No scientific link found between childhood vaccinations, autism
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April is Autism awareness month and many parents are concerned that there is a relationship between childhood immunizations and autism. There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years in mainstream media and on the internet fueled by celebrity opinion about the dangers of vaccinations. The majority of these claims are not backed by scientific studies resulting in misinformation and unnecessary parental concerns. A wide spread, yet disproven study, from 1998 regarding the combination (MMR) combination of measles-mumps-rubella vaccination leading to the development of autism caused parents great concern. The paper was withdrawn and the study exposed as fraudulent in 2011, but it is still highlighted in media reports and on the internet.
Immunization, or vaccinations, is one of the most effective preventative health measures you can do for your child and has saved countless children from death or serious disability. Despite this, immunization is an emotional issue for many parents. As vaccine-preventable diseases become less common and parents have little familiarity with the devastating effects of vaccine-preventable illnesses, the benefits of immunization may seem less important than the potential adverse effects.
Since the 1980’s there appears to have been an increase in the number of cases of autism diagnosed in the United States and other parts of the world. In 2013 all autism disorders were merged into under one umbrella called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which made the occurrence of autism seem greater. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Whether or not the actual incidence of autism has increased is unclear.
What causes autism? First and foremost, we now know that there is no one cause of autism just as there is no one type of autism. Over the last five years, scientists have identified a number of rare gene changes, or mutations, associated with autism. A small number of these are sufficient to cause autism by themselves. Most cases of autism, however, appears to be caused by a combination of autism risk genes and environmental factors influencing early brain development. A growing body of research suggests that a woman can reduce her risk of having a child with autism by taking prenatal vitamins containing folic acid and/or eating a diet rich in folic acid (at least 600 mcg a day) during the months before and after conception.
To date, no scientific link has been found between autism and early childhood vaccinations. The benefits of following the recommended infant and childhood vaccination schedule heavily outweighs the risks of not having your child protected from illness and disease.
Dr. Jay Heitsman is a physician at Medical Arts Specialty Clinic.