Autism and vaccine link discredited; what parents should know now about vaccinating kids

Autism and vaccine link discredited; what parents should know now about vaccinating kids


It's safe for kids to get their shots. That's the take-away message from medical experts in the wake of a British Medical Journal article about a discredited study linking vaccines and autism.

The study author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, hid the fact that some of the children he wrote about in his research already had developmental problems when they got their vaccines, according to the Journal story.

The doctor had changed the medical histories of the dozen autistic children whose stories were the basis of his 1998 study, reports CNN.com.

The Journal article "pretty clearly shows that vaccines are safe, and there does not seem to be a clear relationship that vaccines are causing autism," said Dr. Robert Melillo, autism expert and author of "Disconnected Kids."

For worried parents, the idea that autism could be prevented by withholding vaccines held a certain appeal since there are no definitively recognized causes for the disorder.

"Some 95% of the research in the past couple of decades has been spent looking for a bad gene or genes," said Melillo. "There has not been a lot of research looking at environmental factors."

When Wakefield's study came out, Melillo said, "It was the smoking gun, and it gave parents the validation they were looking for as a cause for autism."

With the now-retracted study labeled an "elaborate fraud," according to CNN, Melillo advised parents to let go of any vaccine worries. But, he said, they also should be aware of early signs of autism, such as a baby being unable to roll over by the age of 5 months or to breastfeed successfully.


Jenny McCarthy is just one of the Hollywood celebrities who is adamant about the connection between vaccinations and autism. (Rodriguez/Getty)

Parents worried about a baby's development should get in touch with the child's pediatrician right away, he said.

Vaccine fears have taken hold of parents, but they're unfounded, says Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of the division of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center of North Shore-LIJ.

"There is an overwhelming abundance of research dismissing any credible link between autism and vaccines," he said.

"One of the many wrong presumptions is that there is a singular cause of autism." Instead, he said, it's likely that there are multiple reasons for a child to have autism.

Despite the BMJ story, not all parents are convinced that Wakefield's research has been disproved. "Vaccine injury is real," said Kim Stagliano, a Connecticut mother of three autistic daughters who said that her older two, now 16 and 14, got autism because of vaccines

She subsequently did not have her youngest, now 10, vaccinated.

"The barrage against Dr. Wakefield is an unvarnished attempt to convince the American public that there is an ‘anti-vaccine' movement, while ignoring that American children are chronically sicker than ever and autism now hobbles at least 1% of American children," said Stagliano, who is the author of the book, "All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa."

She added that parents have the right to demand vaccine safety and "honest science, without those who have a financial interest controlling the conversation."

The actress Jenny McCarthy, whose son has autism, hadn't issued comment on the BMJ article, according to CNN. However, McCarthy, who founded Generation Rescue, a group that backs the idea of a link between vaccines and autism, had supported Wakefield in the past.

Parents now should have much less anxiety about vaccinating their kids, says Dr. Mary Beth Koslap-Petraco, chairwoman of legislative affairs of the Nurse Practitioner Association of Long Island and a past member of the National Vaccine Advisory Committee.

"The study linking autism with vaccines has decreased the number of children who get vaccinated," she said. "But there was no truth to the study. A mistake was made. The person who did the study has betrayed the public's trust with this, and children have suffered because of it."

Whether previously reluctant parents will now decide to have their kids vaccinated remains to be seen.

New York State requires certain vaccinations before a child can attend school, but a parent can get a religious exemption, Koslap-Petraco said. "It's very difficult to get a medical exemption, and New York City is really strict about what they will allow as a religious exemption."

Not vaccinating kids opens up the possibility of an outbreak of disease, she said. "Unless you have a highly vaccinated population, if you introduce a virus or the bacteria into the community, it puts all children, even the vaccinated ones, at risk," she warned.