The University of British Columbia is defending two of its researchers who have published vaccine-related studies discredited by the World Health Organization and described by several medical experts as weak and misleading.
Organizations that promote messages about the dangers of vaccines, such as the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI), have used the results of the UBC research as evidence that vaccines cause autism and other serious harm. The front page of the CMSRI website states that in a “landmark” 2013 paper, the two UBC researchers show that “the more children receive vaccines with aluminum adjuvants, the greater their chance is of developing autism, autoimmune diseases and neurological problems later in life.” In that study, the researchers note that the rate of autism spectrum disorders increased along with the number of pediatric vaccines that contain aluminum.
The findings do not show that the vaccines caused the rates of autism to climb, and making that leap is scientifically irresponsible, said Michael Gardam, director of infection prevention and control at the University Health Network in Toronto. Correlation does not mean causation, he said, adding that kids are also exposed to more junk food these days, but that does not mean it causes autism.
“This is really disturbing stuff,” Dr. Gardam said. “I’m not saying it’s disturbing because people may … question vaccines.” He said the problem for him is that the conclusions are misleading.
UBC declined an interview request on Wednesday. In an e-mail, Helen Burt, associate vice-president research and international, said the school “holds dear the value of academic freedom that allows faculty to challenge any and all established conventions.”
David Juurlink, head of the division of clinical pharmacology and toxicology at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said the researchers appear convinced aluminum in vaccines is dangerous, even though the amounts are too small to have any ill effects.
“The lines of reasoning used to support their various assertions are exceedingly thin, and in several instances, they draw inferences from their data that no objective reader could possibly draw,” Dr. Juurlink said in an e-mail.