Let’s face it, unless you’re Tom Cruise and you need your brother Rain Man to make you some money at the Blackjack table, Autism is something every parent fears. It’s no wonder than, when in 1998 there was a groundbreaking study telling every parent in the world, their child was at risk of getting Autism from vaccines. Parents everywhere collectively gasped. After all, they had been told for years vaccines were the best way to prevent any number of unwanted diseases. Now they find out the very treatment they thought was making their children better, was actually having devastating consequences.
The only problem was, that same study published in the Lancet, was later retracted. It’s author, Andrew Wakefield, was later shown to have falsified data. His science proved to be fraudulent, and riddled with conflicts of interest. His research was so void of ethics, the British General Medical Council removed him from the medical registry and he’s no longer allowed to practice medicine in the United Kingdom.
The damage, however, was done. The societal perception of the effectiveness of vaccines began to waiver. Numerous parents still claim they believe vaccines cause Autism. To put this issue to bed, let me say, there has been no reputable study ever performed that shows any link between vaccines and Autism. In fact, countless studies have shown there is absolutely no link between the two.
No, vaccines do not cause autism. To understand why I’m so confident in saying that, lets throw some good science at this myth, look at Autism and vaccines, and see if we can’t quiet down the naysayers.
Autism, in general, is a broadly defined developmental disorder. Those diagnosed can have a wide range of cognition problems and abnormal behaviors. They can have significantly different social, behavioral, and intellectual abilities. Due to this, the term Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is now used to describe the many differing presentations.
The guidelines for diagnosis reside in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition”. In this manual, 5 different disorders are now classified as ASD. They are; Autistic disorder (classic autism), Asperger’s disorder (Asperger sydrome), Rett’s disorder (Rett syndrome), Childhood disintegrative disorder (CDD), and Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
While the exact symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, they generally fall in to 3 categories; social impairment, communication difficulties, and repetitive behaviors. Sufferers generally make little eye contact, don’t respond normally to those around them, and behave unusually when others around them show emotions. Communication can come in the form of pictures, their own form of sign language, repetitive words or phrases, or simply using only words that matter to them.
Those affected have also shown to have problems with senses. Many dislike the feel of clothes on their skin. They seem to experience pain from sounds like a vacuum cleaner or telephone ringing. Some even have no reaction to extreme cold or intense pain. Many of those diagnosed also have several gastrointestinal problems such as; stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation, acid reflux, vomiting and bloating. No known study has definitively shown that children with ASD have more GI problems than those without, I only bring it up, as this is the link Mr. Wakefield attempted to use in his now defunct study.
The exact mechanism within the brain that causes these wide ranging neurodevelopmental problems is currently unknown. What we do know is, it’s most likely not any one disease process, but a group of conditions with related symptoms. Genetics and environmental conditions both playing a role in those affected.
We know that those diagnosed have atypical neural connectivity within their brains, such as different neural processing of eye gaze direction using EEG (Electroencephalography). We know genetics plays a role, as studies have shown siblings of children diagnosed with ASD have a 15%-20% chance of showing symptoms compared to just 1% for those at low risk. Several known chromosomal deformities, such as Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, Joubert’s syndrome, and duplications of the chromosomes 15q11-13, can result in a diagnosis of autism.
While the exact mechanism might never be known, most researchers believe the pathways to ASD begin to emerge between 6-12 months. They also note these behaviors advance in a time when our brains are rapidly changing.
When autism was first discovered by Leo Kanner in 1943, he postulated that it was a condition present at birth. Those who are later diagnosed however, don’t show any signs of the disorder before the age of 6 months. Between the ages of 6 and 12 months is when symptoms begin to develop. Perhaps it’s this lack of a problem before the age of 6 months that has many to look for causes other than genetic. It’s also because of this, that the theory of too many vaccines during the first 6 months could have attributed to the increasing numbers of those diagnosed. Unfortunately, the parents desperate for answers to their child’s condition, needn’t look to vaccines for a cause.
There are many types of vaccines. Some have live microbes that cause an immune response, some have inactivated microbes that also cause an immune reaction. Others have just the antigens that cause an immune response and not the entire microbe itself. The ones that gained such popularity as the potential cause of autism was the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella).
In his study published in the February 1998 issue of Lancet, Dr. Wakefield stated “Onset of behavioral symptoms was associated by the parents with measles, mumps, rubella, vaccination in eight of the 12 children…. All 12 children had intestinal abnormalities…..behavioral disorders included, autism (9), disintegrated psychosis (1), and possible postviral or vaccinal encephalitis (2)”. His interpretation was that the gastrointestinal problems and the developmental regression (associated with autism) were associated with environmental triggers. Basically saying the trigger was the MMR vaccine.
Immune system responses have long been shown to come with some gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s not too far fetched then, to try and show a link between those symptoms and vaccines. A person might also try and postulate a theory to show how those symptoms that are associated with certain disorders (like the gastrointestinal problems with autistic children) might be caused by those vaccines.
The fraudulent disconnect with this myth is trying to say the cause of the symptoms is also the cause of disease processes that results in those same symptoms, even though it has never been shown that ASD sufferers are more prone to GI problems than the general population. It probably didn’t hurt that Mr. Wakefield was a paid consultant to attorneys who represented parents that thought their kids had been harmed by vaccines.
The question Mr. Wakefield presented isn’t inappropriate to ask. The problem came when others looked at his falsified methods, and attempted to replicate his results. Falsified data aside, numerous studies performed between 2002-2005 showed no link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
Like with so many other societal perceptions based on now invalid science, vaccines causing autism is still a very real concern for many parents. In a survey published in Health Affairs in 2011, 30%-36% of parents were concerned that their children were given too many vaccines in the first 2 years of life, and those vaccines might cause learning disabilities (like autism). 10% say they will delay, or refuse vaccinations believing it’s safer than following the recommended CDC schedule.
In April of 2013, another study published in The Journal of Pediatrics once again showed no link between exposure to vaccines and autism. They showed that it didn’t matter how many vaccines the children got, whether all at once or given over time, there was no increased risk of developmental problems. Due to so many conditions potentially affecting symptoms of ASD, this study, like so many others, points out that possible effects of immunological exposure in early infancy can’t be ruled out altogether. They do point out, however, “we found no association between exposure to antigens from vaccines during infancy and the development of ASD with regression”. They also state, “The possibility that immunologic stimulation from vaccines during the first 1-2 years of life could be related to the development of ASD is not well supported by the known neurobiology of ASD, which tends to be genetically determined with origins in prenatal development.”
Based on the study published by Mr. Wakefield in 1998, parents were right to be concerned about vaccines causing autism. In the end, though, good science prevailed and showed us that there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism. If you still believe it does, I hope you buy my book telling you how aids is a hoax and the sun doesn’t cause cancer. It will it only cost you $45.00. Oh wait, Kevin Trudeau already tried that, never mind!
If you’d like to hear our author talk about this article, he spoke with The Tim Denis Morning Show on News Talk 610 CKTB.