I’ve heard that vaccines cause autism. Is that true?
Laurie from Galveston

Dear Laurie,
Autism is a concern for any parent, but it is not caused by vaccines.

There have been countless studies over the years that have examined many aspects of this question, such as whether the number of vaccinations given to children is too high or if certain vaccines or substances in the vaccine making process (such as thimerosal) increase the likelihood of a child to develop autism and the data has not established a causal link between vaccines and autism.

No one knows the cause of autism, but approximately one out of every 88 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder. This rate is higher than in previous decades, but it is challenging to compare the incidence now with that of the 1980s because the diagnostic criteria have changed considerably between then and now, and more physicians and parents are aware of its existence — both of which can contribute to higher numbers of children being diagnosed each year.

Some parents link their child’s autism to vaccines because the child’s vaccination schedule is usually around the same time when parents and doctors begin to notice developmental signs and neurological symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of an autism. Other parents have heard about a study conducted by Andrew Wakefield that concluded the measles, mumps and rubella shot caused gastrointestinal problems and led to the development of autism.

Many researchers have attempted to repeat this study and were not able to replicate his findings and thus concluded that the MMR vaccine did not contribute to the development of autism. Wakefield’s study, originally published in a well-respected journal named “The Lancet,” has been retracted due to findings of scientific misconduct and he is no longer allowed to practice medicine in the United Kingdom, where he was originally licensed.

Since the investigations into whether or not vaccines cause autism, it has raised the public’s awareness of autism and consequently has increased the amount of research into discovering the real cause of this disorder and how to treat, and hopefully one day, cure this heartbreaking disease.

Despite a lack of evidence that links vaccines to autism spectrum disorder development, celebrities and anti-vaccination groups use this as proof that parents are harming their children if they choose to vaccinate their children. This is simply not the case as an unvaccinated child is more likely to contract a vaccine-preventable disease than be protected from developing autism.

As a pediatrician and father, this is heartbreaking to hear about a family dealing from the loss of their child from a disease which could have been easily prevented with a vaccination. For more information on this topic, visit www.autismsciencefoundation.org.

Dr. Richard E. Rupp is the chief of the division of Adolescent and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch.