Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism
Joan Marie Pellegrini, MD
March 10, 2009
The vast majority of the medical community has never believed there was any link between being vaccinated and developing autism. In fact, most parents also have not believed this since over 95 percent vaccinate their children. There has, however, been an ongoing controversy with a vocal minority asserting that there is a link. The vaccine that is specifically in question is MMR (measles, mumps, rubella). This vaccine used to have a preservative in it that contained mercury, but after the link between MMR and autism was first theorized, the mercury was removed. Since the mercury has been removed, there has actually been an increase in autism diagnoses.
The cause and genetics of autism are unknown. There is no cure, and it is likely that the cause of autism will eventually be found to have several factors involved.
Vaccination is good for the whole community and for the individual. Most vaccines are highly effective and very few people will be infected if they are vaccinated. A good case of this is the small pox vaccine. Small pox has been eradicated and this could not have been done without vaccinating nearly the entire world. A virus cannot replicate if it cannot infect a host; people in this instance. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a vaccine with no risk. The risk is small, but no matter how small, someone will be harmed if millions of people are vaccinated. If we think only of a population, then there is clear benefit to a vaccine: more people will be helped than harmed. If we think of an individual there is a clear benefit in that the individual now has less chance of becoming ill but there is also a small risk. The benefit is shared by the population. The risk is not shared by the population.
Because of the spreading fear that there is a link between MMR and autism, vaccination rates have been declining over the years. It is now estimated that three to five percent of children are not vaccinated. At some point, there will be a critical number of unvaccinated people and there will consequently be outbreaks of these illnesses. Once there is an outbreak, even the vaccinated people are now at increased risk. Therefore, from a public health standpoint and looking at just the statistics, it is obvious why vaccines are so important.
Now, back to the controversy. A group of parents filed a class action lawsuit against the makers of the vaccines. Three of the lawsuits ended up in federal court. Because this is a complicated scientific issue, the US Court of Federal Claims appointed people that are called “Special Masters." They are not doctors or scientists. Their role when appointed by the court is to thoroughly investigate an issue. They are unbiased and not associated with either side. They only look at the data and make a conclusion. Usually the court rules are that a plaintiff must prove their case with scientific certainty. In the vaccine issue though, the standard was lowered such that the plaintiffs had to only prove their children were more likely than not to have been harmed by the MMR vaccine. In spite of this lowered standard, the masters still found no link.