Vaccines and Autism
The Doctors at Clinical Pediatrics and the Academy of Pediatrics understand that parents may have concerns about vaccinating their children. Vaccines are one of the most successful medical advances of all time. Vaccine safety is of great importance to all pediatricians as is the quest for the cause(s) of Autism.
The following information abstracted from accurate and authoritative sources is offered to help parents understand some of the issues and questions surrounding this topic.
What is Autism?
Autism is not a specific disease, but rather a collection of disorders of brain development called "Autism Spectrum Disorders" or ASDs. The cause(s) of ASD are not known. A great deal of research is being done to discover the cause(s) and that knowledge will hopefully lead to preventive measures as well as more effective therapy.
Studies show that the incidence of autism has risen.The cause or causes of this apparent increase are not fully understood but may include greater awareness of the diagnosis by parents/Doctors and the inclusion of more and more behaviors and disorders in the definition of ASD than were appreciated in the past.
What About Vaccine Safety?
Any suspected adverse effect of a vaccine is reportable to VAERS (Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System) so that the details can be studied. If there appears to be an association, immediate action is taken; eg. a rotavirus vaccine was found to be the cause of a small number of cases of intussusception (a kind of bowel obstruction) and this led to the vaccine being taken off the market. Please look at VAERS.hhs.gov for further details.
From time to time, rumors continue to circulate that thimerosol, a mercury based preservative USED IN THE PAST in several vaccines (and still used in trace amounts in some Influenza vaccines), could contribute to ASDs. Valid scientific studies have shown THERE IS NO SUCH LINK. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Medical Association, The Center for Disease Control and the Institute of Medicine agree that science does not support a link between thimerosol and ASDs. Please see The Institute of Medicine for details.
Some parents are concerned about "combination vaccines" that protect against more than one illness with a single shot; eg. MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. All vaccines contain antigens which prompt the immune system to make antibodies and other immune responses that then protect the patient from various diseases. It is important to remember that children are exposed to hundreds/thousands of antigens during normal activities such as playing outside interacting with other children/pets and eating food, etc. Our immune systems are capable of responding to trillions of antigens over our lifetimes. The current immunization schedule cannot possibly "overwhelm" the immune system of even a young infant.
Why Are Vaccines Important?
Many vaccine preventable diseases can have dangerous consequences including seizures,brain-damage,blindness, deafness, and even death. THESE DISEASES STILL EXIST EVEN THOUGH MANY YOUNG PARENTS TODAY HAVE NEVER SEEN A CASE, DUE TO THE SUCCESS OF THE NATION'S CURRENT IMMUNIZATION PROGRAM.
Before Haemophilus Influenzae Type B vaccine (HIB) became available in 1989, there were~ 20,000 cases ohf HIB meningitis in the country/year (~600/yr in Dallas) of which ~ 600 would die annually. many of the survivors were left damaged with seizures, retardation, and deafness. Today, virtually the only children who suffer from HIB meningitis are those who are not fully immunized.
Measles is another example of a vaccine preventable disease with serious consequences. Currently, 20% of people ill with measles in the U.S need hospitalization. This is one of the most contagious diseases in the world; if immunizations were stopped, there would be ~ 2.7 million deaths world wide expected annually. Recently, there was an outbreak of 11 cases in San Diego among a group of unvaccinated children which was traced to an unvaccinated child returning from Switzerland.
It would take only one case of polio carried by a traveler to ignite a massive epidemic in this country if the majority of the population was not protected by vaccination.
In order for vaccines to protect everyone, an estimated 85-95% of the population must be immunized. This is because almost all vaccines are not close to a 100% protective for each individual. We all need to be surrounded by a highly immunized society to decrease the chances that any one of us would be exposed to any particular germ. This is the concept of "HERD IMMUNITY". Thus, as the number of incompletely immunized members of our society increases, the risk of infection to us ALL increases; not just those who are not immunized!
It is not advisable to skip or delay vaccines, as this will leave the child vulnerable to preventable disease(s) for a longer period of time than necessary. The current National immunization schedule is reviewed and updated continuously as new information becomes available by committees of experts from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. These committees of the nation's highest experts have only two goals in mind: the maximum protection and safety of all children.
Further reliable information is available at these websites: