Essay on Autism Among Children
In 2004, one in sixty-eight children were given a diagnosis of autism, compared to the one in one hundred fifty in 1992. Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. Autism rates have risen within the last twenty years and the cause for this incline is unknown. The public gives credit to vaccinations, particularly the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine for the cause of ASD, and as a result, have deferred and refused vaccinations for their children and themselves. The threat of lower vaccination levels raises public health concerns since the community would be faced with lower immunity and tolerance of diseases.
Although substantial amounts of research have been conducted, researchers have found no link between the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine with autism. Worried parents and researchers alike have speculated about the causes and the issues involved with vaccines, and with vaccines being universally studied, it is more prone to be the blame for causing ASD. Researchers of this disorder hold that there are many causes for such a diagnosis that include genetic and environmental factors, and the inclusion of vaccines is not one of them. It has raised public concern whether or not the MMR has or will cause autism after a fraudulent study was published, and the question of why parents are no longer choosing to vaccinate their children is more significant than ever.
In a study published in the Lancet in 1995 by gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield, information was provided that the MMR vaccine caused bowel and neuropsychiatric diseases specifically in the form of autism. Wakefield speculated that infection from the virus of the vaccine caused tissue in the intestines to lead to bowel disease, and that autism was undeniably related to the given vaccine. In 1998, Wakefield along with twelve co-authors released a case study claiming that they had found the evidence they needed. Of the twelve cases they studied, the researchers said they found evidence of the measles virus in the digestive system of children who also had autism after receiving the MMR vaccine.
It was also stated in their paper that they could not demonstrate the relationship between the vaccine and autism. Over a twelve-year period, the link between the MMR vaccine and autism was researched and it was found that no reputable, reliable study could confirm the findings. Instead, many scientists found that there was no link between the MMR, bowel disease and autism. In 2004, it was discovered that Wakefield did not disclose that he was paid by attorneys so a lawsuit could be filed against vaccine manufacturers. In 2010, Wakefield was banned from practicing medicine in Britain and is said to have shown “callous disregard” for the children in his research (Do vaccines, n.d.).
In 2011, British journalist Brian Deer published a report on the flaws found in Wakefield’s research and found that research fraud had been committed by falsifying the data about the children’s conditions. Today, researchers agree that the original study between the MMR and autism should not have been published, not because the study was poorly conducted, but because it is a product of research fraud and it has established the opinions of today's society (Do Vaccines, n.d.).
The MMR vaccine is not the only product that has been targeted by the public for autism relatedness, but also the question of thimerosal has raised concerns for critics. Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative that is used in vaccines (Do Vaccines, n.d.). In 1999, the FDA requested that vaccine companies report on the amounts of mercury that is contained in their products. The results of mercury exposure in vaccines exceeded the guidelines for the FDA set exposure limit compared to the kind of mercury that is contained in fish. While the mercury that is in fish is a form of methylmercury that is not easily metabolized and excreted, thimerosal is ethyl mercury and allows the body to clear it faster.
Critics immediately became concerned about the safety of the vaccines and concluded that autism had to be linked to the exposure of mercury in the vaccinations. In 2001 it was rejected that there was any correlation between mercury exposure causing neurodevelopment disorders. Today thimerosal is no longer used in children’s vaccines except for the exclusion of the flu vaccine. After the removal of thimerosal, autism rates did not drop, but instead, they continued to rise much to public distaste. After thimerosal was removed, the shift for the blame of vaccines continued to occur and critics transferred their blame to the number of doses received and to aluminum. Many vaccines have been added to the schedule for children, and the public speculates that the increase in exposure results in an ASD outcome. Aluminum was also blamed, but the idea was never assumed by researchers since the amount of aluminum used in vaccines is less than that of the amount in breast milk or baby formula (Do Vaccines, n.d.). The products within vaccines and vaccinations themselves will continually be targeted by the public, no matter how many times it is proven false, the blame is constant.
A study done using the Optum Research database was done to report the ASD occurrence and vaccination status in U.S. children who have older siblings with ASD compared to those who do not. Several parents that have children with autism contribute their child’s diagnosis to the MMR vaccine and therefore avoid vaccinating their younger children. This speculation has been combined with the knowledge that younger siblings are at a higher genetic risk for autism if their sibling has been diagnosed. “In a survey of 486 parents of children with ASD, nearly twenty percent declined or delayed the MMR immunization in their younger children” (Jain et all, 2015). The Optum research database is an administrative claims database that is associated with a large U.S health plan” (Jain et all, 2015). This particular database includes more than thirty-four million individuals and includes commercially insured and Medicare enrollees. In order to be selected for this study, the child must be enrolled in a health plan and must have at least one sibling with two claims of ASD diagnosis or all older siblings with no diagnosis.
Out of the 95,727 children studied, only 1.04% were diagnosed with ASD and 2.02% had an older sibling that had been diagnosed. At the ages of two and five, the rate of vaccinations for children with unaffected siblings was 84% and 92% compared to 73% and 86% for children with siblings that were affected (Jain et all, 2015). The relative risk for children with affected siblings getting two doses of the vaccine compared to getting no vaccine was 0.56, while the relative risk for children with unaffected siblings getting two doses compared to no vaccines was 1.09 (Jain et all, 2015). In the large sample of children, the recipient of the MMR vaccine did not show any signs of increased risk of ASD regardless if their sibling had it or not. There were also findings that whether the children received one dose or two of the vaccine, there were no increased risks for the recipients. This study proved that there are no harmful associations between MMR recipients and autism, even if they are at a higher risk for the diagnosis.
The concern about whether the MMR can cause autism is heavily debated among professionals and the public after a dishonest study was published and the question of whether or not parents should vaccinate their kids is a concern for public health. Wakefield’s study is still heavily debated today and constantly retested to figure out the conclusions behind his tests. Though he committed fraud in his studies, Wakefield’s propositions hold strong to this day and are believed around the world. Parents look to internet sources and social media to find answers about what is best for their children and depend on their views to do what is right for the wellbeing of their kids. With the upcoming of anti-vaccination groups, parents are forced between a wedge to decide what they think is right and what society thinks is right.