You’ve no doubt heard of the controversy surrounding vaccines and autism, and perhaps wondered if there’s any truth to the idea that childhood vaccines either cause autism or are somehow implicated in the onset of childhood autism.
Rest assured there is no credible evidence that vaccines are linked to autism and there is plenty of evidence that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any negative side effects. But how we got to this point is an interesting story.
In 1998, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, the Lancet, published a study linking the MMR vaccine to autism. The study was based on a small sample of children and touched off a global hysteria that persists today, as millions of parents heard about the rising number of kids with autism and didn’t vaccinate their kids in the hopes of preventing autism in their own families.
What many people didn’t realize in the subsequent years of controversy and finger-pointing was that the original study was retracted completely and its lead researcher, Andrew Wakefield, was totally discredited. Evidence came to light that Wakefield had a serious conflict of interest, interfered with his own study results, and no other researcher has ever been able to replicate his findings, despite a global effort to do so. In the end, Wakefield’s medical license was suspended and his findings are now considered a total sham.
Although this study was debunked, the fallout from Wakefield’s fraud has continued. Over the past decade, declining rates of immunization have led to a spike in outbreaks of measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough) that had been relatively uncommon. This is attributed solely to parents avoiding vaccination for their children and a breakdown in herd immunity.
Herd immunity (also called community immunity) is the term used to describe when enough members of a community are protected from a disease so that an outbreak would be limited and short-lived. Herd immunity ensures that if one person gets the measles, for instance, enough people around the patient are protected from the virus, which will die out on its own.
The autism vaccination fraud has been called “the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.” A thorough review of scientific evidence on vaccines and medical records following vaccinations found vaccines to be safe. Likewise, serious health issues following vaccinations were rare. In spite of the scientific evidence, celebrities and self-appointed “experts” continue to stir up fears and conspiracy theories.
For instance, today some parents worry whether a preservative called thimerosal may actually be linked to developmental problems, even though thimerosal was never used in the MMR vaccine. The material was removed as a precaution, even though no study ever linked it to autism.
If you are concerned about vaccination safety, take the time to learn about the consequences of failing to vaccinate your child and talk to a pediatrician about your concerns. Vaccination is important to the health of your family as well as your community.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, February 2019
- There is plenty of evidence that the benefits of vaccines far outweigh any negative side effects.
- Over the past decade, declining rates of immunization have led to a spike in outbreaks of measles, mumps and pertussis (whooping cough) that had been relatively uncommon.
- Celebrities and self-appointed “experts” continue to stir up fears and conspiracy theories.