I was talking to a new expectant mother over the weekend and when I mentioned that I worked in the hospital she went off on me as if I was Satan's number one man on earth. It seems that this young, misinformed lady has bought into all the hype some people are still spreading about how vaccines cause autism, and of course, being a health care professional, I must be covering for big pharmaceutical companies just so they can make more money. Course just how helping big pharm make obscene amounts of money benefits me was something she "hadn't figured out yet", but obviously I must be benefiting from it somehow. The truly sad part of the whole exchange? While there are numerous legitimate reasons not to get your child vaccinated, she hadn't given thought to even one of them.
The idea that vaccines, and the MMR (Measles, Mumps, & Rubela) vaccine in particular, all started in 1998 when a British Doctor named Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent study claiming a link between the two. As you can imagine, this hit the medical establishment and parents of autistic children like a load of bricks. Could we have in fact done this to our children? Were we in fact the reason our precious children developed autism? But as time passed, no one else was able to reproduce the results Dr. Wakefield claims in his paper; and so people began taking a closer look at his study to find out what they were doing wrong. So what was found out? Why couldn't we confirm his study? Well for starters, the new researchers didn't lie about their results. When going back over Dr. Wakefield's notes, they found that he was diagnosing some children with problems they did not have and also sending them for unnecessary and often invasive tests performed at facilities he had a finicial interest in. It was also discovered that some of his subjects might not have even existed, though this last item is so murky it could be argued either way.
And so the Lancet (the British Medical journal that originally published his study) disavowed it and the British authorities revoked his license. Since then several groups have tried to prove him right, but to date no organization with any reputation worth mentioning has managed to do so.
Okay you say, but what about all those dangerous chemicals they add to vaccines! Surely those have some negative effect? Hell, I heard that they even use mercury in them, and another is only one molecule away from being a poison! That has to be bad!
Ok, let's touch on the "one molecule away from being a poison" bit first. Whether some want to admit it or not, there are many, many things that kind of sort of fit that description. Water is one. If you add one atom of oxygen to water it goes from H2O to H2O2, aka Hydrogen Peroxide. There's absolutely no way you can stay alive with out consuming a minimum amount of water, but drinking hydrogen peroxide will kill you. Carbon monoxide is another one, albeit in the other direction. Once a molecule of carbon monoxide binds itself to a red blood cell, it's there for the life span of that cell; blocking it from ever being used to transport oxygen to your cell like a red blood cell should. Add anther atom of oxygen though and you get the carbon dioxide that we exhale every day, day in and day out. If I wanted to, I could drag my sister (who is a researcher for DuPont) in one this and she could go on all day giving us a multitude of examples just like the two I just mentioned. That's just the way chemistry works, so sorry but if you truly believe the "one molecule away" argument then I have to assume you slept through your high school chemistry course.
But what about that Mercury thing I hear you say. What you're referring to is a substance called thimerosal, and I must admit it take a chemist on the level of my sister to understand the reasons why that shouldn't be a problem; except that I've got an even easier point to counter it with. In 1997 congress passed a law that outlawed the use of mercury containing substances in items ment for human consumption. Thus in 2001 the FDA outlawed the use of thimerosal in the use of any vaccines destined for use in the United States, and I'm given to understand that many European nations (including England) banned it's use long before we did. So no matter what Robert DiNero, or any other big celebrity tells you, your child is NOT going to be exposed to any kind of mercury through any vaccine currently used in America.
So, since there IS no link between vaccines and autism, why in the world would anyone in their right mind refuse to allow their child to be vaccinated? Well to be honest, there are a few legitimate reasons. For one thing, much as we hate it, some people are allergic to vaccines. So if you or your child have a reaction to one vaccine, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to avoid them. Nor would it hurt to avoid them for any other children you have as well. Another legitimate reason would be health concerns of family members. We delayed some of my son's vaccinations because his grandmother was having some serious health issues at the time, and the live vaccines he was scheduled for would have ment that she would not have been able to see him for several months. We felt it was more important that he be able to see his grandma during that period of time just in case worse came to worse, and his pediatrician agreed with us so he was a year late in getting that series. There are a host of other legitimate reasons out there, and you pediatrician can tell you about them all.
So no Virginia, vaccines do Not cause autism. What they do do is protect your child from an entire dictionary of diseases that did, and in some countries still do kill children by the thousands. Nor do they just protect your child, but also the poor kid down the street who honestly can't be vaccinated for one reason or another; for if your child can't get the disease then he or she can't give it to the other one. Am I going to change everyone's mind with this ramble? Unfortunately no. There's always someone who is convinced that it's all a big lie, and there always will be. But if I can change even one mind, then this will have done all I could ask. So until next time dear reader, may the road rise up to meet you and may the skies always be clear. And remember, if something's worth doing, it's worth doing with attitude!