Responses to UBC vaccine paper a problem for free scientific inquiry and expression

By Tom Sandborn, Contributing Writer January 30, 2012

Vancouver scientist Chris Shaw is no stranger to controversy. He played a role in opposing the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, even penning an impressive polemic against the event called Five Ring Circus. He served as a medical coordinator at Occupy Vancouver and he even took on the thankless task of running for city council as a candidate for the upstart De-Growth Vancouver. (Full disclosure: I have known Shaw through his political activism now for several years.) You would think with so much controversy in his political life, he would play it safe in his professional work as a research scientist.

But no. Shaw, who is on faculty at UBC with the Departments of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences and Experimental Medicine and the Graduate Program in Neuroscience, and his colleague Lucija Tomljenovic have recently published a carefully parsed and thoroughly peer reviewed paper on vaccine safety, without a doubt one of the most controversial topics in medicine today. Despite the cautious and professional tone of the paper, and despite the authors’ clear statement that their findings are not in themselves decisive, only pointing to the need for more extensive research into vaccine safety, the paper, published in November 2011 in the Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry which describes correlations and possible causal links between increased exposure to aluminum salts used as adjuvants in vaccines and increased levels of neurological trouble in exposed populations, seems to inflame angry and punitive responses in some quarters.

For example, when I discussed the Tomljenovic/Shaw paper with Dr. Paul Offit, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a strong proponent of vaccines and the developer of a successful new vaccine that has made him a multi-millionaire, he told me that the paper “should never have been published,” despite the fact it was rigorously peer reviewed before publication. (Like many who want to insist that all questions of vaccine safety have been settled, Offit invokes the notorious Andrew Wakefield affair involving a now discredited and withdrawn paper published in The Lancet in 1998, which suggested a link between MMR vaccines and autism. Offit claims that paper is responsible for avoidable deaths as worried parents failed to vaccinate their children. Wakefield has recently filed a suit for defamation against Brian Deer, the investigative journalist whose work was central to the storm of criticism that surrounded the Lancet paper.)

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Read Dr. Shaw’s supporting research papers below:

Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevalence of autism

Mechanisms of aluminum adjuvant toxicity and autoimmunity in pediatric populations