What's to debate? The facts on vaccines and autism
The Doc Smitty answers three main vaccine questions from families
Do vaccines cause autism?
So why are we discussing this issue again?
Because Donald Trump linked vaccinations to autism in last night's debate between Republican presidential candidates.
“Autism has become an epidemic, 25 years ago, 35 years ago, you look at the statistics, it’s not even close,” he said. “It has gotten totally out of control.”
He went on to say he had evidence of a relationship between autism and vaccinations.
I wish I had a voice in the debate last night, I would have been less political and more factual.
What can’t be debated are the facts on this issue: Multiple studies done by different people in different places have shown consistent results that vaccines do not cause autism.
There have been multiple theories proposed over time as to why vaccines might be a cause of autism. In my checkups and vaccine discussions, I generally address the issue of vaccine safety by answering three questions:
No. 1 - What does basic science say?
No. 2- Do studies of groups of children (vaccinated vs unvaccinated) show a problem?
No. 3 - What do you do with your own kids?
The basic science and scientific community has overwhelmingly supported the use of vaccines in children over time. Take a look at any major medical organization and they support vaccination. The overwhelming majority of pediatricians support vaccines according to the Centers for Disease Control schedule. Just so you don't think you’re in the minority, the overwhelming majority of patients have their child vaccinated according to the same schedule.
Over time, various concerns about vaccines have been brought up. Basically the way it happens is like this … someone comes up with a theory as to why vaccines might be a cause of autism. The scientific community starts to complete studies to determine if it could be a concern. Over and over, the theories have been disproven. Here are three specific examples of this pattern.
I believe that research has shown, through basic science, that vaccines are safe. But, there are studies that have looked at the problem from a different perspective.
In an example from 2010, two researchers from the University of Louisville, Dr. Michael Smith and Dr. Charles Woods, studied a group of over 1000 children to determine if delayed vaccination or on-time vaccination affected developmental outcomes. The study was published in Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) in June 2010.5 The study compared children who were vaccinated “on-time” (received vaccinations within one month of the recommended schedule) with children who were not on-time.
The testing looked at multiple different tests, which included outcomes for speech, intelligence, memory and behavior control (among a few others). Results showed that children who were vaccinated on-time showed improved scores in intelligence and naming questions, all other testing showed equivalent scores. If delayed vaccines protected against autism or other developmental problems you would expect those vaccinated on time to show deficiencies in many of the areas tested.
Another study done in Australia, released in June 2014 looked at multiple combined studies totaling 1.2 million children. The findings were overwhelming supportive and showed no link to autism for any of the following: vaccination and autism, vaccination and autism spectrum disorders, and autism and MMR/thimerosal/mercury.
These are just two examples of many studies that have shown vaccines to be safe and not a cause of autism, even when looking at large studies of populations over time.
My Personal Practice
The science tells us that antigen load (and load on the immune system has actually decreased) and population studies have shown that children vaccinated on time do not have developmental problems.
But the real point I like to discuss with my families is this: I vaccinate my kids on time. Each of my children has been vaccinated on time without hesitation. I am confident that by doing so I have not harmed them in any way and I will continue to vaccinate them with all available vaccines according to the CDC schedule.
I am willing to have an open and honest discussion with any family about their choice to vaccinate, their choice to vaccinate on an alternative schedule, or any other issue surrounding vaccination but I do feel strongly that vaccines are safe and that I am not putting any child at risk by vaccinating and vaccinating on time.
In summary, I have studied this issue extensively and have seen no study that convinces me that vaccines are the cause of autism or any other concern. I consider them to be the most important thing that I do to prevent disease in my patients and will continue to vaccinate my children and my patients with confidence.
Vaccines work. Vaccines are safe. Donald Trump shouldn’t change your mind.
About the author
Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.