Talking About Vaccines: Autism
Claims that vaccines cause autism have led some parents to delay or refuse vaccines for their children. The most common claims are that autism is caused by MMR vaccine, vaccines that contain thimerosal, or too many vaccines. Many scientific studies have been done to test these claims. None has shown any correlation between vaccines and autism.
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Myth #: Vaccines Contain Unsafe Toxins
People have concerns over the use of formaldehyde, mercury or aluminum in vaccines. It’s true that these chemicals are toxic to the human body in certain levels, but only trace amounts of these chemicals are used in FDA approved vaccines. In fact, according to the FDA and the CDC, formaldehyde is produced at higher rates by our own metabolic systems and there is no scientific evidence that the low levels of this chemical, mercury or aluminum in vaccines can be harmful. See section III of this guide to review safety information about these chemicals and how they are used in vaccines.
Myth #: Vaccines Can Infect My Child With The Disease It’s Trying To Prevent
Vaccines can cause mild symptoms resembling those of the disease they are protecting against. A common misconception is that these symptoms signal infection. In fact, in the small percentage where symptoms do occur, the vaccine recipients are experiencing a body’s immune response to the vaccine, not the disease itself. There is only one recorded instance in which a vaccine was shown to cause disease. This was the Oral Polio Vaccine which is no longer used in the U.S. Since then, vaccines have been in safe use for decades and follow strict Food and Drug Administration regulations.
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Mmr Vaccine Does Not Cause Autism Examine The Evidence
There is no scientific evidence that MMR vaccine causes autism. The question about a possible link between MMR vaccine and autism has been extensively reviewed by independent groups of experts in the United States, including the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine . These reviews have concluded that the available epidemiologic evidence does not support a causal link between MMR vaccine and autism
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What Started This Concern
A study published in The Lancet in 1998 stated incorrect findings over an association between the MMR vaccine and autism. Since this time, the majority of the authors and The Lancet have retracted the findings.
In the U.S., many legal cases were brought forth over a supposed link between autism and the MMR vaccine. However, according to the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, it was ruled that the MMR vaccine, either given alone or in conjunction with thimerosal-containing vaccines, was not a causal factor in the development of autism.
Related: Childhood vaccines: Tough questions, straight answers
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The Mmr Vaccine And Autism
Many people confuse the controversy over the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella with that of thimerosal, but the two have always been totally separate issues. In fact, MMR vaccines have never even contained thimerosal.
The link between MMR and autism gained traction following the publication of a very small British study published in a British medical journal, The Lancet. The study was lead by Dr. Andrew Wakefield and it concluded that children developed autism soon after they received the MMR vaccine. The theory: The measles portion of the shot causes inflammation and infection of the intestines, which can then spread dangerous proteins to the brain, causing damage that may lead to autism.
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Sarrc’s Message On Vaccines
At SARRC, we believe the ultimate decision to vaccinate a child is a personal choice. If asked, we would recommend vaccinations because dozens of reputable scientific studies have failed to show a link between vaccines and autism, while numerous other studies demonstrate that the risks from the diseases the vaccines are meant to prevent are dangerous to a childs health and well-being. Our research focuses on early identification of autism because it leads to early intensive intervention, which is the most important support we can provide for a child diagnosed with autism at this time.
Read more about autism and vaccines in a Q& A with SARRC’s Vice President and Research Director Christopher J. Smith, PhD, here.
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What Exactly Is Autism Or Asd
Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder , is a brain development disorder in children that leads to problems with communication, behavior, and social interaction. A child may not show signs until age 2 or 3, and symptoms may continue throughout the childs lifetime.
What exactly causes autism is not known, but most experts agree it is genetically linked. Researchers are also studying whether environmental factors such as viral infections, pregnancy complications, or air pollutants could increase the risk of autism.
ASD is 4 times more common in boys than girls about 1 out of every 54 children are diagnosed with this disorder, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control .
There is no known cure for autism, but children can learn new skills.
What If I Don’t Vaccinate My Child
It is important to vaccinate to prevent outbreaks of diseases that are nearly under control today.
Vaccinations are one of the most important actions we can take to protect ourselves, our children, and our communities from disease. This is especially important for children who cannot be vaccinated because they are too young or sick.
If a case of a disease is introduced into a community where most people are not vaccinated, an outbreak can occur because the widespread protection known as “herd immunity” breaks down. Herd immunity refers to the ability to avoid a contagious disease within a community. This occurs if enough people are immune to the disease by building antibodies, especially through vaccination or prior illness.
In 2000, the United States was declared measles-free.
- But infected travelers visiting or returning to the US from abroad have caused outbreaks, and unvaccinated children are most at risk, research has shown.
- As published in the Journal of the American Medical Association , several measles outbreaks occurred in the U.S. among groups with low vaccination rates, including in the states of Texas, New York and California, in 2014.
- As reported by the CDC, from January 1 to December 31, 2019, 1,282 individual cases of measles were confirmed in 31 states in the U.S. The majority of cases were among people who were not vaccinated against measles.
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What About All Vaccinations Combined
Researchers have also looked to see if all the vaccines required before age 2 somehow together triggered autism. Children receive 25 shots in the first 15 months of life. Some people feared that getting all those shots so early in life could lead to the development of autism, but there is no evidence that this is true.
But the CDC compared groups of children who received vaccines on the recommended schedule and those whose vaccines were delayed or didnât get them at all. There was no difference in the autism rate between the two groups.
In 2004, the Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine published a report on the topic. The group looked at all the studies on vaccines and autism, both published and unpublished. It released a 200-page report stating there was no evidence to support a link between vaccines and autism.
Still, studies continue to look at the issue. In 2019, the largest study to date looked at almost 660-thousand children over a course of 11 years and found no link between the vaccine and autism.
Indian Journal of Psychiatry: âThe MMR Vaccine and Autism: Sensation, Refutation, Retraction, and Fraud.â
Offit, P., and Moser, C., Vaccines and Your Child: Separating Fact from Fiction, Columbia University Press, 2011.
American Journal of Medical Genetics: âComorbidity of Intellectual Disability Confounds Ascertainment of Autism: Implications for Genetic Diagnosis.â
BMJ: âHow the Case Against the MMR Vaccine Was Fixed.â
The Flu Vaccine And Autism
While the majority of flu vaccines don’t contain thimerosal nowadays, multidose vials may have trace amounts to prevent bacteria, fungi, and other germs from forming. “Introduction of bacteria and fungi has the potential to occur when a syringe needle enters a vial as a vaccine is being prepared for administration,”according to the CDC. “Contamination by germs in a vaccine could cause severe local reactions, serious illness or death. In some vaccines, preservatives, including thimerosal, are added during the manufacturing process to prevent germ growth.”
Parents can always choose thimerosal-free alternatives of the flu vaccine though, and experts assert that it’s safe for kids. Indeed, the CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receive a flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. Read more about the guidelines here.
Getting the flu vaccine during pregnancy is especially important since expectant women have a higher chance of severe illness from influenza. That’s because pregnancy changes your heart, lungs, and immune system. The flu vaccine also helps protect newborns from influenza during their first several months of life.
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The Truth Behind The Myth
A study by Andrew Wakefield, which has been retracted, started the debate about a link between vaccines and autism. Mr. Wakefield’s medical license has since been revoked due to conduct considered dishonest and irresponsible.
The fact is, vaccines do not cause autism. This statement is supported by vast research and evidence.
A scientific review by the Institute of Medicine concluded, “the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism.
The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”
A 2012 report, also by the IOM notes, “few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines” and “the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including type 1 diabetes and autism.”
In one of the largest studies ever, researchers analyzed medical records of over 95,000 children, more than 15,000 who were unvaccinated at two years of age and more than 8,000 who were age five and unvaccinated.
About 2,000 of the children were considered high risk for autism because they had an older sibling with a diagnosis.
The researchers found no evidence linking the MMR vaccine to autism even in the children who had an increased risk for the disorder.
Unique Concerns For Parents With Children At Risk For Autism
Metallothionein and chelator use because of mercury in vaccines
Walsh et al from the Pfeiffer institute presented a study to the American Psychiatric Association in May 2001 suggesting that an inborn error in metallothionein proteins in autism may interfere with clearing toxic metals as well as interfere with immune function. In fact, parents need to know that Walsh has not measured metallothionein in autism, but merely makes inferences from treatment responses recorded in his centre, which has a proprietary interest in zinc products marketed for people with autism. Dr Amy Holmes has considerable credibility as a concerned paediatrician. Holmes et al presented data at the International Meeting for Autism Research in November 2001 suggesting that children with autism have a positive response to chelation, usually with DMSA, in combination with dietary lipoic acid supplements . In open-label use of chelation, Holmes reported that younger children show the most benefit when treated for two to three months. Side effects included transient increases in hyperactivity, self-stimulatory behaviour and loose stools. Excretion of heavy metals was suggested as proof of a heavy metal problem in children with autism. Although no one has, as yet, replicated these findings, parents continue to feel that mercury and other heavy metals may pose a threat and seek chelation therapy.
The AAP News in August 2001 presented a good review of the facts that parents need to know about chelators .
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Where Research Can Help
The need for more research into the epidemiology of autism is why I encourage families to participate in autism family databanks and research studies. They do so gladly.
The results of past and current research studies are why I continue to recommend that families get all recommended immunizations for their children. In our vaccine-rich society, we too often take for granted that our children will not get serious communicable diseases, but the recent outbreak of Hemophilus influenza type B , with its risk of meningitis leading to deafness and brain damage, shows how wrong this idea is. As a medical resident, before the HIB vaccine was developed in the 1990s, I saw the neurodevelopmental havoc, sometimes death, which this still-present bacterium could cause in infants and children.
Finally, the significant advances now being made in research, especially related to the genetic basis of some forms of autism, are why I am optimistic that eventually, sooner rather than later, we will better understand what really causes autism and consequently what we can do to both treat and prevent it. EH
Why Were Vaccines Linked To Autism
In the late 1990s, some researchers raised concerns over the amount of thimerosala mercury-containing preservativefound in many children’s vaccines. Although thimerosal had been used as an anti-contamination agent for decades, the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccination was the only thimerosal-containing shot recommended for infants and children until 1991.
The researchers hypothesized that, as more thimerosal-containing vaccines like hepatitis B and Hib were added to the recommended schedule, babies were receiving too much of the chemical in too short a timeframe, which could potentially impact brain development.
In a totally separate issue around this time, another group of researchers lead by a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield theorized that children who received the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine were more likely to develop autism than those who did not receive it. By January 2011, however, Dr. Wakefield’s study was discredited by the British Medical Journal.
Today, scientists and experts are confident that vaccines play no role in the onset of this developmental disorder. “More than a dozen studies across researchers, study designs, and populations have all concluded that there’s no relation between vaccines and autism,” says Matthew Daley, M.D., a pediatrician for Kaiser Permanente in Colorado and a researcher who studies vaccine topics. Read on to find out more about these studies.
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Why Dont People Believe The Current Research
The Institute for Vaccine Safety says more than 16 sound, credible, controlled studies on vaccines and autism are available. They all say that the link just doesnt exist. Why dont people believe that?
First-person accounts from former anti-vaxxers hold important clues. People may choose to believe that vaccines cause harm because:
- It makes blame possible. Some parents find comfort in identifying someone or something that is at fault. If they can blame pharmaceutical companies for changes they see in children, that gives them something to fight against.
- Parents often feel misunderstood. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder may explain the childs symptoms for years before testing is offered. They sometimes feel suspicious of doctors and silenced by them. The new knowledge seems to offer power.
- It seems reasonable. Vaccines are given at the age when autism symptoms first appear. It seems to make reasonable sense to some parents that the two are linked, but there is no connection.
Research language can play a part. Medical professionals dont talk in absolutes. They dont say this does not cause autism. They might say that this suggests the vaccine is not to blame. As they explain, research cant prove a negative. And the gaps the words leave behind can make people feel suspicious.
Because the myth about vaccines and autism persists, researchers continue to study the issue. Study after study has come to the same conclusion: Vaccines dont cause autism.
The Research Claiming Links Between Autism And Mmr Was Fraudulent
Not only was Wakefield’s paper inconclusive, it was later revealed that he tweaked timelines and manipulated data to show increase links between the vaccine and did not disclose that lawyers mounting a case against vaccine manufacturers financed his research. In fact, the parents quoted in Wakefield’s paper were also litigants. Immediately following these revelations, 10 of the 12 co-authors of the paper retracted its conclusion.
But that did not stop thousands of parents from standing in the way of their children being vaccinated.
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Myth #: We Don’t Need To Vaccinate Because Infection Rates Are Already So Low In The United States
Thanks to “herd immunity,” so long as a large majority of people are immunized in any population, even the unimmunized minority will be protected. With so many people resistant, an infectious disease will never get a chance to establish itself and spread. This is important because there will always be a portion of the population infants, pregnant women, elderly, and those with weakened immune systems that can’t receive vaccines.
But if too many people don’t vaccinate themselves or their children, they contribute to a collective danger, opening up opportunities for viruses and bacteria to establish themselves and spread.
Not to mention, as the Centers for Disease Control warn, international travel is growing quickly, so even if a disease is not a threat in your country, it may be common elsewhere. If someone were to carry in a disease from abroad, an unvaccinated individual will be at far greater risk of getting sick if he or she is exposed.
Vaccines are one of the great pillars of modern medicine. Life used to be especially brutal for children before vaccines, with huge portions being felled by diseases like measles, smallpox, whooping cough, or rubella, to name just a few. Today these ailments can be completely prevented with a simple injection.