As parents, we often find ourselves faced with difficult decisions regarding our children’s wellbeing. Of course we want to choose what is best for our children, especially when it comes to their health. But often decisions are clouded by controversial evidence, leading us to wonder which choice is actually best for our children. Such is the case with vaccines.
In recent years, many parents have begun to opt out of vaccinating their children. Some believe that vaccines can cause health-related problems such as autism and diabetes. Strong arguments have been made to support both sides of the vaccine debate, making the decision more difficult for some parents. New evidence from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) may help parents choose more readily.
In August 2011, the IOM released a consensus report entitled “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality,” in which they concluded that “few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines.” Though a number of rare side effects were linked with certain vaccines, the IOM’s report indicated that most of these problems occur in persons with immunodeficiency. The review examined over 1000 scientific papers and found no correlation between diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) or MMR vaccines and the occurrence of Type I diabetes or autism.
The debate about whether or not vaccinations cause autism has created enormous controversy. In fact, a 1998 Lancet article claiming that mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) vaccines were linked to autism was invalidated in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January 2011, as editors called the report “an elaborate fraud.” The BMJ presented an extensive study that uncovered data manipulation used to support claims in the original paper.
A 2011 article published by Helen V. Ratajczak in the Journal of Immunotoxicology states that autism may occur as a result of “encephalitis [brain damage] following vaccination.” The author reviewed scientific evidence from 1943 to the present to help determine the cause of autism. The review concluded that “autism is the result of genetic defects and/or inflammation of the brain.”
In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Brian Strom from the University of Pennsylvania, who also has served on panels at the IOM, said the scientific community generally opines that while vaccines may be linked to brain damage they are not scientifically linked to autism. (In other words, if A leads to B, which causes C, that doesn’t necessarily equate to A causing C.) Strom did not believe the Ratajczak review was groundbreaking, as it reviewed theories and not just scientific data.
Overall, it appears the benefits of vaccines — protection from infectious diseases that once may have been deadly — far outweigh the risk of negative side effects. Perhaps the question we should ask ourselves is, “Do I want my child to risk contracting [measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis]?” The answer is clearly “No,” and may be resounding enough to take the chance of a very rare side effect from vaccines.
Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. “Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality.” Web. 29 Aug. 2011. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Adverse-Effects-of-Vaccines-Evidence-and-Causality.aspx
Park, Alice. "Study Linking Vaccines to Autism Is "Fraudulent" - - TIME Healthland." TIME Healthland - A healthy balance of the mind, body and spirit. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.
"Vaccines and autism: a new scientific review - CBS News Investigates - CBS News." Breaking News Headlines: Business, Entertainment & World News - CBS News. Web. 29 Aug. 2011.
Ratajczak, Helen V. “Theoretical aspects of autism: Causes—A review.” Journal of Immunotoxicology, 2011; 8(1): 68–79. http://www.cogforlife.org/ratajczakstudy.pdf.
Reviewed August 30, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith