John Moore/Getty Images Medical assistant Elissa Ortivez draws an MMR vaccination at the Spanish Peaks Outreach Clinic in Walsenburg, Colorado.

A controversial conference on the safety of vaccines is set to be held at Simon Fraser University Tuesday, drawing criticism from experts who charge it is akin to SFU sanctioning a debate on the widely accepted theory of evolution.

The Vancouver group claims to have 10,000 to 50,000 supporters globally, most of them parents concerned about the debunked 1998 hypothesis that the vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) causes autism.

Dr. Paul Offit is chief of pediatric immunology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and one of the most public faces of the scientific consensus that vaccines do not cause autism. Citing 20 peer-reviewed studies that have settled the question (for a list with links, click here), he said parents who are truly concerned should read the primary literature rather than seek out alternative opinions on the Internet.

“The results have been clear and consistent and reproducible, which is that vaccines don’t cause autism,” he said.

“If vaccines caused it in one in 100,000 people it would easily be picked up in a retrospective study, and it hasn’t been picked up, for one of two reasons: Either, one, because it’s not there to be picked up, or two, because there’s a vast international conspiracy to hide the truth. I’m going to go with A.”

Joel Lord, the Vancouver-based founder of the Vaccine Resistance Movement, is going to go with B. When asked why there are no studies supporting the purported link between autism and vaccines, he claimed “vaccine injuries” often go unreported, both because parents are ashamed to report them and because scientific dissidents can’t get their studies funded.

“Autism used to be one in 20,000,” he said. “It is now as high as one in 38, which converts to one in 30 in boys, because boys are four times more likely to succumb to autism.”

The CDC actually estimates one in 88 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder, and immunologists believe that is likely being driven by broadened diagnostic criteria and increased awareness.

Among those set to speak at SFU’s downtown campus Tuesday are a PhD immunologist, a naturopath, and an independent researcher, as well as the parents of five children who claim their kids were harmed or killed by vaccines.

Reached by phone in Philadelphia on Monday, Dr. Offit had his own anecdote to share.

“I was on service two weeks ago and there were three children who came into our hospital with vaccine-preventable diseases, and in each case the parent hadn’t given them that vaccine, ” he said.

“One of those three children died.

“I just think people play with fire here, and if people really want to feel compelled to get vaccines, as compelled as I was to give them to my children, work in a big city hospital and see what happens.”

What: Vaccine Summit: Vancouver 2013
Where: SFU Downtown Campus, 515 Hastings St., Fletcher Challenge room
When: Tuesday, March 12, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Suggested donation: $25

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