Dr Richard Halvorsen, Babyjabs, and Single Vaccines: Misleading Advertising, Exaggeration, Harm & Offence
Dr Richard Halvorsen is the founder of Babyjabs, a clinic that offers single vaccines and baseless scaremongering about the MMR vaccine. I took a look at some of the claims on the Babyjabs website and submitted a complaint to the ASA.
Here’s what I complained about:
Most experts now agree that the large rise has been caused partly by increased diagnosis, but also by a real increase in the number of children with autism.
No citation is given for this claim. This paper: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/107/5/e84.short states that ‘Most data indicate increased recognition and reporting as primary factors, but the epidemiologic data are insufficient to determine if there has been a true increase in the incidence of ASD’, which seems to contradict the claim made on the Babyjabs website. In any case, there is no justification for Babyjabs using the reported increase in rates of autism to scaremonger about MMR or promote their single vaccines.
The ASA ruled that this claim breached CAP Code rules on misleading advertising, substantiation, exaggeration, harm and offence, and medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products.
Research, including large population studies, has since shown that the MMR is not causing the large majority of autism, but has been unable to exclude the possibility that it is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children.
This is misleading – there is no good reason to think that MMR is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children. Babyjabs cite four studies in support of this claim (see references 7-10 on the Babyjabs website). In the first paper (Madsen et al), they found that MMR-vaccinated children are less likely to be autistic than unvaccinated children: “After adjustment for potential confounders, the relative risk of autistic disorder in the group of vaccinated children, as compared with the unvaccinated group, was 0.92 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.68 to 1.24), and the relative risk of another autistic-spectrum disorder was 0.83 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.65 to 1.07)“. The first study cited by Babyjabs in support of their claim actually contradicts it.
It doesn’t get any better as you look at the other references. In the second paper, the authors found “evidence against a causal relation between MMR vaccination and the risk of autism”. In the third paper, which didn’t even look at MMR and autism, there was a decreased risk of inflammatory bowel disease in vaccinated children (which was only significant in children older than 18 months) In the fourth paper, the odds ratio for association between MMR and pervasive developmental disorder was 0.86 (95% CI 0.68-1.09) – again, the risk was lower in vaccinated children.
In three of the papers that Babyjabs cite to support their claim that research has been unable to rule out a possible link between MMR and autism in a small number of children, the papers actually indicate (if anything) lowered risk of autism and IBD. Babyjabs claim that these papers are “unable to exclude the possibility that it is causing autism in a small number of susceptible children” – in fact, if anything, these papers suggest there may be a protective effect.
If you’re going to cherry-pick evidence, at least cherry-pick evidence that actually supports your point of view.
This means that the vaccine could be causing autism in up to 10% of autistic children in the UK – between 300 and 400 children a year.
No substantiation is provided for this claim. The ASA thought that this claim, considered in the context of the previous one, was misleading. They ruled that it breached CAP Code rules on misleading advertising, substantiation, exaggeration, harm and offence, and medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products.
In response, the Babyjabs clinic have removed the claim and replaced it with an astonishing statement.
The Advertising Standards Authority has ordered BabyJabs to remove information relating to the alleged link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Though the medical authorities strongly refute any link between the MMR vaccine and autism we note that an Italian Court, based on independent medical advice, ruled in March 2012 that the MMR vaccine had caused autism in a 9 year old boy.
That’s right. Like the Daily Mail’s Sue Reid, Babyjabs want you to think that the MMR and autism issue is all about authority rather than evidence. And, like Sue Reid, they think a court judgement is relevant to a question that should be answered by scientific research.
Onto the next claim…
The vaccine strain measles virus has been found in the guts – and brains – of some autistic children; this research supports many parents’ beliefs that the MMR vaccine has caused autism in their children.
There is research that failed to substantiate reports of measles virus being found in autistic children. See http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/4/1664.short and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jmv.20585/abstract for examples. The ASA decided that this claim was in breach of the CAP Code on misleading advertising, substantiation, exaggeration, harm and offence, and medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products.
In the Babyjabs response, the utterly discredited Andrew Wakefield was cited, as was Richard Halvorsen’s own book (which I reviewed here).
The ASA ruling is here. They investigated three complaints and upheld all three, ruling that Babyjabs had breached rules on misleading advertising, substantiation, exaggeration, harm and offence, and medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products. Sadly, the Babyjabs page on MMR is still pretty awful. Perhaps another complaint is in order?
There are other oddities on the Babyjabs website. Here’s one example:
The MMR is no more effective than the single measles, mumps and rubella vaccines. In fact, the single mumps vaccine may be more effective than the mumps component of the MMR: the percentage of children protected against mumps by one dose of the single mumps vaccine is estimated to be 75%-97%, whereas the effectiveness of the mumps component of the MMR vaccine, calculated from an outbreak of mumps in North East London in 1998/9, is that a single dose is only 64% effective.
This implies that single vaccines are better than MMR. The Babyjabs clinic does not offer mumps vaccine (see http://www.babyjabs.co.uk/mmr_vaccines.htm), which therefore means that protection is only available against measles and rubella. Essentially, Babyjabs have been marketing the two single vaccines they do make available on the basis that three single vaccines might be better than a triple vaccine. How the relevant effectiveness of a vaccine that Babyjabs do not offer is a selling point for single vaccines is beyond me.
Update, 1st November 2012
Along with 14 others, I submitted a complaint to the ASA (independently of the others) regarding the text of the amended information on the Babyjabs website. The ASA upheld this complaint regarding substantiation and also upheld their own complaint regarding marketing of Prescription-Only Medicines to the general public.
The ad must not appear in its current form. We told BabyJabs to ensure they did not advertise POMs to the public without the necessary approval.