NEW YORK, NY (November 11, 2009) – Autism Speaks is encouraged by yesterday's decision of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to include vaccine research studies in the objectives of the updated Strategic Plan for Autism Research. The new language, approved unanimously, calls for studies to determine if there are sub-populations that are more susceptible to environmental exposures such as immune challenges related to naturally occurring infections, vaccines or underlying immune problems. "This revised plan is an important step toward a more comprehensive approach to exploring the wide range of risk factors that may be contributing to autism," said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer.
IACC met yesterday at the NIMH in Rockville, Md., to discuss the Strategic Plan. As mandated by the Combating Autism Act (CAA), the IACC must develop and annually update a strategic plan for the conduct of, and support for, autism spectrum disorder research, including proposed budgetary requirements. In gathering Congressional support for the CAA, members of Congress specified that all possible causes of autism – including vaccines – be studied. The plan, which is intended to represent a collaborative effort between federal officials and public members who represent the autism community, has been under revision following passage of the first iteration in February.
Anita Miller Sostek, Ph.D., Autism Speaks' vice president of scientific review and operations, provided a detailed statement to the IACC in advance of today's meeting outlining key concerns, focusing on the need to comply with CAA's legislative intent; support rigorous, evidence-based scientific research into all aspects of autism from potential causes, to diagnosis and treatments; and through rigorous and evidence-based science, engender the trust of the scientific, medical and entire autism community. The full statement is attached.
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.
About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks funds more than $30 million each year in new autism research, including support for the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, Autism Clinical Trials Network, Autism Tissue Program and a range of other scientific and medical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning, multi-year national public service advertising campaign with the Ad Council. Autism Speaks' family services efforts include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and the distribution of community grants to local service providers. Its government relations department, through its Autism Votes initiative, has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the federal government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to require insurers to cover medically-necessary autism therapies. Each year, Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism Speaks fundraising events are held in more than 80 cities across the country, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.
STATEMENT OF AUTISM SPEAKS ON VACCINE SAFETY RESEARCH AND THE IACC STRATEGIC PLAN FOR AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER RESEARCH
Autism Speaks is the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization. We are dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism; to raising awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bringing hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder. Consistent with these purposes, we make the following statement.
In enacting the Combating Autism Act (CAA), Congress intended that the federal government examine potential links between vaccines and autism. During the Senate debate over the CAA, Mike Enzi, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, instructed that "no research avenue should be eliminated, including biomedical research examining potential links between vaccines, vaccine components, and autism spectrum disorder." 152 Cong. Rec. S8772 (Aug. 3, 2006). In the House, Joe Barton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, was equally clear: "[T]he legislation rightfully calls for renewed efforts to study all possible causes of autism – including vaccines and other environmental causes… The important thing to understand is that there are no preconceived notions contained in this bill; the bill language is clear that we should follow every avenue that science opens to us in searching for a cure." 152 Cong. Rec. H8787 (Dec. 6, 2006)
Beyond this clear directive of the CAA, Autism Speaks supports rigorous, evidence-based scientific research onto all aspects of autism from potential causes, including both genetic and environmental factors, to diagnosis and treatments. As such, we strongly urge that further vaccine safety research be included in the Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research. Comprehensive "good" science should be the standard in all areas studied and there are aspects of vaccine safety research that have not yet been, and should be, considered.
It is also essential that all scientific research recommended by IACC and funded by the NIH be rigorous and evidence-based to engender the trust of the scientific, medical and entire autism community. Without a solid foundation that supports confidence in scientific conclusion, the entire portfolio of scientific research is at risk of losing community trust. Further, vaccine safety research will increase both the level of confidence in the safety of our nation's vaccine program and the rate of participation, which is absolutely crucial for the prevention of serious infectious diseases.
Autism Speaks calls on the IACC to consider the importance of evidence-based science, trust, and to remain true to the critical legislative purpose of the Combating Autism Act and asks the IACC to include vaccine safety research in the strategic plan.