Your Vaccination Status is a Matter of Life and Death to My Autistic Son
Jul 06, 2016

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 is very important to me.  That’s why, even after getting an autism diagnosis for my son, I still believe in and advocate for vaccinations.

I don’t believe autism is caused by MMR or any other vaccinations.  

The allegations made by Andrew Wakefield, the man who tried to convince the world of an MMR vaccine-autism link, were based on falsified data, yet he continues to make his claim to try to frighten people throughout the world.  This article by Brian Deer systematically addresses Wakefield’s flawed theories and debunks the autism myth that Andrew Wakefield has perpetuated.vaxnoautism1

As if that weren’t enough, there have been countless studies that have investigated any possible link between vaccines and autism and no evidence can be found to support such a link.  (You can access the latest published research here, here and here.)

The science is clear, and yet there are many autism advocacy organizations that continue to install fear in parents who just want what’s best for their children.  

As this Newsweek article explains:

Despite the science, organizations involved in the anti-vaccine movement still hope to find some evidence that vaccines threaten children’s health. For example, the autism advocacy organization SafeMinds, —whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism, recently funded research it hoped would prove vaccines cause autism in children. But this effort appears to have backfired for the organization—since the study they funded failed to show any link between autism and vaccines.”

Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, commends SafeMinds for financially supporting the study, but she worries that some autism advocates may be asking the wrong questions.

“I’m not saying that we need to stop funding research in the environment, because we know the environment does impact neurodevelopment,” she says.

However, Halladay explains that organizations that look to blame vaccines for causing autism are “playing whack-a-mole”.

“First, the proposed association was between the MMR vaccines and autism. Then that was disproven. Then it was the thimerosal components in vaccines; now that has been further disproven in a carefully designed animal model study that aimed to specifically examine that question. It has also been suggested that the association is because of vaccine timing, but that too has been disproven. The target always seems to be moving, and the expectation is that scientific resources will be diverted to address each new modification of this hypothesized link.”

While there may always be people who will believe there is a link between vaccines and autism, despite the science that proves otherwise, I’m writing today to explain another issue that has swayed my decision to support vaccines.

This issue is one of life and death for my son Ben.

I realize, very clearly, that without vaccinations my son would die. 

That is why I am a fan of modern medicine and the science that makes vaccines possible.  If Ben had been born a century sooner, he wouldn’t have survived his Hirschsprung’s disease.  Had he been born less than a half century sooner, he wouldn’t have survived leukemia.  As it is, we have come face to face with his mortality several times.  I see vaccinations along the same lines as chemotherapy – far from perfect, but with the help of the scientific method, getting better all the time.  Vaccines, and even chemotherapy in Ben’s case, are the best shot we have at giving our child a long, healthy life.

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Image courtesy of the Refutations to Anti-Vaccine Memes Facebook page.


For us, though, it goes a step further.  

Ben is also immunocompromised.  

That means that even fully vaccinated, he doesn’t have enough ability to fight off diseases.  He is that kid.  The kid who needs herd immunity.  He’s the reason our whole family gets flu shots and chicken pox vaccines.  He’s the kid who needed boosters for pneumococcal vaccines – because his body lost immunity to them.  Even though we do our best to protect him, he’s the kid that could get infected during a measles outbreak. And he is the kid whose body is weak and who is very likely to succumb to a disease like measles, which would inevitably hospitalize him or worse…cost him his life.

I wrote this piece after weeks of consideration.  I realize this could ruffle feathers.   So I ask…

If you don’t vaccinate, have you researched the diseases we vaccinate against as well as the side effects of vaccinations?   Have you seen what polio and diphtheria can do?  Do you realize that if measles encephalitis sets in that your child will be isolated in the Intensive Care Unit while you wait to find out if he or she is the lucky one who survives with brain damage?  And do you realize that, statistically speaking, the greatest risk in getting a vaccine for your child is driving your child to the doctor’s office?

I realize the rhetoric goes around and around, and that I’m about as likely to change your mind as you are likely to change mine.  But if there’s that tiny chance that you’re really considering all the facts, I’m hopeful that Ben’s face and plight would make a difference.  After all, I am his mother, and I must do everything I can to protect him and keep him healthy. I have to try.

I have a sad feeling that it will take a true epidemic to turn the tide. I just hope that my child will not end up as a casualty. He is not a statistic, nor would I ever want him to be one…he’s our precious child and we don’t want to lose him.

So please remember, your vaccination status could mean the life or death of a child like Ben.

Every Child By Two is collaborating with various immunization advocacy organizations to collect personal stories about the value of vaccines.  These stories will then be shared with state and federal legislators throughout National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM) in August.  Help ensure that our government representatives know that our country, our communities, our students and our families deserve protection from vaccine preventable diseases.  Join the movement and speak out in favor of vaccines by sharing your story at the following link: bit.ly/28NoZCR.

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6 responses to “Your Vaccination Status is a Matter of Life and Death to My Autistic Son”

  1. reissd says:

    I hope Ben stays safe. Thank you for speaking up.

  2. I am in the same position as your son here. Immune deficient and no, autism was not caused by vaccines. This world is scary right now and we need to change the language. We don’t call Down Syndrome damaged, so we should not call autism damaged either. A good resource for everyone would also include the Immune Deficiency Foundation, and I would not mind sharing my own story if you would like. Just let me know how I can submit it.

  3. BettyB says:

    For the anti-vaccines, they only magnify the side effects of the vaccinations greatly, and neglect that without vaccines, the world wouldn’t be in the way it is and many people would dye of diseases like measles and smallpox. I’m in shots for prevention with the hope that there will be more advanced technologies like 3D cell culture (http://www.creative-bioarray.com/Services/custom-3d-cell-culture-services.htm
    ) to be applied to the test process and decrease the risk for rejection.

  4. Jj says:

    Sorry, vaccines are proven bad. This was a huge mistake they did in the 50’s and had to dispose of. Sadly, they had to push it on people. This is being used to depopulate the world. Very rare that vaccine helps people,nevertheless, infants. Nobody ever mentioned here what the components of vaccines are. How it really affects your brain and body but, it is being pushed to be injected in your body. Not only this is alteration of the creation of God but, it destroys your natural immunity and the capacity of the body to produce its own antibodies. Yeah, more harmful fake medici es for you who has been brainwashed by the system. Wake up before it is too late. And yes, i am one of those vaccine victim, so please don’t give me baloney, that autism and vaccines are not related.

  5. Lawrence says:

    Well, that’s a whole load of crazy right there……just the fact that we have the longest lifespans and highest standards of living in human history disprove your sad rant.

  6. Karen Nemejc says:

    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccine hesitancy which is defined as the reluctance or refusal to have one’s children vaccinated, is one of the top ten threats to global health (Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2019).

    Many communicable diseases were eradicated after the advent of vaccines, but in 1998, Andrew Wakefield, an English researcher, published an article containing preliminary and causal evidence, which declared a link between vaccinations and childhood brain damage, thus beginning the anti-vaccine movement . Since then, the suspected link between vaccinations and autism has been widely researched across the globe. After two decades of research, the scientific community has proven the claim unsubstantiated, and confirmed with definitive proof that no link exists, and vaccinations do not cause autism (Taylor, Swerdfeger, & Eslick, 2016). Unfortunately, the damage generated by Wakefield’s hypothesis was done, and many parents remain steadfast in their decision to abstain from vaccinating their children.

    In spite of the numerous published results from respected scientific researchers including the WHO and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the debate continued and the influence of anti-vaxxing supporters gained momentum. In fact, 2019 witnessed the greatest increase in measles cases since 1992, a disturbing fact considering the United States declared measles eradicated in 2002. The rebirth of measles in the United States was not an isolated incident and in 2019, a dramatic increase in measles cases was also experienced in Europe. Reasons for the increases were contributed to the surge of unvaccinated migrants and travelers into populated areas where vaccination rates were below 90%. Anti-vaxxers rely on herd immunity to protect their children, but for herd immunity to be effective, immunization of 83-94% of the population is required (CDC, 2019). In most populated areas the herd immunity threshold was maintained, but outbreaks occurred in pockets of highly populated communities that failed to meet the minimum threshold required to achieve effective herd immunity.

    Measles is a highly infectious disease associated with respiratory, neurological complications, and even death. The disease is spread through coughing or sneezing and can live in the airspace for up to two hours (CDC, 2019). In addition, an infected individual can spread the disease as early as 4 days before a rash appears, and up to 4 days after developing the hallmark measles rash. Those at greatest risk for contracting measles are children under 5 years of age, adults over age 20, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals. The complications from measles can be deadly and pneumonia is the most common cause of death for children under 5 (1 to 3:1000) (CDC, 2019). Another serious complication resulting from measles is encephalitis, which has an occurrence rate of 1:1000, and can cause deafness or intellectual impairment (CDC, 2019). An even more alarming complication, and the most insidious, is Subacute Sclerosing Panencephalitis (SSPE), a progressive neurological disease of the central nervous system, which can develop 7-10 years after the disease (CDC, 2019). Most individuals who develop SSPE were infected with measles before the age of 2 years.

    Given that measles is highly contagious and poses serious health risks ranging from respiratory compromise, permanent neurological impairment, and death, why are parents continuing to choose to abstain from vaccinating their children? The basis of their argument rests solely on the work by Wakefield which hypothesized the vaccination caused autism. In fact, autism rates in Japan remained consistent following the removal of the MMR vaccine in 2007 (Novella, 2007).

    Even though Wakefield’s hypothesis was proven false, anti-vaxxers continued to point blame and identified thimerisol, a mercury-based preservative in multidose vials that prevented contamination of the product, as the villian. In response to anti-vaxxers’ concerns, the scientific community responded with additional research which also proved that autism was not caused by thimerisol (Ball, Ball, & Pratt, 2001) and went one step further, completely removing thimerisol from vaccines in 2001. Moreover, in 2003 the CDC funded 9 studies that unanimously concluded there was no link between thimerisol -containing vaccines and autism (CDC, 2019). Lastly, a study by Schechter & Grether (2008) found no decrease in autism rates in California after thimerisol was removed from childhood vaccines, supporting the fact that exposure to thimerisol in childhood was not a primary cause of autism.

    In spite of the research, vaccine hesitancy persists with anti-vaxxers proclaiming vaccines cause autism. On the contrary, autism is likely caused by genetics or environmental factors. A number of genes controlling abnormal brain development associated with autism have been identified by researchers and evidence has shown gene mutations are higher among those with autism than those without the disorder (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 2019). Also, research has found that the incidence of autism is more common in children born prematurely. Although specific environmental factors causing autism are yet to be identified, exposure to chemicals during pregnancy is thought to play a role. In addition, the Autism Society (2015) stated that “autism occurs more commonly among individuals with certain medical conditions including fragile X syndrome, congenital rubella syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and untreated phenylketonuria (PKU).

    The disturbing ant-vaxxing trend is based on erroneous information while empirical evidence has overwhelmingly proven that no relationship exists between vaccinations and autism. Conversely, measles is known to be highly contagious with serious lifelong complications, and in some cases can result in death. Additionally, measles is preventable and after considerable and exhausting research the vaccine and preservatives in it have been proven safe and effective. Choosing to not immunize your child is an irresponsible, irrational, and deadly choice. Do not rely on herd immunity to protect your child especially if you live in an anti-vaxxing community. Herd immunity will not offer protection, that responsibility is up to you.

    Childhood immunization is essential. Increased efforts need to be targeted towards improving education among parents with children who are age appropriate for immunization. Community and national campaigns, similar to the anti-tobacco campaigns which used websites, television, radio, and print advertising, and mobile campaigns should be implemented to increase awareness surrounding the risks associated with preventable diseases and more importantly, to dispel the prolific myths about immunizations. In addition, the United States should consider stricter legislation to ensure that all eligible children are protected against preventable diseases. An example of legislation to consider is the approach taken by the Australian government in 2016. Recognizing that the scientific evidence refutes the relationship between vaccines and autism and believing that all children deserve the absolute best medicine available, Australia enacted the ‘no jab no pay’ policy. The ‘no jab no pay’ initiative withholds three state payments from parents of children under 20 years of age who are not fully immunized, except for those children with certain medical conditions for whom immunizations are contraindicated (Yang & Studdert, 2017). Although controversial, it is intended to protect the nation’s children from vaccine-preventable diseases. The policy is extreme, but I feel that all children deserve the right to be protected, even if they require protection from parents misguided by false information.

    References

    Autism causes (2015). Autism Society. Retrieved from https://www.autism-society.org/what-is/causes/ (Links to an external site.).

    Autism spectrum disorder fact sheet. What Causes ASD? Retrieved from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet (Links to an external site.)

    Ball, L., Ball, R., & Pratt, R. (2001). An assessment of thimerosal use in childhood vaccines. Pediatrics, 107(5), 1147-1154.

    Centers for Disease Control. (2019). Measles cases and outbreaks. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html (Links to an external site.).

    Centers for Disease Control. (2019). Vaccines do not cause autism. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism.html (Links to an external site.).

    Schechter, R. & Grether, J. (2008). Continuing increases in autism reported to California’s developmental services system: measles in retrograde. Archives of General Psychiatry, 65(1), 19-24. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/on11/18/2019 (Links to an external site.).

    Taylor, L., Swerdfeger, A., & Eslick, G. (2016). Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-based meta-analysis of case control and cohort studies. Vaccine, 34(28), 3223-3224.

    Yang, Y. & Studdert, D. (2017). Linking immunization status and eligibility for welfare and benefits payments. Journal of the American Medical Association, 317(8), 803-804. Doi:10.1001/jama.2017.0123.

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