Image from Vaccination Information Network
The widespread debate on the link between autism and vaccinations has been intensely studied, yet parents all around the US are still precautious about vaccinating their children at the right stage of development. Many studies show no link between autism spectrum disorder and vaccinations, but parents and antivaccionationists alike are still defending their side of the story. Although science has proven them wrong, there must be something worthwhile on the antivaccionationists side or the debate would be put to rest already. What are the proposed problems with vaccinations? How do vaccinations work and why is there any talk about being linked to ASD?
Let’s Start With the Basics
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a term used to describe a group of brain development disorders and it is defined in varying degrees, hence the “spectrum” portion of the name. Disorders range from many different behaviors such as social interactions and verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors. ASD is sometimes associated with things such as intellectual disability and children are very hypersensitive to their surrounding environment. It is suggested by Autism Speaks that autism begins very early on in brain development.
ASD is a very common disorder, in fact, Autism Speaks explains that 1 in 68 American children are found on the autism spectrum, and the disorder is about 5 times more likely in boys. Shelly Allred, part of Pathfinders for Autism, suggests that the easiest way to understand autism is to use everyday examples. She explains that having ASD is like being in sensory overload 24/7 but not having any way of expressing this feeling in a way the people around you will understand. Shelly explains, “Imagine putting a desk inside the Harbor Tunnel during rush hour, about 40 feet away from the desk stands a teacher giving you oral algebraic word problems to complete…how long could you sit there with the lights and the noise distracting you?”
ASD is a highly researched disorder with promising results just in the past few years. According to Autism Speaks, no longer do scientists think that there is just one cause of autism just like there is not just one type of autism. Many factors influence the spectrum such as prenatal care, genetics, the child’s immune system, and early development. Considering that what happens to children early on in life determines a lot about how they will live their life, it’s no wonder that one scientist could change the way parents across the country feel about vaccinating their children so drastically.
Who May This Scientist Be?
In 1998, a study was published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine (protecting against mumps, measles, and rubella) to autism. Wakefield has been the hot topic over the past few years due to his misinterpreted study claiming that the MMR vaccine was actually causing an increase in the risk for autism in children. CNN’s Wire Staff posted an excellent article highlighting the key points to this new disastrous situation, scaring parents out of vaccinating their children for MMR completely. What parent would not be nervous if a well-respected scientific journal published information like that?
It was found later that Wakefield was intentionally changing his data because a law firm was offering him a nice paycheck to “develop” a link between this vaccine and autism, the law firm wanted to sue the vaccine manufacturers. In 2004, most of Wakefield’s co-authors withdrew their names from the study after learning that he altered data for the 12 subjects that supported his claim. According to CNN, Britain revoked Wakefield’s medical license in May of 2010 because he was unable to repeat his results, proving even further that he altered data in his study. According to BMJ (British Medical Journal), “Of the 12 children, Wakefield based his claim on, five showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism.”
Luckily, Wakefield was exposed and light could be shed on the falsified data. Now parents do not have to worry about hurting their children by getting them vaccinated on time and the vaccination rates can start to rise again, right? Wrong. Although the study finding a link between vaccinations and autism was falsified, parents and antivaccionationists are still debating strongly against doctors and researchers on the topic of annual vaccinations.
How Do Vaccinations Work?
Vaccinations, along with any medical advancement, are going to come along with confusion and misinterpretation outside the medical community. If you do not have a science background first hand, it is more difficult to understand the purpose of new treatments, tests, etc. Just like, it would be difficult for someone with no background in electrical engineering, to rewire a house when the circuits start to trip all the time.
Vaccines seem like a very scary thing, if the purpose is not well explained. The biggest misinterpretation of vaccines is most likely that they weaken the immune system and can give the patient the infection they are trying to prevent, because the infection is being injected into them. In reality, according to the Department of Health, the vaccine strengthens the immune system response against the target infection because the vaccine contains a weakened part of the germ. This is crucial, because when the patient’s body experiences the weakened version of the infection it can start producing anti-bodies (defenders that kill off infections in our cells), so if the patient encounters the full strength infection it is already “trained” to fight it.
Image from Skeptical Raptor’s Blog
Then Why Does the Debate Continue?
Antivaccionationists still claim something is not working right in the vaccinations their children are receiving. Parents magazine posted an article related to autism and it explained that places in the US are seeing dramatic drops in the rate of vaccinations. Those places have since seen outbreaks of diseases practically wiped out by the US, like measles and mumps. Infectious-disease specialists say that these outbreaks are due to a lack of what they call “herd immunity.” Dr. Rodewald, director of Immunization Services Division of the CDC claims that in order for a community to be protected from a disease, “80 to 90 percent of its population needs to have been vaccinated,” and whenever that level drops babies who are not old enough for the vaccinations are at a high risk of getting sick.
Antivaccionationists have claimed that vaccines do not work, mainly arguing that thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in vaccines are causing a direct increase in ASD cases. According to Science-Based Medicine, the primary argument is that “the rate of diagnosis of ASD has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s.” In the 1990s the vaccination schedule was changing, increasing doses, which increased levels of thimerosal. It makes logical sense to see a correlation between those two patterns, especially after Wakefield’s paper being released in The Lancet in 1998. The downfall to that argument however, is that in 2002 thimerosal was removed from vaccine schedules. Science-Based Medicine goes on to say that, antivaccionationists predicted “ASD rates would fall dramatically in years following the removal of thimerosal from most vaccines,” but the number of ASD diagnoses has actually increased.
Image from Pro-Vaccination
Is There Any Explanation?
Although parents have every right to be worried about environmental factors that can harm their children, test after test has tried to reproduce any results of autism having a link to vaccines and there have been no weighty findings. Major accredited organizations have concluded that there are no links between ASD and vaccinations, but there are still people that will not give it up. Why? When something bad happens to children, parents want to know why it is happening and what is causing it.
Science-Based Medicine makes a great point, suggesting that another explanation for ASD rates increasing in the past few years can most likely be pointed towards the change in definition of what ASD is and how broad the spectrum has become. That would explain why there has been an increase of cases diagnosing children with ASD, even after the mercury-based thimerosal was removed; the characteristics of the disorder have changed and doctors are being especially careful to recognize autism at an early age.
Dr. Sanders from University of Miami Miller School of Medicine says it best, “I think there’s a lot of emotion around the issue of autism now. It engenders a lot of fear in parents and clinicians alike”. He strongly supports vaccinations, explaining that any risk is greatly outweighed by the benefits. Considering, that autism has no definite cause at this point, it is hard for people to let go of any hope they may have of finding it. Sanders goes along to say, “All you need is one individual’s story and it will expand.” One child, in one case, is all it takes for parents across the country to form an opinion about a medical condition that is as mysterious to them as it is to the clinicians that study it.
Dr. Offit from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia explains that the correlation parents are seeing between autism and vaccinations is likely due to coincidence; the age vaccinations are required is the same stage of development that autism symptoms become noticeable. That brings a lot of clarity to the whole situation; parents are not out of line looking for a cause for autism and feeling passionately about any possibility that arises. The major concern now is for parents to realize that vaccinations protect not only their children, but other people’s children as well. The longer parents continue to push off annual vaccinations, the more outbreaks are going to occur and the more susceptible infants will be to getting the diseases the US has worked hard to prevent.
Alison Singer, the president of the Autism Science Foundation and a mother of a child with autism spoke out in an article in Parents magazine stating, “We have to move forward and be willing to accept what science tells us: Vaccines do not cause autism.” Some autism supporters are now starting to change their point of view and believe studies determining a link between vaccines and autism should be stopped, because it is taking time and money away from finding a real cause. The question stands, “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?” Well, any disease is going to come with concern and mystery, the key in those situations is realizing what can be done to help find the cause and putting all of the energy and emotion into finding that cause. Scientists have proven vaccinations are safe and effective, now it’s the communities job to listen to those findings and act on them.
For more information, visit Global Research for a follow up video