The Acclaimed Fear of Vaccines and Autism Spectrum Disorder
Every child that is born is unique in his or her own ways, whether it be skin color, eye color, hair color, birth weight, and many more aspects. However, all of them are treated similarly when it comes to vaccinations because they are mandatory in order to attend school. Once a child receives these vaccinations, they cannot be removed nor the harm, if any, that is caused cannot be withdrawn. For many generations, there have been numerous controversies regarding the issue of vaccines causing developmental delays in children such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Autism is a neurological condition that affects the brain that causes delays in communication and difficulty in interactions with people. Some people believe that certain vaccines lead to autism in children, and others do not. There are also religious reasons why parents do not want to get their children vaccinated. While the legitimate cause of autism has not been evidently determined, parents of young children and expecting parents need to be aware of the pros and cons of getting their children immunized.
This controversial topic began when a study published in 1998 suggested that the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine might cause autism. The history of where it all began is in 1998 with a gastroenterologist named Andrew Wakefield:
On 28 February 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a British gastroenterologist, and colleagues  published a paper in The Lancet that described 8 children whose first symptoms of autism appeared within 1 month after receiving an MMR vaccine. From these observations, Wakefield postulated that MMR vaccine caused intestinal inflammation that led to translocation of usually nonpermeable peptides to the bloodstream and, subsequently, to the brain, where they affected development. (Plotkin, Gerber, & Offit, 2009)
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There were many problems with the study that they performed because it was not a proper case study. A trial should be completely randomized, double-blind, and have a large sample size in order to prevent bias. This was not done in Wakefield’s case study with the children. He only studied 12 subjects when there should be at least 30 subjects. Wakefield claimed that vaccines were linked to autism and media spread this correlation which is why it is such a heated topic today. Although, a correlation between children who get vaccinated and those who develop autism does not infer that vaccines trigger autism. Millions of parents refused to get their children vaccinated because they are afraid that it will cause autism and more cases of Measles and Rubella will spread dramatically. Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph states, “And the research used in that study was found to be false, the doctor who wrote it lost his medical license, and the medical journal that published it retracted the paper (this means that they believe it never should have been published).” The paper was retracted due to the fabrication of data and the poor use of statistics because it was not a proper trial.
As a result of Wakefield’s false study, many other epidemiological studies were performed to portray that vaccines are not linked to autism. The following table shows all of the case studies that were done which failed to support an association between the MMR vaccine and autism.
The 13 case studies above all disproved that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism.
Ecological studies were mostly performed in the United Kingdom and Canada in which researchers addressed the question if the MMR vaccine causes autism. In the United Kingdom, about 498 autistic children born from 1979 through 1992 were identified. There was a pattern of increasing autism diagnoses by birth year, but there was no difference in the rates of autism diagnoses after the introduction of the MMR vaccine was observed. The same occurred in California, the increased number of autism diagnoses did not correlate with the rates of the MMR vaccine. The case in Canada was a little different because autism rates increased while MMR vaccination rates decreased. Andrew Wakefield believed that he discovered a new “variant” form of autism in which the children experienced gastrointestinal symptoms. However, in England, researchers performed a cross-sectional study on a large sample of autistic children and the results demonstrated that there was no difference in rate of developmental deterioration by exposure to the MMR vaccine. There was no association between the symptoms or developmental deterioration. Both of these cases refute the idea that there is a new form of autism which Wakefield “believed” to be factual. Researchers in Finland performed two prospective cohort studies. They recorded adverse events associated with MMR vaccinated children. About 31 of them did experience gastrointestinal symptoms, but none of them developed autism due to the vaccine. All of these studies that have been performed in various countries disproved that the MMR vaccine has an association with autism or causes it to develop in young children.
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Furthermore, thimerosal is a vaccine preservative which contains mercury and has been used effectively in multidose vaccines, but not in MMR. Many biologists believed that this preservative could also be a possible cause of autism. In his article, Vaccines and Autism, Xin Guan declares that, “Beginning in the late 1930s, a mercury-based preservative marketed by Eli Lilly and Company as thimerosal was introduced in multi-dose vaccines as an antifungal and antiseptic agent that would prevent microbe growth in stored vaccines.” Thimerosal was very competent, and it eradicated the lethal effects of a bacterial infection. The down side to the preservative is that when it degrades in the body, it forms a chemical called ethylmercury. Mercury is known to be harmful especially if ingested. It is stated by Guan that, “In addition, there were
strikingly similar observations regarding movement, physical characteristics, behavior, and visual coordination between autistic symptoms and the after-effects of mercury poisoning.” This is the most credible reason as to why parents believed that their children became autistic after taking multidose vaccines. The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control report that there is a lack of scientific evidence that supports the claim made by many parents that mercury additives in vaccines are a cause of autism. There was a study done that established that there was significantly no difference in the risk of autism between children who got vaccinated with thimerosal-containing vaccines versus children who got vaccinated by thimerosal-free vaccines. Many other analyses also had similar results and confirmed that there is no correlation with thimerosal containing vaccines and autism. Eventually, thimerosal was removed from most childhood vaccines in 1999 to ensure a risk-free public health policy. This was done to reduce the mercury exposure to infants and children. Ever since the ingredient has been removed from vaccines, there has not been a decrease in the rates of children developing autism.
In continuation, alternative theories emerged after it was proven that thimerosal containing vaccines do not cause autism. The most renowned theory was that the instantaneous administration of numerous vaccines weakens the immune system and triggers autism. This theory is flawed because even though an infant’s immune system may not be as strong as an adult’s, it still enforces many protective responses. Children who get vaccinated and children who do not have the same predisposition to infections. Autism is an autoimmune disease which deals with the central nervous system. Neurons and synapses play a role in the system, so I do not understand how vaccines would affect them.
On a personal note, my younger brother is autistic and has received his vaccinations in order to go to school. My parents do not believe that vaccines are a possible cause of his autism. He received his MMR vaccine when it was required. My family and I believe that there are more genetic and environmental causes that lead to autism instead of just vaccines. I did not know much about the controversial topic of vaccines and autism until researching about it. If there is no factual, scientific evidence to back up the claim that vaccines cause autism then I don’t believe that it can be credited. I just hope and pray that eventually there is a vaccine that is created which helps with the symptoms of autism and reduces them.
To conclude, vaccines do not have an association with autism or cause the disorder. Many studies have disproved the theory and continual research is being performed on this topic. I believe that parents should vaccinate their children to protect them from several known and unknown diseases which are present in the world today. Vaccines help build immunity and if the children who do not get vaccinated are exposed to a dangerous infection, their bodies will not be able to respond well, and they can get very sick. I believe that parents should do more research before making hasty decisions on what is suitable for their children and what is not because it could be a life transforming decision.
- Guan, Xin. Vaccines and Autism. 9 Feb. 2009, 11:36 PM, pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0e08/54ed8bd453340924eb465a4a28cd13785f99.pdf
- “Is There a Connection Between Vaccines and Autism?” Edited by Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, KidsHealth, The Nemours Foundation, Mar. 2018, kidshealth.org/en/parents/autism-studies.html
- Nelson, Andrew. “Responsible Statistics.” Statlit, Dec. 2011, www.statlit.org/pdf/2011-Nelson-Responsible-Statistics-6up.pdf
- “Vaccine Safety.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Nov. 2015, www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html
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