Autism and Vaccines: Why This Topic Won’t Go Away

First, I wish to apologize for writing yet another post whose topic is autism and vaccines and at a time when funding for invaluable special education programs and services could be cut. A great deal of attention has been focused on this topic for some years. While autism rates have significantly increased in the past decade—the neurodevelopmental disability is now found in approximately every 1 in 110 children in the US—a specific cause has yet to be pinpointed. Families undergo daily struggles in caring for a child who may be (like my teenage son) minimally or non-verbal; have behavior issues that go beyond the terrible two’s sort of thing (my son used to have regular instances of very self-injurious behavior including head-banging on any available hard surface); have significant cognitive delays; require 24/7 care at a time when most people are dropping off a child for lacrosse practice, and all the way into adulthood.


It is simply understandable that people want to know why there is an increase in autism and why they are not satisfied, and sometimes suspicious of, explanations involving accounts of diagnostic substitution, that it is due to our better, more informed understanding of what autism is that we are literally ‘seeing’ more autism and, therefore, diagnosing it more. People want real, concrete evidence for why their child is autistic, not academic-sounding theories. Further, any parent just can’t let go of the ‘what if’ syndrome, in which one worries that some expert might just be wrong, or that one’s child will be the one who is ‘genetically predisposed’ to have a ‘bad reaction’ to a vaccine and ‘become’ autistic. Thanks to the Internet, many parents have much more access to more information literally while they are sitting in the exam room with their child.

I have been addressing this particular topic of autism and vaccines since the time I first started blogging about autism in June of 2005. My most recent posts on the topic can be found here at Care2; I had previously written extensively about this issue at a blog called AutismVox. (And please see The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism, for other parent voices on this topic.) And even though the original Lancet study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been roundly discredited and even retracted by the Lancet, and even though studies investigating the possibility of a link have found evidence to the contrary, the notion remains and, sadly, continues to distract attention from the realities that individuals on the autism spectrum and those who care for them face in regard to lifelong services and supports.

Indeed, the author of a book, Evidence of Harm (2005) that was widely heralded by proponents of some sort of connection between something in vaccines and autism, David Kirby, has published yet another Huffington Post post on the topic. This latest piece has a title reminiscent of posts from previous years (‘The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away’) and is part of a projected two-part series in which the author states that he will review the latest research studies (with a focus on ‘seizure disorders, mitochondrial dysfunction and the destruction of myelin’) that point to some sort of link.

In general, the article follows familiar topoi in Kirby’s writings on this topic, with various research studies cited and also references to the author’s conversations with ‘thousands’ of parents about some sort of ‘regression’ in a child just around the time she or he had received a number of childhood vaccinations. There is a bit of a twist at the start of the article, in which Kirby is a bit more specific about the parents he has been talking to about a purported vaccine-autism link, ‘young parents in my neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn’ who are ‘highly educated, affluent and politically progressive people — doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, writers and other successful professionals.’ Kirby puzzles over the conundrum of how it is ‘the most highly educated parents who are now eschewing the CDC schedule and vaccinating their children at a different pace’: If smart, comfortably salaried Brooklynites are ‘eschewing’ the CDC’s vaccination schedule, surely the notion that there might be some connection between vaccines and autism can’t be the musings of some ‘lunatic fringe.’

Reading Kirby’s piece, I was struck by a strong sense of ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’: That is, ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ I quite understand why Kirby has not been able to let go of making claims about an autism-vaccine link, and why he continues to persevere in writing about such a connection, in the face of increasing evidence to the contrary. There are questions, and parents and people have their suspicions, and Kirby is well-versed in putting together short accounts of various scientific studies with mentions of ‘tragedy’ and horrors of autism.

Kirby’s latest writing on this topic is rather symptomatic of something about parenting today, about parental fears about raising a child in a world in which we can’t seem to trust the very foods and toys we give our children (and that are marketed to them at an increasingly younger age), and in which we also have declining confidence (and rising suspicion) about experts. Parents also wonder, and worry, to the point of obsession about how they might raise successful, accomplished, children, hence the fascination with the notion of ‘extreme parenting’ detailed in Amy Chua’s ‘tiger mother’ book. If we could just say a bit more for sure that something in vaccines might have something to do with autism, we could out rule one more factor that might be endangering our children, is the thought.

And perhaps it is high time to be wary of thinking that there can be any easy and straightforward answers such as that ‘vaccines cause autism’; that we cannot control everything about our children’s health, future, and lives—except for one thing. Speaking as a parent, and on Valentine’s Day, and a day in which I had such a productive and friendly IEP meeting for Charlie that I actually signed the document on the spot instead of waiting for two weeks to mull over things and consider changes—-I can say, we parents can never stop loving our children enough and, therefore, trying to do our best by them and, at times, letting go of outmoded theories. People used to believe that bad parenting and ‘refrigerator mothers‘ causes autism and one day (though not yet, it seems) the vaccine-autism ‘link’ will be simply a topic for the history books.

Previous Care2 Coverage 

GOP Proposes Severe Cuts to Education—and Special Education—Budgets

Wakefield’s Study Linking Vaccines to Autism was ‘Deliberate Fraud’

The Sad Truth About the Tiger Mother

Yet Another Study Refutes Vaccine-Autism Link

Today Show Poll: People Don’t Believe Vaccines Are Related to Autism

Autism, Vaccines, and the Damage Wrought by Andrew Wakefield

Photo by stevendepolo.


Marcus Gg
Merk J6 years ago

I completely agree with April L.

It's obvious these pharmaceutical companies are making huge profits off these cherry-picked studies. I wouldn't even be surprised if this Kristina Chew was inside the industry or somehow getting some cash under the table as well...

What doesn't make sense to me is... that If everyone else is vaccinated, why should I have to worry about getting the virus? Who would I get it from?

Also, if you yourself are vaccinated, why are you worried about someone spreading something that you are immune to?
This just doesn't make sense people. Start thinking for yourself.

I have my own immune system that doesn't need a flu shot every year to stay alive. The human species has survived thousands of years before vaccines were created. Let's not make this something bigger than what it really is.

Ian Donelson
Ian Donelson7 years ago

Autism, just another disorder like diabetes and cancer that is the product of mans distortion of the balance. And we will exploit that misuse of our gift for the monetary gain of a few. Vaccines for anything, Vaccines for everything! Vaccines to live?

Petra Luna
Petra Luna7 years ago

Vaccines aren't perfect. They help stop a lot of stuff, and yet there are other problems. Vaccines are safer now than they have been in the past. Vaccines have been around for much more than 10 years yet autism has been on the rise for the past decade. The consumption of processed food also has been on the rise for the last 10 years. Certain farmers (especially factory farmers) have been using growth hormones, and/or extra antibiotics for the last 10 years. What is the correlation? Does any one know? To put the full blame on vaccines seems at least a little bit irresponsible, when you risk your child of some of these diseases that may affect your child negatively. Measles, mumps and rubella can cause various types of nerve damage to your child which can lead to other disabilities such as tinnitis, neuropathy & deafness.

So while the vaccine may cause certain side effects, such as autism and what have you, there will be MORE children who are deaf or dead if we allow the diseases to come back. It's your decision as a parent, and there is evidence that it could be a genetic mutation that happens to cause autism, and it's out of control of the parents. Thing is, that mutation may or may not have anything to do with vaccines. Any way you put it, just chill out and deal with it like a parent, rather than blame or accuse other people of insanity. It's a life choice, not a criminal action.

April L.
April L7 years ago

@Kristina Chew

You make parents who question vaccines sound so simplistic, when it's actually the "simple" parents who choose to do whatever they are told, and fall in line.

*Vaccines CAN cause neurological damage, the inserts say so
*Vaccines are not the ONLY things which cause this damage
*Vaccines are not safe, whether or not you want to say they cause 'autism'
*SV40 was transmitted to thousands and thousands of people via the polio vaccine, even after pharma and the FDA knew it was present
*Baxter Pharmaceuticals delivered H1N1 vaccine tainted with live bird flu

If I told you that I could club you on the head 10,000 times without causing you harm, would you let me do it?

The vaccine industry is out of control. Paul Offit of CHOP stated a child could withstand 10,000 vaccines at the same time without causing harm. This is nothing but a green light for the pharmaceutical industry to crank out more immunizations, and for the government to put them on the childhood schedule.

This statement was made from a Wyeth representative regarding the Prevnar vaccine for Pneumococcal Disease which is on the childhood vaccination schedule.

"Over 4 million children are born per year in the United States alone, and each is likely to receive an $84 dose of Prevnar. “You have a regenerating patient population for your vaccine every year,” says Connolly. And the premium prices don’t hurt..."

Autism or not, it's all about the $$$. Vaccines are dangerous.

Manuela C.
Manuela C7 years ago

It probably is something in the environment plus genetics, but it's not the vaccines!

Rebecca M.
Rebecca M.7 years ago

I also want to add that the type of mercury that was used as a preservative in the vaccines is not the same kind of mercury that has been known to cause brain damage. Apparently the poisonous kind builds up in our system and cannot be processed and 'flushed out', but the kind used is the vaccines is. Even though they have not quite worked it out exactly, there are known to be genetic links and 'predispositions' to autism. Perhaps these predisposed children are triggered to develop autism through environmental causes, and perhaps not, but i know that when I have them, I will be vaccinating my children. I do not argue that others should have to vaccinate their children, but do urge them to look into all the facts, inculding what the consequences of catching the diseases may be. My uncle had polio as a toddler, and lived with post polio syndrome his whole life, which I would never wish on anyone. Modified scheduals seem to me to be the best way to go, but I have not looked into this enough to know if this suits everyone. I just hope that bogus studies (that have actually been proved bogus) don't make people go 'that's it, no vaccines for my children' without looking further into it, and considering the consequences.

Rebecca M.
Rebecca M.7 years ago

John B,
"Autism was found in approximately 1 child in 10,000 in the 60's in the US and the current rate is 1 child in 99." As was stated in the article, many experts argue that more children are being diagnosed with autism (and asbergers, which is on the autism spectrum, so is counted in the figures) because it is more well known, so children who would have been diagnosed with something else, or not diagnosed, but just thought 'eccentric' or 'odd' are now being diagnosed with autism. Perhaps this does not soley explain the rise in numbers, but it is a big part of it. In 1990, when my brother was diagnosed, it took about a year of visiting numerous different specialists and having various tests. Some had no idea what was 'wrong' with him, some thought it could have been autism but weren't prepared to make a formal diagnosis, while others insisted he was just 'naughty'. Barely any of our friends or family had heard of autism. Now, thankfully awareness has been raised, and it is easier to get a diagnosis, but I can imagine many parents years ago accepting 'he/ she is fine' or 'we just don't know' as an answer, especially in America where I believe such testing and doctors visits are very expensive. Many wouldn't have had the time, energy or resources to go through what our family had to 20 years ago, or just given up. It may not be the only answer, but better diagnosis is at least partially responsible for the rise in autism.

John Doe
james rico7 years ago

it won/t go away because gullible people continue to believe the lies that the md/s and the news media put forth saying they are safe and effective and those people may wake up but then its too late the amish have very little autism and they do not vaccinate at all.

John B.
John B7 years ago

Autism was found in approximately 1 child in 10,000 in the 60's in the US and the current rate is 1 child in 99.

Look and do not listen

Look at those who attack Wakefield or the host of medical personnel which realize that there is somethiing definitely wrong with the current vaccination programs. Do not listen to idiots out trying to hold themselves blameless or asserting that it is the will of God or that there is some hidden source.

This is the physical universe and it all aligns with the basic laws of physics.

Rebecca M.
Rebecca M.7 years ago

When will these studies and articles actually start publishing the truth?? My brother was diagnosed with autism 20 years ago, before the combined MMR vaccine often blamed for autism was used in Australia, where I live. Autism happened before vaccines, and it will still happen even if they are irradicated. As is commonly the case in autism, my brother was developing seemingly normally. He was talking, about a dozen words or so at 18 months, then just suddenly stopped. No apparent reason, no MMR vaccine. While I cannot use just my family's story as scientific proof, this normal development then sudden regression is COMMON among children with autism, even before there were vaccines with higher doses of mercury in theme. ALL studies often leave out this vital piece of information, which used to be common in books and information given out about autism, now everyone just blames the vaccines. Again, it is TYPICAL for autistic children to suddenly regress, and has been even since the disorder has been described. Just to give you my credientials, I have worked with people with Autism for the last 15 years, and read countless books and articles, have a psychology degree and am a qualified school teacher, with about 8 years experience in special schools. I know what I am talking about, I just don't know why so many so called 'experts' don't, or leave out vital information about the typical development of autism.