Rant alert: Autism is NOT “the most devastating medical emergency of our time”

Something’s been gnawing at me over the past few days. What am I going to do? I’m going to blog about it, of course. Once again, profanity alert.
There is a paediatrician in California named Robert Sears. He is antivaccination through and through. He wrote something about autism in the following post (munged. I’m not linking to his lies) h-t_://tacanowblog.com/2014/04/02/so-autism-has-risen-another-30-in-two-years-to-1-in-68-who-cares/ that angers me greatly.

We can’t abandon science. The scientific method is important. What we NEED is for EVERYONE in the medical science community to ban together to figure this out. We need to start calling it for what it is: the most devastating medical emergency of our century.

That’s right. He called autism “the most devastating medical emergency of our century.”
Fuck that shit. And fuck you up the arse with a broken telephone pole Sears. We are NOT damaged goods. We are human beings who need understanding, compassion and support, not to be labelled like that. Oh, and I can think of things that are far more devastating than autism.
I’ve already spoken about Sarah’s death and attending her funeral. But that’s not the only thing. When I was still in Primary School, I attended the funeral of a classmate’s brother. The brother had had cancer. I still remember him at school with almost no hair from the chemotherapy.
There is one last thing. I know a woman named Andrea Lynne Slater on Facebook. We were also at school together. She had a son named Hudson.
Hudson had a congenital heart defect and died aged just four months. Andrea has set up The Hudson Initiative, to make Pulse Oxymetry a compulsory test for all newborns. She also blogs.
I’m alive and healthy. So are most autistic children. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who thinks that autism is worse than diabetes, cancer or congenital heart defects is wrong. Deludedly wrong.

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April update

Time for a quick roundup.
The CDC released the new autism rates right before April. The rate appears to be 1:68. Predictably, antivaxx groups are in a tizzy and arguing that this is proof that vaccines cause autism, never mind that the vaccine schedule has been steady for quite a few years now.
April is Autism Awareness month. Boycott Autism Speaks has kicked into high gear and is now petitioning sponsors of Autism Speaks to rethink their funding.
Lastly, some good news. The restaurant chain Chili’s periodically donates 10% of a day’s take to a charitable cause. Chili’s decided to have the National Autism Association as its recipient for April 7.
Despite its name, the NAA, like Age of Autism, is an antivaccination organisation masquerading as an autism advocacy one. When Chili’s announced the news, there was an outcry, with people urging them to reconsider.
Taken by surprise, Chili’s first responded with this comment on its Facebook page:

At Chili’s Grill & Bar, we’re about making every guest feel special and pride ourselves in giving back to our communities. When choosing a charitable partner for our Give Back Events, both locally and nationally, we are committed to supporting organizations dedicated to helping children and their families. The intent of this fundraiser was not to express a view on this matter, but rather to support the families affected by autism. Our choice to partner with the National Autism Association was based on the percentage of donations that would go directly to providing financial assistance to families and supporting programs that aid the development and safety of children with autism.

That vacuous and platitudinous response fooled nobody. The pressure continued, and finally Chili’s acquiesced.

Chili’s is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests.
We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili’s, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for your thoughtful questions and comments.

It looks like Chili’s decided to do something nice for Autism Awareness month, and chose to donate to an organisation that on the face of it supported autistics without doing proper research into the NAA. When the backlash occurred, Chili’s was taken completely by surprise and tried to placate the critics. When the anger continued, somebody investigated and found out that the NAA wasn’t quite what it claimed to be.
The NAA was rather upset at losing out on the donation, and has denied that it is antivaccine, even claiming that its website was out of date when it was pointed out that said website stated the vaccine causation theory. It has since emerged that the NAA is sponsoring a conference named “Give Autism a chance”. Featured speakers include Andrew Wakefield, Arthur Krigsman, Polly Tommey and Kim Stagliano. Three well known antivaccinationists and the man who cooked data to build a case that the MMR causes autism. I hate to be a bromide, but if it perambulates like an anatidaeid and vocalises like an anatidaeid…
There is a lesson here for all corporates: thoroughly check out any charity to which you intend to give a donation. The potential for embarrassment is high.
One pleasing fact has emerged from the fiasco, however. A few years ago, a donation like this to the NAA would have been protested, but not strongly enough to stop it. Today, there is enough awareness of the harm that organisations like the NAA do that the outrage forced Chili’s to change its plans.
The tide appears to be turning against antivaxxers.

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Some link love

I saw several things that were interesting over the past few weeks.
Cracked has an article about 5 conditions that were originally beneficial. No. 1 on the list? Autism. Unfortunately, it turns out the source of the claim was an article published in an evolutionary psychology magazine. It would appear that evolutionary psychology is viewed with scepticism by some.
Another, more recent Cracked article, is on fan theories about cartoons. I like articles like these a lot. But check out Item 3 on the list. More than plausible, I’d say.
Now for a more depressing news story (Trigger warning). Two teenage girls held an autistic boy at knifepoint, forced him to perform sexual acts with an animal and tortured him. The abuse occurred over several months.
Finally, some good news.
India has now been certified polio-free by the World Health Organisation.

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Problems with MMR storage and transport

I’m reading page 9 of the March 10th final edition of The Star.
South Africa has a large problem with MMR. According to the report, vaccines are being stored and transported at incorrect temperatures – either too hot or too cold – with the result that they are rendered useless, but are still being used as clinic staff don’t realise that they won’t work. Also, some clinics have been running out of vaccines so children going for vaccinations have had to be turned away. The end result is that outbreaks of measles are occurring. This is really worrying to those who know how dangerous the measles can be.
Some good news is that right below the article is another small article debunking myths about the MMR. Although it doesn’t mention Andrew Wakefield by name, it mentions that his work has been refuted, that he committed fraud and had conflicts of interest and that he has been struck off. Thank you The Star.

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I think it’s time to bring back wholecell pertussis vaccines

My 7 year old nephew is going for his booster shots this week, and I’ve been thinking about something related to that.
One of the boosters is the triple jab against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. There are two types used: TDaP and DTaP. In both, the pertussis component is acellular. The main difference between the two is that TDaP has reduced amounts of both the diphtheria and pertussis components.
The original triple vaccine for the three illnesses was the DTP (aka DPT and DTwP), licensed in 1949. The main difference between this vaccine and the acellular vaccines mentioned above is that DTP uses killed pertussis cells, while the acellular ones just use pertussis antigens.
DTP is potent and gives longer lasting immunity than the acellular vaccines, but was replaced by them due to a suspected higher risk of side effects.
According to this schedule, the vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis currently used in South Africa are: DTaP-IPV//Hib/HBV, a hexavalent vaccine that also protects against polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b and hepatitis B; DTaP-IPV//Hib, a pentavalent one that doesn’t contain a hep B component; Tdap-IPV, a quadrivalent one that excludes the Haemophilus influenzae type b component; and Td, which is a tetanus and reduced diphtheria vaccine only.
My belief is that it may be time to reconsider the use of whole-cell pertussis in vaccines. The EPI schedule uses four pentavalent shots and two Td shots while the Private Practice Option 1 uses the four pentavalent and two quadrivalent. There are whole cell alternatives to all the acellular vaccines. Reintroducing whole-cell vaccine may reduce the number of shots given. Some countries are already going this route.

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Worse than I thought, but not as bad as it could have been

So I completed the Midmar Mile.
As I expected, I did not break 30 minutes. To my intense disappointment, I took over 45 minutes. I was unwell and the water was choppy during the race, but I’m frustrated. 11 months of hard training for a time of over 45 minutes is a total wtf for me.
Bad as my race was, somebody has had a worse race. A Johannesburg businessman named Herman van Straten is missing. He was swimming in Event 3, but never reached the finish. He is feared dead.

Update

At 4:20pm on Thursday the 13th February, Herman van Straten’s body floated to the surface of the Midmar Dam and was recovered. Condolences to his family and fiancee.

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On Midmar and goals

Tomorrow, I will set off for KwaZulu-Natal with my parents. On Sunday, I will be swimming Event 6 in the Midmar Mile.
This will be tempered by a displeasing (for me) fact. My intention was to swim the mile in under 30 minutes. To that end, I have spent the past 11 months training hard. But I lost the whole of April to sickness. In addition, last week I had a throat infection. The doctor told me that I could do the race, but my goal of a sub-30 is no longer viable.
On a related note, Samantha Cowan of the Breakfast Express, Highveld Stereo’s 6 to 9 AM show, will be swimming the Eight Mile in aid of Breast Cancer awareness. The Eight Mile means she will be swimming the Midmar Mile eight times, four times a day for two days. Kudos to her, and I wish her more success than my sub-30 goal.

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