Autism and Vaccinations:
One less thing to worry about.
I fight anxiety on a daily basis. I must remind myself not to worry. I hear that this is a universal maternal ailment.
Well, good news comrades. It appears that we have one less thing to worry about.
My editor shared with me a story from public radio’s The Diane Rehm Show that caught her attention a few months back. The show, titled “Vaccines and Autism: A Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear” focused on the repercussions of a widely cited article against vaccinations that turned out to be seriously flawed.
You probably have heard something about this, whether from Jenny McCarthy or the nightly news. To summarize, in 1998, The Lancet (self-described and often recognized as “the world’s leading general medical journal”) published a research article that, in short, started an anti-vaccination movement. The article, lead-authored by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, presented a link between childhood MMR vaccinations (MMR being measles, mumps, and rubella) and the development of autism. According to one of Diane Rehm’s guests on her show, Seth Mnookin, “the paper itself did not go nearly as far [in making conclusive statements] as Wakefield later did in his subsequent public pronouncements.” Nevertheless, the consuming public took home the message that all of those vaccinations we are encouraged to get for our children may be putting them at serious risk for a development disorder.
As I implied earlier, Wakefield’s research turned out to be completely bogus, and was retracted by The Lancet and, earlier this year, branded “an elaborate fraud” by the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Nevertheless, parents may not be so quick to change their beliefs on the riskiness of childhood vaccinations.
“The mystique around that connection [between childhood MMR vaccines and autism] has been completely discredited,” said Carla Tanner, Ed.D., director of the Tulsa Area Alliance on Disabilities, who has worked on autism issues for more than 20 years through careers in Tulsa Public Schools, the Community Service Council, and Northeastern State University.
The unfortunate consequence of Wakefield’s flawed study is that it diverted time and energy away from real research.
“We don’t spend enough on researching the actual causes of autism,” Tanner said. “Parents are grasping at any potential cause they can find. Nationally, we’ve got to get a better handle on it.”
Based on one medical theory, some children are predisposed to autism, and any kind of trauma may trigger it during a particular age range, which happens to coincide with the period that most children receive several immunizations.
Tanner warns that the greater danger is in skipping childhood vaccinations. “There is a huge risk of having all sorts of different things affect them. We’ve got to make sure we get our kids vaccinated.”
Other concerns about vaccinations include the use of preservatives, specifically thimerosal, and the short period of time between immunizations. We may not need to worry about that, either. According to the CDC website, “Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines.”
In addition, according to current research, “there is not any real problem with the levels of vaccinations children are getting,” Tanner said.
Of course, this is one of those topics with which you might want to do your own research in order to feel comfortable. Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns. Health departments, healthcare authorities, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are also good sources of information.
However, don’t expect to find much disagreement on this issue in the medical field. “Both [the NIH and CDC] are in agreement that we have to educate people to the fact that children are not at risk of getting autism from immunizations,” Tanner said. “It is crucial that children get their immunizations in a timely manner.”