There has long been a purported link between childhood vaccines (specifically the MMR vaccine) and autism. While the vast majority of parents in the United States still continue to vaccinate their children according to doctor’s orders (as well as CDC recommendations) a strident and vocal minority refuses to subject their children to a vaccine that holds questionable risks as well as results. Much of the fire and credibility of the anti-vaccine debate revolves around a 1998 report co-authored by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that drew a direct connection between the MMR vaccine and autism among children. This report was published to great notoriety in the well-regarded British medical journal The Lancet. This past January, an official British medical investigation found Wakefield’s methods to be, “dishonest and irresponsible.” Among other things, the panel found he handpicked the children used in the study, but Wakefield dismissed the findings. In response, The Lancet issued a rare public retraction this past week, therefore calling Dr. Wakefield’s credibility as well as the whole vaccine/autism link into doubt.
Over the past two or three decades there have been bandied about a countless number of links/causes of autism. I personally have heard all manner of theories from the persuasive to the dubious (one of my personal favorites is the advent of the 24-hour cartoon network). Mercury levels in vaccines surfaced as one of the more credible connections to autism, which prompted the removal of the additive Thimerosal from almost all vaccines. Still autism numbers continue to hold steady: some contest that they are on the rise. Theories aside, 1 in 150 children today land somewhere within the autism spectrum, and regardless of the public flogging of Dr. Wakefield, we are no closer to an answer today about the causes of autism, nor the safety of vaccines, than we were in 1998.
While no one expects miracles (well maybe some of us do) we as parents and generally concerned citizens are obviously growing impatient with the lack of credible answers and the tawdry infighting and politicking surrounding the causes of autism. Should we assume it is environmental? Possibly something chemical resulting in imperceptible levels of toxicity? Maybe it’s something that could be avoided with the right dosage of fish oil and folic acid? While I doubt anyone has the answer, or any answer, I think it is worth a discussion? Do you feel childhood vaccines are undoubtedly safe? Is there a reason to be skeptical of mass immunization, or should we just do it for the greater good?
Feel free to fuel the fire.