What came first--the autism or the vaccine?

Poking and prodding kids with a needle is still a fairly new practice--the number of vaccines for the flu, measles, mumps, and other diseases is rapidly growing...and so is the number of diagnoses for autism spectrum disorder. Ever since a doctor in England in 1998 hypothesized that vaccines are actually the cause for these diagnoses, the idea of autism in conjunction with vaccines has been widely debated. It could be that autism is more widely recognized in modern day society. There's a broader range of what is considered autistic, or on the spectrum. However, there has been some speculation that thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, could have been the cause of autism. While there wasn't any hard evidence that this was so, mercury has been known to cause mental illness.

In 1998, gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield reported that after receiving the mumps-measles-rubella (MMR) vaccine, 8 kids had symptoms of autism within a month of the injection. Wakefield's hypothesis was that these vaccines caused the intestines to swell, which messed up the bloodstream, thus affecting developmental growth.

However, in a study in Denmark, immunization records of more than 530,000 kids were reviewed, and there was not a significant difference in autistic children between those who received the MMR vaccine and those who did not. So is it by chance that there seems to be more autistic kids after there was a rise in vaccines in the '90's? The only difference the MMR vaccine made, in this study, was on kids with pre-existing autistic conditions. The mercury makes those conditions stronger, but these vaccines, according to the Danish study, do not cause autism.

Jenny McCarthy doesn't think so. As a parent of an autistic child, McCarthy spoke out on Lary King Live about the dangers of vaccinations. While she doesn't go so far as to say all vaccines should be eliminated, she stresses the point that in 1989, the vaccine schedule was 10 shots for kids--now it's 36. The amount of mercury injected into children, McCarthy claims, is making children much more susceptible to autism.

If we stopped giving so many shots to kids, would there be a decrease in autism? Or is it all by chance? 



Always being the kid that was petrified of needles, this blog is particularly interesting to me. What if vaccines actually have been having some effect on children getting autism all of these years? At the same time can we really deny the positive effects of some of these diseases? Ever since the 1930s it is believed that vaccines have helped to significantly reduce the amount of children contracting diseases such as diphtheria, measles and polio. Childhood vaccines may do a lot of good, but do they have a serious side effect. Are they curing one disease by giving another serious disorder. I'm curious about what studies may find.
For more information on the history of childhood vaccines visit: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=21429

I also find this interesting as I have always been scared of needles as well, but as soon as I read it I started to think about how there is a group of people that think vaccines and curing diseases (like cancer) will lead to even more threatening (and possibly even worse) diseases and illnesses. These people think that someone somewhere has possibly already found the cure to cancer and just aren't releasing it, but could that be possible? While I don't necessarily agree with those people, I find their thoughts very interesting.

I found this particularly interesting because while shamelessly enjoying the Real Housewives of New Jersey reunion special the other night, the subject of autism came up. The young son of one of the housewives had recently been diagnosed with autism. It was heart-wrenching because his mother mentioned that he had regressed. While a video montage showed him counting, looking people in the eye, engaging with others and saying "I love you" to his mother, she shared that he no longer spoke in full sentences. Of course when I called my own mother the next day to discuss the reality show drama, she mentioned that regression is common in autistic children, something I had never realized before. She too brought up the speculation that this was caused by childhood vaccines.
The article above was based on a study done by the University of Michigan that found that between 20-40% of autistic children develop communication before regressing around the 19 month mark. While the article stated that there was no evidence to suggest that the regression was caused by vaccinations, it will be interesting to see if this viewpoint changes in the coming years. I can't help but wonder what implications this massive increase in childhood vaccines has on our future. As Andrew said in class while discussing ICUs, it's possible that the ICU does nothing for a patients recovery. I don't know if that is also the case with childhood vaccinations too. It'll be fascinating to see if the "more is more" mentality in regards to vaccines continues in the next few decades.

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