It’s time to put the vaccine-autism link behind us

It’s time to put the vaccine autism link behind us

First, it was the MMR-autism link—that turned out to be a complete fabrication, a fraud invented by a single “researcher” who made up his data. He was taking money from plaintiff’s lawyers, and he was trying to patent his own, competing vaccine. Too bad for the scare and the resulting surge in measles.

Then, the mercury connection. A mercury-containing preservative, thimerosal, came under scrutiny. To be safe, it was removed from almost all vaccines in 1999—and rates of autism didn’t fall one bit.

The most recent vaccine-autism link can be abbreviated as the “too many too soon” hypothesis, that somehow the antigens in vaccines “overwhelm” the immune system, leading to mischief. It doesn’t matter that the quantity of antigens from the current generation of vaccines is far fewer than what was used in the past. Those needles have got to be doing some harm, right?

The “too many too soon” idea never made any sense, from a logical or scientific standpoint—it’s well deconstructed here. The “load” on the immune system from ordinary life, from the exposures we all have from living in a world full of bacteria and germs, is hugely greater than the comparatively tiny exposures from vaccines. But the true, hardcore anti-vaccine propagandists have found their latest idea, and as usual they don’t need no stinkin’ evidence.

Still, there is evidence. For the many families who have sincere questions about vaccine safety, it’s good to have yet another study to add the mountain of evidence that vaccines are safe, and that vaccines do not cause autism.

Published in The Journal of Pediatrics this month, this study compared children with autism (including several subtypes) to typically developing children. They combed records to determine just how many vaccines and how many vaccine components were given, to see if they could find a link. Could increasing vaccine exposures increase children’s risk of autism?

No. Increasing exposures to the antibody-stimulating products in vaccines during the first two years of life did not increase the risk of developing any autism spectrum disorder.

At this point, the evidence for the lack of any vaccine-autism link is overwhelming. Continued vaccine study for any sorts of side effects needs to continue, but the singular focus on vaccines as the cause of autism as voiced by some in the autism community has become a hindrance to genuine progress and a public health nightmare. Let’s keep our kids healthy. Make sure your kids are fully vaccinated, on time and by the established schedule. It’s time to put this vaccine-autism thing behind us, so we can speed up the progress towards better understanding, prevention, and treatment. I’d hope that’s something we could all agree on.

Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at The Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of Solving Health and Behavioral Problems from Birth through Preschool: A Parent’s Guide and A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child.

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  • Melanie

    Well said. Thank you.

  • goonerdoc

    Can’t agree with this post more. Well done

  • Dinusha Sirisena

    Couldn’t agree more with your statement. But all this evidence is well and all, but this message has to be put in front of the public with a sense of urgency. People, the everyday person who hasn’t got a good idea on statistics, may not completely understand these studies. So we have to hit hard with the scientific evidence as well. The cases of preventable communicable diseases are slowly on the rising limb, and the anti vaccination lobby is still firmer than ever.

  • Docq1

    Will please somebody finally do and publish some research about most probable link to “autism” and that is parent’s personality characteristics / their behaviour

  • Mike Hanbridge

    It’s easy to follow the money and watch you all protect your pediatric “franchise” with mandated treatments (a.k.a. payments). The studies saying vaccines are safe are done or funded by the companies that profit from selling them. Autistic people are future needy patients, a very profitable vertically integrated business model. Congrats!

    • Anon

      I’m pretty sure every pediatrician & family doctor I know would poke their eyes out with a fork before ever doing anything to intentionally harm a child. Perhaps you’re just _that_ venal and assume that everyone else is as well. They aren’t.

    • heartdoc345

      Anyone who believes that pediatricians are in it “for the money” should be laughed out of the room. They voluntarily work for the absolute lowest pay of all medical specialties and do it for the love of caring for children.

    • Molly_Rn

      Nuts! every word you wrote is nuts. Pediatricians work their asses off for much less pay than may other professionals. They love kids.

  • militarymedical

    A timely and well-written piece. However, in getting the message out to the public, those anecdotal and personal testimonies “proving” an autism-vax link must be countered on the same level: stories that are emotional, heartfelt and stripped of scientific jargon. Stories from those who lost children due to absent or inadequate vaccinations should be front and center. Like it or not, this is an EMOTIONAL topic just as much as it is a scientific one – if not more, if we expect to change behavior. (See Mike Hanbridge’s comment, below.)

  • militarymedical

    Me too. I grew up an Army brat, with a former Army Nurse for a mother. My international immunization record (“yellow shot card”) is now a four-volume set. I remember getting the first Salk vaccine shots for polio – unfortunately, despite being prone, the whole procedure was reflected on the shiny surface of a large pitcher at my head. My father damn near fainted – big, strong Infantryman that he was.

    Vaccines have come so far … and it seems that public acceptance has eroded to almost an equal degree. BTW, you all out there in “upper middle age” – have you had your pneumovax? shingles vax? current on your TDAP?

    • SBornfeld

      I know I need to get my shingles vax. Thanks for the memory jog!

  • buzzkillerjsmith

    Data=trash to most people. We need an HBO movie in which the fearless heroine, at great personal risk, discovers a vast conspiracy in which stocky corporate guys in dark glasses are trying to keep our children from being vaccination in order to…. Well, that’s all I got. I’m a doctor, not screenwriter, dammit!

    • just a mom

      I could see the shady and nefarious Big Iron Lung™ and Big Wheelchair™ industries having a vested interest in withholding polio vaccines :-/

      • buzzkillerjsmith


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