards those lines of inquiry most supported by the current state of knowledge. The vaccine hypotheses are not currently supported by the evidence.

In fact, transcripts from meeting records of the IOM from before they looked at the body of science on the hypothesis show clearly that they had already arrived at the predetermined conclusion that vaccines don’t cause autism. The concern was that public policy would be undermined with lower vaccination rates, and maintaining this public policy was placed above getting to the truth.

On committee member, Dr. McCormick, noted how they were “caught in a trap” because if if they searched for the truth and found an undesirable answer, public policy would be undermined. He also noted how the CDC wanted them to arrive at the conclusion that vaccine were safe. Furthermore, he declared that they were never going to conclude that vaccines could cause autism. Another member, Dr. Stratton, made clear that the outcome had to be arrived at from the premise that public policy must be maintained. Never mind the science. The fix was in.

In fact, while declaring that vaccines are safe and effective (and can’t cause autism), the government at the same time has compensated families through its Vaccine Injury Compensation Program for development of autism after vaccination. Former CDC Director Julie Gerberding (who left her government job to become president of Merck’s vaccine division) has acknowledged that vaccines can cause encephalopathy, which can in turn cause, as she put it, “symptoms that have characteristics of autism”.

I regret and apologize for my error but stand by my conclusion that the media’s reporting is based on the same kind of dogma we see with IOM committee members, who were more concerned with protecting public policy than protecting our children. Further examples abound, such as this one:

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

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  1. Ali

    Hi Jeremy,

    I think there may be a mixup with dates. The excerpt that it is biologically plausible appears in the IOM’s “Immunization safety review : thimerosal-containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders”, dated 2001. In IOM’s “Immunization safety review : vaccines and autism”, dated 2004, the summary actually says:

    The committee concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism. The committee further finds that potential biological mechanisms for vaccine-induced autism that have been generated to date are theoretical only.

    Here’s a direct link to IOM’s 2004 report:


    • Jeremy R. Hammond

      Thanks for pointing this out. I have made a correction.


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