Why is autism increasing at an alarming rate? Although the cause remains unknown, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that "There are many different factors that make a child more likely to have autism, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors."
While writing about autism (see "An Indispensible Mission," front page), I met parents who are convinced that their child's disability is the result of the immunization schedule their doctors told them to follow. All of these parents said that their healthy child began ailing shortly after being vaccinated and that it "didn't go away."
"Vaccinating children against otherwise life-threatening diseases is essential for our population," said O'ahu's Department of Health Immunization Branch Chief Ron Balajadia.
Contributing Writer · Guest Editorial
"The practice has saved many millions of lives," he said. Moreover, "the latest CDC study shows no evidence of vaccine-autism association."
Yet, despite the reassurance of at least eight safety review panels conducted by the Institute of Medicine since 2001, many parents continue to fear that childhood vaccines can cause a host of illnesses ranging from immune dysfunction to attention deficit disorder and autism. The problem is that while we know some small percentage of children may have severe adverse reactions, we have no reliable means to identify those children in advance.
Historically, some vaccines have been associated with more side effects than others. The combination measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (MMR) is one of those. In fact, health risks apparently associated with the MMR vaccine have been in the news for about 15 years. Now, with the dramatic increase in autism, old questions have re-emerged.
Starting to research this issue, I knew that the original paper by Britain's Doctor Andrew Wakefield connecting autism to the MMR vaccine had been discredited years ago. However, according to BBC News, Wakefield, who lost his job, his career and his country over this issue, still insists the problem is far too important for him to be deterred.
"Urgent further research is needed to determine if MMR may have any complications in a small number of people," said Wakefield. He recommended single shots against measles, mumps and rubella separated by gaps of one year, although the British government declined his recommendation.
Given that history, I was surprised to learn that the U.S. government recently paid out millions of dollars to parents of children whose autism apparently followed vaccine-induced brain damage. The federal Vaccine Court ruling in favor of Ryan Mojabi and others can be read online. The court ruled that vaccines had caused brain injury (www.examiner.com/article/federal-vaccine-court-awards-millions-to-two-vaccine-injured-kids-with-autism, Jan. 16, and many other places).
As recently noted at www.autismone.org, the famous environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was instrumental in the publication of "Unanswered Questions: a Review of Compensated Cases of Vaccine-Induced Brain Injury," a peer-reviewed investigation published in 2011 by Pace Environmental Law Review (Mary Holland, et al., Vol. 28, No. 2). Kennedy is also the author of the article "Deadly Immunity" in the July 14, 2005, issue of Rolling Stone, which documented the government's efforts to conceal alarming data about the dangers of vaccines.
With skyrocketing increases in the incidence of autism, it is no longer enough to argue about anecdotes. We must insist on reliable research into these critically important--but still unanswered--questions.
How else can we make sound decisions for the well-being of our children?