This is the first post in a series of three about autism and vaccines.
If a foreign government were suspected of doing something that caused brain problems to 1/166 American children our nation would immediately and vigorously respond...and even go to war! Well, our children are under a mysterious assault that is causing 1/166 to develop autism. And, we must band together and immediately and vigorously make the correction of this problem a true national priority.
As part of our national wake-up call, April was designated National Autism Awareness month and the press repeatedly aired an impassioned debate: Are vaccines a boon or a danger? Do shots protect kids or provoke autism? Unfortunately, all too often the media discussion was highly polarized...creating lots of heat, but shedding little light.
In this 3-part blog, I'd like to discuss in detail the reasons why shots are very safe - and super important - and to present some fresh ideas about a more likely cause of autism: an invisible soup of toxins we're exposed to every day...endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
For more than 10 years, a steady chorus has accused vaccines of causing the autism outbreak: "Shots have too many ingredients." "Too many shots are given together." Some people think the connection is proven because baby shots have increased in number as the autism has increased in frequency.
The rise in autism is scary and all reasonable people should be desperate to solve this mystery. But, is the fact that we give more vaccines proof that they trigger the disorder...or is it a terrible coincidence?
History is filled with good guesses that just fell flat. For example, five years ago, many were convinced that mercury in vaccines was the autism culprit. It was a fair hunch...but ended up wrong. In 2002, over 95% of vaccine mercury was removed. Yet, instead of plummeting autism rates zoomed even higher!
Another popular hunch was that the MMR shot (measles, mumps, rubella) caused autism. But a huge Danish study (examining hundreds of thousands of children) found that kids skipping the MMR had the same exact risk of getting autism as those who were immunized. A Japanese study also showed zero difference between MMR getters and skippers (no benefit was seen even when the MMR was split into separate shots).
To date, dozens of studies -- examining over 1 million children -- have failed to find any credible association between shots and autism...none!
Yet, speculation that shots cause autism continues to stick in parents' minds. Why? One big reason is because we have all heard reports of kids suddenly "got" autism just a week or two after shots.
In fact, one of the scariest characteristics of autism is that it can suddenly afflict a child who seems developmentally normal. But, is it possible that this sudden problem right after shots is just a coincidence? Absolutely, yes! Every day, serious and amazing things occur, purely by chance. Think of it this way, in a large country like the US, a one-in-a-million coincidence happens 300 times a day.
Approximately 24,000 children are diagnosed with autism every year and in about 1/3 of those cases (8000/year...150/w) normally developing kids show abrupt deterioration (so called "regressive" autism). Regression usually appears between a child's 1st and 3rd birthdays, a period during which they get shots 4 separate times. Do the calculations and you quickly realize that, every year, over 600 children will spiral into autism during the four 1-week periods that follow these 4 shot visits... just by pure, utter, random chance.
Such a high chance of coincidence means that a parent who hears about 4-5 toddlers (or even 4-500 toddlers) who worsen after shots may easily be fooled into assuming that the cause of the autism was the shots...but they would be jumping to a totally false conclusion.
Scientists have carefully investigated sudden developmental deterioration and have repeatedly shown that there's no link with vaccines. For example, University of Michigan scientists analyzed 351 children with autism (1/2 with the regressive form). They noted the average age for regression was 19 months and they found no correlation to when vaccines were given.
Perhaps, the primary reason parents have been so open to the vaccine avoiders' unfounded claims is the current "science vacuum." For years, government and organized medicine have reacted to the autism explosion with horribly lethargy. As a result, we lack good answers to many pressing questions. This vacuum has allowed the cold wind of speculation to spread doubt and fear through our hearts.
So many parents have become paralyzed with indecision because of this debate that they've lost track of the fact that shots have saved millions of children (and adults) from disease, deformity, disability and death:
- In the 1930's, whooping cough's painful strangulation was epidemic -- in the 1940's the vaccine became widely used - by the 1950's whooping cough was uncommon.
- In the 1940's, paralytic polio terrorized every family -- in the 1950's the vaccine became widely used - by the 1960's polio was almost eradicated.
- In the 1950's, measles caused thousands to suffer pneumonia, encephalitis and death in the 1960's the vaccine became widely used -- by the 1970's measles was rare.
- In the 1960's, rubella was a common cause of stillbirth, deafness and mental retardation -- in the 1970's the vaccine became widely used -- by the 1980's birth defects from rubella had vanished.
- In the 1970's, H flu meningitis and epiglottitis were seen every day across America -- in the 1980's the vaccine became widely used -- by the1990's deadly H flu was close to eliminated.
And similar stories can be told for shots against pneumonia, chicken pox, Hepatitis B, mumps, etc.
In fact, shots are so important that even the most vocal vaccine avoiders swear they're not "anti-vaccine." Unfortunately, their actions make a travesty of their words. With alarming websites and a relentless, multiyear, media blitz they have single-handedly unleashed a huge vaccine backlash. They've shredded decades of public health investment and triggered a surge of "shot-phobia" that threatens to add epidemics of infection to the tragic rise of autism that already weighs so heavily on children and families.
The coming danger of this anti-vaccine campaign is seen all across the county. Doctors daily encounter fearful parents doubting the safety of vaccines. The New England Journal of Medicine reports a doubling and tripling of parents getting vaccine waivers for their children. The LA Times found that over 50% of children in some schools had asked for exemptions to avoid all vaccines.
This is of grave concern because disease outbreaks can start when as few as 5% of kids in a community skip shots. Recent Colorado studies found that children who delayed shots were 6-23 times more likely to get whooping cough and 22 times more likely to get measles. And, many more may fall seriously ill if this trend continues.
Parents who sidestep vaccines may do so because diseases like polio and whooping cough are so uncommon. But, the great irony is that the only reason these killers have become so uncommon...is because other moms get their kids immunized.
In my next blog, I'll respond to 4 more of the standard arguments of vaccine avoiders (3 flawed...and 1 reasonable). Then, in the final part in this series, I'll discuss the increasingly scary possibility that autism is triggered by a common chemical exposure.
Dr. Harvey Karp is a world renowned child development expert and America's most read pediatrician. Creator of the bestselling DVDs and books, The Happiest Baby on the Block and The Happiest Toddler on the Block, his work has literally revolutionized our understanding of the needs of young children.
The Happiest Baby teaches how parents can calm even the fussiest babies in minutes...or less...and help any baby sleep an extra one to three hours per night. The Happiest Toddler teaches a new way to communicate with children eight months to five years of age that can quickly prevent 50-90 percent of tantrums and boost a toddler's patience and cooperation in just days!
Dr. Karp’s work is taught in hundreds of hospitals, clinics and military bases across the US and has been featured times on shows like Dr. Phil, Larry King Live, The View and Good Morning ... no wonder the NY Times celebrated his work by proclaiming "Roll over Dr. Spock!"