Parents are understandably concerned about vaccines and autism, a relationship publicized by lawsuits, alternative therapies, and claims of government cover-up.
Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism
Parents are understandably concerned about vaccines and autism, a relationship publicized by lawsuits, alternative therapies, and claims of government cover-up. Here we summarize the overwhelming medical evidence that most autism is genetic, that the number of children with autism did not increase after vaccines were introduced, and that cases of autism did not decline after the preservative thimerosal was removed from vaccines.1,2
Without vaccination, your child returns to the era of primitive medicine-when children suffocated from diphtherial membranes, when chickenpox caused scarring and occasional death, when measles could produce life-long coma, and when mumps silently destroyed reproductive organs. Although some will reassure you that widespread vaccination (herd immunity) protects your child, recent epidemics in vaccine-shy areas show that risks from disease remain far greater than risks from immunizations.
WHAT IS AUTISM?
Autism disorder was first identified in 1943 by Kanner who described children with impaired communication, impaired social interactions, or repetitive movements and routines. Advances in genetics later showed that children with various forms of mental disability, including Down or fragile X syndromes, could have autism. When known genetic disorders are excluded, a diagnosis of autism still confers a 60% to 90% chance for an identical twin and a 5% chance for a sibling to be affected. These risks imply that autism, like diabetes mellitus or schizophrenia, results from the interaction of multiple abnormal genes and the environment. While novel DNA chip technologies are identifying new autism genes, increased recognition (up to 1 in 125 children) has focused attention on potential environmental factors. And while suspects abound in our chemical-laden environment, the innocence of vaccines is now established beyond any reasonable doubt.
WHY THE CONCERN ABOUT VACCINES AND AUTISM?
An article by Wakefield and 12 co-authors on measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism followed use of this vaccine for 3 decades in the United States and Europe. Their 1998 article described 9 of 12 children who developed autism in addition to abdominal symptoms after having been vaccinated with the MMR vaccine. After it was discovered that the study had been funded by trial lawyers, 10 of the 12 co-authors and the journal editors retracted the article in 2004.
Subsequent attention concerned the preservative thimerosal. This preservative contains 50% ethyl mercury and has been added to vaccines since the 1930s to prevent bacterial contamination and skin infections. Episodes of mercury poisoning in fish (Japan) or grain (Iraq) have caused brain damage (not autism). However, these episodes involved methyl mercury-not the less toxic ethyl mercury found in thimerosal. Headlines also overlooked the fact that there were small amounts of mercury in thimerosal-containing vaccines (12.5 to 25 μg per dose compared to 11.5 μg found in a can of tuna) and the fact that MMR vaccine never contained thimerosal. Nevertheless, European agencies in 1995 to1999 and the FDA in 2001 responded to concerns by removing thimerosal from all vaccines except those for influenza.
NO ASSOCIATION BETWEEN VACCINES AND AUTISM
Among studies dissociating autism from vaccines are those that found no difference in the incidence of autism in vaccinated and non-vaccinated children. One of these studies tracked more than 500,000 Danish children born between 1991 and 1998. Other studies demonstrate that autism rates have increased after thimerosal was removed from vaccines. One study from California found autism rates of 0.3 per 1000 in 1993 and 1.3 per 1000 in 2003-despite the removal of thimerosal in 2001. Nield has summarized 10 sample studies that refute any link between vaccines and autism. Several of those studies showed no relation between autism with thimerosal exposure or mercury levels.1
The scientific elimination of vaccine-autism concerns should encourage all parents to immunize their children against devastating diseases like hepatitis and diphtheria. Affected families should take advantage of the growing ability to detect genetic changes in autism. Test results may alleviate parental guilt about prenatal or childhood exposures and can help inform relatives about risks for future children.
. Nield LS. Update on the MMR-autism debate: no evidence of a causative link.
Consultant For Pediatricians.
. Wilson GN, Ramirez MO. Vaccinations: immunizations do not cause autism spectrum disorder, they prevent disease.
Consultant for Pediatricians
. 2008; 7(suppl)51-55.