Welcome to day 22 in the A to Z Challenge on autism. Today, I focus on a very controversial subjects: do vaccines cause autism?
The answer to this question could be very short: no. The Autism Science Foundation has compiled an exhaustive list of studies on the subject, which investigate pretty much every aspect of vaccines that the anti-vaccine community has blamed for autism, including whether vaccinated children are generally more likely to be autistic than non-vaccinated children. The anti-vaccine crowd have consistently demanded such a population-based study, but several were published and they still believe vaccines cause autism.
The problem is a little more complicated in one tiny aspect, and this is the fact that the general autism community believes that autism is purely genetic. This has not been proven, and the anti-vaccine community has a point to suggest environmental factors in general could be risk factors for autism.
What if avoidable environmental factors, such as vaccines, did cause autism in genetically vulnerable children? After all, we know that vaccines and other environmental factors carry risks. It is easy to say that no more vaccinated children are autistic than non-vaccinated children, for example, but what if a multitude of environmental factors, including vaccines, could contribute to autism? As a parent, after all, you’re not dealing with a population of vaccinated and unvaccinated children; you are dealing with your own child.
You have to weigh risks. With vaccines, however, the problem is you run the risk of losing herd immunity if you and a lot of parents are not vaccinating. Herd immunity is the condition in which a disease has been extinguished due to a large part of the population being immunized to it. This is tough, because you are not dealing with the entire population as I said; you are dealing with your child. It is not like, if you don’t vaccinate, they are guaranteed to die of the disease the vaccine protects against, but another child just might. In this sense, while I advocate parents’ right to make decisions about their children’s health, I urge parents to be responsible.
Another problem is that the vaccine controversy hinders research into other environmental and genetic factors that might cause autism. For example, many people using biomedical interventions for autism find that their child has (or is thought to have) a lot of things wrong with them, including for example food intolerances. What if the key to finding the cause of autism lay in fact with such other, often trivialized, biological factors? It is understandable that parents who are part of the pro-biomed community are discredited, because they keep insisting vaccines cause autism in spite of overwheming evidence to the contrary.
Research is not advanced if people advocating for it keep asking the same questions that have been answered a million times. If you truly want to prevent autism (which I for one don’t, but many parents do), support research into a variety of enviornmental and genetic risk factors and stop beating a dead horse.