Proceed with caution

One of the major advantages of a Yale-caliber education in science is the ability to critically evaluate work that appears before you. I am a molecular, cellular and developmental biology major and have spent a great deal of my time learning to read scientific literature. That is why, when I saw the News’ article (“Vaccines Linked to Mental Disorders by Yale Study” Feb. 21, 2017), I was disappointed by the author’s lack of critical assessment and accountability for public health.

The paper in question suggests that patients with certain neurological and psychiatric disorders were more likely to have received vaccinations in the three months prior to their diagnoses. The News’ article fails to understand some of its critical findings and errors.

Among other problems, the recently published paper buries beneficial results (such as a lowered incidence of depression) in favor of using the discussion section to focus on a purported heightened incidence of anorexia. This scientific venture was also self-funded, primarily run by nonscientists who have previously promoted the repeatedly debunked theory that vaccines predispose children to autism. The findings ignore a clear confounding variable: Children who visit the doctor more frequently will be vaccinated more frequently. Similarly, children who visit the doctor more frequently will have their mental disorders diagnosed at a higher incidence rate.

The News failed to adequately point out these, and other, shortcomings. The fact that one control group (children with broken bones) includes a statistically significant number of vaccinated children is not presented in those terms, for instance. That it is statistically significant is key and shows that either the statistical analysis of the paper or its methods of population selection are biased. Why? Because control groups are, by definition, supposed to show no effect from the treatment. This mistake, and the uncritical attitude with which the News article approaches such glaringly incorrect science, represent a failure of journalistic responsibility.

Then, the second half of the News’ article suffers from major scientific fallacies. It is — at best — an amateur discussion into biological causes and not fully supported by scientific evidence. It treats the psychological musings of one pathology professor as published literature, though it is at best anecdotal evidence, and also promotes a distrust of vaccine safety through its discussion of the Pandemrix vaccine (narcolepsy-inducing and brain-protein-cross-reacting), without mentioning that Pandemrix has never been approved for sale in the U.S. because of FDA standards.

It is this kind of insinuation that is so dangerous for public health in this country. Despite closing with a quotation from the study that still encourages vaccination, the damage has been done. The rest of this article has already done its small part to discredit the safety of vaccines and contribute to the recent resurgence of deadly diseases.

Daniel Packard
Branford 2018