A new, large study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) should help redirect the concern of parents who still wonder if vaccines have a role in children developing autism.
The science-based medical establishment has not wavered from the position that children should be vaccinated against a variety of diseases (See our blog, “Feds Say Childhood Vaccine Schedule Is Safe and Effective”), but a campaign devoid of science and juiced by quackery keeps planting the seeds of skepticism about whether vaccines do more harm than good.
As reported last week on NPR, the answer, again, is a categorical “no.” The CDC study found no connection between the number of vaccines a child received and his or her risk of autism spectrum disorder. And even though kids get more vaccines than they used to, they’re far less able to provoke an immune response than older versions.
That’s because newer vaccines have fewer antigens. Those substances cause the body to produce antibodies, which are proteins that fight infection. Our bodies are experienced antibody-producers because we’re routinely exposed to microbes, whether they’re the bacteria responsible for a sinus infection or a virus that results in a cold sore. In other words, antibody production is a natural, vital part of human life. To believe it’s responsible for causing a mental disorder is nonsensical.
The CDC study compared the vaccine histories of about 250 children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder with the histories of 750 kids who weren’t. Researchers compared medical records to see how many antigens each child received and whether that affected the risk of autism. The results, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, were clear.
"The amount of antigens from vaccines received on one day of vaccination or in total during the first two years of life is not related to the development of autism spectrum disorder in children," said lead author Frank DeStefano, director of the Immunization Safety Office of the CDC. Because kids, like everyone else, are constantly exposed to antigens from bacteria and viruses, "It's not really clear why a few more antigens from vaccines would be something that the immune system could not handle," he said.
The the number of vaccines a kid is supposed to get has increased, but the number of antigens in vaccines has decreased. A lot. In the late 1990s, vaccinations exposed children to several thousand antigens, the study said. By 2012, that number was 315.
That’s because the science of vaccination has improved; it’s more precise in how antibodies kick-start the immune system.
The problem with supporters of quack science is not only that they leave their children and others in their community vulnerable to the problems vaccines address, they also divert resources into worthless pursuits that otherwise would contribute to the body of science, not waste time trying to overcome it.
"I certainly hope that a carefully conducted study like this will get a lot of play, and that some people will find this convincing," Ellen Wright Clayton told NPR. She’s a professor at Vanderbilt University who contributed to a report on vaccine safety for the Institute of Medicine. “That would let researchers pursue more important questions.
"The sad part is, by focusing on the question of whether vaccines cause autism spectrum disorders, they're missing the opportunity to look at what the real causes are," she said. "It's not vaccines."