Vaccines and Autism

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The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine is used to immunize children against diseases that can cause major disabilities and fatal illnesses. In 1994, the vaccine was mandated for all school children and since then a spike has been seen in the diagnosis of autism. Many of those diagnosis falls within a few months of the MMR vaccine and in 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a study indicating a relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism (Rudy, 2009). Intense media coverage followed and many parents refused to give their children the MMR vaccine, believing their children would develop autism. The study was later retracted due to the lack of evidence but many children are still not receiving the MMR vaccine. The public health field has tried to raise awareness about the benefits of the MMR vaccine but many are still skeptical about the vaccine. Efforts have now been focused towards increasing awareness about the vaccine and trying to encourage parents to get their children vaccinated.

In February 1998, The Lancet published an article entitled “Ileal-Lymphoid-Nodular Hyperplasia, Non-Specific Colitis, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children,” which suggested that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine could contribute to the development of autism. Dr. Andrew Wakefield, a gastroenterologist, suggested the link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield proposed that the virus could “have a negative impact on a child’s immune system, lead to persistent infection in the gastrointestinal tract and lead, in the long run, to possible brain damage and autism” (Rudy, 2009). Eight of the twelve children had severe intestinal inflammation, with symptoms emerging six days after receiving the MMR vaccine. The vaccine had damaging effects on the intestines and caused serious inflammation, “allowing harmful proteins to leak from the gut into the bloodstream and from there to the brain, where they damaged neurons in a way that triggered autism” (Begley, 2009).

Wakefield’s study was later called fatally flawed due to the fact that Wakefield was studying children who had pre-existing gastrointestinal problems. The group size was also very small, 12 children, and “no proof was offered that the measles virus found in autistic children’s’ guts was causally connected to their autism” (Rudy, 2009). The researchers lastly suggested that the MMR vaccine caused bowel problems in children which lead to autism. In the children studied, symptoms of autism appeared before the symptoms of the bowel disease, proving that the bowel symptoms, as a result of the MMR vaccine, did not cause autism. In 2004, The Lancet published a retraction submitted by 10 of the 13 original authors that stated that there was no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism: "We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism, as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of such a link was raise” (Immunization safety review vaccines and autism, 2004).

There were many things found flatulent with the Wakefield study. Details of the medical histories of all the children used in the study were later revealed to the public and journalist Brain Deer interviewed several parents whose children participated in the study. Deer outlined major problems with the study including that the children were not randomly selected for the study and one came from as far as California when the study was conducted in the United Kingdom. All of the children were found to be recruited through anti-MMR vaccine campaigners (DeNoon, 2011). Wakefield was a paid consultant to a lawyer who was suing MMR vaccine makers for damages caused to children who contracted autism months after the vaccine. Wakefield received a sum of about $668,000 to publish the study from the lawyers and was published biased results. Five of the children had evidence of developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and this is a...
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