Vaccinations Not Linked to Autism, Says New Study

A new study shows that children who receive several vaccines at an early age do not run higher risks of developing autism, a finding that contradicts many of U.S. parents who believe that "too many vaccines too soon" increases the chances their children will develop autism.

The study, soon to be released in The Journal of Pediatrics, concludes that children who receive several vaccines on a single day or within the first two years of their lives are just as likely to develop autism as children who receive fewer vaccines.

According to the authors, "The possibility that immunological stimulation from vaccines during the first 1 or 2 years of life could be related to the development of is not well-supported by what is known about the neurobiology of ." This finding confirms the results of a similar study conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 2004.

Despite such evidence, one-third of U.S. parents continue to express concern that vaccines cause autism and nearly one in ten refuse or delay vaccinations for their children.

Autism is not the only perceived vaccine safety issue. Parents have expressed fear over links between vaccines and attention deficit disorder, seizures and epilepsy, even though research has failed to confirm any such associations.

"In fact," reports National Public Radio's Patti Neighmond, "all scientific studies show vaccines to be highly effective and safe, with only rare, moderate, adverse side effects."

The risks posed to public health by parents who refuse to vaccinate their children are myriad and severe, not only for unimmunized children, but for more vulnerable sections of society such as the elderly and people living with HIV/AIDS, whose immune systems can crumble upon exposure to even the slightest trace of disease.

Take whooping cough, for example, a highly contagious and potentially fatal bacterial disease that health experts once believed had been eradicated from the United States. Since the dawn of the third millennium, whooping cough has re-emerged, killing over one hundred Americans between 2000 and 2005.

Dozens of unimmunized infants perished from the disease in 2012. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente's Institute for Health Research recently found that children of parents who refused a whooping cough vaccine are 23 times more likely to contract the disease compared with fully immunized children.

Last December, the Examiner reported that cases of whooping cough in the United States were higher in 2012 than any year since 1948. The tragedy of this, of course, is that a highly effective vaccine was not yet widely available in 1948, as it is now.

"Vaccines are one of the great public health achievements of the last couple of centuries," said Alison Buttenheim, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, in a recent interview. "They protect us from diseases that used to routinely kill hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States and still kill hundreds of thousands globally.

"It's not just important for your child to be vaccinated, it's important at a population level to have high rates of coverage."

If the results of the upcoming study in The Journal of Pediatrics help reassure parents that their children do not risk developing autism as the result of vaccinations, several lives could be saved.

Image credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District, Flickr