Monday, May 6, 2013

It’s time to put the vaccine-autism link behind us

By Roy Benaroch, MD

This article was originally published on The Pediatric Insider.

First, it was the MMR-autism link—that turned out to be a complete fabrication, a fraud invented by a single “researcher” who made up his data. He was taking money from plaintiff’s lawyers, and he was trying to patent his own, competing vaccine. Too bad for the scare and the resulting surge in measles.

Then, the mercury connection. A mercury-containing preservative, thimerosal, came under scrutiny. To be safe, it was removed from almost all vaccines in 1999—and rates of autism didn’t fall one bit.

The most recent vaccine-autism link can be abbreviated as the “too many too soon” hypothesis, that somehow the antigens in vaccines “overwhelm” the immune system, leading to mischief. It doesn’t matter that the quantity of antigens from the current generation of vaccines is far fewer than what was used in the past. Those needles have got to be doing some harm, right?

The “too many too soon” idea never made any sense, from a logical or scientific standpoint—it’s well deconstructed here. The “load” on the immune system from ordinary life, from the exposures we all have from living in a world full of bacteria and germs, is hugely greater than the comparatively tiny exposures from vaccines. But the true, hardcore anti-vaccine propagandists have found their latest idea, and as usual they don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.

Still, there is evidence. For the many families who have sincere questions about vaccine safety, it’s good to have yet another study to add the mountain of evidence that vaccines are safe, and that vaccines do not cause autism.

Published in The Journal of Pediatrics this month, this study compared children with autism (including several subtypes) to typically developing children. They combed records to determine just how many vaccines and how many vaccine components were given, to see if they could find a link. Could increasing vaccine exposures increase children’s risk of autism?

No. Increasing exposures to the antibody-stimulating products in vaccines during the first two years of life did not increase the risk of developing any autism spectrum disorder.

At this point, the evidence for the lack of any vaccine-autism link is overwhelming. Continued vaccine study for any sorts of side effects needs to continue, but the singular focus on vaccines as the cause of autism as voiced by some in the autism community has become a hindrance to genuine progress and a public health nightmare. Let’s keep our kids healthy. Make sure your kids are fully vaccinated, on time and by the established schedule. It’s time to put this vaccine-autism thing behind us, so we can speed up the progress towards better understanding, prevention, and treatment. I’d hope that’s something we could all agree on.

Dr. Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at The Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth through Preschool: A Parent’s Guide and A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child.

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