In early 1998, Andrew Wakefield, a British medical researcher and gastroenterologist, published what might have been one of the most controversial papers at the time. In this paper, Wakefield made the infamous claim that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was linked to autism, as well as a strain of bowel disease (“Wakefield Paper”). His study was based on twelve children who had begun to show autistic symptoms after they had received the MMR vaccine. Even though Wakefield and his research were brought into question and later discredited, his article still influenced parents all over the world, even to this day. Many people still see vaccines as the cause of autism, and refuse to vaccinate their children because of the fear that they will develop the disorder. Other arguments state that multiple vaccine doses applied early on simultaneously are harmful to the child’s immune system, and that certain ingredients in vaccines are also detrimental to children. On the other hand, one source claims that children who do not receive their recommended vaccines are healthier and become sick less often than children who do (Mercola, 2011). Fortunately, vaccines are not the cause of autism, and there is much research to prove it. Vaccines should be administered to children to keep them safe because there are no dangerous side effects to these injections.
There are several main arguments against vaccines that have been refuted with data and research studies. One argument is that the MMR vaccine causes autism. In his journal article, Wakefield claimed that the MMR vaccine caused intestinal inflammation in the children, which allowed certain toxins to escape into the bloodstream and eventually reach the brain, causing autism. I disagree with this statement. This vaccine has not been found to cause intestinal inflammation, or any sort of leakage to the intestines. Gerber and Offit argue that Wakefield’s study was bursting with flaws, such as the fact that he didn’t have a controlled variable or that he didn’t collect his data completely. Also, the “toxins” that Wakefield was talking about were never identified in his research, so his credibility cannot be trusted. Furthermore, most children who were receiving the vaccine were around 1-2 years old, which is also the same time when autism diagnoses occur, so these coincidences were expected. Many large-scale studies involving hundreds of thousands of children were done to refute Wakefield’s claim, and they all have produced the same answer: that there is no correlation between autism and the MMR vaccine (456-7).
Another argument against vaccinations is that thimerosal, which contains the compound ethyl-mercury and is a preservative in some vaccines, is lethal to the central nervous system. This claim is false. Gerber and Offit state that the US Food and Drug Administration ordered all mercury to be removed from vaccines because they discovered that children could be receiving large doses of mercury during the first six months of their life. This was done even though no data suggested that ethyl-mercury was causing any harm. Additionally, this event happened during the autism-vaccine scare, and parent’s fears rose, which led to this particular myth. This fear was implausible because the symptoms of both mercury poisoning and autism are very different from each other, so it is impossible to say that the mercury content of vaccines causes autism. To further my point, seven individual experiments were done concerning thimerosal exposure and autism. Each one of these studies concluded that thimerosal had no connection to autism (458-9).
Another argument against vaccines is that too many vaccines administered simultaneously can weaken the immune system. For example, the website Mercola.com features uncited articles that strictly focus on using natural means to keep oneself healthy. The credibility of these articles can be questioned because of the lack of sources, authors, and research used to write these articles. One article titled “Vaccines—Are They Still Contributing to the Greater Good?” claims that, “vaccines can become the proverbial “last straw” — the trigger that “primes” his/her immune system to develop chronic health problems” (Mercola, 2015). Another article titled, “Kids Given Vaccines Have 22 Times the Rate of Ear Infections” states that children who receive vaccinations become more ill versus children who don’t get vaccinated (Mercola, 2011). They list many illnesses that are supposedly more likely to occur due to vaccines. This list includes hay fever, ear infections, allergies, and sinusitis; all sicknesses that can be associated with the immune system. These articles imply that vaccines cause a weak immune system. This is another false accusation. Vaccines do not weaken the immune system and here’s why: even though a child’s immune system is in the early stages of development, it is capable of protecting the child from many different pathogens. Vaccines represent just a fraction of what children come in contact with every day; the average child comes in contact with viruses 4 to 6 times a year (Gerber and Offit 2009).
Vaccines are of great importance because they are needed throughout our society for many reasons. They protect people of all ages from many harmful diseases, such as chickenpox, influenza, and measles. Some diseases have even been considered eradicated from the United States, such as polio and measles, thanks to many vaccinations throughout the years (Children’s Vaccine Initiative, Unicef). Another reason vaccines are needed is for “herd immunity”. As Halsey and Salmon explain, this situation involves a population of children who do not have a high immune response, so they are more susceptible to diseases. But, they are still protected due to the vast majority of the population being vaccinated from the diseases, and will not become ill. Sadly, some of these children cannot receive vaccines because of their weak immune system, and are at risk of death when they come in contact with diseases like the measles (2015). Unfortunately, multiple parents started to delay or even refuse vaccinations for their children, using justifications such as religious beliefs or personal reasons, even though their children did not have immune system susceptibilities. This resulted in many unprotected individuals throughout the United States. These unvaccinated children threatened the herd immunity, and made it so that immune-deficient children everywhere were put at risk (Halsey and Salmon, 2015). One example would be in 2015, when a measles outbreak occurred at a Disneyland theme park in California. Over 140 individuals were infected, including several children who were too young to receive the vaccinations or had medical conditions that prevented them from doing so. The outbreak even spread to Canada and Mexico (Kaplan, 2015). This outbreak was fueled by the many unvaccinated individuals at the park, and it could have been stopped easily if people had just vaccinated their children. It’s estimated that as low as 50% of the infected individuals were not vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (Kaplan, 2015). This outbreak is just one of many if people continue to refuse vaccines for their children.
All these arguments lead up to the ultimate question—what really causes autism? An article from the New York Times titled, “How to Think About the Risk of Autism” explains that a study found abnormalities in autistic children’s brains which stem from genetic sequences in their DNA, and occurred before birth (Wang, 2014). Furthermore, genetic mutations can occur, which can increase the chances of autism. This article also explains other outside factors which can increase the risk of these genes being expressed in the unborn child. For example, Wang states that the mother’s stress levels, along with maternal depression, play a role in risk. A mother leading a taxing life, or who was presented with a stressful situation such as a devastating hurricane, would increase the chances of her unborn child developing autism later on due to the stress hormones interfering with the fetus’s brain development. Other situations include premature births by nine or more weeks and if the fraternal twin is autistic. The two biggest risks of a child developing autism is if they sustained cerebellum damage at birth, or if they have an autistic identical twin (2014). The fact that identical twins share the same genes is a big indicator that the cause of autism is genetic.
In conclusion, autism is caused by a series of potential genetic sequences, which can be triggered by a number of external events. Vaccines such as the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine play no part in causing autism, just like how vaccines don’t weaken the immune system. There are enough data and experiments out in the scientific world to show that Andrew Wakefield’s research was flawed and untruthful. Vaccines “There are enough data and experiments out in the scientific world to show that Andrew Wakefield’s research was flawed and untruthful.” Vaccines are needed in our society to keep our children, and eventually their children, safe from the dangerous, yet easily preventable, pathogens in our world.
“BMJ: Wakefield Paper Alleging Link between MMR Vaccine and Autism Fraudulent.” 6 January 2011. http://www. historyofvaccines.org/. Accessed Apr. 2016.
Gerber, Jeffrey S., and Paul A. Offit. “Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses.” Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 48, no. 4, 2009, pp. 456-61. JSTOR. Accessed 31 Mar. 2016.
Halsey, Neal A., and Daniel A. Salmon. “Measles at Disneyland, a Problem for All Ages.” Annals of Internal Medicine 162.9 (2015): 655-56. EBSCOhost. Accessed 31 Mar. 2016.
Kaplan, K. “Vaccine refusal helped fuel Disneyland measles outbreak, study says.” LA Times. 16 March 2015. http://www. latimes.com/science/. Accessed Apr. 2016.
Mercola, Dr. “Kids Given Vaccines Have 22 Times the Rate of Ear Infections.” Mercola.com. 1 Nov. 2011. http://articles.mercola. com/sites/articles. Accessed 1 Apr. 2016.
—. “Vaccines—Are They Still Contributing to the Greater Good?” Mercola.com. 14 Nov. 2015. http://articles.mercola.com/sites/ articles. Accessed 1 Apr. 2016.
Norton, Am. “Will Latest Study on Vaccines and Autism Change Minds?” CBS News. HealthDay, 21 Apr. 2015. Accessed 30 Mar. 2016.
“Vaccines Bring 7 Diseases under Control.” Children’s Vaccine Initiative. Unicef. http://www.unicef.org/. Accessed 18 Apr. 2016.
Wang, Sam. “How to Think About the Risk of Autism.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Mar. 2014. Accessed. 30 Mar. 2016.