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This opinion piece is appearing today in the Missoulian’s Op Ed section.
April is national Autism awareness month. 1 in 88 American children have a diagnosis of autism, a number that has been climbing rapidly (a 1,148% increase, according to the Autism society).
As a physician specializing in pediatrics it is frustrating to continue to hear the conversation centered around vaccines causing autism. I believe we are doing the autistic community a disservice by continuing to wage a war of words regarding autism and vaccines. Though no study has looked at the totality of vaccines, at least the MMR vaccine/Autism link has been emphatically disproven in literature.
Celebrity-driven fear has shifted the conversation toward vaccines in the past decade. Meanwhile a host of studies have shown other environmental, genetic or drug-induced associations with autism. Studies have shown a link between exposure to vinyl flooring and autism, the culprit being high levels of phthalates. There is research showing associations between autism and flame retardants, heavy metals, defects in detoxification pathways (sulphation or methylation) or glutamine dysfunction. Some preliminary research shows an association between Tylenol use and autism. When parents notice a change in their child’s behavior after a vaccine I always wonder – was it the Tylenol?
There are so many questions that need to be answered before we can move on with prevention and diagnosis of this common, disabling condition. Please, autism is too complex a disease to be blamed solely on vaccines.
Dr. Erika’s response to the many comments posted below:
“Thank you all for your comments, I truly appreciate your thoughts.
There clearly is much more to be said about the autism/vaccine debate than can fit into the Missoulian’s 300 word space. My point regarding autism is that we need to move beyond just vaccines – that autism is a multifactorial neurological process that is much too complex to be explained away by vaccinations.
I understand that many parents have seen regression in their children after vaccines – this post isn’t to diminish that observation in any way.
I think that Dr. Natasha Campbell-Mcbride (Author of the now famous “Gut and Psychology Syndrome” book) has a very intelligent answer to this debate. She basically states that vaccines can end up being the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” so to speak. I agree. For children who are genetically predisposed (low sulfation and methylation abilities), with environmental insults the vaccine ends up being the last thing that completely depletes glutathione. When that happens the body’s ability to scavenge free radicals is compromised which leads to oxidative damage, especially in the brain (or possibly at the blood-brain barrier). The result is regressive autism.
My point is that it is not the vaccine that is the culprit, necessarily. Epidemiological research shows us that rates of autism are similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated children – if not the vaccine, then something else would likely end up being the “final straw.” Many of the parents in my practice have the same hunch.
To that end, I believe that MMR is actually LESS likely to cause or be a partial culprit in precipitating autism compared with other vaccines. (Actually, one piece of literature shows LOWER rates of autism in children vaccinated for MMR!) As a physician I am much more concerned about the aluminum-containing vaccines like DTaP, PCV and HiB which I think place a greater strain on the body’s ability to detoxify. It is incredibly unfortunate that no study has ever been performed comparing the full CDC schedule of vaccines vs. unvaccinated children. It is also very concerning that the latest Cochrane review for the MMR vaccine states that safety data is lacking (though they did state that there is no evidence to support an MMR-autism link, since that is one thing that HAS been studied).
So no, I am NOT a “pro-vaccine” physician, though I am also in no way an “anti-vaccine” physician. There is much that needs to be worked out in science. Physicians like myself need to educate our patients to weigh the pros and cons of vaccinating vs not vaccinating. These vaccines were developed for a reason – to save parents the anguish of potentially devastating diseases. Some are more severe and more common than others, and some are much more likely in certain situations.
I am 100% supportive of parents in whatever decision they make, as long as they are aware of all these “pros” and “cons.”
Please read Jeff Walsh’s comment above as well, there is definitely a gut component to autism – I very much agree.
Okay, so I tried to respond to as many comments as I could! Please let me know if you have additional questions.”