While formal conclusions regarding autism’s causes have yet to be drawn, many researchers today believe autism occurs as the result of genetic and other predispositions coupled with environmental factors or triggers. Of the possible environmental components involved, the most heated debates have arisen over the possibility that vaccines play a critical role in the development of autism in susceptible individuals.
There is no dispute that the number of vaccines given to infants and young children has risen dramatically over the past few decades, as has the rate of autism diagnoses among children in the U.S.[i] [ii] During the past 25 years, the number of vaccines given to children by the age of six has more than doubled, with today’s schedule requiring that 48 doses of 14 different vaccines be given to kids before they reach the first grade. [iii] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently puts autism rates at one in 88, and the American Academy of Pediatrics reported in 2004 that a developmental disorder and/or behavioral problem now affects one in six children in this country.[iv] Federal health agencies generally cite coincidence to explain autism symptoms that often appear following the administration of vaccines. Many parents and researchers are skeptical of this explanation.
Concerns aren’t limited to the number of vaccines given to infants (whose blood-brain barrier isn’t fully developed); parents are also questioning the lack of safety testing for long-term cumulative effects of vaccines, and for the effects of vaccines given in combination. Autism advocates often point out that other areas of medicine preclude combining different chemicals and medications without the benefit of safety testing for potentially harmful synergistic effects. Yet some young children receive as many as 12 vaccines at the same “well baby” doctor visit [v] despite the lack of sufficient research to confirm the safety of grouping immunizations together in this manner.
In addition to the possibility of combined and cumulative adverse health effects from the current childhood vaccination schedule, many parents are concerned about toxic vaccine components such as aluminum, a known neurotoxin, used as an adjuvant in several vaccines currently on the market. A recent study, Aluminum Vaccine Adjuvants: Are they Safe?,[vi] examined the risks to human health posed by exposure to aluminum, concluding that, “The continued use of aluminum adjuvants in various vaccines for children as well as the general public may be of significant concern.”
Parents wary of the present childhood vaccine schedule need to be diligent in researching potential health implications and carefully weigh both the risks and the benefits of the current immunization policy. Some health care providers are open to adjusting the recommended schedule for children, implementing a “lower and slower” approach, especially if there are immune system irregularities within the health history of the family.
For more information on a possible vaccine/autism link, see The Case is Not Closed on Vaccines & Autism by Robert J. Krakow (Autism File Issue 30, pp. 28—31).
[i] Newschaffer, Craig J., et al. National Autism Prevalence Trends From United States Special Education Data. Pediatrics . Vol. 115 No. 3 March 1, 2005.
[ii] National Vaccine Information Center. Vaccination: Your Health, Your Family, Your Choice. www.nvic.org/Downloads/4507NVIC11x17HIRES.aspx (Dec. 11, 2011).
[iv] American Academy of Pediatrics, The National Center of Medical Home Initiatives for Children with Special Needs. Autism A.L.A.R.M. www.ewg.org/files/AutismAlarm.pdf (Dec. 11, 2011).
[v] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended Immunization Schedule for Persons Aged 0 Through 6 Years. 2011. www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/downloads/child/0-6yrs-schedule-pr.pdf (Dec. 11, 2011).
[vi] Tomljenovic, L. and Shaw, C.A. Aluminum Vaccine Adjuvants: Are they Safe? Current Medicinal Chemistry, 2011, 18, 2630-2637.