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Fears About Vaccines and Autism Endure In the Face of Scientific Evidence

Fears About Vaccines and Autism Endure In the Face of Scientific Evidence

Fewer US parents had their children vaccinated in the wake of the controversy over a link between autism and the MMR vaccine, according to research from the University of Cincinnati. Lenisa Chang, an assistant professor of economics, based her findings on an analysis of data from the National Immunization Survey from 1995 through 2006. Not only did she find that the MMR vaccination rate declined by about two percentage points between 1999 and 2000, after the publication of Andrew Wakefield’s now-retracted study linking autism to the MMR in The Lancet. The drop-off rate continued even though evidence, in the form of a number of scientific studies, continued, and has continued, to accrue disputing any link.

Chang also found that, the higher the education level of mothers, the less likely a child was to receive the MMR vaccine. In fact, as noted in Science Daily,

After epidemiological studies refuted the MMR-autism link, the difference in MMR usage by mother’s education level persisted and became more pronounced in 2003, 2004 and 2006, possibly as previous negative information received more weight than positive information in the parental decision-making process on whether or not to vaccinate.

In addition, the fears about the MMR vaccine led to a “spillover” effect, with vaccination rates for polio and other measles-containing vaccines (including DTP, the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine) declining.

My 15-year-old Charlie was diagnosed with autism in July of 1999, not longer after Wakefield had published his now-infamous article. I still remember my husband logging off the internet after spending hours pouring through websites about autism (there were scores even then and none too positive or hopeful) and saying “and there’s some link to autism and…. vaccines?”

It was a time when the news was also filled with reports about significant increases in the prevalence rate of autism. As Charlie was being diagnosed, we had been told by a team of psychologists and therapists in Minneapolis that autism was “rare,” occurring in 1 in 10,000 children — then the numbers dived down to 1 in 1000, 1 in 500, 1 in 166. The most recent study puts the rate at 1 in 88.

It was also a time when we heard, from the internet, from parents, from books about numerous “alternative,” “biomedical” treatments for autism, often involving nutritional supplements and also drugs, based on theories about what causes autism that sounded scientific enough but did not stand up to sustained inquiry and scrutiny.

We never thought that Charlie was autistic from a vaccine; as the years have passed, my husband and I have noted more and more how he has numerous traits from us and our family members, that he is autistic due to genetics. But all the talk — buzz — about autism and vaccines led us to delay giving Charlie the immunizations recommended at 5 years of age and even at one point to seek a religious exemption from him being vaccinated. By the time he was 8, he was up to date again on his vaccinations and has remained so.

Looking back, I realize how much all the attention and coverage about purported links between vaccines and autism gave us pause. So many other parents were refusing vaccines for their children, or delaying them, or having them spaced out. An irrational dread hung over all of us, that an additional vaccine could make things worse for our children, whom we could already see struggling so much to sit still in a chair, focus their eyes on alphabet flashcards, talk, take turns while playing Candyland.

Questionable theories of what causes autism and dubious treatments (such as a recently publicized one involving bleach) for autistic children still proliferate and parents still seek them out, in the name of keeping their children safe and even in the face of more and more scientific studies.

Does the idea that vaccines could be linked to autism persist due to Americans’ lack of understanding of science? due to their lack of faith and trust in it? due to a need for some straightforward answer about a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder and to how to best care for a child with many, many challenges?

Related Care2 Coverage

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50 comments

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9:20AM PDT on Jun 9, 2012

Whatever we believe, there are a couple of things we can do that will help resolve these issues.

1. Convince our policy makers to come up with an immunization schedule that separates immunizations rather than grouping them, and to conduct an education campaign for health professionals and the general public on the importance of following the new schedule. This will allow science to better investigate the potential dangers.

2. Lean on Congress to pass laws requiring absolute conformance to scientifically defensible double blind, peer reviewed studies on all drugs / vaccines / medical devices. The idea behind the FDA fast track program was to get apparently safe medicines to market quickly and then complete the rigorous studies necessary to prove their safety. We are not seeing those studies. And drug companies are too often given a pass on inadequate studies.

This requirement may make drugs more expensive, but if we want good information on their safety, it is worth the price. One option would be to create a new, independent agency to conduct these tests, and require the drug companies to pay whatever it costs.

9:18AM PDT on Jun 9, 2012

Whatever we believe, there are a couple of things we can do that will help resolve these issues.

1. Convince our policy makers to come up with an immunization schedule that separates immunizations rather than grouping them, and to conduct an education campaign for health professionals and the general public on the importance of following the new schedule. This will allow science to better investigate the potential dangers.

2. Lean on Congress to pass laws requiring absolute conformance to scientifically defensible double blind, peer reviewed studies on all drugs / vaccines / medical devices. The idea behind the FDA fast track program was to get apparently safe medicines to market quickly and then complete the rigorous studies necessary to prove their safety. We are not seeing those studies. And drug companies are too often given a pass on inadequate studies.

This requirement may make drugs more expensive, but if we want good information on their safety, it is worth the price. One option would be to create a new, independent agency to conduct these tests, and require the drug companies to pay whatever it costs.

9:16AM PDT on Jun 9, 2012

The conversation on this topic is all over the road. One big argument, which btw is not a valid logical argument at all, is that Big Pharma's monetary interest invalidates their scientific research. But these same people are more than happy to quote the junk "science" promoted by quack sites like mercola and naturalnews, as if they derive no income from promoting absolute nonsense. Thimerosol comes up a lot, but the fact is there is less mercury in all the vaccinations a child receives than there is likely to be in a single tuna sandwich. Speculation is great, but lets not elevate it above the facts.

In the case of vaccinations causing autism, the data pretty much rules out a statistically significant link. This does not say that a particular vaccination will not lead to autism in a particular individual, it just says that on the whole, people who receive vaccinations are not more likely to develop autism than people who don't receive them. And there is no way that vaccinations are responsible for the huge rise in autism cases. In fact, you are far less likely to have any significant adverse reaction to any vaccination in your lifetime than you are to have a serious or fatal injury in a car accident.

6:00AM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

What Scientific evidence shows that vaccines are safe, and that they don't cause a whole host of conditions including autism? Oh, I get it the Big Pharma research, that's it, I see, you want us to believe them, and ignore adverse reactions to our children after vaccination, like Hannah Poling, she was awarded 20 million from the vaccine court aka NVICP for her vaccine induced autism, is this the Scientific evidence you quote? you should do your research, and I mean look at the independent research out there on vaccines, and the toxic side effects, and then learn the truth before you start defending something as dangerous and toxic as vaccines.

1:21PM PDT on Jun 7, 2012

Autism is the least of my worries when it comes to vaccines. I'm more worried about the damage all the toxins can do (ie Thimerosol, aka mercury, aluminum, formaldehyde) and all the other crap in them. There is no way someone is injecting my healthy child with known toxins! Guarantee I know more about vaccines than parents who chose them. Most parents who don't vaccinate do years of research, like I have. Almost every parent I know that DOES vaccinate has no idea what they are putting into their children. Pretty sad.

3:52AM PDT on Jun 7, 2012

The drug companies are selling you a product. Most of the so-called science has been done by them to sell their product, you know, the fox gaurding the hen house. Conflicts of interest are rampant and money talks. Tons of information exists telling og the side effects from vaccinations and dishonest, criminal behavior by the drug companies is of public record. Wakefield was discredited by the rich, powerful and corrupt drug industry. His honesty would cost the drug companies huge sums of money. Many of us have never had for example a flu shot but have not had ythe flu in years and when we did have the flu we did nor die. Many have had the shot and still got the flu or got sick from the shot and I have talked to many people first hand, not just read about it, but you will not hear about these side effects in mainstream because they recieve huge sums od money by the drug companies from advertising. To those few that think the mainstream and the drug companies are honest and care about you, get a clue. The FDA, CDC, and FTC have been bought off by the drug companies. If you do not believe that than explain how you can watch a lawsuit against a drug linked to hundreds of deaths and later watch a commercial for that drug. Why was it not pulled from the shelves. The drug companies have been fined for altering or hiding study results that were bad for their drug and that is a matter of public record. These are pieces of real evidence in the open view that a selct few seem to miss.

10:56PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

John K, you're comparing Chicken Pox with polio? Really? Sorry, but the reality about many diseases vaccines cover, is that modern medical care has vastly improved in recent years. Currently for mumps and measles when outbreaks occur the death rate and serious rate of long-term adverse affects is actually lower than the vaccines for them. And those are the ones that are actually reported.

9:07PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

Mercury is a neuro-toxin and is still in childhood vaccines and mercury is second to Plutonium in terms of toxicity. Babies get a Hepatitus B shot shortly after birth although it is a sexually transmitted disease that drug users often get.Doesthat make any sense at all?

3:16PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

While there are parents who refuse vaccines for their children and authorities complain that vaccine compliance rates are down, the fact is that the actual numbers of vaccines given to children and adults are up. With ever more vaccines required for school attendance and a growing population, more vaccines are being given to children each year, starting with the completely superfluous Hepatitis B vaccine given on day #1 in the hospital.

Instead of vilifying parents who want to exempt their children from vaccination, the authorities should take this opportunity to create a control group of completely unvaccinated children and compare it to a matched group which receives all of the recommended vaccines. This would shed some light on the effects of vaccines on health.

2:58PM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

If less parents are getting their children vaccinated and autism is on the increase, doesn't that in itself show that the vaccine doesn't cause autism? Apart from the fact that the doctor who supposedly "proved" that the vaccine was at fault has been drummed out of the medical profession.

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