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Q.

Can childhood vaccines cause autism?

Related Topics: Autism, Vaccines
 

Answers From Experts & Organizations (1)

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A.

There has been ongoing controversy surrounding certain childhood vaccines and their relationship to autism.

Many studies have looked at whether there is a link between autism and vaccines. To date, there is no convincing evidence that any vaccine can cause autism. A suspected link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism has been suggested by some parents of children with autism. Typically, symptoms of autism are first noted by parents as their child begins to have difficulty with delays in speaking after age 1. Around this same time, the MMR vaccine is first given to children. Therefore, autism cases with an apparent onset within a few weeks after the MMR vaccination may simply be an unrelated chance occurrence.

Parents have also questioned whether mercury-containing thimerosal (used as a preservative in vaccines) might cause autism. Today, with the exception of some influenza vaccines, vaccines used in the United States to protect preschool-aged children contain reduced or no thimerosal as a preservative. (Influenza vaccine is currently available both with thimerosal as a preservative and preservative-free.) According to the CDC, there is no convincing scientific evidence of harm caused by the low doses of thimerosal in vaccines, except for minor reactions like redness and swelling at the injection site. More importantly, studies have not found a link between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.

Because the exact cause of autism is not known, parents may continue to have concerns despite the evidence. In these cases, parents should be aware of the risks of serious disease in children who are not vaccinated. In some areas, outbreaks of these dangerous diseases have occurred in people who have not been immunized.

Understanding the Ruling on Autism-Like Symptoms and Vaccines

In a recent controversy, a Georgia girl was entitled to compensation after developing autism-like symptoms after receiving five childhood vaccines in 2000. But what does this decision mean to your child and to other children?

It's important to note that the government has not said that childhood vaccines actually cause autism. Rather, the Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation (DVIC) at the Department of Health and Human Services agreed there is a possibility that the vaccines aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder in this young girl. The mitochondrial disorder manifested as a regressive neurological disease with some symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

Understandably, many parents are worried about the risks that are feared to accompany vaccinations. Ever since the first vaccines were developed, there have been risks. Most vaccine side effects are mild and severe ones are extremely rare. But the use of vaccines in children has essentially eradicated a number of major childhood diseases that kill. When parents fail to vaccinate their children, the risk of serious -- even deadly -- disease epidemics extends beyond them and their families to their neighborhoods and communities. Failure to vaccinate lays the foundation for new epidemics that could result in serious harm to your child. For instance, a decline in vaccination rates in some European countries has led to fatal outbreaks of measles.

In short, whereas advocacy groups against childhood vaccines continue to take issue with immunizations, CDC officials maintain that this recent ruling should not be generalized to the risk of vaccines for all children. In a statement, the American Academy of Pediatrics reinforced its dedication to the health of all children and urges parents to fully immunize their children.


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Archived: March 20, 2014

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