Why We're Still Talking About Vaccines and Autism
Mar 20, 2013
Nothing gets more attention in the immunization arena than a conversation about vaccines and autism. While this discussion is one that many feel has been exhausted and more than adequately investigated, vaccine safety concerns continue to remain one of the main reasons parents elect not to vaccinate their children. Each day, as new babies are born and more children are diagnosed with autism, questions of vaccine safety rush front and center for a new set of parents.
While there is a long history of anti-vaccine sentiment, the suggested link between vaccines and autism was largely prompted by a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, back in 1998 when he suggested a possible relationship between bowel disease, autism, and the MMR vaccine. After adequately investigating the topic of vaccines and autism, many parents have come to understand that their concerns are unwarranted.
The bottom line is that the vaccine/autism controversy took hold when a poorly designed study, conducted by a disingenuous Andrew Wakefield who had been paid by a law board to find out if there was evidence to support a litigation case by parents who believed that the vaccine had harmed their children, suggested that there may be a link to autism and the MMR vaccine. Yet, Wakefield’s fraudulent study was ultimately discarded. Not only was his study too small to be scientifically significant, but his findings were never able to be replicated and in 2010, the Lancet formally retracted the paper after the British General Medical Council ruled against Wakefield in several areas. Wakefield was struck from the medical register in Great Britain and may no longer practice medicine there.
Unfortunately, while Wakefield may have lost his medical license, he did succeed at instilling doubt and fear into the hearts of parents; then and now. Some people are still concerned there’s a link between vaccines and autism, and an enormous amount of time, energy and money continues to be spent trying to undo the damage Wakefield has done. While no study has ever produced any scientifically supported connection between vaccines and autism, doubts still exist for some.
This is why we are still discussing vaccines and autism today. This is also why both immunization and autism advocacy organizations must continually educate the public about this topic. As an example, both Vaccinate Your Baby and the Autism Science Foundation provide a comprehensive list of vaccine/autism studies; none of which show any link between the two. However, earlier today the CDC released new information about the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder and this report is bound to spark conversations in the immunization world today.
Another informative resource that consistently addresses vaccine/autism concerns is the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism blog. In 2011 they provided a comprehensive interview with vaccine and infectious disease expert Dr. Paul Offit, in which he responded to some of the most prominent questions people have about vaccines and autism. Just last week they added another interview with Dr. Offit to addresses specific inquiries they’ve received since the publication of the 2011 interview.
Some of the concerns that were discussed were:
- Questions regarding vaccine ingredients and how vaccine critics continue to shift the goalposts when evidence proves that these are not linked to autism.
- Complaints that address the concern “too many vaccines, too soon,” despite the fact that the actual antigen load is less than it used to be.
- Concerns about virus shedding, specifically with regards to the flu vaccine and whether or not vaccinated people can infect others.
- The safety of vaccines in combination with one another.
- Challenges of pertussis immunity.
- The problem of vaccine misinformation from within the medical community.
- The ways in which doctors and advocates can reach those who are skeptical about vaccines.
Reading Dr. Offit’s detailed responses to these concerns reminds us that in order to properly evaluate vaccines, we need to understand the science behind them; how they are made, how they are tested, how different vaccines work to illicit an immune response within our bodies, and how effective immunizations can be in the fight to prevent disease.
To learn more about vaccines and vaccine safety, you can register for a free eight week online course entitled “Vaccines” that will be taught by Dr. Offit through Coursera. This course will discuss:
- the history of vaccines, focusing on different strategies used during the past two centuries to make them
- the science of vaccines, focusing on methods of attenuation of various viruses and bacteria
- the benefits of vaccines, focusing on the impact of vaccines on health both in the United States and abroad
- the risks of vaccines, both real and perceived
- the controversies surrounding vaccines, specifically that vaccines cause autism, multiple sclerosis, neurodevelopmental delays, diabetes or other chronic problems
- answers to common questions that parents have about vaccines, such as the fear that too many vaccines given too soon weaken, overwhelm, or perturb the immune system or that vaccines contain harmful additives or manufacturing residuals
Dr. Offit is not only an expert in the field, he is also committed to educating others through his extensive writing, teaching and involvement with The Vaccine Education Center. He has been so dedicated to service that all the royalties from the sale of his book Autism’s False Prophets are donated to autism research. Meanwhile, vaccine opponents are working to keep vaccine/autism fears alive. They do this so that they can continue to benefit from selling products, supplements and books to those who they’ve convinced autism can be cured and vaccines are to blame. To avoid falling victim to these inaccuracies, review these helpful tips on how to evaluate health related information online. When it comes to our health and well-being, we must ensure we are referencing credible sources.
If you want credible information delivered in a manner that you can understand, than be sure to sign up for the “Vaccines” course. Not only will you learn about vaccines, but you will learn from a highly respected and experienced immunization expert. The only thing better is the fact that it’s entirely free! If you’ve taken the course in the past, feel free to share your thoughts for others in the comments below.
This guest post was written by Alethea Mshar out of concern for her son Ben. A version of this post originally appeared on her blog Ben’s Writing, Running Mom. Like all parents, my child’s health...
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