The Autism�Vaccine Debate Continues

April 8, 2009

The debate about the autism�vaccine link rages on. There have been a couple of articles posted to HCPLive.com featuring this topic.

The debate about the autism—vaccine link rages on. There have been a couple of articles posted to HCPLive.com featuring this topic.

Another Blow to the Autism—Vaccine Link

Do you know any parents who’ve made the decision not to vaccinate their children because they are convinced there is a link between vaccines and autism?

According to the vast majority of researchers and legitimate studies, there is no proof that early childhood vaccinations cause autism (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/abstract/347/19/1477; http://adc.bmj.com/cgi/content/abstract/93/10/832). But of course there are researchers and studies that say otherwise, including this one by father-and-son autism über-quacks Mark and David Geier, and this one that relied on data from an online survey and sports huge confidence intervals. (A response from Anthony R. Cox and Sarah Mcdowell can be found in the January 2009 issue of Autism.)

This topic has led to some nasty arguments between two celebrity spokeswomen and even death threats given to healthcare professionals. “A man from Seattle wrote to me that he would ‘hang me from my neck,’” said University of Pennsylvania professor Paul Offit, MD, an expert on vaccines and a vocal naysayer to claims linking them to increases in autism.

In mid-February a special court of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program announced its ruling on three cases where the parents were seeking compensation based on their belief that their children developed autism as a result of receiving the combined measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination that contained thimerosal, a preservative containing mercury. The court ruled against the parents, noting that they had not presented sufficient evidence to prove that the childhood vaccines caused autism in their children.

“I have no doubt that the families of countless other autistic children, families that cope every day with the tremendous challenges of caring for autistic children, are similarly deserving of sympathy and admiration. However, I must decide this case not on sentiment, but by analyzing the evidence,” Special Master George L. Hastings, Jr. wrote in his ruling. “In this case the evidence advanced by the petitioners has fallen far short of demonstrating such a link.”

Researchers are continuing to study the cause of autistic disorders and working to develop better treatments.

It’s unfortunate that so many parents are taking it upon themselves to deny vaccinating their children. This decision has led to the increase of previously controlled infectious diseases—with vaccination rates decreasing in Great Britain, there were “1,348 measles cases in England and Wales last year,” while in “1998 there were just 56 cases.” The news isn’t as drastic in the US, but the numbers are increasing.

California Experiencing Unusual Increase in Autism Diagnoses

Intrigued by the increasing number of autistic children in California, researchers set out to determine what factors could be to blame. After all, it’s quite surprising to see how the state’s autistic prevalence has gone from fewer than nine in 10,000 for children born in 1990 to more than 44 in 10,000 for children born in 2000. Initially, study authors speculated that the increase might have something to do with how the condition was diagnosed or counted, but the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute study shows that these factors are not relevant.

The study, published in the January 2009 issue of Epidemiology, “correlated the number of cases of autism reported between 1990 and 2006 with birth records and excluded children not born in California” using the “Census Bureau data to calculate the rate of incidence in the population over time and examined the age at diagnosis of all children ages two to 10 years old.” Researchers eliminated migration as a potential cause, and also determined that only 24% of the increase could be attributed to being diagnosed at an earlier age. In addition, researchers pointed out that California’s increasingly diverse population is not a factor because autism rates are fairly similar in all ethnic groups. Therefore, the study’s authors suggest that “research should shift from genetics to the host of chemicals and infectious microbes in the environment that are likely at the root of changes in the neurodevelopment of California's children.”

Do you concur with the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services that there is a strong consensus among the medical and scientific communities that a careful and thorough review of the evidence concerning the vaccine-autism theory reveals no association between vaccines and autism? If you remain unconvinced by the latest evidence against the vaccine—autism ink, what do you find to be the most compelling argument for such a link?