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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

COVID: To Get Vaccinated Or Not To Get Vaccinated

Stimulated by a Sociologist's Scholarly
Anti-Vaccination Book: Part 3

Elliot Benjamin

In Part 2 of this essay series [1], I opened the vaccine can of worms with aluminum adjuvants. Now that the can of worms has been opened, let's see what else is in the can.

Vaccines and the Immune System

As House [2] has conveyed in regard to Cernic's [3] description of possible dangers that vaccines pose to the immune system:

“For Cernic, there are two broad risks stemming from current child vaccination programmes [sic]: the disruption of the delicate balance of immune mediators needed for normal brain development; and the magnification of an inflammatory response. . . . Moreover, 'The repetitive taxing of the immune system by high doses of Al [aluminum] adjuvants may also cause a state of immune hyperactivity, a known risk of autoimmune diseases.” (House, 2021, p. 14; bold font as used by Cernic; the last quote is from Cernic's reference to a 2012 article by Tomljenovic and Shaw)
Ideological Constructs of Vaccination

The potential threats to the immune system from vaccines that Cernic described are further conveyed by House in the following quote from Cernic:

“Immunity of the infant immune system is a normal and natural, not a pathological condition. It is not something that should be 'fixed' or 'repaired' or interfered with. On the contrary, interference. . . leads to [an] impaired and damaged immune system. . . . '[I]t is not reasonable to assume that manipulation of the immune system through an increasing number of vaccinations during critical periods of brain development will not result in adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes.' [this last quote is from Cernic's reference to a 2012 article by Sienkiewics et al., which she did not include in her references]. . . . 'Currently available vaccines have largely been developed empirically, with little or no understanding on how they activate the immune system.' (House, 2021, p. 14; this last quote is from Cernic's reference to a 2013 article by Siegrist)

So how legitimate are Cernic's concerns about the potential threats of vaccines to the immune system? To give at least a plausible answer to this question, once again it is necessary to explore other perspectives about the issue, and especially to explore other perspectives that are based upon legitimate scientific research. In this regard, here are some possible answers to this question that I believe are based upon legitimate scientific research [4], [5]:

  • “No mechanisms have been demonstrated to explain how vaccines could cause autoimmune diseases
  • Epidemiologic studies have not supported the hypothesis that vaccines cause autoimmune diseases
  • Childhood vaccines do not cause long-lasting, gross alterations of the immune system
  • Epidemiologic studies have not found an increased risk of disease or developmental disorders according to the number of vaccines or vaccine antigens received in early childhood.” (DeStefano et al., 2019, p. 2)
“The postulated link between vaccination and auto-immune conditions has been extensively explored through controlled trials, observational studies, and epidemiological analysis in multiple countries and sub-populations. . . . Temporal association of autoimmune disease with vaccination is not sufficient to support a causal relationship and global evidence supports the fact that vaccines do not increase the risk of auto-immune disease. One of the challenges associated with the continued generation of safety monitoring data is that temporal but not causal relationships will be observed, which could pose further challenges for communication when taken in haste, out of context, and in the absence of the overall body of evidence. . . . The available evidence did not support the hypothesis that vaccines, as currently used, weaken or harm the immune system. . . . There is strong evidence on the ability of the immune system to handle multiple vaccinations, either in combination or when administered simultaneously.” (Conklin et al, 2019, pp. 7, 9)

So have the immune system dangers from vaccines that Cernic conveyed been put to rest? I would not venture to say that they have been “definitively” put to rest, but I do think they have been largely discounted. In this regard, here is a brief historical overview of some detrimental neurological reactions to some particular vaccines in the past in comparison to the claimed relative safety of present day vaccines [6]:

“In truth, vaccinations may elicit serious adverse reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, which is actually a very rare occurrence. . . . It cannot be denied that the old vaccines against rabies and smallpox and the oral polio vaccine could cause serious, albeit rare, neurological reactions. However, by the early twentieth century enormous progress had been made in terms of the design, development and quality control of vaccines. Thus, in most cases, only mild and transient side effects can now be expected after vaccination.” (Gasparini et al., 2015, p. 8)

Now I must admit that the phrase “in most cases” in the last sentence of this quote leaves me feeling somewhat unsettled. And this is especially the case in regard to my primary focus in this whole essay series on getting vaccinated, which is COVID. But once again the bottom line for me is that I believe the pros outweigh the cons for getting the COVID-19 vaccination, and I am in agreement with the following summary of this perspective [7]:

“The administration of a new vaccine must always be carefully associated with a rigorous study of its safety. This is particularly important because a vaccine is not a drug for sick people at risk of dying, but rather a treatment that is given to those who are well to prevent the risk of falling ill. . . . The race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is not only justified but necessary. However, the time required to evaluate the dangers and risks that may arise from a new vaccine must be included in its development. In some cases, vaccines prepared against other coronaviruses or other viruses have worsened the disease. . . . These issues must be carefully evaluated and excluded before a new COVID-19 vaccine is distributed to combat the pandemic or its subsequent outbreaks. . . . As we are completing this briefing, the COVID-19 vaccines are on the way. Currently, fresh data from Phase lll trials are permitting vaccine registration.” (Forni et al, 2021, pp. 26-27, 31)

And it is now time to tackle a particularly vicious can of vaccine worms, which is autism.

Vaccines and Autism

Case Studies

Before embarking on a discussion of the merits of Cernic's argument that vaccines have contributed significantly to the escalation of autism, it is important to take note of the prevalent use that Cernic has made of individual case studies and parental reports. As summarized by House:

“The importance of case studies is returned to at a number of points throughout the book [by Cernic]. . . Thus, we read that 'field reports and “anecdotal cases” are an indispensable detector of those consequences and actions of pharmaceuticals which were missed or overlooked by clinical studies. . . Disregarding “anecdotal cases” represents a serious obstacle for the attainment of a more comprehensive scientific understanding. . . . [Statistical analysis] should not stand alone but should be used together with other modes of research to piece a clearer picture.'” (House, 2021, p. 15)

Suffice it to say that in this regard, I agree completely with Cernic (and House). Case studies is one of the standard methodologies in qualitative research, which focuses upon individual experience, and I have served as a mentor/doctoral committee chair to a number of Ph.D psychology students at Capella University who have used a qualitative research methodology. My professional research as a humanistic psychologist is completely focused on qualitative research, and I agree with Cernic (and House) that this is a valid and valuable form of research that should serve as a bona fide counterpart to statistical quantitative research. It is also now recognized as such in the Methodology division of the American Psychological Association.

Cernic's “Vaccines Cause Autism” Argument

O.K. let's delve into the vaccine/autism argument, again from both Cernic's perspective and then from different perspectives. To begin with, here is House's summary of what Cernic believes:

“'It is not true that all (reliable and methodologically correct) studies have failed to show any connection between autism and vaccines. It is also not true that there is no plausible evidence that vaccines cause autism. On the contrary, there is a very strong biological plausibility [where the latter is defined as the existence of a physiological mechanism which can explain a causal association]'. . . . And she maintains that in autism, we observe 'both the clustering phenomenon (the occurrence of autistic disorders after vaccination in previously healthy children) and a very high biological probability. . . , indicating that vaccination is one of the factors causing autism spectrum disorders.'” (House, 2021, pp. 15-16)

To accentuate Cernic's argument, House described Cernic's report of research that found a highly significant factor of researcher bias regarding the link between vaccines and autism, which she summarized as follows: “'The dramatic discrepancy in these results. . . provides evidence of biased outcomes, indicative of a conflict of interest'” (House, p. 16). And in regard to the argument that the tremendous increase in autism we have witnessed in recent years is solely a function of changes in methodology and increased diagnosis and detection of autism, House described Cernic's response as follows:

“Cernic deems 'absurd and unfounded' the claims that changing diagnostic procedures and better detection account for the dramatic increase in diagnosed cases. . . . from 1980 to 2016. . . the number of children diagnosed with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder] rose 41-fold, from 1 in 1470 to 1 in 36. . . . For Cernic,'This data is unbelievable. . . . Such a drastic increase in such a short time period cannot be attributed to changes in methodology, diagnostic criteria or better detection. . . . It is crystal clear that environmental factors are responsible for it. . . the only possible cause.'” (House, 2021, p. 16; bold font as used by Cernic and italics as used by House (all these associated numbers were in bold font by Cernic))

To add to all this, House included what he considers to be a crucial point made by Cernic:

“Cernic also makes the crucial point that explains why some children are more susceptible to vaccine toxicity than others; for 'a child with a strong constitution, healthy gut flora and effective and unimpaired detoxification. . . can usually sustain numerous vaccine doses without apparent damage. Weaker child[ren] will succumb earlier, after a few or even after a single vaccination.'” (House, 2021, p. 17)

Finally, House described some components of vaccines that Cernic thinks may cause autism:

“Cernic then argues that there are 'numerous components' of vaccines that are 'deleterious' to the body. . . focusing specifically on mercury (Hg…) and Aluminum adjuvants. . . . She lists four 'striking similarities' between autism and Hg poisoning. . . showing that Hg is a neurodevelopmental poison. The controversial MMR vaccine is then considered, which, we are told, contains live viruses and entails the risk of vaccine-induced infection, which is especially dangerous for young children with a natural immune system that is impaired. . . . Cernic maintains that the MMR can cause 'chronic, often atypical and latent infection with measles-vaccine virus. The chronic, vaccine-induced measles infection is what causes autism. . . . This. . . vaccine-induced infection. . . causes neurological symptoms. It induces the autoimmune reaction, localized in the brains of autistic children'” (House, 2021, p. 17; bold font by Cernic)
Faulty “Vaccines Cause Autism” Research
Mateja Cernic
Mateja Cernic

Before illustrating some of the counter-arguments to what Cernic has presented for vaccines causing autism, it is important to mention that throughout her book, Cernic made considerable reference to the researchers Tomljenovic and Shaw, inclusive of her section on aluminum adjuvants and autism. However, it is also the case that these researchers have engaged in serious and extensive faulty research to produce their results that link vaccines with autism, and this casts a dark shadow on Cernic's above claims [5], [8]:

“The committee [Global Advisory Committee for Vaccine Safety; GACVC] reviewed the evidence from 2 papers [2011 papers by Tomljenovic, and Tomljenovic & Shaw] alleging an association between aluminum and autism spectrum disorders. . . . GACVS found the studies to be seriously flawed and asserted that ecological studies should not be used to assess a causal association because they are unable to link exposure outcomes to individuals. . . . In addition, the studies had several important limitations including incorrect assumptions about known associations of aluminum with neurological disease, uncertain accuracy of the autism spectrum disorder prevalence rates in different countries, and uncertain accuracy of vaccination schedules and resulting calculations of aluminum doses in different countries.” (Conkin et al, 2019, p. 7)
“The paper, about the effects of aluminum adjuvants in vaccines on the immune response in the brains of mice, is the second retraction for co-authors Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic. . . . Just over a month old, the paper has already received plenty of criticism. Numerous commenters on PubPeer have allegedly identified image duplications and other problems with the paper. One commenter described 'clear and deliberate' removal of control results in the paper, while others suggested gel bands were duplicated within the paper, and appear similar to those from another paper published in 2014 by Shaw and Tomljenovic. In a blog post, David Gorski, a professor and surgeon at Wayne State University, called the paper 'antivaccine pseudoscience.'. . . . Gorsksi wrote: given Shaw and Tomljenovic's history, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of this study as well. . . At best, what we have here are researchers with little or no expertise in very basic molecular biology techniques using old methodology that isn't very accurate overinterpreting the differences in gene and protein levels that they found. At worst, what we have are antivaccine 'researchers' who are not out for scientific accuracy but who actually want to promote the idea that vaccines cause autism. . . . If this were a first offense, I'd give Shaw and Tomljenovic the benefit of the doubt, but this is far from their first offense.” (Retraction Watch, 2017, pp. 1-2)

And this kind of faulty research that Cernic relied on for her assertion that vaccines cause autism has quite a sordid beginning. The whole “vaccines cause autism” controversy actually began with a 1998 British research paper led by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, which has been described as follows [9]:

“The debate began in 1998 when British researchers published a paper stating that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism. The paper itself was officially labeled 'fraud' by England's General Medical Counsel, but it triggered a lot of debate of the vaccine which continues to this day [June 2, 2020]. The study looked at only 12 children, but it received a lot of publicity because at the same time, there was a rapid increase in the number of kids diagnosed with the condition. The paper's findings led other doctors to do their own research into the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. At least 12 follow-up studies were done. None found any evidence the vaccine caused autism. The investigation into the 1998 study also uncovered a number of problems with how it was conducted. The journal that published it eventually retracted it. That meant the publication no longer stood by the results. In 2010, the General Medical Counsel declared that the paper was not only based on bad science, but was deliberate fraud and falsifications by the head researchers, [sic] Dr. Andrew Wakefield and revoked his medical license. Investigators learned that a lawyer looking for a link between the vaccine and autism had paid Wakefield more than £435,000 (equal to more than a half-million dollars).” (Brennan, 2020, pp. 1-2)

And here is Cernic's response to this flagrant and destructive ethical research violation:

“Perhaps the most infamous case from the field of (non-)vaccination is that of Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Since he dared to express the possibility of a link between vaccination and the appearance of autism, he was—when his research had become too popular—met with public lynching, a complete personal and professional discreditation, revocation of his medical license and litigation. He was neither the first nor the last to emphasize the link between vaccination and autism, but for whatever reason he was singled out “to be made an example of for others.” His story (i.e. a set of lies, half-truths and insinuations that was spread around him) is too complex to be examined and deconstructed here in any detail, but it is without doubt a vivid illustration of (unjustified) lynching.” (Cernic, 2018, p. 21)

This statement by Cernic sounds to me like it is coming from a conspiracy theorist rather than from a scientist. Putting this together with her reliance throughout her book on two researchers who also have quite a shady research record, and her complete lack of addressing different perspectives on vaccination from her own anti-vaccination perspective, this all certainly raises a number of red flags for me. But before taking a look at some of these different perspectives, here is some relevant additional information about the Wakefield study [10] that for me makes Cernic's above statement even more alarming.

“He [journalist Brian Deer] draws on interviews, documents and data made public at the General Medical Council (GMC) hearings and shows how Wakefield altered numerous facts about the patients' medical histories to support his claims of having discovered a new syndrome. . . . he 'sought to exploit the ensuing MMR scare for financial gain'. . . . The truth is that three of nine children reported with regressive autism did not receive an autism diagnosis. Only one child clearly had regressive autism. In addition, five children had documented preexisting developmental concerns, despite that the study reported that all 12 children were “previously normal.” Deer's investigation also uncovered truths about additional claims made in the original study. . . . It is striking that while some consider “big pharma” to be an evil force in health care, the interest groups behind vaccine bashing are not subjected to enough, and certainly not equal scrutiny. They constitute an industry and clearly, as in the case with Wakefield, they have profit motives of their own. . . . Because of this paper, four children died. I think it could be argued that this paper killed four children. There are a lot of people with dirty hands. . . the editor of the journal, the media that followed the story ravenously, etc., even though there was scant evidence. (Infectious Diseases in Children, 2011, pp. 1, 3)
Different Perspectives from Cernic on “Vaccines Cause Autism”

Finally, let's take a look specifically at some perspectives on the “vaccines cause autism” controversy that are quite different from that of Cernic [5], [9]:

“Large studies from Denmark, the United Kingdom and the United States comprising more than 690,000 children have evaluated the association between thiomersal-containing vaccines and autism [thiomersal is metabolized into ethylmercury, an organic mercury compound] and have all reached the same conclusion, there is no evidence that thiomersal-containing vaccines increase the risk of autism. . . . Results showed no association between thiomersal and increased risk of neuropsychological outcomes. . . . The Danish researchers revisited the MMR autism issue in 2019. In a new cohort of 657,461 children not included in the two previous studies, there was no association between MMR vaccination and autism. . . . A common response to the many well-conducted observational studies reporting no association, have been the claims of vulnerable subgroups of children or specific vaccine-induced phenotypes of autism. These claims are also not supported by observational research. . . . Two common arguments raised by proponents of the link between vaccination and autism have been the many anecdotal observations of autism signs developing shortly after, or even immediately after, vaccination, and a supposed autism epidemic coinciding with vaccine introduction. First, it is important to recognize that onset of autism symptoms coincides with the scheduled age of vaccination and that purely by chance some parents will observe early autistic signs after vaccination. Second, the notion of an autism epidemic is disputed and increased recognition of the condition, including the less debilitating manifestations on the autistic spectrum, together with the fact that a diagnosis is often needed for government help and support, are major contributing explanations for any increases in autism diagnoses reported in many countries. (Conklin et al, 2019, pp. 4-6)
“Researchers have also looked to see if all the vaccines required before age 2 somehow together triggered autism. Children receive 25 shots in the first 15 months of life. Some people feared that getting all those shots so early in life could lead to the development of autism, but there is no evidence that this is true. But the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] compared groups of children who received vaccines on the recommended schedule and those whose vaccines were delayed or didn't get them at all. There was no difference in the autism rate between the two groups. In 2004, the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine published a report on the topic. The group looked at all the studies on vaccines and autism, both published and unpublished. It released a 200-page report stating there was no evidence to support a link between vaccines and autism. Still, studies continue to look at the issue. In 2019, the largest study to date looked at almost 660-thousand children over a course of 11 years and found no link between the vaccine and autism.” (Brennan, 2020, pp. 3-4)

And here is a perspective regarding a possible increase in autism diagnosis that is related to concerns about an autism misdiagnosis of gifted children, which perhaps has increased in recent years, that I discussed in my book The Creative Artist, Mental Health, and Mental Disturbance [11]:

“Along the lines of multiple intelligences, the phenomenon known as 'indigo children' has recently been gaining public attention and recognition, though there is certainly a divergence of views held in regard to the alleged gifted nature of these children . . . . who appeared to have highly developed psychic abilities but who often were labeled as 'autistic.' These children were generally highly creative and extremely sensitive to feelings and 'vibrations,' both in their immediate environment and in far-away places, sometimes thousands of miles away. . . . Their exceptional artistic and creative and psychic abilities have been well documented, and their social challenges and difficulties are common knowledge. . . . It leaves one to speculate how many children who have been diagnosed as autistic may be actually indigo children in disguise.” (Benjamin, 2020, pp. 121-122)

Conclusion: Do Vaccines Cause Autism?

So what do I think about the possibility that vaccines cause autism, now that this whole can of vicious worms have gotten out and we have examined them carefully from all sides? Well I think the scientific evidence speaks for itself that there is no scientific basis to conclude that, generally speaking, vaccines cause autism. However, I included the phrase “generally speaking” here, as all the case study reports that Cernic furnished of parents whose children developed autism signs after getting vaccinated, is something that I believe needs to be continually monitored. The above description that did not find any evidence of vaccines causing autism in various anecdotal reports used observational methods, and I must agree with Cernic that these observational methods may very well not be thorough enough. Some of the methodological flaws that Cernic listed for vaccine safety and effectiveness studies, as I included in Part 2 of this essay series [1], may be relevant in the above anecdotal report findings, namely that pharmacokinetic studies are not mandatory and that side effects are literally observed.

I think it is possible that there is “some” degree of truth in Cernic's belief, described above, that “for a child with a strong constitution, healthy gut flora and effective and unimpaired detoxification can usually sustain numerous vaccine doses without apparent damage. Weaker children will succumb earlier, after a few or even after a single vaccination.” And I also must agree with Cernic that more thorough methodological research approaches should be utilized to monitor and test this hypothesis.

However, I disagree with Cernic that in regard to the extreme increase in number of children diagnosed with autism in recent years, that “such a drastic increase in such a short time period cannot be attributed to changes in methodology, diagnostic criteria or better detection. It is crystal clear that environmental factors are responsible for it—the only possible cause.” (see above) I don't think Cernic understands the enormous sweeping effects that increased diagnosis (and misdiagnosis) and classification (and misclassification) can have on the reported number of children with autism. But I think we have seen enough evidence here for me to close the can of these vicious worms, at least at the present time, with the working statement that “generally speaking,” I do not believe vaccines cause autism. And let's see what is left to tackle about the whole COVID vaccination controversy in the remaining parts of this essay series: Part 4 coming up next.

References

  1. See Elliot Benjamin (2021). COVID: To Get Vaccinated Or Not To Get Vaccinated: Stimulated by a Sociologist's Scholarly Anti-Vaccination Book: Part 2. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net
  2. See Richard House (2021). Book Review Summary: “Ontological Constructs of Vaccination” by Mateja Cernic, Ph.D. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/cernic-vacc-review
  3. See Mateja Cernic (2018). Ideological Constructs of Vaccination. Vega Press.
  4. See Frank DeStefano, Heathre Monk Bodenstab, & Paul A. Offit (2019). Principal Controversies in Vaccine Safety in the United States. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  5. See Laura Conkin, Anders Hvlid, Walt Orenstein, Andrew Pollard, Melinda Wharton, & Patrick Zuber (2019). Vaccine Safety Issues at the Turn of the 21st Century. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/
  6. See R. Gasparini, d. Panatto, P. L. Lai, & D. Amicizia (2015). The “Urban Myth” of the Association Between Neurological Disorders and Vaccinations. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  7. See Guido Forni, & Alberto Mantovan (2021). COVID-19 Vaccines: Where We Stand and Challenges Ahead. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com
  8. See Retraction Watch (2017). Journal to Retract Paper Called “Anti-vaccine Pseudoscience.” Retrieved from https://retractionwatch.com
  9. See Dan Brennan (2020). Do Vaccines Cause Autism? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com
  10. See Infectious Diseases in Children (2011). Wakefield Study Linking MMR Vaccine, Autism Uncovered as Complete Fraud. Retrieved from https://www.healio.com
  11. See Elliot Benjamin (2020). The Creative Artist, Mental Health, and Mental Disturbance (3rd ed.). Natural Dimension Publications.






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