No Link Between Vaccines and Autism, but False Belief Persists
Jun 05, 2012

A new study, which investigated data from the National Immunization Surveys published between 1995 and 2006, confirms what public health advocates already suspected.  As the Medical Daily blog reported yesterday, the study determined that “Childhood vaccinations decreased in response to the fears surrounding autism risks.”  It’s remarkable that even today, despite the existence of widespread research that fails to show any link between autism and vaccinations, this false belief continues to persist.
Many of the parents I’ve spoken to over the years don’t even realize that the premise for these fears stemmed from a small, but well publicized study conducted by Andrew Wakefield and published in The Lancet in 1998.  Since then, many researchers tried to verify Wakefield’s claims, only to discover that their research proved the opposite.  Study after study failed to show vaccinations were in any way contributing to the incidence of autism.  Then in 2010, after evidence of tampering and undeclared conflicts of interest, Andrew Wakefield was ultimately stripped of his medical license due to the seriousness of his professional misconduct and The Lancet retracted the fraudulent study that first sparked the suggestion of a vaccine/autism link.
But years later the damage is proving extremely difficult to undo.  There are still many people who cling to Wakefield’s study as proof of a correlation.  The latest analysis from the soon-to-be-released study of immunization surveys has confirmed that autism fears have had a negative impact on immunization rates.  The study also presents a few other interesting observations:

  • More children of college-educated mothers were not vaccinated than children of non-college educated mothers, with noticeable spikes in 2003, 2004 and 2006.
  • While the controversy centered on the MMR vaccination, the autism fear had an impact on other vaccinations, to include polio and the combination vaccine to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

These observations ultimately lead to other relevant questions.
Why are college-educated mothers more likely not to vaccinate than non-college educated mothers?  Is it that the college-educated mothers were more aware of the Wakefield study from the onset, which influenced their decision?  Is it that they trust themselves to independently research things, whereas non-college educated parents may be more inclined to take the recommendations of experts?  And why is it that these college-educated mothers are not aware of the science that has since failed to prove any link between vaccines and autism?  What will it take for these parents to eventually recognize the valid research that has been done and acknowledge that they are making decisions based on false information?  If the study were expanded past 2010, in the time after Wakefield’s study was publicly criticized and ultimately retracted, would we find that the immunization trends were changing?
We may also ask why Wakefield’s suggestions about the MMR were so easily expanded to impact vaccine hesitancy for various other vaccines as well.  Clearly, there are parents who refuse some vaccines and accept others and then there are parents who won’t accept the MMR, but are willing to accept the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine as separate immunizations.  So what is influencing these decisions and what can be done to ease parental fears?
These are all interesting points to consider, and we welcome your thoughts in the comments below.
For those readers who would like to learn how to address parental concerns regarding vaccines and autism more logically, we encourage you to view Every Child By Two’s special webinar entitled Autism 101 for Immunization Advocates.  Alison Singer from the Autism Science Foundation provides an overview of autism including the very latest research regarding early diagnosis, interventions and potential causes.   She also reviews the CASE Method of communication, which combines emotional and scientific talking points aimed at addressing parental concerns about vaccines and autism and helping people to face the issue more logically. Let us know what you think.

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