First, allow me to attempt to introduce the situation in a nutshell for those who may not have heard: It all started when William Thompson, a long-time scientist working for the CDC, decided in 2014 to confess a purported cover-up of an initial finding of a 2004 MMR-autism study that he co-authored: A supposed significant correlation between MMR vaccination and autism among African American (AA) boys who received the vaccination before 36 months old.
Rather than pursuing legitimate avenues to “blow the whistle,” Thompson oddly decided to confess his purported secret and guilt to a rabidly anti-vaccine father of an autistic child, Brian Hooker, who is also a plaintiff in an active Vaccine Court case.
Hooker then shared hidden recordings (Thompson wasn’t aware he was being recorded) with the discredited Andrew Wakefield (who had been struck-off the UK’s medical register for misconduct).
Wakefield then published an irresponsible, fear-mongering video to the Internet. Anti-vaccine websites had a field day; mainstream media mostly ignored it — maybe because it sounds fishy and the media were previously chastised for having believed and spread Wakefield’s own claims of finding an MMR-autism link, later totally discredited thanks to extensive investigation by journalist Brian Deer.
In 2014, Hooker conducted a poorly designed study using the same CDC data as was used in the 2004 CDC study (so much for the accusation that the CDC destroyed data), soon retracted by the publisher. He claimed to have found a very strong association between MMR vaccination and autism among African American boys vaccinated between 24 and 31 months old.
Interesting is that, even with this mess he called a scientific study, he did not find any autism link among AA boys who received the vaccine earlier than 24 months old, as CDC guidelines recommend, nor after 31 months old, nor among AA girls or children of any other ethnicity regardless of when they received the vaccination. But he and others accusing the CDC of a cover up tend to neglect to highlight or even mention this part — except when attempting to specifically alarm the African American community.
One of my favorite skeptic/rational sites has been analyzing, speculating, and exposing the facts of the situation in great detail as events unfold: Science Based Medicine.
And I want to recommend another webpage I recently visited, providing a rational, thorough and yet concise, up-to-date FAQ on the matter, “MMR, the CDC and Brian Hooker: A Guide for Parents and the Media” by Harpocrates Speaks. This is the conclusion on that Harpocrates Speaks page, for those who just want to cut to the chase:
The Bottom Line
Despite much noise being made by the small, yet incredibly vocal, anti-vaccine community, there is no evidence of fraud on the part of the CDC, nor is there convincing evidence of any cover-up. Brian S. Hooker’s study contains a number of flaws leading to a spurious, and biologically implausible, conclusion. In fact, the quality of the study is such that the journal that published it withdrew it pending further investigation, citing serious concerns about the validity and potential conflicts of interest. This entire issue is, in reality, much ado about nothing. It is just another example of anti-vaccine activists doing bad science to put your children at greater risk of harm, all because they cannot accept their own children as they are.
The CDC published a statement in December 2015 about the 2004 study in question, in response to the manufactured controversy, entitled: CDC Statement Regarding 2004 Pediatrics Article, “Age at First Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccination in Children With Autism and School-matched Control Subjects: A Population-Based Study in Metropolitan Atlanta”. They point out, among other things:
The study looked at different age groups: children vaccinated by 18 months, 24 months, and 36 months. The findings revealed that vaccination between 24 and 36 months was slightly more common among children with autism, and that association was strongest among children 3-5 years of age. The authors reported this finding was most likely a result of immunization requirements for preschool special education program attendance in children with autism.
(This page last updated 4/25/2016.)