You may have heard this common myth circling around at birthday parties or mummy groups on Facebook that goes something along the lines of ‘vaccines are dangerous and cause autism’. I am going to explain to you, using research-based evidence, why that is untrue and why believing that vaccines cause autism and not vaccinating your child puts their life and the life of others at risk.
There is only one study that claims that vaccines, specifically the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, cause autism. This study by Wakefield dates back to 1998 and subsequent studies not only failed to replicate Wakefield’s results, but also showed that his study was flawed, biased and unethical. In fact, this study was retracted from the journal it had been published in and Wakefield was banned from practicing medicine. In contrast, there have been hundreds of studies conducted to show the safety of vaccines and their effectiveness, and these can be viewed on this link.
How safe are vaccines?
Vaccines undergo years of safety testing before being approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are continually monitored for safety. All the potential side effects of an injection are well documented and studied extensively. The risk of infection is much greater than the risk of immunization for any vaccine; in one year, vaccines prevent between 2 and 3 million deaths worldwide.
What are the consequences of not vaccinating my child?
Refusing to vaccinate your child puts them at serious risk of diseases like measles (causes brain swelling), mumps (causes deafness), meningitis (causes brain damage), and polio (causes paralysis). There has been an unfortunate decline in childhood vaccination in many countries, and this has been accompanied with increased deaths by illnesses like the whooping cough, which are entirely vaccine preventable. Not vaccinating your child not only puts them at risk, it also threatens the life of children who, for health reasons, cannot be vaccinated.
Why do children develop autism after taking a vaccine?
They don’t. The thing is, children are typically due to take their vaccines at around the same time when symptoms of autism start to appear, leading us to believe that there may be some link between the two when there is in fact no such thing. Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition, essentially implying that people are born with it and it’s not something which is contagious or acquired like the flu.
Why is autism in children increasing?
There are many reasons for the increase in children being diagnosed with autism nowadays. The first reason is that we’re getting better at detecting children who need further assistance and which would have otherwise gone unnoticed or labelled ‘slow’ or ‘stupid’. Tools and assessments have improved so much that professionals are able to diagnose children with milder forms of autism, and increased awareness by teachers and parents helps make these resources accessible. Since we’ve widened the definition of autism spectrum disorder, it is natural that more children will fall into this category thus making it appear as if autism is on the rise.There may still be an increase in the number of children with autism nowadays, and the cause of this is a complicated mixture of genetic and environmental factors which are yet to be understood fully.
What do I do if I have more questions?
If you have questions or doubts about vaccinating your children, talk to your doctor or contact the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate on 23266000. If you have any questions about this article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and your question will be handled in confidence by professionals in the mental health sector.
Plotkin, S. et al. Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses (2009) Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 48, Issue 4, 456-461
Wright, J. The Real Reasons Autism Rates are up in the US. Spectrum (2017)
Nicole Borg is a medical student at the University of Malta and a childminder with Willingness. She has experience working with children with neurodevelopmental disorders and a great interest in psychiatry and development.