The vaccination of young children has been a hot topic of debate recently, as some parents fear vaccines may lead to developmental disorders such as autism. When I saw this issue in an article headline, I was confused as to why it was being presented as if it hasn’t been debated for years before now. This made me curious about the history of this debate and what new issues have arisen to bring it back into recent media.
The National Autism Association defines autism as “a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social impairments, cognitive impairments, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors.” There is no clear direct cause of autism, although two sources seem to contribute to its development in some way: Environmental factors and genetics. Environmental factors may include chemical exposure (i.e. carpet cleaning), experiencing other illnesses, or taking antibiotics. Twin studies suggest genetics can play a strong role. In identical twins if one twin has autism the other will as well in 9 out of 10 cases.
Autism specifically became connected with vaccines when some parents began to report autistic symptoms in their children shortly after the children received their vaccinations. These reports were supported when a 1998 report of eight children experiencing losses in language skills after receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was published. Further research was done to determine if the vaccine was indeed triggering some kind of autism. Since then 14 studies including millions of children in different countries have strongly suggested that there is no difference in the rate of autism in children who receive the MMR vaccine and those who do not. The original 1998 report has also since been retracted and the doctor’s license was revoked in 2010 for evidence of falsified data in the study.
Due to the large number of studies unable to find a correlation between vaccines and autism, current advocate groups urge parents to get their children vaccinated. This effort becomes all the more important as measles cases become more numerous in the U.S., with a record high last year of 644 cases in 27 states. Research still continues to search for possible causes of autism and keeps vaccines as a possible trigger while recording many other possible environmental factors. Hopefully, this research will continue to shed light on how autism may be caused and relieve the fears of parents reluctant to vaccinate their children.
Wakefield, A. J., Murch, S. H., Anthony, A., Linnell, J., Casson, D. M., Malik, M., Berelowitz, M., Dhillon, A. P., Thomson, M. A., Harvey, P., Valentine, A., Davies, S. E., and Walker-Smith, J. A. (1998). Retracted: Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet, 351, 637-641.
Huffington Post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/08/vaccines-do-not-cause-autism-speaks_n_6632000.html