The Debate over vaccination and Autism
Autism spectrum disorder is a disorder that appears in children and characterized by challenges in social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non- verbal communication (“Autism Spectrum Fact Sheet,” n.d). The discovery of vaccines has been one of the most significant achievements in the medical field as vaccines helped reducing infants’ mortality by controlling fetal infectious diseases such as mumps, smallpox, yellow fever and polio (“Impact of vaccines,” 1999). However, many heated debates have emerged on whether vaccines were safe or not, especially after reporting several cases of children with autism after being vaccinated (Freed, Clark, Butchart, Singer, & Davis, 2010). Vaccines were one of the first things to blame as infants receive up to ten vaccinations in their first 19 months of their lives. In mid-1998, a study claimed that there is a link between vaccines and autism as vaccines contain high doses of thimerosal, which is a preservative that helps in storing and reusing vaccines’ bottles (Gerber & Offit, 2009). Though, researchers have discredited this study through various scientific experiments and proved that there is no direct correlation between autism and vaccination (Gerber & Offit, 2009). However, despite the scientific findings, many people still choose not to vaccinate their children and ignore the fact that they could be putting their children at risk of contracting an infectious disease such as measles, polio and smallpox. The benefits of vaccinations outweigh the harm of choosing not to vaccinate one’s children. The objective of this paper is to help parents understand the importance of vaccination and the role of media in providing misleading information about vaccines.
According to a study run by the American Institute of Pediatrics, 62% of parents agreed that vaccines protect their children from diseases, but more than half of them expressed concerns regarding the side effects of vaccines including Autism. Moreover, 8% of parents refused at least one recommended vaccination suggested by their physician (Freed et al., 2010). The concern over vaccination safety stems from the lack of education about immunization. A survey conducted by Main Street Technologies found that 30% of Torontonians believe that vaccines cause autism (Armstrong, 2015). The parental fear of vaccines started when, Andrew Wakefield, published a study that described twelve children with inflammatory bowel conditions and autism; eight of the twelve children were diagnosed with autism within one month of receiving vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) (Gerber & Offit, 2009). Many theories tried to explain the link between autism and vaccination suggesting that vaccines can overwhelm the immune system, preservatives such as Thimerosal within the vaccines are toxic to the brain, and the damage of intestinal lining (Gerber & Offit, 2009). This study received many criticisms for its validity and discredited by the researchers. Later, several studies in various countries searched the link between Autism and vaccines and found no correlation between the two. In Canada, researchers ran a study over 27,749 vaccinated children from 55 schools in Quebec and found that the rate of autism diagnosis has no correlation with the rate of vaccination (Gerber & Offit, 2009). Seven studies looked at Thimerosal preservative in vaccines and autism and failed to find any association between Thimerosal and Autism development (Gerber & Offit, 2009).
Even if people were to disregard all the previously presented research, still vaccines have more benefits than harm. It holds many benefits for individuals and communities through disease management. Vaccines are an effective preventative method that activates the immune system against infectious diseases and protect the body on the long run (Siegrist, 2013). Moreover, vaccinations provide herd immunity or, community immunity, which is “the resistance of a group to attack by a disease to which a large proportion of the members are immune, thus lessening the likelihood of a patient with a disease encountering a susceptible individual” (Paper, To, Health, & Practices, 1995). Providing vaccines for various infectious diseases helps in managing the spread infectious diseases and protect communities from epidemics outbreaks. A study published by the American Medical Association indicated that the usage of vaccination resulted in 99% decline in death cases due to measles and rubella (Roush, 2007). It is essential for parents to recognize the importance of vaccination for their children and other children’s’ health.
Although the link between autism and vaccines has been disapproved many times, the topic is still prevalent and discussed via different media outlets. Media plays a huge role in spreading and dramatizing false information about vaccines through anti-vaccination movements (Roush, 2007). These movements first started in the Uk then became active in the United States by the end of 19th century (Wolfe, 2002). Over the recent years, these campaigns began to gain popularity over social media by spreading non-scientific information about the risk of vaccines. Moreover, these campaigns gained more power through the support of celebrities and politicians against vaccines. For instance, the current president of United States, Trump, have tweeted multiple times about the harm of vaccines and how they cause autism (Belluz, 2017). Moreover, the actress, Jenny McCarthy, has been an active advocate of anti-vaccination, she appeared on Larry Kings show and stated that “autism is a vaccination injury” and science is providing misleading information about vaccines (Frontline, 2015). All of the previous accusations campaigns used lack scientific proofs. In fact, they all use one study that claimed to show a correlation between autism and vaccines; then it found to be falsified by the Author (Rao, 2011). However, Internet statistics showed that 70% to 80% of people search health information online and 70% of them admit that online information influences their health decisions. Moreover, parents who choose not to vaccinate their children are more likely to have obtained health information from the internet (Kata, 2010). The importance of vaccination has repeatedly been expressed in scientific, and ecological studies, yet media continue to present misleading information that has no scientific background. It is essential for parents to investigate the accuracy and validity of data concerning vaccines, especially that anti-vaccination campaigns are heavily represented on the internet.
In conclusion, the purpose of this paper was to provide the reader with the wisdom behind the need for vaccination importance of it in saving individuals and community from fatal diseases epidemics. Reflecting on the evidence presented in this paper, it is evident that no valid scientific evidence proves that vaccines cause autism. It is also noted that vaccines have contributed to a reduction in infants’ mortality, disease management outbreaks and community immunity. According to the UN, in 2015, 5.9 million deaths are among children under five, yet one in five of these deaths was due to vaccine-preventable disease (Shenton et al., 2018). This number can be reduced by providing and accepting to vaccinate children. On the other hand, anti-vaccination movements continue their attack on vaccination ignoring the fact that without vaccination, the world would be facing an infectious disease crisis. With all of these points being mentioned, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the need for vaccination outweighs the risk of not vaccinating.
Armstrong, J. (2015, February 06). 20% Still think Vaccines could cause autism. Poll. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://globalnews.ca/news/1816542/20-still-think-vaccines-could-cause-autism-poll/
Freed, G. L., Clark, S. J., Butchart, A. T., Singer, D. C., & Davis, M. M. (2010). Parental Vaccine Safety Concerns in 2009. Pediatrics, 125(4), 654–659. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2009-1962
Gerber, J. S., & Offit, P. A. (2009). Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 48(4), 456–461. https://doi.org/10.1086/596476
Jenny Mccarthy: “We’re Not Anti-Vaccine Movement, We are Pro-Safe Vaccines,” (n,d). Retrieved from: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/jenny-mccarthy-were-not-an-anti-vaccine-movement-were-pro-safe-vaccine/
Kata, A. (2010). A postmodern Pandora’s box: Anti-vaccination misinformation on the Internet. Vaccine, 28(7), 1709–1716. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2009.12.022
Paper, H., To, R., Health, P., & Practices, I. (1995). Herd Immunity : Basic Concept and Relevance To. American Journal of Epidemiology, 141(3), 187–197.
Roush, S. W. (2007). Historical Comparisons of Morbidity and Mortality for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases in the United States. Jama, 298(18), 2155. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.298.18.2155
Shenton, L. M., Wagner, A. L., Bettampadi, D., Masters, N. B., Carlson, B. F., & Boulton, M. L. (2018). Factors Associated with Vaccination Status of Children Aged 12–48 Months in India, 2012–2013. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 22(3), 419–428. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10995-017-2409-6
Siegrist, C.-A. (2013). Vaccine Immunology. Vaccines, 14–32. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-1-4557-0090-5.00004-5
Wolfe, R. M. (2002). Anti-vaccinationists are past and present. BMJ, 325(7361), 430–432. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.325.7361.430
Achievement in public Health, 1900 -1999. Impact of Vaccines Universally Recommended for Children. (1999, April 02). Retrieved: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00056803.htm
Autism Spectrum Disorder Fact Sheet. (n.d). Retrieved https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Autism-Spectrum-Disorder-Fact-Sheet
Rao, T.S.S, & Andrade, C. (2011). The MMR Vaccine and autism. Sensation, refutation, retraction, and Fraud. Indiana Journal of Psychiatry, 52(2), 95- 96. doi:10.1136/bmj325.761.0