Debunking link between vaccines and autism

If you’re a parent, you’ve likely faced the question of whether or not to vaccinate your child. Fear of side effects caused by immunizations – and the purported link between vaccinations and autism – has snowballed into a massive mainstream movement in the space of a decade. And if you’re among the vaccination skeptics, you may want to hear this: the study considered to be largely responsible for sparking this great debate – led by British physician Andrew Wakefield and published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in 1998 – was revealed last month to be fraudulent.

The British Medical Journal has declared the study a deliberate fraud, with the medical histories of the 12 children involved in the study misrepresented to vilify vaccinations. Wakefield’s study drew a direct connection between the common childhood vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and the onset of autism.

The damage caused by Wakefield’s falsified results will not quickly be undone. A study published in 2010 found that more than 50 percent of parents worry that vaccinating their children carries risk. That same study found that one out of eight parents has refused at least one vaccine recommended by a pediatrician.

These statistics may help explain why whooping cough, or pertussis, is making a frightening comeback. In California alone, nearly 8,500 cases of pertussis were reported in 2010 – with 10 infant deaths resulting. The last time whooping cough was this extensive a problem was 1947. Hear one woman’s harrowing ordeal with pertussis.

While a vaccine isn’t a foolproof defense against contracting whooping cough, it can certainly mitigate the severity of the symptoms. With pertussis, complications can happen at any age, but infants are especially vulnerable. Parents aren’t vaccinating – and kids are getting sick and even dying as a result of preventable illness.

Whooping cough is just one example of the resurgence of disease. In the past two years, the number of reported cases of measles and mumps has increased dramatically in England – and researchers attribute the spike to parents’ reluctance to vaccinate their children. Nearly half the cases of measles reported in the U.S. in 2008 involved parents who refused to have their children vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 164,000 cases of measles were reported worldwide in 2008. Why does that matter? When vaccination rates plummet in communities, those communities become vulnerable to the introduction of disease – as can happen when people travel in and out of the United States.

Kirsten Crowley, M.D., a Providence pediatrician, advises parents to vaccinate their children because it’s the right and healthy thing to do.

“Vaccines are one of the most successful advances in the recent history of medicine,” said Crowley. “Because we have taught the immune system to fight infection before exposure occurs, illnesses that used to injure and frequently kill children are now quite rare.

“I understand parents’ concerns about the safety of vaccines, but I believe the benefit of protection far outweighs the potential risks. With that in mind, I give my three children all routine vaccines.”

Crowley also advises parents to make sure they are up to date on their and their teenage children’s Tdap vaccinations, which protect against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. The protection afforded by childhood vaccinations does not last a lifetime. For a full list of immunization guidelines for children and adults, click here.

Researchers for years have rejected – and continue to reject – any credible link between vaccinations and autism. At Providence, we take your concerns seriously. We also take your children’s health seriously, which is why we believe that immunizing your children is the healthy, safe thing to do.

For guidelines on when to immunize your infant, toddler and teenager, please refer to the Providence Health Plan members’ immunization and health screening guidelines. For valuable information on why it’s important to vaccinate your child, please visit our frequently asked questions member page.

For the latest news on vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.