I had to have my son’s pediatrician fill out some medical forms to submit to the school nurse so I left work early and stopped by the pediatric practice. As I was waiting to speak to a receptionist, I noted a poster with a large photo of a toddler’s face and a reminder (in all capital letters) to get your child vaccinated for whooping cough.
Whopping cough or pertussis has been declared an epidemic in California, where eight infants have died this year from the infectious disease. The LA Times notes that, in all eight cases, ‘[d]espite the patients’ multiple visits to clinics and hospitals, doctors typically failed to make a swift, accurate diagnosis.’ The early symptoms of whooping cough in infants are ‘deceptively mild’ and can therefore ‘lull physicians into a false sense of security—see this recent Care2 post by Ann Pietrangelo for a list of the symptoms.
Vaccination rates for children for such highly contagious diseases as whooping cough have declined in the past decade, in no small part due to parents’ fears that vaccines or something in vaccines might be linked to autism. These fears, while understandable, are unfortunate, and increasingly so, as outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough attest to. A recent legal decision in which the family of a child who is alleged to have become autistic following vaccination received a $1.5 million payout has only added to the confusion. As noted on Nature.com regarding this case, which sparked intense discussion on the internet in 2008:
…….the payment does not acknowledge a vaccine-autism link. The payment was made for a mitochondrial disorder and encephalopathy which fall under a category of so-called “Table” injuries for which parents do not need to show proof that the vaccine aggravated the condition as long as it appeared within a certain amount of time after vaccination. The VICP, which was established in 1988 (US Court of Federal Claims), has made thousands of such payments since its establishment. The same court found no compelling evidence of a link between vaccination and autism in a ruling last year, which was upheld in a federal appeals court on the same day as the Poling payout decision, (27 August 2010, Associated Press).
Indeed, a study published online today in Pediatrics, has found that ‘prenatal and early-life exposure to ethylmercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines and immunoglobulin preparations was not related to increased risk of ASDs.’ For this study, researchers analyzed the medical records 256 children on the autism spectrum and 752 children matched by birth year who did not have autism; interviews were also conducted with the children’s mothers and all the children were members of three health care management organizations in California and Massachusetts. Children who were found to be in the highest 10 percent for thimerosal exposure (either prenatally or between infancy and 20 months) were no more likely to be autistic than the children who were not.
The study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More discussion in the comments on the autism blog at About.com and also at Business Week, and go here for an analysis by scientist Emily Willingham—hopefully these will help to lower the confusion and make the point yet again that vaccines don’t cause autism, no they don’t.
And, school being now in session for most children across the US and around the world, please make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date.
Photo by the LeCrones.