The scientific evidence is overwhelming -- there is no link between vaccines and autism. Most people are vaccinating their children on schedule, but the risk to the public is real even if just a few children are not vaccinated.

The “anti-vax” movement lost all credibility in 2005 when The Lancet fully retracted the paper that first suggested a link between vaccines and autism after its findings were debunked. In 2010, the study’s lead author and figurehead of the anti-vax movement, Andrew Wakefield, was further accused of fraud, ethical violations and scientific misrepresentation, and his license to practice medicine was revoked in the United Kingdom.

Since Wakefield’s study was published in 1998, extensive scientific literature has amassed debunking any associations between vaccines and autism. For example, in 2012, an analysis of 10 independent studies including more than 1.26 million children found no relationship between autism and vaccination in general or the MMR vaccine specifically. This same study also found no link between autism and mercury or thimerosal – a mercury-based preservative that was removed from all childhood vaccines in the United States in 2001 due to now-disproven concerns that it might be harmful to children.

In 2015, a study performed in Japan again showed no association between autism and the MMR vaccine or thimerosal, despite increasing dosages of thimerosal in some children due to receiving multiple vaccinations over time. Another 2015 study that included more than 95,000 children similarly found no relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism, even in children considered to be at high risk of developing autism.

Hundreds of independent studies conducted over the last 15 years have come to the same conclusion: vaccines do not cause autism. Given this substantial body of evidence, the scientific community agrees that that neither vaccines nor their ingredients are linked to the development of autism.

The United States’ public health will suffer if this nascent neo-antivaxxer movement is not stopped immediately. If a decade of false information continues to influence parents, these “vaccine hesitancy” sentiments could spill over to low-income countries where outbreaks of measles and other childhood illnesses could have large-scale catastrophic consequences due to underlying problems with malnutrition and poor sanitation.

Fortunately, many people understand the importance of herd immunity to protect those who are too young or infirm to be vaccinated. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its policy to permit doctors to refuse to treat children whose parents won’t vaccinate them. Many parents who care about their children’s health are demanding that “anti-vaxxers” not put other people’s children at risk and are calling for an end to religious and philosophical immunization exemptions.

The science is clear: the mass of evidence shows no link between vaccines and autism. Vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical advance in recent history. Vaccine hesitancy and exemptions are a worrisome trend in the United States and are not something we can afford to encourage or export. 

 

References:

Retraction-Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. (2010) The Lancet, 375(9713), pp. 445.

Vaccines are not associated with autism: An evidence-based meta-analysis of case-control and cohort studies. (2014) Vaccine, 32(29), pp. 3223-3224.

Early exposure to the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines and risk of autism spectrum disorder. (2015) Vaccine, 33(21), pp. 2511-2516.

Autism Occurrence by MMR Vaccine Status Among US Children With Older Siblings With and Without Autism. (2015) Journal of the American Medical Association, 313(15), pp. 1534-1540.