Both Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Children Can Have Autism

No Link Between Vaccines and Autism

Andy Wakefield supporters.
Andrew Wakefield and his supporters at the General Medical Council investigation where he later lost his medical license. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

You will still hear about vaccines and autism, even though evidence has shown that there is no link between them. Unfortunately, unvaccinated children can and do develop autism, and they do so at the same rates as children who have been vaccinated. Besides no change in their risk for autism, they may also catch vaccine-preventable diseases and spread them to others in the community.

Vaccines and Autism

Vaccines do not cause autism.

This statement is supported by a vast body research and evidence. This includes:

  • Dozens of research studies refute any connections between the MMR vaccine and autism.
  • Over 100 studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
  • A scientific review by the Institute of Medicine, "Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism," concluded that "the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism." This was issued as the eighth and final review in 2004.
  • A 2012 report by the Institute of Medicine, "Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality," concluded that "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines" and that "the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism."
  • Those opposed to vaccinations often claim a connection between vaccines and autism that studies say either have nothing to do with vaccines, nothing to do with autism, or are easily debunked.
  • Andrew Wakefield's study that started this talk couldn't be replicated and was later shown to be both flawed and fraudulent and was retracted by the medical journal where it was originally published. His medical license was revoked because his "conduct was irresponsible and dishonest."

And since vaccines don't cause autism, it shouldn't be surprising that there are unvaccinated children with autism. The only reason there aren't more is that most parents vaccinate their children, so, of course, most autistic children are going to be vaccinated.

Unvaccinated Children with Autism

You may not hear about these children very often, but there are certainly unvaccinated children with autism. Several comparison studies have been made of autism rates between vaccinated and unvaccinated children and found no difference. One such study was from Japan where the MMR vaccine was withdrawn from the country due to concerns about aseptic meningitis. In the study, at least 170 children were found to have developed autism even though they had not received the MMR vaccine.

But that's just one vaccine, there are also many examples of completely unvaccinated children who have developed autism. A study published in the February 2014 issue of Autism found that "the rates of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis did not differ between immunized and nonimmunized younger sib groups."

Lara Lohne, although she was never vaccinated because her parents were anti-vaccine, had every intention of vaccinating her own child.

She didn't though, because of financial issues. And although he had never received any vaccines, her son developed autism:

I must admit that it was through conversations with a coworker that I began to suspect something might be wrong with my youngest son. It concerned me so much that I started looking for information online. I read some of the stories and they sounded similar to what I was experiencing with my son – with the symptoms, the regression and the age at which it all started to become apparent.

In a more common scenario, a parent might have a child with autism and decide to not vaccine their next child.

These unvaccinated children are certainly not protected against vaccine-preventable diseases and they aren't at any less risk for developing autism.

There are many more stories like this. They include authors and contributors to anti-vaccine websites that have unvaccinated children with autism.

More on Autism Among Unvaccinated Children

You only have to look at personal stories and posts in parenting forums to see that there are many cases of autism among unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children:

  • "It is highly likely my 4-year-old son is autistic. And he is completely 100 percent vaccine-free. And I am just at a total loss."
  • "I have unvaxxed kids on the spectrum, and my friend does as well."
  • "A good friend's son is autistic. He is totally non-vaxxed."
  • "I seriously delayed vaccinating my son, so had very few vaxxes at the time he was diagnosed"
  • "We have autism in our unvaxxed children"
  • "I know two little boys who are both autistic, completely non-vaxxed"
  • "I have two unvaccinated children who are on the autism spectrum and have never vaccinated any of my children."
  • "I am not sure what caused my son’s autism, but autistic he is. He is completely unvaxxed as we stopped vaxxing 10 years ago."
  • "I have a 10 year old daughter with autism spectrum disorder... My daughter has never had a vaccine, a decision I made shortly after she was born, after much research."

Unfortunately, while realizing that unvaccinated children can develop autism does help some parents move away from anti-vaccine myths and conspiracy theories, others get pushed deeper into the idea that it is just about toxins. It is not uncommon for some of these parents to blame vaccines they got while pregnant or even before they became pregnant, Rhogam shots, or mercury fillings in their teeth, etc.

Not all, though. Juniper Russo "was afraid of autism, of chemicals, of pharmaceutical companies, of pills, of needles" when she had her baby. She just knew that vaccines caused autism when she first visited her pediatrician after her baby was born and knew all of the anti-vaccine talking points. She also later began to realize that her completely unvaccinated daughter had significant developmental delays. Instead of continuing to believe that vaccines cause autism, Ms. Russo understands some things about her daughter and that she "could no longer deny three things: she was developmentally different, she needed to be vaccinated, and vaccines had nothing to do with her differences."


Abu Kuwaik G. Immunization Uptake in Younger Siblings of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Autism. 2014 Feb;18(2):148-55.

Gerber JS, Offit PA. Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses. Clinical Infectious Diseases. Volume 48, Issue 4. Pp. 456-461.

Honda H. No Effect of MMR Withdrawal on the Incidence of Autism: a Total Population Study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;46(6):572-9.

Institute of Medicine. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality. 2012 Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.