Vaccines and Autism: Why There’s No Link

15 Jul


Photo Courtesy of Microsoft Office


In today’s world of medical research, we face a constant stream of “new findings” and statistics that either bolster or negate our prior beliefs. As a lay person in the field, it is often extremely difficult to wade through the information and distinguish which is truly reliable and which is not. Medical experts themselves continually argue about various controversial topics. Can using antiperspirant deodorants cause breast cancer? Was the swine flu ever a big deal or not? There’s no way to really know, yet—stay tuned until the next study is released to clarify.

Such has been the heated medical debate over the link between vaccines and autism in children. Most recently, many medical experts have concluded that the correlation between child vaccinations and autism is extremely weak, and that a direct cause-effect relationship is nonexistent.

However, many physicians worry about the recent wave of parents that, startled by the uproar in the media about a possible vaccine-autism link, refuse to get their children vaccinated. This new anti-vaccine movement in parents has catalyzed the spread of many infections, that, for the last six decades, have been nearly eliminated through vaccination.

The blazing controversy started with a tiny spark by way of British doctor Andrew Wakefield. In 1998, he wrote a paper for The Lancet, a reputable British medical journal, concluding from his research that vaccines caused autism.

There was a catch, however. Replications of Wakefield’s study by other scientists failed to yield consistent results. Then, in 2004, his methods of research were found to be highly biased and unethical. According to CNN, Wakefield conducted medical procedures on children that were invasive and unsafe, such as colonoscopies and MRI scans. He paid some to give blood for the study.

Once his corrupted ways were exposed, six years after the initial publication of his paper, outrage ensued. He was widely condemned by the global scientific community and parents alike. Only this year, another six years later, was his study officially retracted from The Lancet. Also, Britain’s General Medical Council barred Wakefield from practicing medicine for the reason that he “repeatedly breached fundamental principles of research medicine… his actions in this area alone were sufficient to amount to serious professional misconduct.”

The anti-vaccine movement has no shortage of renowned proponents, even after Wakefield’s denunciation. Arguably, the most famous person to shun vaccines for the sake of preventing autism is Jenny McCarthy. The former Playboy model and actress began her crusade in 2005, when her son Evan was diagnosed with autism at age 2. According to her own accounts in her memoir, Louder Than Words, she then tried various treatments to in order to “fix” her son.

McCarthy saw herself as the world’s voice for parents of autistic children. She used her celebrity status to further her cause, making appearances on TV shows such as Oprah, 20/20, Larry King Live, and Good Morning America. She began to claim that vaccination was a conspiracy crafted by doctors in order to make money, and that it was causing a rise in numbers of children with autism.

Today, her son Evan is a happy, normal seven-year-old boy. McCarthy believes that she has effectively cured her son of his autism. However, here come the questions. Scientists wonder if Evan ever had autism at all; there is strong belief that he actually suffered from Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a disorder with symptoms that are similar to those that Evan experienced as a toddler. If that’s the case, then Evan was, unfortunately, misdiagnosed, and all of McCarthy’s claims that vaccines were the culprit behind her son’s nonexistent autism were utterly unfounded.

But the damage has already been done. Countless people, especially parents, now believe that vaccines are the cause of autism in children, and that having their children vaccinated is to be avoided at all costs. The movement began in Britain, with the introduction of Wakefield’s study, and quickly spread to America. These beliefs are still popular in many places across the country.

There are consequences to this boycott of vaccines. Diseases that have been effectively prevented and virtually eliminated for the last six decades are making their return from the dead. According to Dr. Rahul K. Parikh, a California physician, there have been outbreaks of measles and meningitis in 2008 and 2009. In California, over 200 children were diagnosed of whooping cough. Each of these diseases is preventable with one simple injection.

The bottom line is, get vaccinated. If you have kids, make sure they get vaccinated, as recommended by their pediatrician, who, chances are, has volumes more medical knowledge than Jenny McCarthy does. Don’t be frightened by the pandemonium created by people jumping to conclusions, skipping the solid facts. Vaccines are the shield between you and the legions of bacteria itching to get under your skin. Better safe than sorry.

One Response to “Vaccines and Autism: Why There’s No Link”

  1. Ryan July 16, 2010 at 1:05 am #

    This is a very well written and researched post. Thank you for writing about it, as it is a hot button issue.
    The fact that the anti-vaxxers continue to deny all the scientific evidence and instead support conspiracy theories is disturbing, and will lead to the deaths of more children.
    But hopefully more people like you will do what they can to get the good information out there, and hopefully, save some children’s lives.

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