First, just to make it really clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that, according to figures released just last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is much more common in children in the U.S. than ever. 1 in 88 children in the U.S. — 1 in 54 boys — are on the autism spectrum.†April is Autism Awareness /†Acceptance Month and the United Nations has dubbed April 2 World Autism Awareness Day.
Now,†Donald Trump just reminded us why we need this month by saying on Fox News that the cause of autism is “monster” vaccinations.
Here’s Trump’s own unfortunate words via†Raw Story:
ďIíve gotten to be pretty familiar with the subject. You know, I have a theory ó and itís a theory that some people believe in ó and thatís the vaccinations. We never had anything like this. This is now an epidemic. Itís way, way up over the past 10 years. Itís way up over the past two years. And, you know, when you take a little baby that weighs like 12 pounds into a doctorís office and they pump them with many, many simultaneous vaccinations ó Iím all for vaccinations, but I think when you add all of these vaccinations together and then two months later the baby is so different then lots of different things have happened. I really ó Iíve known cases.Ē
ďIt happened to somebody that worked for me recently…I mean, they had this beautiful child, not a problem in the world, and all of the sudden they go in and they get this monster shot. You ever see the size of it? Itís like theyíre pumping in ó you know, itís terrible, the amount. And they pump this in to this little body and then all of the sudden the child is different a month later.”
Trump has clearly gotten wind of the new CDC study. Scientists and medical professionals keep patiently pointing out a few key reasons for the significant increases: (1) a concerted effort to diagnose autism in younger children;††(2) an equally intense effort to train pediatricians, early childhood educators and parents to look out for the signs of autism in young children; (3) the vastly broadened and still-changing definition of autism, so that, today, more than a few who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder might (in previous years) have received no diagnosis, been labelled “mentally retarded” or as having “childhood schizophrenia,” been considered “quirky/weird/eccentric” or been labeled with other conditions.
Since 1998, the notion that vaccines or something in vaccines such as the mercury-based preservative thimerosal could be causing autism has been in circulation. A British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published an article in the medical journal The Lancet in which he said he had found a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and the onset of autism in young children. The Lancet retracted that study in 2010 and nearly†20 recent studies have further refuted a vaccine-autism link.
But once Wakefield had held a 1998 press conference announcing his findings, the proverbial cat was out of the bag and it has proved exceedingly hard to restore public confidence in vaccines. Parents have expressed concerns about giving vaccines to young children; the fact that doctors recommend that many more vaccines than in previous decades be given has only made parents more wary. Many parents in the U.S. have chosen to space out their child’s immunizations rather than follow the schedule recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, or not to vaccinate their children at all. Foregoing vaccination not only puts a child at risk of catching infectious diseases like measles and whooping cough — there have been recent outbreaks of both — but also endangers herd immunity: When a significant proportion of a population has been vaccinated against a disease, those who have not been vaccinated (such as infants) have a measure of protection, but when overall vaccination rates are lower, herd immunity is compromised.
Trump’s irresponsible, misinformed and frankly incorrect statements linking vaccines to autism are yet another sign of how deeply ingrained the idea of a vaccine-autism link is in the public mindset. However much most people know better than to trust Trump on matters scientific, his words are, sadly, keeping a discredited and dangerous theory about autism alive.
So, in honor of World Autism Awareness Day 2012: Vaccines do not cause autism.
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Photo by Gage Skidmore