It has never been uncommon for urban myths and medical misinformation to spread like wild fire throughout communities all over the world, and this is also true of Indonesia. We have all grown up with relatively harmless examples of such pseudo-scientific folklore, like don’t walk in the rain or you’ll catch a cold, don’t swim for 2 hours after you’ve eaten or you’ll get cramps and drown, or the more legendary “Masuk Angin” and it billion dollar spin off industry. They are often just silly and harmless, a quirky part of local culture, but basically benign and harmless.
However, occasionally something less harmless and more nefarious comes along, as is the current rumours circulating Indonesia that childhood vaccines are in some way connected to Autism. As parents we feel compelled to at least consider and investigate these rumours - which is of course what good parents should always do. Many parents feel lost amongst the sea of information online and not quite sure how to discern between reputable and trustworthy advice and mischievous claims made by those outside or on the fringes of the scientific community.
So in this blog, I would like to present a parents investigation into the evidence that either supports or dispel these claims. I would like to be very open about the multiple sources I use for making my assessment. As a scientist, I know how important it is rely on sources that have a proven record of high quality research and scholarship, as well as a long history of achievements that have saved countless lives from their discoveries and cures. I source information from these authorities, and I encourage interested parents to visit these sites for comprehensive information and studies. Just type ‘autism’ into the search box and you will find all the information you need to make an informed decision about vaccines.
Centre for Disease Control (CDC) www.cdc.gov - This is the most respected agency for managing and protecting the USA (and the world) from the spread of communicable diseases.
Autism Science Foundation http://autismsciencefoundation.org - This institute has a mission to study Autism, and has gathered a scientific advisory board of the most preeminent leaders in their field from some of the most respected Ivy league universities throughout the USA.
The European Centre for Disease Control www. ecdc.europa.eu - Like the CDC, its European equivalent has authority for disease prevention and control for member states of the European Union, which includes some of the most advanced scientific and medical communities of the globe.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) www.nice.gov.uk - NICE is charged with the mission of gathering and assessing all the evidence before providing advice to the government, health sector and community on health care.
World Health Organisation (WHO) - www.who.it - This is the UN agency for health since 1948, with 150 country offices gathering data and sharing information from reputable sources around the world.
What is Autism?
All source concur that Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioural challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
What causes Autism?
In short… All the sources agree that we don’t really know the cause entirely just yet. However, we do know many facts about who is at risk. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biological and genetic factors. Also quite importantly, many factors have been conclusively ruled out as a possible cause, and one of these factors is childhood vaccines (Including MMR vaccine).
- Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD.
- Children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD.
- ASD tends to occur more often in people who have certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis.
- When taken during pregnancy, the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of ASD.
- There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth.
- Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD.
The evidence …
Every one of these sources have funded, conducted, reviewed and participated in hundreds of studies looking into the possibility of a link between Autism and vaccines. The question has been around for a long time, and the studies have looked at almost every aspect of the vaccine. Thankfully, this is a question that science can answer very well. There is lots of available data.
Studies have looked at the number of antigens (substances in vaccines that cause the body’s immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies) from vaccines during the first two years of life. The results showed that the total amount of antigen from vaccines received was the same between children with ASD and those that did not have ASD
Other studies have looked at the ingredients of vaccines. One of these was ‘Thimerosal’ a kind of preservative used to prevent contamination in multi dose vaccines. All of the studies I reviewed were conclusive in suggesting that there was NO link whatsoever between any ingredients and Autism.
I believe that any conclusion about my investigation should involve a discussion about the risks of choosing NOT to vaccinate your infant or child. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that in 2015 more than 132,000 children died from measles, and yet this represents a drop of almost 80% from 2000-2015. It is estimated that more than 20 million children’s lives were save in this period alone.
Vaccines, along with sanitation and germ theory, have been the greatest accomplishments of humankind. As the result of this courageous science, we have eradicated horrific diseases like smallpox and polio, and are well on the way to eradicating many other disease. We live in an age with the greatest capacity to protect our children from horrific diseases that generations before us never had. Even newer vaccines, like HPV, will protect our daughters against most cervical cancers, and our children will be the first to be advantaged by this.
I’m all about the evidence, and as a parent, the evidence tells me overwhelmingly to vaccinate according to the schedule that is prepared by the WHO, in cooperation with hundreds of medical, scientific, and research agencies around the world. There is no doubt that life is filled with risk, even risks with some vaccines, however the exceedingly greater risk to your child and the community at large, is choosing not to vaccinate.
Asking the question when confronted with claims and rumours is perhaps responsible parenting. However not thoroughly examining the claims, particularly when they defy the advice of 99% of the professional community of researchers and clinicians seams like irresponsible parenting to me. So listen carefully to the claims, ask from what source they get their information, then consult the source with the most trusted and scientific advice.
My thanks to Suli and baby Jenica for the inspiration.