Vaccination and Autism Claims and Controversy

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

In 2008, Paul Offit, M.D. published his book Autism's False Prophets and concluded that "The science is largely complete. Ten epidemiological studies have shown MMR vaccine doesn't cause autism; six have shown thimerosal doesn't cause autism; three have shown thimerosal doesn't cause subtle neurological problems; a growing body of evidence now points to the genes that are linked to autism; and despite the remove of thimerosal from vaccines in 2001, the number of children with autism continues to rise."

Many people thought that would be the end of the vaccination and autism controversy.

Of course, it wasn't.

There are too many conspiracy theories about Big Pharma, too much misinformation about vaccines, and too many people who underestimate the dangers of vaccine preventable diseases for the vaccination and autism controversy to end easily.

Vaccination and Autism

Still, even if anti-vaccine proponents keep the controversy going, the vast majority of parents do vaccinate their kids. They trust the information their pediatrician gives them and vaccinate their kids on time.

And although they might not get as much attention as anti-vaccine websites, parents should be aware that not all parents of children with autism put the blame on vaccines. There are plenty of pro-vaccine parents of children with autism writing about autism and the anti-vaccine movement:

Why don't they join the anti-vaccine bandwagon of a few other autism sites? It is likely because they want resources to go towards finding the real cause of autism, instead of keeping everyone focused on vaccines all of the time.

Even Autism Speaks, one of the largest autism advocacy organizations, states that "epidemiologic studies provide evidence against the hypothesis that either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal is linked to the increased prevalence of autism.

Thus, given the present state of the science, the proven benefits of vaccinating a child to protect them against serious diseases outweigh the hypothesized risk that vaccinations might cause autism."

Vaccination and Autism Information

Many people also likely thought the vaccination and autism controversy would end with the Institute of Medicine's Immunization Safety Review reports in 2001 and 2004; the Vaccine Court Omnibus Autism Rulings or autism "test cases," which ruled against a vaccine-autism link in 2009 and 2010; when Andrew Wakefield had his medical license revoked; or when the Lancet retracted Wakefield's original 1998 paper that suggested the MMR vaccine might be linked with autism.

Unfortunately, anti-vaccine advocates keep moving their target. Once thimerosal was removed from vaccines, they moved against other vaccine additives. When MMR was debunked as a cause of autism, they moved to blame all vaccines, and not just MMR, as the cause.

When they realize that there are unvaccinated children with autism, some blame vaccines they got while pregnant or even before they became pregnant, Rhogam shots, or mercury fillings in their teeth, etc.

And now their mantra is "one more study" because they don't think that the latest 25 studies that have been published in peer-reviewed journals and refute a connection between MMR vaccine and the development of autism are enough.

Deciding to skip some or all of your child's vaccines is likely not a decision that any parent makes lightly. With the increasing outbreaks of measles and pertussis, and risk of other vaccine-preventable diseases, it is even more important to make the right decision and make sure your kids are vaccinated and protected. These articles and websites should help you feel comfortable with that decision:

    There are also many good vaccine books to help parents make an educated decision about getting their kids vaccinated on time, including Dr. Offit's other book, Deadly Choices, Do Vaccines Cause That?! by by Martin G. Myers, MD and Diego Pineda, and The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin.


    American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP Listing of Studies Examining MMR Vaccine and Autism. Updated November 2010.

    Immunization Action Coalition. MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Examine the evidence! November 2008.

    Institute of Medicine. Immunization Safety Review: Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism. Washington, DC: National Academies Press 2001.

    Institute of Medicine. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism. Washington, DC: National Academies Press 2004.

    Freed, Gary L. MD. Sources and Perceived Credibility of Vaccine-Safety Information for Parents. Pediatrics 2011; 127:S107-S112

    Kennedy, Allison. Vaccine Attitudes, Concerns, and Information Sources Reported by Parents of Young Children: Results From the 2009 HealthStyles Survey. Pediatrics 2011; 127:S92-S99.

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