Today, an increasing percentage of parents are choosing not to vaccinate their children based on fears that are unfounded. The tragedy here is that more and more children are now not protected from preventable diseases. As a result, disease outbreaks not been seen by generation have occurred. The other tragedy is the children that have chronic illnesses such as autism who desperately need better research into why and, more importantly, what to do about it is not being done because of these fears. The fears that most parents have about vaccines needs to be address so they can then make the best decision for their family. In 2008 there were several small pockets of infections. One involving measles erupted in an under vaccinated area in San Diego. Like most measles outbreaks, it came from abroad. Due to parents who exercised the personal belief exemption allowed by California, measles were spread throughout the community. Why did they choose not to vaccinate their children?
People who have never encountered these diseases become complacent. Individuals who grew up in the 50s encountered diseases like measles, mumps and polio. Vaccines are an easy sell for this generation. Many of them have personal familiarity of the effects of these debilitating diseases. Today’s generation has never seen these diseases or had any firsthand childhood experience with them. Many parents are oblivious to the risks of the diseases. Vaccines have been so effective that most young doctors today have also never seen these diseases.
Government health officials struggle to communicate with a skeptical public because people are more likely to believe this YouTube video.
Her neurologist later concluded that her condition was psychogenic. Psychogenic diseases are a result of mental or emotional conflict. Although this was proven to be a complete hoax, the inaccurate and destructive information was widely spread and had a serious damaging effect on the public’s view of vaccines.
The theory that vaccines cause autism has become well known in part due to celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carry. Former Playboy playmate, Jenny McCarthy knew nothing about autism until her son received a series of vaccines including the MMR triple shot. A few weeks later, her son Evan developed seizures and was diagnosed with autism. She found the website Generation Rescue. Generation Rescue was founded by business man Richard Handly. His son was also diagnosed with autism following a series of shots in 2004. At the time, he also went on the web and found a community of parents with similar stories to share. Combining his resources and her celebrity, they have been highly effective at organizing a movement of concerned parents.
The science that planted the seeds of fear was a 1998 article published in the medical journal, The Lancet. British gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield reported on 12 children with gastrointestinal problems on which 8 of them developed symptoms of autism following an MMR triple shot. Wakefield’s theory was that the measles vaccine inflamed the intestines causing harmful proteins to leak into the blood stream that would eventually damage the brain and lead to autism. Wakefield concluded that the MMR triple shot may be too much for the immune system of some children to handle at that particular age. News of Wakefield’s article spread and generated fear that measles shots might cause autism. This was followed by a dramatic decline in the vaccination of measles for young children. There were areas in England where the vaccine rate dropped lower than 70%. Due to the drop, there was a large outbreak of measles. One hundred and ten infants were admitted to hospitals in critical condition and 3 died from this preventable disease.
On February 2, 2010, the Lancet retracted Andrew Wakefield’s article. This was the article which gave rise to the theory linking vaccines to autism. The study was found to be scientifically flawed and scientists around the world were not able to replicate Wakefield’s findings. The Sunday Times reported that some of the children in his study were referred to him by a lawyer who was suing pharmaceutical manufactures on the children’s behalf.
Scientists have been studying groups of children searching for a possible link between vaccines and autism. The methods that they have been using are the same types that linked smoking to lung cancer. Unlike the United States, Danish authorities collect demographic information on the entire population. They know when every child was born, vaccinated, and every case of autism diagnosed. Data was analyzed on all children born between 1991 and 1998. The total sample size was over a half a million children which contained two groups. The two groups studied were children given the MMR triple shot and children that did not receive it. They compared the autism rate between the two groups and found no significant difference. Children who didn’t receive the shot were just as likely to be diagnosed with autism as the children that did. These findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Other studies carried out by researchers in Finland, Britain, and the US also found no relationship between MMR triple shot and autism. These studies are not easily assessable to everyone or as entertaining as YouTube videos. However dry, they are extremely important studies that clearly dispel the myths about vaccines. The links to these studies are listed below.
- A Population-Based Study of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccination and Autism
- Finnish Study Confirms Safety of MMR Vaccine
- Autism and Measles, Mumps, and Rubella Vaccine: No Epidemiological Evidence for a Causal Association
- Time Trends in Autism and in MMR Immunization Coverage in California
Supplementary evidence came from Japan. The Japanese altered their vaccine schedule in 1993 by replacing the MMR triple shot with 3 separate vaccinations. Following the change, autism rates did not decrease. In fact, autism rates appeared to increase thus making the triple shot an unlikely cause of autism. (See link below)
- No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study
The Danish team then went on to explore the second theory. Is thimerosal in vaccines related to autism? In Denmark since the 70s, only one vaccine has contained thimerosal until 1992. This was the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. After 1992, the same vaccine continued without thimerosal. Two groups were compared; children given the thimerosal vaccine and children given vaccine without thimerosal. The rates of autism were identical. Other studies in the US, UK, and Canada also found no relationship between thimerosal and autism. (See links below)
- Thimerosal and the Occurrence of Autism: Negative Ecological Evidence From Danish Population-Based Data
- Association between thimerosal-containing vaccine and autism
- Early Thimerosal Exposure and Neuropsychological Outcomes at 7 to 10 Years
- Exposure to Thimerosal in Vaccines Used in Canadian Infant Immunization Programs, With respect to Risk of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
In 2004 the Institute of Medicine conducted its own research and concluded that “the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between MMR vaccine and autism… and also between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.”
- Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism
In the age of information, it is important to decipher fact from factoid. Parents need to understand the consequence of their decision in this matter because it includes other’s children as well. These parents are making decisions based on the sensationalism of the media, charismatic celebrities, YouTube videos and other uncensored internet sites. Although all of it is very entertaining, the criticisms on vaccines are baseless. The scientists are not as charismatic as Jenny McCarthy or as entertaining as YouTube but they are the experts. Most of the experts have dedicated their entire lives to their discipline. When parents are making a decision based on false information, it is impossible to find what is in the best interest for their children. The types of methodologies used in the multiple studies that showed no association between vaccines and autism were the same types used in linking smoking to lung cancer. If they were good enough for smoking, then why are they not good enough for vaccines?