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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Vaccine/Autism Correlation?

Interesting piece in the NYT about autism and it's possible connection to childhood vaccinations. I can understand how those parents affected by autism would be reluctant to vaccinate their children. I've heard the case made that the thimerosal used as a preservative in vaccines contains mercury, which has been posited as a cause of autism and related disorders. But although the thought of taking the slightest chance of putting my children at risk for autism makes me very nervous, I can't see myself taking the not-so-slight risk of not immunizing my children. Too many ER episodes of children dying from measles, I guess. Maybe if the data would show more conclusively that the preservative is a cause for autism, like autism rates in England (where thimerosal has been banned) going down significantly, I might feel otherwise. Right now it just seems to be based on speculation. Your thoughts?

33 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was told by my friend who has one child with autism, and one with PDD (a related disorder), that the sensitivity to mercury is genetic. So not all kids are affected by the vaccines, but those that are susceptible are, and that susceptibilty runs in families. Of course, that could just as easily prove that autism is a genetic disorder as well. I chose to vaccinate my three children anyway, even though my friend strongly advocates against vaccinating.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Kal said...

I dont haveany yet, but I would NEVER vaccinate my children after reading what Ive read on the subject. Right now there are enough people in the world that get vaccinations (herd immunity) that it seems like a bigger risk to expose them to vaccinations then not to. Just my two cents.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kal--if everybody starts thinking like you do (and in my part of the country, a LOT of people think like you do), we can kiss that herd immunity goodbye. And since some vaccines aren't 100% effective (I think the Whooping cough vaccine only works on about 80% of kids), that herd immunity matters, even for the kids who ARE immunized.

Though I've heard a lot of differing opinions on this lately. See http://parents.berkeley.edu/advice/health/vaccination.html

1:17 AM  
Anonymous kaspit said...

You might want to look at my recent post on the Kennedy article that alleges a cover-up on thimerosal policy. There seem to be serious doubts w/Kennedy's work (see my embedded links). However, the doubts about thimerosal are not easily dispelled: what scientific evidence could convince either of the two polarized sides of this debate?

It's hard to justify a crass "free rider" attitude (i.e., "we don't need to vaccinate because the 'herd' does"). Still, there might be a precautionary rationale. I tend to be skeptical about the increased reliance on vaccines, in general, and the use of mercury in thimerosal (and in homeopathic remedies, amalgams and elsewhere). So I've turned down some vaccine. But I agreed w/my spouse to get most of the standard vaccines for our children (w/some postponed timing). It's helpful that my spouse is nonchalant about minute risks, but I am bothered that society allows so many technological "advances" to proceed unchecked.

2:02 AM  
Blogger rockofgalilee said...

There are other statistics that you have to worry about. 100% of people who eat chocolate die.

But more seriously, It seems like a good percentage of people (well over 99%) get the vaccinations and do not get autism. Even if that was one of the causes, I don't think it would stop me from immunizing my children. A lot more disease has been stopped because of it then started.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Miriam said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:12 AM  
Blogger Miriam said...

Kal: Here in London there have been significant outbreaks of Mumps, Measles and Rubella (German Measles) in the past 3 years because vaccination rates have fallen so low. Parents who are not vaccinating their children are actively placing their children at risk of these diseases, which can cause death and serious illness.
You should also know that more than 10 years ago, Japan banned the MMR vaccine. Their autism rates have continued to rise in line with everyone else's, indicating that the cause is elsewhere. Last, but not least there have been lots of studies showing that autism is much more common in areas with lots of hi-tech companies, eg. silicon valley, indicating that the cause is genetic. Since autism is considered an extreme form of the male brain, a rise in 'techie' marriages has resulted in more autistic children. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2192611.stm

8:15 AM  
Anonymous Rachel Ann said...

I think that caustion is warranted if there is a family history of autisim. I think the correlation may be more temporal rather than cause and effect; in other words, that the shots and the signs of autism and other neurological disorders coincide because the best time to get the shots is the same time when these neurological disorders would first present themselves.

However, we did withhold I think it was pertusis from two of our children because the first child (our second born)reacted so badly (he started having convulsions...weak, and no need for hospitalization) while resting one me. Freaked me out you can be certain! But under the doctors advice we did not give our third child the shots. New info was available for the other two so they recieved the vaccine.

One has to remember that measles and mumps etc. kill as well, or could leave the child in very poor health even if they don't kill.

Have to weigh everything, and realize that there are no promises either way.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous sam said...

This is just embarrassing. For starters, the rhetoric employed by the parents and "experts" who make up some of these groups goes well beyond the strident and into the territory of the absurd.
for example: "Dr. Geier has called the use of thimerosal in vaccines the world's "greatest catastrophe that's ever happened, regardless of cause.""
Does this strike anyone as normal?
In truth, the anti-vaccine movement has always (more or less since Jenner and the original vaccinia inoculations) been characterized by a certain hysteria.
In the intro lectures to our pediatrics rotation, we got a lecture on vaccines with numerous data cited to debunk many of the myths surrounding vaccines. For example In one case, the use of the whole cell pertussis vaccine was discontinued b/c of a propensity to cause seizures. An acellular vaccine was developed instead, with excellent results, but not before serious research showed that there was no correlation between the seizures and the whole cell vaccine. Once it was tainted, however, getting parents to accept its use was extremely difficult, despite the real risk of whooping cough to which they were exposing their children.
I do beleive that there is an environmental component to autism - but ultimately, the huge increase in diagnosed cases over the past 20 years largely reflects increased awareness of the disease and probably not some hitherto undiscovered cause in the water.
What I find troubling about all this is the complete lack of scientific thinking employed by parents in this discussion. At a certain point, seeing a conspiracy behind every door devolves into serious paranoid ideation. Is the entire medical establishment behind this "coverup"? To what end? To push vaccination? Are we all in league with big pharma? Even assuming some truth to these fears (which I do not, obviously), is a minute and unproven risk of autism better or worse that the real risk of scourges like polio, diphtheria and rubella? I would say that based on the data (and having learned about all of these diseases and their terrible consequences - AND their HUGE incidence in the undervaccinated world) I am 100% percent comfortable vaccinating my children.

And for those of you relying on herd immunity, I'd think twice about it. Many of these vaccines do not eradicate carriage (diphtheria, for example). Do you live around any immigrants from Russia? A safe bet in today's jewish communities. Well, then, if your kids havent gotten DPT, they're at a significant risk of diphtheria. I find that frightening, and frankly irresponsible.
Ultimately, vaccinations have a history of almost uninterrupted success, and minute failures.
The complete eradication of Hemophilus influenza meningitis and other complications of this disease in the last decade is a perfect example. Older books still call it one of the main causes of meningitis in children - while newere sources make any mention of it historical interest at best.

So the choice here is clear: its between one of the triumphs of science and paranoid magical thinking that deserves to have been left in the middle ages with the four humors theory of medicine. I know which side I want to be on.

10:40 AM  
Blogger Air Time said...

I saw a similar report emailed to me a few months ago by a friend whose child is autistic.

The repoort mentioned that there are equally effective alternative vaccines that do not contain mercury.

10:46 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Air, that IS correct, but as the NYT article states, thimerosal has been banned in England for some time now, and the plummeting of autism diagnoses that should be expected had there been a strong corellation has yet to manifest itself. As a matter of fact, Salon printed an article with a somewhat hysterical tone by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. last week that pretty much alleges that thimerosal has a PROVEN connection to autism.
http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2005/06/16/thimerosal/
Of course, if you then read all the corrections that Salon was forced to print after publication of the article, you can see how flawed the evidence Kennedy used to write the article was.

10:59 AM  
Anonymous Kal said...

Ok, I understand what you are saying, but it doesn't change the fact that these parents have made a better case for not vaccinating children than the Medical community has for vaccinating. What can I say, it's a gut decision.

11:02 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Kal, if you mean the anti-vaccination parents have "made a better case" in the same way that the people who allege that a plane never really hit the Pentagon on 9/11 "make a better case", then I would have to agree with you. If you mean made a better case that relies on sound scientific evidence, then I do not agree with you at all. Show me the study that you are referencing when you refer to them as making that case. I have yet to see any evidence that makes me feel comfortable not vaccinating.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Kal said...

Ok, I know I'm playing into your little game here, but have you actually seen the evidence that a plane didn't really hit the Pentagon?
http://www.freedomfiles.org/war/pentagon.htm
http://www.apfn.org/apfn/flight77.htm
Pretty conclusive, IMHO.

11:33 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Thanks for those links, Kal. Much more entertaining than that Mel Gibson movie, "Signs". Get out your tinfoil hat, though. You seem like someone who needs one.

11:45 AM  
Blogger Enigma4U said...

Personally, I think that Salon's article is pseudoscience, at best, and a fearmonger, at worst. I don't think there is a connection between autism and thimerosal, but until this is proven, I have immunized my children, taking the precaution of requesting that my pediatrician give them mercury-free immunizations (they are available, but your pediatrician has to make a special order for them). Not immunizing one's children is plain nuts, and until the final verdict is in, this seems like a solution of sorts.

11:59 AM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:57 PM  
Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

One thing to keep inmind is that Kennedy is a lawyer not a journalist. He is used to writing as an advocate not an impartial observer. Although I have lots of respect for what Kennedy accomplished for the environment in New York, he he should stick to his day job.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous Kal said...

Yeah, well he makes a heck of a lot of sense for someone who should stick to his day job. How can you discount everything he wrote?

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Tova said...

I've read that the reason people think autism is related to the MMR vaccine is because autistic symptoms first show up at the same age that a baby first gets his MMR vaccine. So autistic kids get the shot and boom, the parents blame the vaccination.

9:23 PM  
Blogger dilbert said...

There is ZERO data that immunization is related to autism, mercury or no mercury. This is another case of distraught parents looking for something/someone to blame, and pseudoscientists providing pseudo data. In a similar vein, there is ZERO data that silicon breast implants cause any physical disease, yet there was enough of a brouhaha that the FDA saw fit to ban them, and many people made millions at the expense of Dow. Unfortunately, science doesn't always triumph, the popular perceptions of science combined with whatever political manipulations are present rule the day.

Vaccines save an incredible number of lives and prevent a whole lot of maiming. Just talk to someone who lived in the 20's and 30's about what an incredible spectre polio was, or talk to someone in a developing country where people still get it, or the other diseases that we are fortunate to be immunized from. Nothing is perfect, and certainly there are rare cases of side effects from the vaccines, but the overwhelming benefit outweighs the downsides.

5:53 PM  
Anonymous kaspit said...

Hi. Wrote more on the topic, thought you and others would be interested.

With articles by the New York Times, CNN, and RF Kennedy Jr. [1], people keep asking whether autism is triggered by vaccines with mercury-based thimerosal. Here's a partial reading of the debate from a Jewish standpoint. The debate about vaccines and autism requires us to judge correlations. For instance, does the onset of autism correlate to thimerosal vaccinations? More importantly, does the incidence of autism rise and fall with the level of mercury-based vaccinations in a population? Maybe there's data to support these correlations. Read more about the autism debate here.

2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding reactions to mercury being genetic! Mercury is poison to everyone. It would seem that some people either received vaccinations purposely infected with mercury, while others did not, or there is some other agent at work. Think about it: an vast amount of people from one generation, all over the world, do not simply turn up with so-called autisim. "Somebodies" have perpetrated this, and it's about popwer and control.

3:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, so I just watched an episode of private practice that had to do with this topic. I have a daughter that I got immunized, and would not have it any other way. I think that I would much rather have my child alive with autism then dead, especially knowing that there was something that I could have done to prevent it. I think that researchers need to research a little bit more. Maybe there is a certaing gene that children with autism have and can be screened for before birth or when they are born.

On the show this evening this mother got her first son vaccinated and he got autism. ( I think it is totally a fluck). Her second son then got measles and died. She told the doctor afterwards that she thought the disease they were vaccinating against was just something like a common cold, and was not educated on how deadly these diseases are. While her son was deathly ill she refused to vaccinate her youngest son until her middle child died from one of these deadly diseases. What would you rather have a child alive or dead. I work with children with autism and they are wonderful. There are so many different ways to help these children now.

And, finally the whole reason why we are not seeing these diseases around is because we have had vaccinations for years. So I just ask why would we take a chance at our childs life when we have something that can prevent our child suffering so badly and mostly likely dieing.

1:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Miriam,

I had to laugh when I read your comment about the prevalence of autism in Silicon Valley being due to "techie" marriages! What about those of us who are from, and I mean born and raised in SANTA CLARA Valley ("Silicon" is what people who aren't from here call it), and are not "techies" and still have a child on the spectrum? I don't know why my child is the way he is, but it's not because we're techies. We're not against techies either. But just to say, your logic is amusing.

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