Vaccines can be a controversial topic amongst parents. In Canada, vaccines and anti-vaxxers (individuals who take an anti-vaccination approach to healthcare and parenting) have once again made the news. On February 9, 2019, an outbreak of the measles was reported in Canada.
Unfortunately, this case is just one of many confirmed in North America. The United States has also seen a huge rise in cases of the measles with dozens of confirmed cases in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. The measles peaked in 2014 when the United States experienced 667 individual cases in 2014, including one large outbreak of 383 individual cases.
I understand why any mom worries about their child’s health. Everything from the food we feed them, to the medications a doctor prescribes them, to vaccines. I think that it’s natural and healthy to question information you are given, because ultimately you want to make the best decisions for you and your little ones. Hopefully I can dispel some of those worries by explaining vaccines and why you definitely SHOULD get them.
Why did people start worrying about vaccines causing autism and other health problems?
Part of the concern for the health effects vaccinations arose from an observation that the number of cases of autism worldwide appeared to almost double in the 1990s. In the medical community, it still is debated as to what “caused” this spike, but some suspect it was a change in the diagnostic definitions of autism, increased awareness of autism and other mental health disorders in children, and/or an increase in screening for autism. Understandably, worried parents at the time began to search for what could be the “cause” of this perceived increase in autism.
Unfortunately, this perceived increase in the rates of autism in the 1990s also occurred at the same time that the number of recommended childhood vaccines increased. In the search for a cause for the “rise” in autism, some people suggested an association between the age in which children receive immunizations (just after 1 year old) and the onset of more significant symptoms of Autism. This observation led to the (incorrect) belief that certain vaccines or additives within vaccines (thimerosal) may play a role in the development of autism.
How did some scientists fraudulently contribute to the misconception that vaccines cause autism?
The alleged association between vaccines and autism was first reported in the scientific community in 1998 through a study of ONLY 12 children. This study suggested a link between recent injection of MMR vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) coinciding with the onset of symptoms of autism in children.
Long story short, in 2004, 10 of the 13 authors of this paper retracted the study’s interpretation that vaccines had any link to autism, the paper was deleted/unpublished from the journal (the Lancet), and an investigator found the study was actually fraudulent. To make matters worse, the patients in the study were recruited through an anti-vaccine organization. We in the medical world would call this “some messed up s***.”
Another fraudulent study reports the presence of persistent measles virus in the intestinal tissue of 91 children with developmental disorders (which included a handful of children with Autism). This study has also been highly criticized in the medical community for having flaws in data collection, inaccurate tools, and lacking a proper control group.
Debunking the myth about “Do vaccines cause autism”
Every single study suggesting that vaccinations cause autism or gut problems has been “debunked.” Regardless, some people still add to the anti-vaccination smear campaign with arguments including “it’s better to get sick with the actual illness,” and “the immune system of a baby can’t handle all those vaccines.”
There are dozens, even hundreds, of studies showing the benefits of vaccines for all age groups. Multiple large and very well-designed studies and systematic reviews (aka – studies that provide very good medical evidence) show absolutely no association between the MMR vaccine and autism.
Studies investigating the risk for developing autism in children who have received the MMR vaccine vs those who have not received it showed absolutely no difference. These were all properly conducted studies.
In 2014 a systematic review consisting of over half a million children found absolutely no relationship between the MMR vaccine and Autism. This is significantly larger than any previous study that suggested a correlation between vaccines and Autism. Other well-designed studies also show absolutely no association between the symptoms or diagnosis of autism and:
1) the age when children are first vaccinated
2) The time since children were last vaccinated
3) The date of vaccination
4) The time since vaccination
What chaos and harm has the anti-vaxxer movement caused?
In 1960, there were almost 800,000 people diagnosed with the measles. In early 2000 we had these numbers down to 0 thanks to vaccinations! Starting in 2008, there has been a resurgence of the measles coinciding with the anti-vaccination movement with thousands of documented cases (and rising).
Infectious diseases are making a comeback due to the anti-vaccination movement! Measles, mumps, and pertussis – just to name a few.
In 1988 there were over 350,000 documented cases of polio (a very debilitating and deadly disease that can paralyze people and cause death by paralyzing the breathing muscles). In 2018, there were only 29 reported cases. In fact, polio is very close to being eradicated thanks to vaccines – but the anti-vaxxer movement is threatening this every day.
In my medical practice, and even in my own family, I notice that most people believe that the benefits of vaccination begin and end with the individual. But in fact, vaccines work via the power of the community. This is why measles is making a comeback. Even if YOU have been vaccinated, YOU are still at risk of these diseases because your neighbour or a child at your kid’s school might not be. In short, vaccines work very well to prevent deadly illnesses, but only if EVERYBODY (who can) gets them.
I know I may not be able to change people’s minds if its already made up, but if you’re on the fence about vaccines I hope this guide helps you decide.
I’ll end it here for this post, but please come back to Dr. Mom because I will post in the future about the preservatives in vaccines. Some parents are worried about the preservatives (sodium ethylmercury and thiomersal) contained within most vaccines and the resulting effects on children’s health. Spoiler alert: they also don’t cause autism.
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