False narratives die hard. Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are not causing autism, many well-meaning parents continue to believe they are protecting their children by avoiding vaccinations.
The panic began in 1998. That year a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published an article in the respected medical journal The Lancet. Wakefield did intestinal biopsies on 12 children with intestinal symptoms and developmental disorders, 10 of whom were autistic, and found intestinal inflammation. The parents of 8 of the autistic children believed their symptoms began after receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The published paper clearly said, “We did not find an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”
However, despite this disclaimer in the paper, Wakefield held a press conference to say the MMR vaccine probably caused autism and he recommended stopping MMR vaccinations. Instead, he recommended giving the vaccinations separately at intervals of a year or more.
Wakefield’s analysis was thoroughly discredited later and he was found to have done questionable research on other subjects as well. The Lancet retracted his original paper. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, described the original paper as “fatally flawed” and apologized for publishing it. Ten of the original 12 co-authors published a retraction stating:
“We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established the vaccine and autism, as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of a link was raised, and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.”
Despite this retraction, many parents still believe there is a connection between vaccines and autism. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are leaving them vulnerable to diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, and others that are preventable with vaccinations. As a result of these parents’ concerns, these largely eradicated diseases are making a comeback.
Recent outbreaks of measles in New York City and Orange County, California; 70 cases of measles attributed to Disneyland visits since December; numerous cases of whooping cough throughout California and mumps outbreaks in communities around Ohio State University in Columbus have been reported. It seems the hard-learned lessons of the 1950s that vaccines are safe and effective means for preventing illness have been unlearned.
New Study Confirms Safety of Vaccines
Yet another study has just been completed to evaluate the safety of vaccines. The Journal of the American Medical Association published the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. The study was reported in The Wall Street Journal by Jeanne Whalen.
The study examined insurance claims for 96,000 U.S. children born between 2001 and 2007, and determined that those who received an MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, and rubella) didn’t develop autism at a higher rate than unvaccinated children. Even more important, children who had older siblings with autism – a group considered at high risk for the disorder – didn’t have increased odds of developing autism after vaccination when compared with unvaccinated children with autistic older siblings.
The researchers wrote:
“These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD (autism spectrum disorder) even among children already at higher risk for ASD.”
Lead researcher Dr. Anjali Jain, a pediatrician, reassured parents:
“Hopefully this study is reassuring that there isn’t any additional risk from the vaccine” for children who have autistic siblings.
Fred Volkmar, an autism expert at the Child Study Center at Yale University School of Medicine, said the study benefited from a large sample size and “well done analyses.” In an e-mail, he said he hoped the study would “contribute to putting to rest the myth that immunizations cause autism!”